Chorlton has more than its fair share of restaurants and bars to choose from but when someone opens a ‘wine-led restaurant/bar’ at the bottom of your road it would be rude not to investigate.
The brainchild of Living Ventures’ Andy Leathley, The Cellar Key can be found on Barlow Moor Road on the edge of the established ‘restaurant strip’ and close enough to Beech Road to be a strong contender for a Chorlton night out. It’s also different enough to set it apart from the standard eateries the borough has to offer, with the emphasis firmly placed on wine supported by top class small plates.
It’s incredibly inviting. When a friend and I arrived, the place was already full with two large parties and small tables dotted around. But we were immediately given a warm welcome by Leathley and sat at a table in the centre of everything. The mood was laid back – a nice departure from the restaurants that want to get you in and out as quickly as possible.
Behind the formal seating there’s a bar-style table if that’s what you prefer. There are also tables downstairs in the cellar of The Cellar Key, but it’s unclear what the purpose of this area is – bar overspill? Can you eat down there or is it just for a chosen few? And there appeared to be only one toilet for the whole place which could prove troublesome.
By the bar is an Enomatic wine machine. For those who haven’t had the pleasure, you charge your card up and literally pay as you go, trying up to eight different wines and settling on the one that suits your palate best. It’s a fun way of testing out wines you would never usually try.
If that isn’t to your taste, the wine list is proper impressive. I’m no expert on vino but Leathley was on hand to give us some tips, and we settled on a fantastic bottle of Merlot.
For starters we had the Camembert platter. This was a failsafe; baked Camembert with various dipping accompaniments. It was delicious although a few more side items would have been welcome. But we didn’t let that stop us and ripped at the cheese with our forks.
The next two plates came together. The jerk chicken ballotine was filled with rice and peas and covered in a jerk sauce. It looked great but tasted a little bland at first bite. Then the jerk sauce really came through and gave you the kick you wanted.
The jewel in the crown for our meal was definitely the five-spiced duck. Pieces of duck were cooked to perfection in an oriental marinade. It was absolutely delicious and I could have stayed all night with that on rotation.
I spoke to a fellow customer and he couldn’t praise the bar enough. He told me he’d travelled from Stockport just to sample the goods. This is the kind of dining experience we need more of in this country – unhurried food and wine in comfortable surroundings. My fellow diner and his friends had been there for two and a half hours and showed no signs of moving.
Having looked at the menu, I will definitely be going back to try some of the other dishes and maybe, just maybe, make a concerted start at working my way through the wine list.
By Chris Park
Rating (out of five):