Favourite restaurants, like old friends, are a joy to visit. No sooner than having stepped over the threshold, you slip back into your old ways, entering into an instant rapport that only the familiar faces of front of house favourites and an intimate atmosphere can bring. Soon forgotten are the thrills and spills (in my exceptionally graceless case) of chasing down new gastronomic experiences or uncovering the latest food trend. You’ve arrived back at your third place, wallowing in the safe and easy comfort that whiling away a few hours there easily affords.
Uncle Sam’s Chop House does it for me, every time. The Mark Addy too, before it finally shut up shop, its musty halls and man-sized portions sadly never to be overcome again. Rich, hearty foods, generous of portion and dripping in Northern tradition call to me when I tire of hearing about another effing barbecue joint coming to “save our city”, or the ceaseless wave of chain burger bars capitalising on an already realised trend, clogging up arteries and available restaurant space that could be put to far more worthy calorific causes. Sigh.
Meat and gravy ensconced in suet will do it pretty much every time for me, though a monolithic platter of meat and cheese, washed down with a fruity bottle of red never fails to have me feeling right at home. Hence why The Blue Pig always remained a firm favourite, since an early doors review following its August opening last year. A comprehensive deli board and conspicuously continental menu – all around their unique ‘333’ concept entailing three options of three set courses for just £20 – this Parisian inspired space provided an ideal place in which to shrink away as NQ life rushed by.
Seemingly the three courses idea didn’t catch on, as early this year, they dropped the concept and pared back to a selection of crowd-pleasing dishes. Classic ploughman’s, steaks and salad dishes now feature, not to mention the ever ubiquitous burger, of which The Blue Pig has its own take, naturellement. Sadly, alongside the demise of 333, the once bright lights of the deli counter have faded too, with only a few select dips, meat and cheese choices available to make up a miserly board, though thankfully the bread selection is pretty decent, still.
Despite the turnabout face, the most admirable of The Blue Pig’s qualities is its commitment to buying local. Meat is sourced from the ever present W H Frosts of Chorlton, and the deli board is a roll call of legendary British dairy, including the blue cheese behemoth that is Cropwell Bishop. The ingredients used can’t be faulted, nor the cooking. An Asian-inspired noodle salad, complete with tender fall apart duck breast on a bed of umami rich greens was soon devoured, as was the Wagyu beef burger, complete with a well-balanced slick of wasabi mayo, thankfully all impeccably cooked.
Most disappointing, however, is the homogenisation of the new menu. When the rest of Manchester’s hospitality industry is stepping up its game and differentiating, why step back and serve up sexed up pub classics, when the venue and concept lends itself beautifully to a Parisian bistro that Manchester could (and would) make great use of. The renewed emphasis on the back bar has weighed heavily on the uninspiring menu, and turned this once conspiratorial environment into just another convivial NQ drinking den.
With more ‘me too’ venues popping up around Manchester to mirror those leading the way, combined with a city wide trend for eclectic menu compositions – essentially stealing the best of each culture’s cuisine – in attempting to stand for everything, these unimaginative establishments in the long run will appeal to no one. As new and unique movers and shakers make a name for themselves and the well-loved old establishments continue to pull in their loyal patrons, the middle ground is no place to be. Shame on The Blue Pig. They can do much better.