There’s finest Iberican ham on the menu at the Dog & Partridge in Didsbury where once there was none. Heretofore, this cosy pub was a fairly rough and ready establishment on the fringes of Didsbury village. Now it’s been taken over by the ambitious Pilling and Pride team, given a major facelift and reopened as what they’re calling a ‘terroir pub’.

It’s a delicate business, this gentrification by gastropub. Get it wrong and you risk falling between stools, simultaneously alienating the original clientele and failing to attract a fresh crowd. Here Northern Soul is reminded of the refurbishment of a large Salford pub popular with both older regulars and a younger, artsy crowd, which saw one long-standing punter dismiss the new look as – quote – “a purple poof’s palace”. 

Thankfully, the refurb job here has been much more thoughtfully, sympathetically done. It’s still demonstrably an old school pub, with wooden fittings and panelling, cast-iron fireplaces, polished floorboards and stools for seats. It’s a bright, welcoming space now, and the staff clearly know what they’re doing.

It’s on the food front where the difference really makes itself clear. You can now get a grilled cheese sandwich where the bread is a light sourdough and the cheesy is tangy without being overpowering. There’s a soup of the day, an array of pastries on the bar, and assorted bar snacks, but think Japanese rice crackers and chicken skin crisps rather than scampi fries and a grab bag of Quavers.

On the lunch menu, the crushed avocado on sourdough, with chili, Himalayan salt, olive oil and lemon, was a very passable take on the classic snack. There are also a couple of sharing boards, namely a selection of local cheeses and a deli platter. We went for the latter platter, which was pretty good. The Scotch eggs and ham hock terrine were a surprisingly delicate blend of flavours without being too heavy, and the montanegra iberica de bellota ham was, sure enough, a cut above. Other fancy trimmings on the board – dehydrated tomatoes, Nocerella olives and gherkins – complemented the meat elements well and certainly constituted a substantial full meal between them, though for the slightly peckish, individual elements of the platters can be ordered too.

In all honesty the new menu is hardly exhaustive, and what is there is decent fare rather than anything tastebud-blowingly spectacular. Time will tell if it manages to develop a regular clientele, but all told this is an applaudable venture which is just about managing to walk a fine line, offering quality scran that will appeal both to those who know the place of old and those who have never set foot through the door before.

During Northern Soul‘s lunchtime visit, a few of what appeared to be the Dog & Partridge’s long-time regulars drifted in, looking a little perplexed by what had happened to their beloved boozer. But they stayed for a drink, and who knows, maybe in time they’ll go on to develop a taste for paleta iberica. Worse things could happen.

By Andy Murray

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