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The Marble Arch: best pub in the region?

Jonathan Schofield (already passionate about a brew-pub) falls head-over-heels for the new menu

Written by . Published on July 10th 2008.


The Marble Arch: best pub in the region?

The Marble Arch has been a very special pub for a long time.

It’s got a fine interior, a micro-brewery producing award winning ales, and a broad mix of clientele. In other words it’s got history, looks, atmosphere and top drinks. It feels genuine too, like a proper local. A few weeks ago it gained a new chef, he's delivering food to match everything else.

It didn't seem possible, but the Marble Arch is better than ever.

From the Connaught to the Marble Arch (via London Carriageworks in Liverpool). I know who the winner is in all this. Us. And the Marble. Calder is easily producing better food than most of the formal restaurants in Manchester. From a tiny kitchen in a proper boozer.

Confidential was here for a couple of reasons. First of all it was ages since we’d been. Secondly, it was convenient. One of our favourite Manchester chefs, Robert Owen-Brown, was still painting his new venture, The Angel, down the road and wasn't ready for us. It was after five and Gordo and I were gagging for a pint, so we rushed for the nearest boozer .

As soon as we were inside our very own bon viveur pulled up short. His eyes popped. “Bloody hell, never been in here before,” he said.

The Marble does that to new visitors. The main room is drop-dead gorgeous. There are tiles, burnished and shining, over a mosaic floor of sweet, sweet Lancashire red roses. At cornice level, the 1880s pub has the names of drinks picked out in faience and festooned with grapes: ‘wine’, ‘ale’, ‘porter’, ‘whiskies’, ‘rum’, and ‘cordials’ it declares. The floor slopes with the terrain underneath the Marble at an almost giddy angle. The functional rear part of the pub has the brewery and out the back is a garden/smoking area.

Previously we wouldn't have noticed the menu. This time it was shouting for attention. There was no time to sample anything then, but on the review visit, the clever classic dishes exceeded expectations. The chef is a Scouser called Ken Calder and this lad’s got talent.

I came back twice in one day, for a light lunch and then a big main off the evening menu. I couldn't help myself.

Lunch came in the form of Ken’s nan’s cheese on toast (£3.50), a carrot and orange soup of the day (£3.50) and the halloumi with rocket (£4).

Everyone of these was a star, but the cheese on toast was super-nova. The presentation is first class with the salad and balsamic addition, but it’s the fluffy and thick texture of cheese mix on the toast which really stands out. This included chopped chilli which gave the rich cheese flavour an added kick. Normally I don’t like cheese on toast mucked about with but this worked. The toast base had been thought about too, an artisan bread, scorched at the edges and soft in the centre with the juices from the cheese mix above. The halloumi plate over the table nearly reached this level too. The only debate came over the soup, I found the orange a little too intense, my companion thought it was just grand.

I was back at 5pm prompt for the evening menu (this runs from 5pm-9pm). I went for a rib eye steak with grilled tomatoes, chips, mushrooms and onion rings (£11). It was even better than the cheese on toast. I’d asked for a medium rare steak and this was on the button. It was also cooked with absolute confidence and competence, the flavours and juices had been locked in, the flesh yielded and then almost melted in the mouth. Without a shadow of a doubt this was the best rib eye steak I’ve had in a year. Probably a lot longer.

Click to enlarge

All the other parts were a treat too, the grilled tomato with garlic and herbs, the just-so mushrooms, and the spot-on chips. Look at the chips on the picture on this page, think of them with a little vinegar and with real chunky spud inside. Ace. The onion rings showed the exact timing and level of finesse Calder brings to the Marble: these were sweet, gently battered little marvels.

But the peppercorn sauce showed the skill this boy is capable of, it was a little hymn of subtle power. I sought him out after the meal and asked him for the secret. He went through the process: a complex roll call of béchamel, shallots, green peppercorns, wine jus, brandy and the juices which had come up through the steak. This for a steak in a pub. I feel I might have left something out as well.

It’s a recipe I’ve adapted from one Angela Harnett had at the Connaught when I worked with her,” said Ken Calder.

From the Connaught to the Marble Arch (via London Carriageworks in Liverpool). I know who the winner is in all this. Us. And the Marble. It’s like Frank Lampard leaving Chelsea not for Inter Milan but for Bolton.

Calder is easily producing better food than most of the formal restaurants in Manchester, from a tiny kitchen in a proper boozer. I want to try the fish pie, the sardines on toast, the meat platter, the half pint of prawns and find out what he does with them.

With the steak by the way I had a lovely stout called El Diablo at 4.5% from Pictish in Rochdale. It was a great match for the meat.

If Robert Owen-Brown can reach the heights he did at the Bridge with the Angel, then the Rochdale Road area of the city centre will become a beacon for top class British cuisine with a modern interpretation. And all the better for being found in down to earth pubs – albeit with a little florid tile work here and there.

The Marble was always a special micro-brewery pub. With the addition of this level of cooking, it’s probably the most complete pub, not only in the central areas of the city but across the region. The scores below reflect how much further this pub has pushed things than others and without recourse to karaoke just quality (we measure venues against the best in their field, pubs against pubs in this instance).Get up there asap.

Rating:17.5/20
Breakdown:9/10 Food
4/5 Service
4.5/5 Ambience
Address: The Marble Arch
73 Rochdale Road
Manchester
M4 4HY
0161 819 2694
www.marblebeers.co.uk

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, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away

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

ancoats girlJuly 10th 2008.

We went to try the new menu last week based on this review. I was told they had no peppercorn sauce - the main thing I'd been looking forward to! Gutted. So I had a halloumi starter instead which was quite nice - though it could have done with an extra piece or two of cheese for the price. It came with some grilled, skinned tomatoes that were quite tasty. My friend had the steak, medium rare and said it was very good though perhaps not as pink as you might expect. My boyfriend had the fish & chips and said the fish was fresh and the batter crispy. Both came with handcut chips that were the size of small bananas - good but perhaps a bit too big to achieve the crispy/fluffy combination of a perfect chip.

ktfairyJuly 10th 2008.

My fav pub - I spend far too much time in here. I agree with the comments on the veggie pie - I wasn't expecting ratatoille and didn't like it. The rest of the food is yummy and the beer is fantastic. Mine's a Lagonda - cheers

ancoats girlJuly 10th 2008.

I've always found the food a bit hit and miss at the Marble, depending on the chef, but this sounds great (especially the peppercorn sauce, my favourite!) The only thing that would vastly improve the Marble is if they would refurbish the back eating area. It's fairly ugly compared to the main room, and the kitchen fumes make it an unpleasant place to sit for too long. The beer "garden" could do with some TLC too. However I've spent many a happy night drinking ale in the main room and it will always be my town local.

ancoats girlJuly 10th 2008.

My friends from London loved the beer so much, they begged the barman to fill up a plastic jug with some of the ginger marble and the chocolate heavy to take home. (This was before the Marble started selling a small selection of their own bottles...) What I also love is that it attracts a nice crowd, unlike many other traditional boozers in town. And there are always a handful of eccentrics discussing real ale or posties doing crosswords. Love it!

johnthebriefJuly 10th 2008.

Maybe it's guilt by association with Gordo then. Where does he buy his suits?

Mr DJuly 10th 2008.

Yes it is! But you will ruin it shouting about it on here... Big mouths

QuasimodoJuly 10th 2008.

I'm in love with the cheese on toast mentioned in the review. I'm going to leave my wife and children and go and live with it.

Mark Garner The PublisherJuly 10th 2008.

Guys, i take the comments seriously re the Sunday Lunch here, it's dissapointing as the pair of you seem pretty lucid and not the competition. We shall report back.

Dr QiJuly 10th 2008.

The steak is SO GOOD!And the mushrooms deliiicious.

Jonathan Schofield - editorJuly 10th 2008.

Oddly enough johnthebrief I've never been into the Angel with any alcohol in my blood because it was always the first stop...now this afternoon is different, just been in El Rincon and had an amazing octopus bits over spuds with olive oil and something else washed down by a really fine Albarino. Food is good.

AnonymousJuly 10th 2008.

Went for the first time recently, after intending to pay this place a visit for a few years (spurred on to comment after reading this review) but have to be honest, I was a bit disappointed - I think for a sunday/weekend they should ditch the pre & post 5pm menu and have a sunday roast on there instead, I'm sure they'd do an excellent job.As we got there just before 4 we had to choose from the pre 5pm menu and opted for Steak & Ale Pie, which was okay but no gravy for the accompanying veg (which was supposed to be garden veg but was just boiled potatoes and carrots), what's all that about??I'd go back to try some of the beers as they had an impessive selection, and maybe a burger as they looked awesome, but I'm not in a great rush.Still think it's a great pub and with a few tweaks (and a bit of a spruce up) could be amazing - nice atmosphere and the regulars seemed like a good bunch so can't complain.Worth paying a visit but if you're after a sunday roast, head elsewhere (TV21's in the NQ do a surprisingly good one in a giant yorkshire pudding).

CitySlothJuly 10th 2008.

The Marble has been my favourite Mancunian drinking hole for the six or so years since I first discovered it: A true gem of a building with great home-brewed tipples and a nicely mixed clientele. A couple of years ago I first sampled the lunchtime grub. What I discovered was good quality pub fare: fat and juicy homemade burgers, chunky sandwiches with generous tasty fillings and the tour de force that was the all day stacked breakfast (layers of poached egg, black pudding and bacon balanced between crispy crostini) I found myself there on Sunday and plumped for the burger. It was dry and fairly tasteless and the salad garnish was minimal and far from fresh-looking. My mate tried the steak and ale pie mentioned in the review above and that was really poor. The meat was dry and tasteless and the accompanying carrots were overcooked to the point of being drained of any last hint of flavour. All dishes were poorly presented.I love the Marble Arch, so it has truly pained me to write this. Let’s hope that it was just a Sunday lunchtime aberration! But should Sunday lunches not be when pub grub excels?? It also pains me to say that from now on I will be forced to take Manchester Confidential restaurant reviews with…. ahem… a pinch of salt.

bulldozer66July 10th 2008.

The new chef must have been having a very off day last time we visited. All the dishes ordered were well below the usual standard. I'll give the food another go but my pals might take some persuading...Still the best pub in town though!

AlexJuly 10th 2008.

Have to agree that it is hit and miss. In some ways it was better how it was. The review was way over the top, IMO. The evening selection is good, but at the expense of lunchtime choice. All the old favourites have disappeared and you can't get a decent pie or sandwhich anymore. Even the full menu holds disappointments, such as the steak % ale pie which is definitely related to the Ox version.

johnthebriefJuly 10th 2008.

Hmm, I thought you looked a little "pre-refreshed" when you staggered into the Angel, Jonathan....

GordoJuly 10th 2008.

Took the trainee in there for dinner on Friday. Ken is a great find, the food is a breath of fresh air and should give Rob a run for his money.

mark mJuly 10th 2008.

I went in when I needed a break from painting and had a taster of his fish pie. Tarragon infused sauce with fluffy mash. mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. lovely. the beer is awesome too.

JennJuly 10th 2008.

I'm currently in the middle of eating my way through the new menu and can honestly say there's nothing so far that I wouldn't order again (and again)My favorite so far has to be the ribs-rather special! I'm looking forward to sampling the rest of the menu however I am now a little worried it will be too busy for me to get a table!

johninliverpoolJuly 10th 2008.

One of our finest exports to you in Manchester. We will be visiting the Marble shortly to taste some more of Ken's delicious food. He is a fine chef, who has the potential to become one of the greats! Enjoy the food!

JennJuly 10th 2008.

I also agree with the comments lunch/dinner menu differences, last time I ate in there I wanted a starter from the pre 5pm menu and a main from the post. Very accomodatingly I got what I wanted and excellent it was too!

John S. LockeJuly 10th 2008.

One of my favourite pubs in the City (apart from my own! Ha ha!) I haven't tried the food yet, but will very soon...thank you for pointing the grub quality to be found in Manchester pubs as ever Mr. Schofield!... A true supporter of the independent boozer.

mark mJuly 10th 2008.

I hear it's from Oxfam

Thoroughbred MancJuly 10th 2008.

I sense a stampede.

Agent57July 10th 2008.

The Marble in Chorlton is my favorite pub in the world, and discovering the ginger marble ale was like sipping the holy water of eternal life from the cup of holy grail, you cant fault the pub, the beers, the atmosphere and the people who drink there it in my book, I will have to revisit the Marbs in town with some friends and get some grub after this favorable review!!

AlanJuly 10th 2008.

I know what you mean about hit and miss - had really good fish and chips a couple of times but the last time I went made the mistake of ordering the veggie pie: a tin of barely warm ratatoille with a pastry lid and a handful of chips that set me back £8! This was just at the start of Ken's residency as chef so hopefully was just teething problems.All that aside, The Marble Arch is definitely the best pub in Manchester!

Kev PJuly 10th 2008.

I went in there for the first time tonight, having no idea of its already famed status! I didn't eat the food but found the pub itself to be excellent! Lovely decor, great atmosphere, smiling staff and a great selection of local beers. It's my new favourite place!

Deborah Helen HawkinsMay 9th 2010.

first time to the Marble on Saturday afternoon, a group of eight of us drinking all kinds of wonderful brews from the ginger, to the sparkling perry and the cheery beer. What made our day was the food - stunning!! what a find and yes it may spoil it by telling folk about it, but we cant be selfish! this pub is unique and i cant wait to go again. the ambience in the back dining room was second to none and if it were refurbed, it may change!

David LambertJuly 7th 2013.

Saturday 6th of July 2013. Myself, brother and 2 freinds on a trip to Manchester spent few hours in this pub, been before. I can still say it's still a good one! Great local bitters for the real ale lovers and for me a great German Lager on tap('K...'). Great fish and 'proper' chips meal, all in a well kept traditional pub building with some lovely original features. What more do you want? Pity a lot of other trad'l boozers don't come up to this standard.

paulsouthernJuly 7th 2013.

My favorite Manchester pub since I moved here in 1982. Had my 30th there and may well make it my venue for my 50th next year. Sure I will be in there a few times in between now and then :-)

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