Aumbry chef rocks The Roadhouse: Mary-Ellen McTague on why it works

Kate Feld
Desert with a china cup

The news is out: Aumbry chef Mary Ellen McTague’s new restaurant will be at The Roadhouse. We get the full story.

How is a chef born? In the case of Mary-Ellen McTague, it happened when she was just a 19-year-old lass, pulling pints in a gritty Northern Quarter nightclub where her co-workers included most of Elbow. She tried her hand at catering for touring bands in The Roadhouse’s closet-sized kitchen and liked it so much that she chucked in her degree to cook. Of course, she went on to work at the Michelin-starred Fat Duck and run her own critically-acclaimed restaurant, Aumbry in Prestwich, which recently closed after five years. So the announcement that she’s opening a restaurant on the Roadhouse site this autumn has that pleasing feel of things coming full circle. She’ll be back where she started out, making a curry for Muse.

“We’re really excited. I never really thought I’d want to go into town, but I absolutely loved doing the pop-up (at 4244 Edge Street),” McTague said. “It’s a brilliant location. There’s so much going on with food in Manchester now, and I’m ready be right in the middle of things.”

“People are sad about The Roadhouse closing, but it’s been open for 22 years, it’s had a good innings”

Aumbry was a restaurant with national profile, and these days McTague is arguably the most visible and respected home-grown chef in Manchester. Since it closed, there’s been wild speculation about where her new place would go. This looks like a retrospectively-obvious move: McTague’s friend and business partner in Aumbry, Kate Mountain, owned the Roadhouse, which just announced it was closing last week.

“We were very close on a couple of other sites in the city centre but they didn’t work out,” McTague said. “But this one was staring us in the face all along – it just kind of dawned on us, recently. A lot of people are sad about The Roadhouse closing, but it’s been open for 22 years, it’s had a good innings. At the same time, Kate and I have been working together for 18 years – it’s kind of a no-brainer.”

No one would call the windowless black box a natural fit for fine dining…

Lots of us have happy memories of sweaty gigs in the Roadhouse and much love for the place, but no one would call the windowless black box a natural fit for fine dining. Still, let’s remember who we’re dealing with here: the woman knocked together two poky terraces on an unlovely side-street in Prestwich, turned a garage into a kitchen, and they were fighting to get in. There will, of course, be an extensive re-fit (and a purpose-built kitchen for McTague, at last). They’re still in early planning stages, but the recent discovery of five large windows hidden behind a false ceiling at the Victorian mill building was an encouraging find.

Foodwise, don’t look for any sudden changes of direction. McTague’s not likely to open a Korean/Mexican fusion cafeteria or a luxury burger joint (thank God). It’ll probably be what she likes: adventurous but resolutely British fine dining with an emphasis on Northwest artisan produce and the odd historical-recipe flourish. Which is good. Because that’s what we like, too.

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