One of the great pleasures of writing for Northern Soul is being able to review many of the best restaurants in Manchester.
The city was building on its reputation as a food destination, as testified by the increasing number of appreciative reviews by London-based food critics who’d been shamed into leaving the comfort of their front door. Manchester certainly impressed Marina O’Loughlin of The Sunday Times when she reviewed Erst in February this year. Not to blow my own horn, but I reviewed it some four months earlier for Northern Soul and gave it the full five stars. Admittedly, I didn’t have to travel as far as O’Loughlin (and nor did my review carry the same weight as The Sunday Times), but I took some pride in being first (or second) to the jump.
Erst, which opened in March 2019, is a unique European restaurant and natural wine bar situated in Ancoats, often described as an up-and-coming part of the city centre. I love Erst and, as an Irishman, didn’t it have the finest crispy potatoes I’ve ever tasted? I ate there as often as I could, enjoying every occasion and taking a different friend like an over-enthusiastic preacher trying to convert as many followers as possible. Sometimes I went on my own just for the sheer culinary pleasure. Needless to say (but needs must), Erst closed its doors a year later when the pandemic hit. I was heartbroken when it shut.
Over the months of the lockdown I’ve kept in touch with co-founder Will Sutton by ordering a weekly delivery from their bottle store. The selection is always interesting and from some of the most adventurous producers of natural wines in the world. I hope that future wellness gurus testify to the mental health benefits of a weekly wine drop off.
Recently, Erst announced it would be delivering food. It was like music to my ears, or whatever the food equivalent is. The short menu consists of Kobeda, a Persian lamb kebab with salad, flatbread and sauces. Vegetarian options include coal-roasted aubergine with yoghurt and muhammara and a feta, sweet and sour onion salad along with their world-beating crispy potatoes. Orange blossom and pistachio chocolate pot make up the sweet ending.
I ordered the Kobeda and potatoes. The whole package came beautifully presented with careful instructions about oven time and temperature. I followed them to the second and degree, opening a chilled bottle of Calcarius Roz rosato from my growing Erst wine cellar to accompany my anticipation. From the first bite to the last, I sampled true restaurant cuisine and was reminded why I love Erst so much.
As the lockdown begins to lift, I hope that Erst opens its doors soon. I will be first in that socially distanced queue. Until then, I will polish the silver, get out my linen table cloth and light the candle while I wait for my Erst takeaway.