There are some wonderful green spaces sprinkled around central Manchester, but as with most urban jungles, it’s not always a picture of hygiene and certainly not somewhere you would look to put a community vegetable patch; if you saw a stray onion in St John’s Gardens for example, you’d probably shuffle past it or boot it into a bush. The last thing you’d do is pick it up and take a bite. After one hour in The Allotment Vegan Restaurant, however, I was prepared to eat literally anything the waiter put in front of me.
Stockport’s loss is very much Manchester’s grain and yes I did mean to write grain
The Allotment made a pretty big name for itself during two years in Stockport and head chef, Matthew Nutter, spearheaded the restaurant’s rise in reputation before choosing to uproot the place and head to Manchester. Just a few months before the doors closed The Times named it the Best Vegetarian Restaurant in the UK. Quite a rise then. Well, Stockport’s loss is very much Manchester’s grain and yes I did mean to write grain.
The Allotment is a vegan restaurant, but it’s not trying to replicate or even replace non-vegan dishes, something V-Rev in the Northern Quarter does extremely well. The Allotment takes a wide range of vegan produce and turns it into something quite unique and as a result, some of the dishes are like nothing you’ve seen before. There are however, the renowned Cauliflower Hot Wings, which taste mind-bogglingly similar to their poultry-based half-cousins. These are a must try if you make it to the new site on Lloyd Street. Note that down.
The new site has, shall we say, a modest interior; simple furnishings finessed nicely with interesting shrubbery, such as leaves and truncated, hollowed out tree trunks. It’s accessible to the man on the street, but it’s quite obvious the real magic happens in the kitchen.
Dish number one on the five-course menu is enoki mushroom with a Merlot pickled shallot acting as a tasty halo. It’s tiny and it looks like E.T’s finger, but it gets the table talking and most importantly, it tastes incredible. A child would describe it as a massive Nik Nak, but in reality it’s a perfectly crispy exotic mushroom with an angelic garnish.
Dish two was Confit Aubergine, Celeriac, Spaghetti and Smoked Cream. The aubergine was like nothing I’ve tasted before. If I was inebriated, I would have assumed it was a beautifully-prepared bit of pork belly, but I was sober, so I knew it wasn’t. It was slippery and at times felt like it was throbbing in my mouth. Meat-free umami never tasted this good. Quite incredible really.
I was completely enchanted by the food in front of me
Shortly after, we were handed what looked like a vegetable Jenga. Visually, this was the main event, with disks of braised celeriac balancing on top of one another and soft chunks of golden beetroot, rosemary and sun blushed tomato gathering halfway up. The béchamel sauce elevated everything else on the plate and gave it a creamy quality. It resembled the ratatouille in Ratatouille, a film about a rat that makes ratatouille, and it tasted, like the previous two dishes, utterly brilliant.
A delightful Lemon, Ginger and Mint Tea Sorbet followed, before we received the final dish, Thai Squash Pie, Ginger Bread, Tamarind Toffee and Salt Baked Pineapple. How this didn’t contain dairy, I do not know. The flavours and textures were reassuringly familiar, but the ingredients were quite obviously different to what you’d expect in a dish like this. Again, I was completely enchanted by the food in front of me.
By the time Mr Friendly Waiter took the final plate away, the chef had me in the palm of his hand. Dish by dish, bite by bite, The Allotment had showcased the power of vegan food and the sheer creativity in Matthew Nutter’s kitchen. If the waiter brought over that onion from St John’s Gardens, I wouldn’t think twice about taking a bite.
The Allotment showcases the power of vegan food
It’s not always something to celebrate when a town loses out to a big city, but as someone living just on the edge of Deansgate, I can’t help but champion Manchester’s acquisition of The Allotment. It’s not just a place for vegans either; The Allotment is simply a restaurant taking a very specific cluster of plant-based ingredients and turning them into something remarkable. That’s something everyone can appreciate.