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The Mulberry Tree, Darkest Lancashire

Jonathan Schofield enjoys the grub but not the view from his table

Written by . Published on October 27th 2008.

The Mulberry Tree, Darkest Lancashire

There are two parts to the Mulberry Tree in Wrightington. The pub and the restaurant.

The interior of the pub is to die for. The designer needs shooting. The restaurant is a bit better but still deserves quick execution. The whole thing is so lacking in character that it looks like a bad Travelodge bar.

It’s that British thing.

This is where people are worried that putting expression into their decor opens a window on their character and lays them open to the judgement of others. Best to play it bland rather than go wrong seems to be the idea.

As a consequence otherwise sane people buy LS Lowry prints and put them on their living room walls. When a cowpat would look better. Or a picture of a hairy arse.

At the Mulberry Tree, this is confusing. The decor has all the confidence of the England football team in a World Cup quarter-final whilst the cooking is as assured as Daniel Craig in a dinner suit. This is one of the few places I know in the North West that offers caviar at £90 a 30g shot on the menu.

Our recent Sunday experience was, for the price, top notch.

Over ten courses there was nothing bad and several really good things. Chef Mark Prescott (previously of the Grosvenor, the Waterside at Bray and Le Gavroche) has a cupboard full of awards for what he’s done here since 2000 and no wonder.

The bread got things going with a real zip: a range of whites and browns piping hot with salty butter on the side (or olive oil or balsamic). This was a fine bit of Lancashire flour wizardry with plenty of doughy substance - which is why the butter worked better then the claggy olive oil.

An aside here. The two orders of bread (we liked it that much) came to £8.25. This is, to my mind, too much. Bread like water, the two pre-requisites of any basic diet, should be free in restaurants. Maybe Confidential should start a campaign.

Back to the meal. The five of us went for the two course deals (£14.50 per person), two of us going for starters and main, three going for main and pudding.

I began with succulent green padron peppers cooked in oil, layered with big flakes of sea salt and strewn with crispy, fat rimmed pancetta. Beautifully timed and delivered - they were just right. On the menu the dish had come with the words ‘Russian Roulette’, hinting at a hot secret in amongst the gentle peppers.

“Wonder why?” I scoffed as I got to the last of about nine. Number nine was the loaded chamber. I needed to sit silently for about five minutes afterwards, disguising my pain with the grin Bruce Forsyth wears squinting at the autocue.

Across the table the less visceral delights of a twice baked Lancashire cheese soufflé was being scoffed, accompanied by spiced pear, walnut, blue cheese and rocket. The soufflé was almost applauded by one dining partner: “floaty but with bags of flavour”, was the description. The dish was enhanced by the distinctive pear and the bite of the walnut. The blue cheese and rocket came in handy too.

The roast dinners – this was Sunday remember – matched the starters in terms of quality. The beef was served as requested, medium, and cut almost as thin as Parma ham, a clever trick which allowed the subtle power of the meat to flood out. Damn fine Yorkshire pudding, courgettes, carrots, beans too, along with splendid fondant potatoes.

I went for the char-grilled sweet cured bacon chop with Savoy cabbage, fondant potatoes, creamy three mustard sauce, and similar veg to the beef course. The bacon was a fat, juicy charred darling. The best thing though was the utterly refined sauce. The meat and the Savoy cabbage bunched on a fork and then wiped through the sauce produced exquisite flavour. On a big robust plate of food such as this, exquisite was the last word I’d thought I’d be using.

The best of the desserts were the crème brûlée and the apple and blackberry crumble with vanilla ice cream. The latter shaded the former because it offered that little extra element of skill in delivery. It was a nigh perfect crumble the tartness of the fruit waltzing with the gritty taste of the crumble and the sweetness of the ice cream.

The house Merlot had provided a good comfort zone red for the meal. Coffee came with its own little petit fours accompaniment.

There was a feedback card on the table. I don’t like feedback cards, like the decor in the Mulberry Tree, they seem to hint at a lack of confidence, “Please love me,” they seem to say, “we’ll listen honest.” I doubt their sincerity.

But on the Mulberry Tree’s feedback card, there was one question of startling self-assurance. ‘How often do you eat here?’ it asked? ‘Yearly, monthly, weekly, daily’.

Do people really come back every day?

Still I could easily tuck into one of those peppers and pancetta dishes regularly. I could bring some paint as well, and when I got the killer pepper I could take my mind off things by starting to re-decorate the Mulberry Tree. The place needs a lot of work, while the rock-steady food on this evidence needs almost none. It may occasionally be a little old fashioned – like James Bond to strain the Daniel Craig analogy above – but none the worse for that.

If you’ve enjoyed this review why not try other Jonathan Schofield reviews:
Restaurant Bar and Grill (click here), All Bar One (click here) and Red’n’Hot (click here).

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

James againOctober 27th 2008.

By the way the Mulberry food is very good, and the decor is very crap. But the problem is driving back down the lanes with 7 glasses of red down me neck. Could have hurt myself. Staying in the city is best, get a taxi.

ChickOctober 27th 2008.

emma; a certain 'up-market' Chinese restaurant just off Deansgate - never mind, if you drink enough, they'll give you your own special glass

PedroOctober 27th 2008.

Yes, this is the thin end of the wedge towards Restaurants getting us to pay the wages of the staff as happens, disgustingly, in America. I am always surprised that the American diners never give it a thought. I do hope enough Brits will kick up against this to stop it in its tracks. They cannot refuse to make out another bill but hope with fingers crossed that you will be too British and apathetic to challenge it. I lived in Oz for many years where most people hate this kind of thing and at one point in the late 90's we had a movement in Perth that forced many Restaurants to advertise the wine list at "Bottle shop prices" in an attempt to compete with the BYO Restaurants. Bring back BYO restaurants I say! ManCon could do an article on this for a start. I have only been to a very few BYO Restaurants or ones that charge minimal corkage at the very least around Manchester.

AnonymousOctober 27th 2008.

It isn't against the law to charge for tap water I learned from a very enlightening programme about it on Radio 4 on 5th September.

Mascara AddictOctober 27th 2008.

It is definately againest the law to charge for tap water, I am sure!

ChickOctober 27th 2008.

From the Beeb web site; Lifestyle page, consumer FAQ's"While a restaurant can't force you to buy bottled mineral water, it can legitimately charge you for providing tap water, as mean as it might sound. The provision of any water includes an element of service, such as pouring the water into a jug and/or glass and cleaning the jug and/or glass."

mark mOctober 27th 2008.

get over yourself. how old ru emma?

Jonathan SchofieldOctober 27th 2008.

I'm always being told that I think two and two equals five. Changed now to correct score, brought low by the diffident service of girls in their late teens/early twenties and that decor. But Chick, we had two baskets of bread and the price on the bill was £8.25, very odd.

SausagesOctober 27th 2008.

Yes - Pan Asia also charges for tap water. 50p a glass. Lets name and shame!

Bingo BagginsOctober 27th 2008.

Ask the utilities companies, they've been getting away with it for years.

ChickOctober 27th 2008.

Just can't get the staff can you? Here I go again. Love the review Jonathan, as always, you do make me titter. Bit about the free bread though, I'm not so sure about. Some restaurants use artisan bakers for their bread, or make it fresh on site. The cost of bread, flour and wheat has, relatively speaking, risen more than any other raw ingredient over the last year. It aint cheap anymore. A restaurant may say it's 'free' or list it as complimentary but somewhere the cost will have been added to the menu. Tap water, yep should always be free; there is however, at least one restaurant in the city centre that charges for the pleasure of a glass of Manchester's finest. Rant aside, the Mulberyy Tree is a great restaurant, well worth a Sunday drive.

James JOctober 27th 2008.

Are we talking about Wings

scoteeeOctober 27th 2008.

As far as i am aware, you dont have to provide a toilet in a cafe, only a restaurant

jenjenOctober 27th 2008.

I ate here a month or two ago after hearing loads of adverts on the radio. Food was absolutely gorgeous, we had the menu offer so really resonable price too. However the staff were also excellent, really frriendly etc and the service was great - don't think this was reflected in the rating above. Do agree on the decor though!!

mark mOctober 27th 2008.

I went in to Opus1, stood at the bar, ordered a drink and there was a service charge on the bill!!!!!! I left the drink, left the bar and have not been back since. Outrageous

EditorialOctober 27th 2008.

Folks we're having camera lessons tomorrow for the editor. He says that the food wasn't the best looking it was all in the flavour with these Sunday courses. We said, right, yeah.

James POctober 27th 2008.

Chick, that wouldn't be Wings would it? The one in Lincoln Square.

PedroOctober 27th 2008.

The Mulberry Tree is a great restaurant and Mark Prescott is a great Chef. I have been going a couple of times a year since it opened. We have also had excellent Christmas Lunches there. The Chef will cook you a goose if you give enough notice. On a different subject: I think you should start a campaign against service charge. I am not talking about the Mulberry Tree specifically, but why pay a 10 or 12% service charge on your drinks when they have been marked up sometimes at 400%. Politely ask for another bill without the service charge and tip how you feel on the food component of the bill and service.

emma graceOctober 27th 2008.

that is absolutely scandalous...MAN CON!! surely you can do something about this?!?!

EditorialOctober 27th 2008.

Oops sorry Chick and James, we were adding a photo - not even a very good one - and we cut your comments when we made the story live. Many apologies. Please post again.

dpOctober 27th 2008.

free warburtons and free evian !!!!!!

ValOctober 27th 2008.

Been a few times - food in the main very good but my god the conceited chef had fish with prawn butter on boxing day which was fridge cold (almost frozen) and were told thats how chef serves it!! haven't been back

ChickOctober 27th 2008.

Gordo has a maths degree, yep 13/20. Not nit-picking but two baskets of bread add up to £8.25? So each basket was £4.12 and a half pee?

emma graceOctober 27th 2008.

exactly! and mark, my age has nothing to do with it. it's the principal...

Peter BOctober 27th 2008.

We don't live locally but find its always worth the drive for the food. Been going about 6 times per year for the last 5 years. Food is always above average and sometimes on a par with the best restaurants anywhere. Have had some great fish there. We eat in the bar as we like the informal atmosphere but with top notch food. Kids meals are also very good home made quality - no cheap nuggets here. Ahhh the food, the food the food... Alas, the service is very hit and miss and some managers are very poor at customer service. (Always been a high staff turnover) The pub looks great from outside but inside you are spot on - poor Travelodge decor. The big screen TV is so out of place and distracting.A trick I hate there is you come in and go to the bar, order some drinks and they then offer to take them to your table - which means they end up on the bill and you pay service on top for them.So many negatives there, but its all worth it for the quality of food which keeps us coming back.

ChickOctober 27th 2008.

From the Beeb web site; Lifestyle page, consumer FAQ's"While a restaurant can't force you to buy bottled mineral water, it can legitimately charge you for providing tap water, as mean as it might sound. The provision of any water includes an element of service, such as pouring the water into a jug and/or glass and cleaning the jug and/or glass."

Mascara AddictOctober 27th 2008.

Wing Yip at the Trafford Centre also charges for tap water!

evieOctober 27th 2008.

glad you reviewed The Mulberry Tree we love the place and are very lucky to live local.The food is superb and although i agree the decor is unusual there is a very relaxed atmosphere . seeing what you are eating is sometimes a problem in the restaurant but who cares when it tastes that good.The bar is also very good.I also disagree with charging so much for bread and when asked if you want water for the table specify as otherwise you will get bottled Vos water, lovley but a bit pricey!Also a discressionary 10% charge is added for service which i find very reasonable.My fave dessert is the melting choclate pudding, very When Harry Met Sally!! and my boyfriend loves the rice pudding with apricots.enjoy!!

EditorialOctober 27th 2008.

Folks we're having camera lessons tomorrow for the editor. He says that the food wasn't the best looking it was all in the flavour with these Sunday courses. We said, right, yeah.

ADOctober 27th 2008.

I was under the impression that if your seving food the law requires you to provide tap water without charge (in the same way you have to provide toilet facilities). Does anyone know if thats right??

emma graceOctober 27th 2008.

i am in shock over this...it's absurd, not to mention WRONG to charge for tap water! how on earth do they get away with it?!?!

ChickOctober 27th 2008.

James P; that's the one. Excuse being that they have the cost of rates to UU, ice and ice machines, lemons (if you're lucky enough to get a slice), glasses etc.

emma graceOctober 27th 2008.

Chick...are you serious? Where on earth charges for tap water?!?! Please tell, they deserve to be named and shamed!!

BowksOctober 27th 2008.

great write-up although your descriptions of the food do it far better justice than the photos. Just hope it tastes a damn site better than it looks as can't imagine too many discerning Smooth FM listeners being blown away by what appears to be a run of the mill looking sunday roast

AvoOctober 27th 2008.

I always hear adverts for this place on Smooth FM.

ChickOctober 27th 2008.

This tap water thing; I see a pattern emerging

GordoOctober 27th 2008.

Blimey Jonathan, two problems here; those photos are terrible, the chef deserves better by the sounds of the review. Secondly, your addition. Shouldn't that add up to 13/20?

ChickOctober 27th 2008.

Pedro; I agree about service charge on drinks, in fact it should never be added to a bill automatically IMO. Even more frustrating when it goes towards making up employees' wages to the legal minimum. This has been dicussed before on ManCon, but no one really seems to care enough to do anything about it

MattOctober 27th 2008.

Yeh, I have to agree, the decor is just plain wrong and that isn't me with my designer head on. The food though is seriously good, never had a bad meal in either the pub or restaurant

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