Erst, 9 Murray St, Manchester, M4 5BN – Visit Now
Erst is something special. This can’t be stressed enough. Of course, Ancoats is the new hot spot in the UK, let alone in Manchester – open any airline magazine and you’ll no doubt see a guide to the go-to haunts in this former gangland slum, now gentrified up the eyeballs.
Erst belongs at the top of the list. It’s from the team behind Trove bakery, and looks like most well-designed modern restaurants – plenty of sharp-angles, industrial steel, concrete, huge windows, but the food sets it apart from all its near neighbours.
Erst is something special
Again, like many of the latest restaurants in Manchester you’re met with a tidy list of small plates, some bigger than others, some better than others. I’d been warned that as great as it, a full meal doesn’t come cheap, but this is patent nonsense. Enough food and wine for a table of three comes in at under £100, comparing well with most high-end places in the city.
Every table is full on this grey Wednesday evening, giving a sense of a well-kept secret that won’t be secret for much longer. Our colonial masters at the broadsheets will reluctantly venture out of the M25 for it soon, and it’ll be booked out for months.
First up, the flatbread, a circle of beautifully light bread with dark grill lines, scattered with parsley. One with gremolata, and one with whipped lardo – the latter is the one to try, this is pork fat cured to within an inch of its life, butterlike in consistency, a dirty, filthy, delicious butter. Groans of pleasure erupt from the table after a single bite.
Keeping with the smaller small plates, the ‘pickles & ferments’ are an eye-watering delight (the turnip is a standout, which is something I never thought I’d say), and the crispy new potatoes with tartare sauce do exactly what you’d expect – crunchy, soft inside, with a tangy sauce.
The courgette dish is a beauty. A summer-touched pile of courgette strips, sprinkled with fresh curds, plus chilli and buckwheat. It’s as pleasing on the tongue as it is to the eye.
The salt cod dish is another winner, thin slithers of cod, with deep red charred tomatoes, plus capers and oregano – there’s a hefty amount of bold flavours in this dish, all working in synergy.
A sordid country garden of meat and veg
But the best dish has to be the lamb’s heart, beetroot, labneh and mint. Beetroot is one of those make or break ingredients, all too often destroying plates with its course earthiness. Not here. It works in tandem with the thick strips of lamb heart, a sordid country garden of meat and veg, lifted to new heights with a blob of thick Greek yoghurt. It’s eye-bulgingly good.
That’s not to ignore the crunchy grilled hispi; the cheese, honey and lavosh; and the impossibly perfect bay custard tart – not the most exciting looking dish on the menu, but one of the most moreish desserts you’ll come across all year, jiggling away gloriously. The small plates are indeed that: small but perfectly-formed, and always easy on the eye.
Along with Umezushi and Stockport’s Where The Light Gets In, Erst is one of the North’s standout restaurants, and if you care about the best modern food in the UK, you owe it to your tastebuds to try it. The entire menu is a treat, full of post-Nordic creations that are both simple and endlessly fascinating.