Part of a pleasingly sophisticated new wave of venues popping up in Manchester’s Back Piccadilly, would Tariff & Dale live up to appearances? Northern Soul finds out.
Tariff & Dale is at a frustrating stage for a food critic. It’s clear that someone on the cheffing side of this new ‘bar and kitchen’ in the Northern Quarter knows what they’re doing – but only most of the time.
Noting mistakes in a review, though, makes them a bit indelible; possible customers end up withholding any criticism for fear of being served with something similar to the ‘patently regurgitated steak’ or ‘criminally congealed rice pudding’ that were so lavishly scorned in the write-up.
No such middle-class horrors here, but reviewing critically is still a strange power to wield – especially when, on balance, there’s a lot to like about a place. For instance, the design team behind Tariff & Dale have ignored the neon splashed with over-literal zeal across parts of Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Instead, a restrained revamp has left this former Victorian fabric warehouse – which once shared the Tariff Street pavement with an umbrella factory – to speak for itself.
The new furniture calmly defers to stately girders and distressed brickwork. Small nosegays on the tables, as well as tumblers instead of stemmed glasses for wine, give the downstairs restaurant a bistro feel – which compliments a gently sophisticated menu.
After two excellent cocktails from a list of nine classics, each available in three variations, we settled down to starters of beetroot risotto and pork nuggets with crisp pea leaf and a mustard mayo (of which, more please). Both were incredibly moreish, an orange cream lifting the beet’s earthy flavours. To complain that they were on the ‘grande’ side for starters feels churlish – but we were looking at two further courses. One’s stomach only stretches so much.
My sourdough pizza – topped with wonderfully tangy capers, artichoke hearts and rocket – was a little gummy in the middle, as if it hadn’t luxuriated in the wood fired oven quite long enough, although my companion (let’s call him The Beard) made appreciative noises about his beef shin marrow with mash, carrots and more pea leaf. It was a shame, then, that the desserts felt like a promise the chef couldn’t keep.
Take the Big Kids Honeycomb – tickled with the title, I expected something pleasingly juvenile and indulgent. Instead, a plate with slightly 60s rings of pineapple, blobs of meringue and frankly intimidating chunks of cinder toffee. In my book, straight meringue isn’t something you want six ways – and a mini baked Alaska wasn’t going to make up for it. Ironically, The Beard’s more adult choice of a Burnt Sugar Crème Brûlée was a bit tentative with flavour, as though meant for a still youthful picky-eater.
So, did we end up unlucky with the things we picked from the menu? Maybe. Such is the lottery of the food critic: if you want to stay Kate Spicer slim, then you can’t order everything on the menu. It wouldn’t work wallet-wise, either. In the end, the question is whether we’d go back. To that: happily. With Chris Vernazza – alumni of Tom Kerridge’s two Michelin-starred pub The Hand and Flowers – at the stove, we suspect things here will adapt to criticism and, like the fabric warehouse Tariff & Dale sits in, be reinvented with elegance.
Where: 2 Tariff Street, Manchester
When: Sunday – Wednesday, 10am until 12am; Thursday 10am until 1am; Friday – Saturday, 10am until 2am