The Oast House,
The Avenue Courtyard
Spinningfields, Manchester, M3 3AY – Visit Now
From drying hops to pulling pints, we take a look at Manchester’s longest serving pop-up.
The Oast House was never meant to be permanent. Although the structure had to be transported, brick for brick, from Kent to Manchester (indirectly, too; via Ireland) Living Ventures – the crack team behind Australasia and The Alchemist – applied only for temporary planning permission when they first conceived of the endeavour. And when, in October 2011, cranes came to assemble this 16th-century hop kiln in the middle of Spinningfields, you’d have been forgiven for thinking that this was an unbalanced amount of effort for a pop-up pub. Two years later, The Oast House is still there, out of place yet strangely still at home –though whether the effort made on the inside matches the architecture is still in question.
The beer that the Oast House was originally built to produce is still flowing strong, if in a somewhat different form. Inside, while the humulus lupulus flowers traditionally dried on a wood and wire floor under the eaves have long since disappeared, the pub stocks fourteen different lagers, along with a range of wheat and dark beers, blondes, fruit beers and four cask ales in beautiful dark wood barrels. Those overwhelmed for choice can order a “beer slider”: three different halves sat on a neatly carved tray (£4). Details like this – and the beautifully illustrated beer chronicle, placed on every table – give an indication of the attention given to the amber brew. It’s just a shame that, from here on in, the care taken wavers.
For once, being slow on the uptake was a blessing
There is a rustic luxury to the heavy wooden tables, and a hearthside atmosphere beneath the high rafters – the food, however, is not treated with same warmth. The menu warns that orders, taken at the till, may not all arrive at the same time: sure enough there was an antisocial delay between main courses. The warm Turkish flatbread on my rather sparse Mezze Deli Board (£8.95) – which arrived almost before I’d sat back down – had grown tepid before my friend’s Chicken Hanging Kebab (£9.95) came to the table. On a solitary spear, each Oast House kebab hangs like a lone earring from its stand. Where the bowl of chips at its base was impressively peppery, the meat itself lacked any notable flavour – we wondered what the side firkin of greasy butter sauce was for (the wait staff was giving nothing away) but had finished eating before we saw initiated diners at a table opposite douse their skewer with it. For once, being slow on the uptake was a blessing. The Mezze, like the background music, lacked taste; the commercial pop coming over the speakers was at generically at odds with its esoteric setting.
Having made the shift from fleeting to fixture in the city’s lexicon, it doesn’t look as though The Oast House will be dismantled any time soon. The vernacular architecture, so strikingly displaced, is certainly a sight worth seeing – you just might want to be selective about how you spend your time there (and money, too; the pub suffers from Spinningfields’ trademark hike in prices). As the temperature drops, indulge in a proper warming pud (£4.95) or fight for a spot by the fire in the Curious TeePee – a beautifully fairy-lit, tented extension, there for the winter months only. But ultimately, The Oast House’s best asset comes from where its life began: it’s all about the beer.