Move any mountain: Kate Mountain on life at The Roadhouse & Aumbry

Oly Bliss
Manchester music The Roadhouse Manchester nightlife Manchester clubs

What do you do after running a Manchester music venue for 15 years? Open a restaurant, of course.

Those who have walked the streets of the Northern Quarter or watched the Great British Menu will be more than familiar with The Roadhouse and Prestwich restaurant, Aumbry. Few, however, will be aware of the link between the two. That link comes in the form of Kate Mountain, a woman who started her career in the bar of The Roadhouse in 1994 and went on to become its manager during the indie boom years. Back then, The Roadhouse was a regular stop-off for touring bands, as well as a focus for musicians trying to get a career-defining break. “I stayed on after graduating; the place has always had a really family atmosphere, so taking on more responsibility was my idea of heaven. Then the owners went bankrupt and gave us all two weeks’ notice. I didn’t want to work for anyone else; I was happy where I was.”

The then-manager decided to take a massive gamble and buy the venue – but knew she couldn’t do it alone. “Steve Lloyd had been running his own business for ten years at the time, which helped prove that together we could bring the venue back to life. The Roadhouse was as important to him because he was the technical manager, while I knew how to run the club and promote bands,” says Mountain. “The transition was seamless, though there was probably a degree of naivety. But I was 25, it was all I knew, it was one of the few venues that was thriving, and I knew it was viable.”

Their relationship continues to work well some 15 years on, as does the original commitment to supporting and nurturing new musical talent – Mountain counts the Puppini Sisters, Muse and Roots Manuva as acts she has helped develop. “We’ve also been part of Elbow’s success. Before they were signed, they all individually worked at The Roadhouse (apart from Mark Potter); it was a logistical nightmare when they actually performed because I lost all my staff! We made it work; they were always really fun to be with. They could tell a million and one jokes about each other and finish each other’s sentences, they’d known each other so long, and we’ve been lucky enough to be a part of their friendship since.”

If you’re approached by someone you can support, why the hell wouldn’t you work with them?

One of Mountain’s strengths is her ability to form the sorts of partnerships that make unexpected things happen. Her long-term friendship with chef Mary-Ellen McTague (the pair met aged just 19 at, of course, The Roadhouse) is a case in point. “Mary-Ellen decided to leave Manchester and go off and learn to cook properly. She explored various hotels and restaurants in the UK, met her husband Laurence, and worked at the Fat Duck for four years, but we stayed in touch. We’d always joked about opening a restaurant together, and then she phoned me up one afternoon and actually asked. It took me about two seconds to say yes.”

While Mountain is the first to admit that becoming a restaurateur wasn’t top of her list, she reckons that the decision to become one made sense. By that time McTague had some serious culinary form and was tipped as a “best up and coming chef” by the Good Food Guide. “In any field, if you are approached by people you know and are in a position to support, why the hell wouldn’t you want to do something with them? We were well matched in enthusiasm.”

A year after McTague first mooted the idea, Aumbry opened – in an out of town location that at that time wasn’t on the foodie circuit. But the choice of location, in a tiny cottage in Prestwich, proved a wise one. With low overheads, McTague was able to focus on the food without too much of a worry about making ends meet. “I suppose we felt – if we build it, they will come. We always knew we wanted to provide a really excellent offering of the best quality food possible. Seasonal, local and served professionally, but informally. We wanted to provide a proper night out and a sense of occasion, without requiring a dress code.” The risk paid off, with Aumbry winning over national food critics, collecting awards and filling its stylish tables. “Fine dining, historically perhaps, has an association with slightly sneering staff, but we just wanted people to be comfortable and be served by a friendly bunch of highly skilled staff.” Knowing your stuff, making people feel at home – it’s an approach that hasn’t just worked at Aumbry and The Roadhouse. It’s an ethos that has served this particular Mancunian entrepreneur very well indeed.

Culture Guides

Author Luke Kennard.

Literature

Even more spoken word nights are joining the old faithfuls, there’s a whole lot of poetry and prose including a rare chance to catch performers from as far afield as Paris and Texas, and showcases such as Chester Literature Festival, Chorlton Book Festival and Poetry Emergency will add to your wider reading pile.

Music

Spanning electronic, rock, classical and jazz, November holds a wealth of exciting northern gigs and concerts.

Theatre in Manchester and the North

Theatre

Our theatre guide this month features the striking choreography of Matthew Bourne, a theatrical dining experience and our top picks of pantomime fare. There’s plenty to enjoy. Oh yes, there is!

Cinema

From politically-minded British cinema, to rebooted classics and an animation extravaganza: there are plenty of festivals, film seasons and new releases for you to enjoy this month.

Visitors view work by Michael Dean in The Hepworth Prize for Sculpture. 26 October 2018 - 20 January 2019. Photo, David Lindsay

Exhibitions

From the dreamy paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites to ‘shonky aesthetics’ and a crisis of visual representation surrounding HIV; this month’s exhibitions highlights are as eclectic as ever.

Families

Luminous adventures, festive fixes, Drag Queen Storytime and New Year’s Eve parties with nippers to book now for … look no further for the best things to do with kids.

tours and activities guide

Tours and Activities

Indulge in Manchester’s rapidly growing food culture this November with our top picks of edible tours and activities.

Things to do right now

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Cinema 2–23 November 2018, from £5

Peterloo at HOME

Cinema 9–23 November 2018, from £5

Widows at HOME

Activity 16 September–24 November 2018, from £9

The Modern History of the Northern Quarter Tour

Exhibitions 16 June–25 November 2018, from £5.25

Fusion: Adventures in Digital Art at Eureka!

Cinema 16–30 November 2018, from £5

Suspiria at HOME

Chester Literature Festival at Storyhouse
Literature 10 November–1 December 2018, from £10.00

Chester Literature Festival at Storyhouse

The Maids at HOME
Theatre 16 November–1 December 2018, from £10.00

The Maids at HOME

Comedy 21 September–4 December 2018, from £8

Mum’s the Word Comedy Club at The Edge