At small neighbourhood restaurant Grenache, just outside Manchester city centre, head chef Mike Jennings is wowing critics with his back-to-basics approach, using local, seasonal ingredients. Katherine Alano went to visit
In recent months, Manchester has seen something of a revival in its restaurant scene, with big openings from heavyweight chefs such as Simon Rogan and Aiden Byrne.
One restaurant that is also striving to make an impact on the city's dining scene is Grenache, a small, unassuming neighbourhood restaurant in Worsley, just outside Manchester city centre.
Since the appointment of head chef Mike Jennings in May 2012, local food critics have noted that he has "made a world of difference". His impact was reflected in his nomination for Best Chef at the Manchester Food and Drink Awards last year as well as winning the 2013 Best North West Restaurant in The Good Food Guide Awards.
Jennings is no stranger to the fine-dining scene or the accolades that can come with it. He spent seven years in Jersey working under Shaun Rankin at Bohemia in the team that won its Michelin star. He also spent time at Nigel Haworth's Northcote, before moving on to work for Gary Rhodes in Dorset.
Looking for the next opportunity, Jennings returned to Manchester, and a chance arose to head up the kitchen at Grenache. Keen to raise the standards of the restaurant, owner Hussein Abbas gave Jennings free rein over the kitchen and the menus.
"They wanted to raise the bar for the food, compete with the ‘big boy' accolades and hopefully knock on the doors of the Michelin and AA guidebooks," Jennings explains.
Open Wednesday to Sunday, Grenache offers three menus: Á la carte; Early Decadence (two courses £15.96/3 courses £18.95) and Sunday lunch (two courses £15.96/3 courses £18.95).
Core to Jennings' food is working with the best seasonal ingredients as locally sourced as possible.
"Nature puts certain produce in front of us at certain times of the year for a reason. You get grouse and at the same time you get blackberries and elderberries. So it is nature's way of saying there is a classic combination," he says.
During grouse season, you'll often find local farmers knocking on the kitchen door with a couple of birds, while the team forage for the blackberries. It'll then go on the menu as a special.
As well as having an allotment, which provides kale, spinach, wild berries, wild garlic, courgettes and other seasonal ingredients, local farmers also supply rabbits and pigeons.
Using seasonal ingredients means that the menu changes regularly, which Jennings says is good for the returning customers, but favourite dishes still feature regularly.
A popular starter is roast partridge with mulled pears and chestnut salad. The pears are poached in home-made mulled wine and the dish is finished with cranberry purée, pear and chopped chestnuts and a reduced chicken sauce.
"It's a classic seasonal dish, a take on a partridge in a pear tree," says Jennings. "The chestnuts offer a good rich texture, while the pears bring the sweetness."
For mains, diners can choose from dishes such as roast breast of duck with parsnip purée, mulled pears, and bacon and thyme rÁ¶sti; and grilled fillet of salmon, braised spiced fennel and saffron potatoes.
In a nod to the local area, Jennings also offers diners his version of lamb hotpot; rump of lamb roasted served with hotpot potatoes and beetroot purée.
But no write-up about Grenache would be complete without mentioning its surprise hit - deep-fried plums. Food critic Mark Garner of www.manchesterconfidential.com said: "Those plums aren't arguably the most eatable pudding on the planet. They just are. Smear a little cream on one, dip in the damson compote and go straight to heaven folks."
Sample dishes from the menu
Pan-seared scallops with braised oxtail, celeriac purée and potato straw
Pan-seared chicken livers with bacon and black pudding cake, fried duck egg
Pot-roast chicken breast with braised Puy lentils and carrot and swede
Grilled fillet of halibut, scallop and crayfish tortellini, winter greens, shellfish cream and basil
Rhubarb crème brÁ»lée
15 Bridgewater Road,
Manchester M28 3JE
Tel: 0161 799 8181