With Manchester hanging onto Tier 2 lockdown by Andy Burnham’s fingernails, it’s a pleasure to still be able to eat out. Along with not meeting friends, lunch was the main thing I missed during the full spring/summer lock-up. Now Boris and his confederacy of dunces are threatening to take that away again, I really appreciate and support Andy’s Alamo stance to protect us.
I’ve been eating out nearly every day. Not so much ‘eating out to help out’, but to help my mental health (though my waistline might disagree). With this ‘in mind’, I’m here at Erst on a quiet Wednesday afternoon for what turned out to be one of the finest meals to be had in the North West.
Erst is a modern European eatery in what was the epicentre of Manchester’s epicurean revolution. The recent explosion of good restaurants, cafés, bars and bakeries has made it a go-to destination with residents and visitors alike. I’m glad to say it hasn’t been discovered by the Spinningfields/Deansgate weekend zombies yet and long may that continue. I meet the Brunette who has kindly stepped in for Helen, our esteemed Northern Soul editor, who has moved further into the countryside and remains ever pandemic aware. The Brunette is in my support bubble and I’ll stump up a COVID-19 breach penalty to anyone who says otherwise, or my name isn’t Dominic Cummings.
Lee, Erst’s affable, masked manager, brings our attention to the four-small-plates-for-£25 daily deal but we opt for three small plates and a large shared plate leaving hopeful room for a dessert. We also select a dry, light Provence rose to libate the afternoon. To start, we have four Carlingford oysters with lemon, two apiece. Each shell tasted of the eastern breeze coming off the lough from the Irish Sea. A fine beginning to a long, leisurely meal with easy conversation, good wine and delicious food.
The slight, knowing Mona Lisa grin on the Brunette widens into a broad smile as we taste the flatbread topped with a tangy tomato spread. My god, it’s good. The warm, soft bread has a flavour of toasted flour that balances the depth of the reduced tomato jam ensued by a chilli kick. A plate of Gnudi follows. These are ricotta dumplings on a bed of cooked courgettes and green beans in a buttery sauce. They are a real favourite of mine and not just because I like saying ‘gnudi’. The arrival of the roast plaice is heralded by the addition of an extra table to carry the size of the fish. It’s huge and comes swimming in onion butter and capers. After negotiating a carve up, we tuck into the tender white flesh that is so succulent I’m scouring my thesaurus for suitable synonyms. None of them quite cover the experience, so I’ll just leave it there, hanging in your imagination.
We have room to share a magnificent pear, pumpkin seed and almond frangipane tart which I help down with a glass of sweet Chateau Barouillet Monbazar (it is so good I’ve bought a bottle for Christmas). We spill out onto a sunny autumn day after nearly three hours spent at our table. Always the sign of a damn fine lunch. Erst will always have a special place in my heart and with Andy’s continued resistance, long may it continue.