There’s a buzz about eating out in Manchester city centre. It started long before Mana won a Michelin star earlier this month (the first star since 1974) and long after Oliver Peyton closed the short-lived Mash & Air declaring that “Manchester knows nothing about food”. Long may he eat those words for Manchester now boasts many a class eatery.

While I would argue that Mancunians love eating, many have yet to grasp the European art of lunching. Admittedly, countries like France and Spain have legally binding and culturally acceptable long lunch breaks with great menus on offer. I also admit that I now have the time to indulge my love of the long lunch, but I think it’s worth encouraging a movement against the lunch-on-the-go trend before Pret A Manger engulfs us all.

With this in mind, I make my way through the rain-drenched streets of Ancoats to meet up with Helen, esteemed editor of Northern Soul and occasional lunch companion. We rendezvous at Erst, a new restaurant launching its first autumn menu. On the corner of Murray and Jersey Streets, it has a big open kitchen and a cool, minimal interior of natural wood and stone. We are greeted by restaurant manager, Will Sutton. Over the next two hours, Will proves to be a friendly, generous and patient host as we hum and haw our way through a short menu and wine-by-the-glass list.

Helen: What’s gremolata?

Me: Um, it’s green.

Will: It’s made from garlic, lemon zest and parsley.

Me: I told you it was green.

Erst describes itself as a natural wine bar with a small plate menu. The open kitchen has an impressive Japanese Robata grill where meats, fish and vegetables are cooked over coals and wood to give Erst’s fare a distinctive flavour. We are here to sample the new dishes on the menu so we plump for the flatbreads with green gremolata, figs with curds, za’atar and buckwheat, partridge with grapes and ajo blanco and a massive whole plaice with caper butter. And yet I couldn’t resist the crispy potatoes with yeast sauce. I can see why they have stayed on the menu.

ErstThe food is as impressive as the Robata grill. The flatbread is crisp and tender, enhanced by the zingy gremolata. Figs and curds are a tasty combination as are the potatoes and yeast sauce. All told, Erst is a haven of such combinations and unusual flavours that make the taste buds tingle with intrigue and anticipation. My partridge is gamey without being too Downton Abbey. The poached grapes and ajo blanco support the delicate flesh of the bird with an award-winning performance. Helen’s plaice melts in the mouth and is so big I offer assistance. The fish, aided by the caper butter, is simply delicious.

After a glass of an almost orange Bianco Toscano, Helen and I share a pint of muscadelle from Clos Rocailleux that compliments the superb food without overpowering it. We finish with an autumnal baked apple and a glass of sweet Garcia de Verdevique. A dulce full stop to a fine meal.

By Robert Hamilton

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