When The Lead Station first opened up on Chorlton’s Beech Road in Manchester just over 20 years ago, the world was very different. The first Toy Story film had just been released. Jamie Theakston was all the rage. Many people owned Seal albums on cassette. But over that time, the ‘Leady’ has become a Chorlton institution – which is quite fitting, as the building was originally a police station. It has even published its own cookbook to mark a big birthday. The question is, though, with the suburb evolving ceaselessly all around it, does The Lead Station still deserve its hallowed status?
Thankfully, it’s a big ‘yes’. The menu fanfares ‘honest, homemade cooking since 1995’ and that’s about right. It’s solid rather than spectacular, perhaps, but it’s very solid indeed and, let’s face it, The Lead Station has not been busy all this time without reason. In short, if your idea of heaven is listening to Etta James of an afternoon while grazing on dips, step right in.
Certainly, nothing says ‘Beech Road’ like a starter of houmous and pitta. The serving here is generous and, more importantly, the houmous – which can be a ghastly grey dollop in the wrong hands – is supremely flavoursome, with a very agreeable consistency. The accompanying tangy sun-dried tomato tapenade works very well as a contrast, too. Alternatively, the selection of dips with crudities is well-presented, vibrant, and far from stingy in terms of size.
As a main, the superfood salad consists of quinoa, bulgar wheat, feta, avocado, beans, leaves, and a beetroot dressing. It’s almost overwhelming but it turns out to be a smashing combination of flavours and textures, without being unbalanced by the beetroot. You get the impression that you could become healthy just by looking at it – which is a good job, really, because on the opposite side of the table there’s a prime beef cheese burger the size of a small child. It’s a Scooby Snack come to life, and the logistics of eating it pose all sorts of problems (the good sort, obviously). The Lead Station has built its reputation on this kind of simple, hearty fare, and rightly so. It’s delicious and succulent, a towering, expertly-constructed treat.
Among the desserts there’s an ever-changing cheesecake option, which is currently peanut butter flavour. It’s delicately, deliciously moreish, while the panettone bread and butter pudding, served with vanilla custard, rasperry jus and an actual strawberry, is melt-in-your-mouth soft and the just right side of too sweet.
The Lead Station, then, can still defend its position in the beating heart of Chorlton after all this time. To be perfectly frank, the interior itself is looking a bit worn around the edges here and there, and a wee facelift might be timely. But it doesn’t impair the charm of the place at all. In truth, the fact that it’s become so very familiar is part of its appeal. On one level, the publication of The Lead Station’s cookbook might negate the need to actually go into the place, but that would be missing the point. It remains a bright, bustling environment to be in, and that atmosphere is almost as big a part of the draw as the food itself – which is, as promised, winningly honest and home-made.
By Andy Murray
Where: Beech Road, Chorlton
When: Mon-Thurs and Sun, 10am-11pm; Fri-Sat, 10am-12am
More info: www.theleadstation.co.uk