I’ve read about Electrik Bar’s ‘Guestrant’ sessions since they started last year, but despite making mental notes to check them I’d never managed to organise it. Their most recent event, with guest chef Deanna Thomas of North Star Deli fame, tipped the balance for me. This was on Valentine’s Day, and the prospect of a night out, unencumbered by saccharine-sweet clichés, red roses and crappy piped (or worse still, dodgy live string) music provided a fine excuse for a good meal out with my partner.
For those who don’t know it, Electric Chair was one of the venerable institutions of the Manchester club scene from the 90s onwards (Mister North has fond memories of multiple occasions spent in darkened basements listening to Detroit deepness, dirty disco, Mancunian classics and rampant riddims thanks to these guys). These days the Electriks empire has perhaps mellowed and diversified with age, and they opened the unsurprisingly-named ‘Electrik’, a fine café/bar in south Manchester’s Chorlton, a couple of years ago.
This is probably symptomatic of the changing lives of 30-something (or 40-something) party folk… the days of sweating in a club to discoid delights are now limited to a few special occasions, when the kids are away or a couple of extra days have been booked off a heavy work schedule to recover. Regular pleasures are instead obtained from fine food and drink, and when you overhear this post-club generation ask ”What you on tonight mate?” these days it’s more likely to elicit a reply about a well-hopped draught ale or a fruity little Chilean number, rather than harking back to more youthful indiscretions…
So with its social and musical heritage Electrik makes for a great wee venue, with a diverse range of interesting patrons, a top jukebox and an admirable range of good drinks and food during the day. I’ve heard good things about Guestrant, which matches the unpredictability of a supper club with the cosiness of your local… all on a school night. The sketch is to find a space at a table, sharing the space with people you don’t know, promoting interesting conversations and comparisons over a meal. Our table was no different, and the chance to share opinions and experiences with like-minded people creates an atmosphere beyond that of merely going out for a meal.
My companion and I decided that beer was the best drink option for the night: knowing nothing of what was on the menu left us uncertain of plumping for a good bottle of wine, only to find it may not befit the food. Perhaps I’m making excuses: any opportunity to sample Little Creatures Pale Ale is good in my book. We got a hint of the starter before Deanna came out and slightly self-consciously introduced herself and the first course, before disappearing to continue with whatever mystery cheffiness was taking place behind the kitchen doors. The air was heavy with the sweet and unmistakable smell of smoked bacon. This was a promising start, and a guaranteed way to provoke olfactory-induced hunger pangs.
The starter was rather playful, riffing off the traditional English fried breakfast in an unconventional but highly enjoyable way, in salad form. Prettily but unpretentiously plated, served well-dressed with a medley of flavoursome leaves. The bacon was black (the cure, not the breed, and was quite wonderful) from the Cheshire Smokehouse; the eggs were halved quail’s ones; there were croutons for fried bread; crumbled Bury black pudding (one can never have enough black pud and I’m of the opinion that such a sterling local speciality should be served at every possible turn) and marinated cherry tomatoes and mushroom slivers to finish. A damn good start… enough to tickle and tantalise, but not enough to sate the excitement of what was coming next.
When the second course was announced we were starting to feel grateful that we’d lucked out as we’d sat at the first table for service. Gratitude melted into mild guilt, as the collective eyes of the room enviously watched beautiful plates arrive in front of us first. The main was divine: red deer venison from Tatton Park, briskly rolled in pepper and served with a chocolate stout sauce from Robinson’s Unicorn brewery in Stockport, shot through with just enough juniper to balance it out perfectly. We grinned with thinly-disguised delight as this was the second serving of venison we’d had in as many days – I’d cooked some leg steaks with anchovy butter the night before – but this contrasting cut (fillet I think) was served to perfection. Woe betide anyone who didn’t like rare meat though, this was cooked superbly but deservedly quickly, each slice glowing rosily. Perfect.
This was ably accompanied by a celeriac mash, topped with a couple of cute candied shallots; some shredded seasonal veg and a heavenly fondant potato. This, perhaps surprising considering the well-documented love my sister and I hold for the humble spud (which is not entirely unconnected to our Northern Irish upbringing) was my first experience of one of these tuberous delights. Ok, it might not be the healthiest way of enjoying a potato, but my god it’s good. I had to work really hard not to wolf everything down, but I was determined to pace myself and savour every bite.
We decided that whatever the dessert was, it would be well accompanied by a Chimay Trippel. I love a heady Belgian ale, and the richness and vanillin notes of the beer should play well with something sweet. It proved to be an apt choice for the oh-so-dark and adult delights of the dessert. I’d read Deanna specialised as a pastry chef so we weren’t overly surprised at the elegant presentation, but there was a wonderful lightness of touch to her meltingly airy chocolate torte.
Exceedingly rich, dark chocolate was countered by a few drops of intense espresso sauce, and a mousse-like latte creme served in a shot glass, crowned with an ornamental dark choc heart which provided a little extra depth of character to the beauty on the place. On their own, each of the components were great: taken as a whole, the chocolate, cream and coffee flavours mixed, melted and entwined stunningly. Fingers were used to extricate every last morsel of goodness from the plate and shot glasses!
We felt rather spoiled, especially for a Monday night. A great Valentine’s setting, wonderful locally-sourced food, an unpretentious and relaxed atmosphere, and a gathering of like-minded Electrik Souls. All this for £25 a head, plus drinks. Top one, sorted mate…
*or perhaps that should read (groan) ‘Happy Valentine’s, deer…’