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REVIEW | The Waggon, Birtle

Deanna Thomas on an undeserving Bib Gourmand in Bury

Written by . Published on November 10th 2014.

REVIEW | The Waggon, Birtle

MANY ideas start off with pure intentions and then, over time, more people get involved until the initial concept snowballs into something much more contentious.

The menu was seasonal but wouldn’t light any bonfires. 'Warm French Beans with goat’s cheese, walnuts and Cabernet Sauvignon vinaigrette' was presented as though it had been dropped into the bowl from a great height.

Take the Michelin Guide for example. Over 100 years ago André Michelin and his brother Edouard put together a free guide to encourage people to purchase one of those new fangled motor vehicles and take it out on longer journeys, thus feeding the demand for new tyres. It included maps, instructions for simple car repairs, a list of petrol stations and hotels on various routes and places they’d recommend for a good feed along the way.

Over a century later, this annual red guide has morphed into a hotly contested marque of culinary quality and chefs have been known to sacrifice their very lives to gain and retain this prestigious accolade.

Waggon ExteriorThe Waggon, Birtle

Waggon InteriorWaggon Interior

In 1955, Michelin introduced the Bib Gourmand which it awards to restaurants it feels offers an excellent quality, value for money dining experience. 69 Bib Gourmands in England were announced in the latest guide, including three in the North West; Joseph Benjamin in Chester, Hearth of the Ram in Ramsbottom and The Waggon at Birtle.

I don’t usually go out of my way to admit this, but my friend and I are no longer spring chickens. However, we still managed to lower the average age of The Waggon by about 30 years, just by walking in. The dining room had an immediately noticeable piscine pong and the pine tables and blue patterned carpet gave it all the charm of the Fairfield Hospital Geriatric Ward canteen nearby. Most of the diners probably had an original copy of the original Michelin guide.

To be fair though, it was busy for a midweek evening and we were shown to a table next to a window and a storage heater. We weren’t thrilled to discover that one of our glasses was filthy, but were thankful there weren’t any dentures left in there.

A basket of sliced bread was brought over with no explanation as to what the two types were. It was cold and appeared shop bought. I wasn’t necessarily expecting a freshly baked homemade selection, but began to wonder at this point what exactly it was about this place that had managed to catch the eye of all the prominent guides.

French BeansFrench Beans

Tongue N CheekTongue in Cheek

The menu was seasonal but wouldn’t light any bonfires. Warm French beans with goat’s cheese, walnuts and Cabernet Sauvignon vinaigrette (£6.50) was presented as though it had been dropped into the bowl from a great height. My braised salted ox tongue and beef cheek in red wine sauce (£7.95) was tender, hearty fayre but there was no solid signs of the advertised accompanying bacon, mushrooms or baby onions. I can’t help thinking they missed some kind of ‘tongue in cheek’ joke in the title. I know they’ve got a sense of humour in Bury – I was educated there.

Trio of lamb (£19.95) included roast rack, salted shoulder and shepherd’s pie. The shoulder was really good and proved at last, here was something unusual that required technical skill. Underneath sat a white bean puree with garlic so raw and pungent it defibrillated the general lambiness. The chops were cooked pink as requested but the shepherd’s pie let it all down. The potato topping was gloopy and flopping it over to one side just revealed an unseasoned minced lamby chow underneath.

Two fish choices were handwritten on a separate list as they’re dependent on what’s available from market. Halibut with samphire, roast potatoes and cherry tomatoes (main image above) was pleasant enough if leaning towards the dry side, but at £18.50, it wasn’t any better than a keen cook can make in their own home for a lot less.

Lamb X 3Lamb X 3

Pear TartPear Tart

Communal dishes of anaemic looking celeriac and cabbage were put down in front of us. I had to call after the waitress to ask what they were. Someone in the engine room had washed, peeled, chopped and cooked them, so it’s only polite for plate carriers to at least remember the name of each dish. She didn’t know.

We shared a pudding to just get it over with. We ordered the most interesting sounding one plum, pear and peanut tart with caramel, liquorice and blackcurrant ice cream (£5.95). Ice cream came from the excellent Cheshire Ice Cream in Tattenhall, but it was still bought in. The peanut flavour stood out pleasantly enough but all the other components lost any of their independent crunch or fruitiness by being doused in an overpowering flood of sugar syrup.

I get no joy from writing negative things about small independent businesses that buy locally and seasonally and try hard but we paid up and we left, probably passing a dozen places between Bury North and Manchester South worthier of a Michelin Bib Gourmand.

Follow @DeannaThomas on twitter.


The Waggon at Birtle, 131 Bury and Rochdale Old Road, Bury, Lancashire, BL9 6UE. 01706 622 955

Mon-Tues Closed, Wed-Sat 6.00pm-9.30pm, Thurs–Fri 12.00-2.00pm, Sunday 12.30pm–7.30pm

Rating: 10.5/20

Food: 6/10 (green beans 6, tongue in cheek 7, halibut 6, lamb 6, pear tart 6) 
Service: 2.5/5
Ambience: 2/5

PLEASE NOTE: Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing, 14-15 worth a trip, 16-17 very good, 18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20, we get carried away

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5 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

callsignponyNovember 5th 2014.

It gives me no pleasure to say that I agree entirely with this review. We ate here this Saturday evening, driving the 40mins from South Manchester on the basis of the Michelin award. The dining room was dated and bland, the service, whilst friendly, was not assured and the food was, at best, OK. Given that it has a Bib Gourmand we had much higher expectations which just weren't met. Sadly, we won't be returning.

Paul CarterNovember 7th 2014.

I'm normally critical of Man Con for over exuberant reviews of what I perceive to be bog standard or below par restaurants - see 63 Degrees and Manchester House - but in this case the reverse applies. I go to the Waggon about once a year and although it's not mind-blowing it's always consistent and worthy of the mark it gets in the Good Food Guide (hovering between a two and three). So what has gone wrong? Disregarding the décor all I can presume is either the chef has left, or he had a night off when Deanna came and his team failed to step up to the mark, or it was simply an off night. Can someone enlighten me please?

1 Response: Reply To This...
Paul CarterNovember 11th 2014.

Looks like no-one is going to Paul

Charles CohenNovember 11th 2014.

You may be right about the restaurant, the interior certainly looks dull. However, the pervading whiff of ageism in this piece has left such a bad taste in my mouth I think it's your reviewing ability that requires low marks. One can be rude in an article if the writing is warm and witty. Your writing is not warm or witty, your crass attempt at humour just comes across as nasty.

Paul BaileyFebruary 8th 2015.

I went last night. Didn't smell like a toilet and the food, as ever, was first class. A lot of older people do visit because the food is fantastic and because they can afford it. Can't understand this review at all, not my experience.

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