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The Old Wellington review

Jonathan Schofield and the case of the lifeless carrots, the limp broccoli and the Pompeiian chips

Written by . Published on April 6th 2010.

The Old Wellington review

The Old Wellington and Sinclairs Oyster Bar in Exchange Square do the pub crawl for you. They've been jacked up to a different level, shifted on their axis and shipped down the street.

That the prices are cheap across the menu is no excuse. You can still do things properly. You can still have pride in what you do. It's like there's a bit of culinary S&M going on. The pubs dish out the pain, saying go on, you like it really, and the typical British customer says, go on then, whip me, I'll take it. You suspect though one is enjoying it more than the other.

The last of the moves came after the IRA bomb attack of 1996 so that a new street, New Cathedral Street could be created, linking the Cathedral area with St Ann's Square.

The two venues are now beloved of tourists seeking cute photos and the footballing drinking classes for the extensive outdoor, aka smoking, terrace.

The Old Wellington is the older of the buildings dating from the 1530s. It was a residence for much of that time, becoming a pub in the nineteenth century. You can see why tourists love it. It's a half-timbered dream from every movie set in medieval England. Inside on the upper floor it's even better with cushions on the otherwise bang-your-head beams.

On the outside there's a board describing the history of the place which tells a lie. It says the Old Wellington is the oldest building in the city. It isn't. Chetham's School of Music and Library occupy buildings dating from the 1420s or thereabouts, more than a century older than this place.

The Old Wellington also declares itself more of a restaurant than a pub, and that's a bit of a porky too.

The menu might as well be called Our Big Honest British Pub Grub Menu. I bet this is how they described it in the marketing meeting in the pubco that owns the Old Wellington Inn. I bet they followed that with, “This means we can do something dead cheap with lots of bought in and frozen shit.”

There's the problem. To carry off British cooking well the ingredients have to be fresh, care has to be taken with the preparation, and the labour intensive cooking timed correctly.

British food in its pies, sausage and mash, scampi incarnation can either be winningly wholesome or witheringly stodgy. Most pubs, 85 per cent of them, promise us the former and deliver us the latter. This is because there's nobody who can cook in the kitchen, just someone wearing a hat who can heat up all the bought-in things.

The Old Wellington food falls into this category. I visited twice and it was uninspiring twice. The puddings were crude and clumsy, the mains equally so apart from part of one. Wow. Well done.

There's no need to describe more than a couple of examples of the mains. The Home baked Aberdeen Angus cottage pie (£6.95) promised to be 'lean beef in rich gravy topped with a thick layer of cheesy mash potato'. It was a tastefree mess of goo and overwhelming cheese, and whilst looking good in the sunshine pics here, had only one quality: it was filling. If it was home-baked it didn't taste like it.

The carrots and broccoli on the plate below the cottage pie were an insult: dried, tough specimens of kitchen carelessness. How bloody hard is it to do such a simple pair of cottage pie adornments as these correctly?

The gammon, egg and chips (£6.95) was better. The gammon was fine, nothing wrong with it, not overdone, not underdone, and surmounted by two eggs with nicely runny yolks. But the chips were atrocious. They were Pompeii chips, a hardened magma coating under which lay a pile of volcanic ash. They felt, smelt and tasted like they'd come out of a big bag from the freezer. Again pubs of the nation, unite and take over the cooking of your own chips, would you?

That the prices are cheap across the menu is no excuse. You can still do things properly. You can still have pride in what you do. It's like there's a bit of culinary S&M going on. The pubs dish out the pain, saying go on, you like it really, and the typical British customer says, go on then, whip me, I'll take it. You suspect though one is enjoying it more than the other: in this case the pubcos who enjoy low costs and high profits.

Perhaps the problem is that the Old Wellington, despite all its apparent charm, has never quite decided what it wanted to be since it moved after the IRA bomb. It has the tiny bar area downstairs and then the 'restaurant' in the upper two floors.

Sinclairs Oyster Bar next door has got a better balance. There's a small bespoke dining area on the ground floor and overspill for lunch upstairs. But in the evening it concentrates on the booze and becomes an old-fashioned city drinking den. The Old Wellington would feel more honest if it followed suit. Especially given that the contrast between the pretty upper dining rooms and the frequently unruly bedlam taking place in the outside drinking area can be so pronounced – especially when the footy fans have invaded that big terrace.

The worst of it is that so many tourists to Manchester see the Old Wellington and think, oh good, a bit of Olde Englande. Then they experience the food. Which is Olde Englande, but that bit of Olde Englande which is every terrible motorway service station from as far back as the 1970s.

So despite all the TV shows, all the water under the bridge, all the food fads and food obsessions and worthy words, places are still turning out carrots, broccoli and chips like the ones in the Old Wellington. It makes you seethe at the cynicism of many in the British catering business.

Rating: 10/20
Breakdown: 4/10 food
3/5 service
3/5 ambience
Address: The Old Wellington Inn
4 Cathedral Gates
0161 839 5179

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.

IanApril 6th 2010.

Not only do homemade chips taste much nicer, but they're cheaper to make, so pubs save money by doing it.

I can't remember if this place does any real ale, but Sinclair's certainly doesn't, no real Olde Englande there. They're both a bit of a disappointment in my book.

Scott NeilApril 6th 2010.

glad Ian brought up Sinclair's lack of cask, Sam Smith's Old Brewery Bitter is a nice enough drop if on form, but i gather Sinclair's went all keg last year. i was last in pre-United/Milan, and it was cooking bitter all the way. perhaps not as big a complaint as the Welly's food, but disappointing nonetheless.

YumApril 6th 2010.

Ha those carrots are so pub typical. But the cynicism is horrible.

Paul MastersApril 6th 2010.

Is that six or seven chips or are they hiding due to shame

ClevermeApril 6th 2010.

Maybe the eggs erupted like Vesuvius and covered the chips. There, that's another Pompeii analogy. I'm clever me.

Richard13098April 6th 2010.

This reminds me of Harvey's Law, which states that the more delightful a building is the less attractive is the food served inside. If you have a nice exterior people will come in anyway and you don't need to try!

NortherngeezerApril 6th 2010.

General rule with pub grub..........assume its all shyte and you wont go wrong. If its re-heated or frozen, it will ascede to the rule, like the chips, the veg, and the pie. If its cooked, like the gammon or the eggs, yer in with a bit of a chance, but dont hold yer breath.

Edward AllenApril 6th 2010.

I have visited The Old Wellington on a number of occasions, including having a party for my son's christening there, and must say that my experience has been far removed from that which is described above.

I agree that the food in the photographs above does not look appetising but I have always found the pies served at the Wellington to be excellent. On each occasion the food served has appeared fresh and home made.

What really makes me mad is that someone is able to pretend to be critic on a website such as this when they have no regard for correct use of language, syntax, grammar or even in writing an article that is easy to understand. Why should I respect the opinions expressed in this article when the writer puts so little effort into the article they have produced?

JennApril 6th 2010.

@ED63MOSTON You had a different experience and/or you have a different palate to JS. Fair enough - but what's with the unsubstantiated criticisms? The review reads fine to me.

Jason TaylorApril 6th 2010.

Wow Ed. Is the writing not as good as your first sentence for complicated syntax? Reads fine for me and the way pubs cook is very annoying. They should try harder.

NortherngeezerApril 7th 2010.

Syntax my arse...........i'm interested in someones opinion of the food, not how they spell or if the verb has been conjugated FFS!!!!.

DescartesApril 7th 2010.

....bet it's a blogger.

Smyth HarperApril 7th 2010.

Ed, I also think the review reads fine, not sure what you're criticising. Northerngeezer, the website is written by writers and they should be able to write, in my opinion. In fairness, I think they can, although they could become more acquainted with the little fella called the apostrophe and his use and misuse ;-)

Thomas MemApril 7th 2010.

Descartes you might be right. Bloggers are the failures of the writing world, the amateur footballers who think they know better than the pros. Most of them are very very strange.

Roger RogerApril 7th 2010.

Smitty, just read this. Are there any missing apostrophes or needless ones? Sinclairs Oyster Bar should have one but the signboard indicates it doesn't have one. Sorry if you think I'm a geek folks but I like these little games. Ed Moston probably only reads Government handbooks.

Smyth HarperApril 7th 2010.

Wasn't talking about this article specifically Roger, but I'm with you on the geek scale. We aren't alone.

DescartesApril 7th 2010.

The problem is (@Thomas Mem): knowing your good at something takes the exact same level of skill as being good at whatever that thing is. Which is why no matter how poor some people's skills are, they have the confidence and bravado to convince themselves they the next f*cking Beethoven and won't ever shut up about it. Bloggers are one such group of people ;)

AvoApril 7th 2010.

Bloggers are failed writers who are desperate for an audience.

Paul MastersApril 7th 2010.

A turds a turd and a shit dinner a shit dinner

Scott NeilApril 7th 2010.

bloggers? hmm. obviously there's a lot of dross about but three Mcr-based bloggers - off the top of my head - are campaigning journo Ciara Leeming, sometime Metro bod Emma Sturgess (Guild of Food Writers' restaurant reviewer of the year), and Norm Geras, prof emeritus of government at Mcr uni. not a bad bunch. let's not get baby/bathwater now...

AnonymousApril 7th 2010.

Add Kate Feld and Sarah Hartley to that list.Seems there's a lot of sour grapes about bloggers....

Scott NeilApril 7th 2010.

i remember when the Guardian's Scott Trust sent Sarah H over to Damascus to do some media training. anything that can boost the confidence & skills of journos working under harsh Syrian law has to be a good thing. fab Levantine food reports at the time from her at the MEN blog too.

AnonymousApril 7th 2010.

Vast legions of shit isn't made up for by a couple of professionally trained journo's doing something similar.<br><br>
Has Kate Feld even updated her blog in 2010? Let's see some urls for good Manchester blog's that have updated more than three times this year.

Scott NeilApril 7th 2010.

"Vast legions of shit" is i'm sure a fair description of much blogging. BUT, it's also a fair description of much of our traditional media. must admit i hadn't heard of Kate Feld until the prior anon mentioned her but i now see her blog is the regularly updated Manchizzle. (nice thing about the Central Library there.) despite the fact i mentioned three Mcr-based blogs earlier that are decent, i don't read specifically Mcr-focused ones (unless you count occasional Mcr mentions at normblog or Max Dunbar; i read both solely for the politics), so i'll pass on that challenge...

NortherngeezerApril 7th 2010.

Smitty, my criticism is aimed at numptys who think the grammer of an article is more important than the content. I thought the article by Mr Schofield was excellent, clear, conscise, and to the point. Dunno about the fookin syntax tho, unless it were part of the pie.

Jonathan Schofield - editorApril 10th 2010.

Went to Tampopo, last night in Albert Square. All fed, watered and very happy with the food. My nonya chicken and lime curry was beautiful. Lime is a lovely addition to certain culinary traditions - although lime trees in my front garden are a bleeding nuisance, shedding seeds all year round. Back to Tampopo well done to David Fox and team.

NortherngeezerApril 12th 2010.

I'm confused..........WTF's a 'review' of Tampopo doing here??.

Jonathan Schofield - editorApril 12th 2010.

I put it on the wrong page Northern Geezer. It's that simple.

NortherngeezerApril 12th 2010.

I reckon i could doo that editors job, easy peasy, hehehe.
Mind you, my syntax would probably be wrong tho.

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