This blog usually concerns itself with the cheapest of cheap (and usually ethnic) food. Aumbry, a pocket-sized restaurant in Prestwich, is neither cheap nor ethnic, but I had such an incredible lunch there that I want to review it just so I can relive the experience.
The restaurant is a little like someone's dining room - dresser in the corner, plain wooden chairs, unfussy table settings. You can watch what's going on in the tiny and busy kitchen. The staff take turns in serving you and will come over for a chat about the food if they aren't busy.
Like the restaurant, the menu is small. Two choices for the starter, two for the mains, one for dessert. They are, however, very accommodating - my coeliac mum was offered the choice to switch out a dish for one of the dinner options, and my ever-hungry brother was given extra potatoes at no extra cost. And the bread - homemade, springy, and either a sourdough-like brown bread or a rye-ish white, with Jersey salted butter or browned butter to spread. My mum, the coeliac, was offered homemade gluten-free bread that tasted of actual bread and wasn't toasted (if you're a coeliac, you'll know how unusual both of these things are).
Before the starters, amuse bouches are served. Both are topped with a thin slice of vinegary pickled cucumber, with goats cheese for the vegetarians/coeliacs and chunky liver pate for everyone else. Whether veggie or no, both are served with a bubble of honey and jasmine that bursts as you eat it, flooding your mouth with a fragrant-tasting palate cleanser.
Once your palate is cleansed, the starters appear - mushroom soup with chives and extra virgin rapeseed oil, or fancy scotch eggs (two soft-boiled quail eggs wrapped in Bury black pudding and deep fried served with tomato ketchup, mushroom relish, on red pepper and mushroom). The soup tastes of mushrooms, and I'm not sure there are any other ingredients aside from stock. The scotch eggs are phenomenal, the outside crisp yet yielding, the yolk dribbling out and soaking into the black pudding, the ketchup tangy, the relish earthy. It was a rhapsody in northern childhood.
The mains - either mackerel served with pickled potatoes or duck served with potatoes and baby leeks - are done to perfection. The mackerel was nice and oily, its texture contrasting with that of the pickled potatoes (a hint of bite and vinegar), although there is no sauce. The duck, pinky-red and with the fat left on, tastes like steak and has a tomatoey confit sauce pooled around it. The portions are sizeable and the vegetables that accompany each dish are well-thought through and aesthetically arranged.
And finally, if you haven't burst like an amuse bouche, on to dessert. The sole sweet option (we didn't try the cheese plate) is a grapefruit posset with celery granita. The posset - the juice of grapefruit combined with cream and sugar - was just tart enough and had the texture of the creme part of creme brulee. The granita brought out the sweetness in the celery and was an exciting green colour, contrasting with the honeyish posset. Both flavours were matched with a grapefruit sherbet that puckered your cheeks as it went down.
For £17.50 for two courses (£21.50 for three) before tip and drinks (although tap water is available), Aumbry offers high-end dining for a reasonable price. With food that uses local ingredients in interesting ways, and appears to be influenced but not dictated by the molecular gastronomy trend, the Michelin people are surely already on their way up Bury New Road.