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Take That

For vintage chic and hearty grub just like granny used to make, then take a drive over to Levenshulme of all places

Published on July 25th 2006.


Take That

One of the many nonsensical exchanges between Gordo and I went something like this:

“Vanessa, have you ever been to That Café?”
“What Café?”
“That Café”
“Yes but which one?”
“F***ing hell, you’re hard work.”

And it’s a conversation which has taken place at the dinner parties of many bourgeoisie arty types, back to the early 80s. That’s when the former That Café started out as a second hand shop/antique shop, which expanded to serving tea and cakes. It was the place where the bright young things lounged about, the North’s answer to Portobello Road except in the now not so bohemian Levenshulme. Apparently, the original owner spent so much time at her vintage empire, that when her children were asked where their mother was, they resentfully scoffed back “at that café.” Two things happened after that, a name was born and social services were probably called.

25 years on, Levenshulme itself may have aged as gracefully as the late Lynn Perrie , but That Café’s kitsch charm still oozes from its battered springless sofa in the bar area complete with Coronation Street memorabilia sitting upon the fireplace.

My mother (who accompanied me along, with my dad and hubby) looked like Liz Taylor sat in Vera Duckworth’s front room. But this is my kind of place and it’s rare that you find vintage chic restaurants in Greater Manchester, as most have sold their soul to imitation leather and booths.

As for the food, my mum considers herself a lady of taste – she’s the sort of woman who would take her own dish to a dinner party to outdo her hostess. And with her vocal chords, she could be an advert for BT. But when her starter, Pan Seared Scallops with Spiced Crab and Sweet Corn Frittes with a Mango and Coriander Salsa (£7.25) arrived, she licked her lips and that was the last we heard of her until coffee was served. A notable starter was the Salmon, King Prawn and Halibut Terrine with Dill Mayonnaise (£6.95) which was off the specials menu. Sea food shouldn’t be interfered with, it needs to jump straight out of the sea and on to your dish, not pureed to a pulp. That Café obviously follow my ethos, with a handsomely chunky dish. Bravo.

On to mains with the Breast of Barberry duck, cooked pink served with Roasted Beetroot, Cardamom Spiced Oranges and a Raspberry Gravy (£15.25). Cooked pink? It was still quacking. But I adore that That Café are teaching their diners that it’s the only way to serve duck. The sauce tasted cosily of mulled wine, so spicy and fruity, it makes you want to break into a verse of The Holly and The Ivy.

Another blinder of a fish dish with the Salmon, Cod, King Prawn and Morcome Bay Shrimp Fish pie with parsley mash served with griddled leeks and creamy pea sauce (£15.25). One word really – Yum. Hearty but not lacking imagination, with more of a layered effect of fish with lobster size prawns on the bottom, working its way up to a crispy top.

We swilled down our scrummy grub with the sprightly La Promenade de Floressac 2004 (£17.25). French obviously, but a thoroughly good socialiser. Throw it into any sort of company and it will mix well. Keep an eye out for the wine menu, it reads as well as the wine tastes – a little bit cheeky. Although a note to the owners - sort your coolers out guys, they don’t allow the wine do its job properly.

Desserts transported me back to my Great Auntie Katie’s kitchen with a Pecan and Apple Muffin served with Grape, Pecan and Brandy Jam and Vanilla Ice Cream (£4.75). De-licious. There’s that nostalgic feel about all the dishes but especially the desserts served on 1940s style plates with the tarnished gold plating. I had romantic notions of wartime food. Until my father chirps in: “not at these prices”.

But I’m right - naturally. There is something wistful and comforting about this or That Café - the food, furnishings or the friendly faces welcoming you into the fold. And that could be because it’s a female chef. They’re a flourishing breed in culinary circles.

Gordo will no doubt argue the following point but – unlike female chefs many male chefs are prissy in their presentation, effeminate even. Put a woman in charge of a kitchen and you can taste generations of secret recipes feeding their way into every wholesome, thoughtful dishes.

So it’s a victory V for me and the rest of my clan. So much so mum and dad are booked in at That Café’s next Jazz night, which take place on the first Wednesday of every month.

16.5/20

That Café
1031 Stockport Road
Levenshulme
Manchester

0161 432 4672

Vanessa Lees
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