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The Waggon, Birtle

Philip Hamer outs another hidden culinary gem in the hills

Published on September 22nd 2008.

The Waggon, Birtle

It’s six years now since The Waggon at Birtle opened and quickly gained in my mind the status that I’ve mentioned before in these columns: that of a hidden culinary gem. Whether or not it’s quite hidden any more is open to debate but it’s certainly still a gem.

Sides are so often the poor bloody infantrymen of the dining experience, left to dry on the pass like cannon fodder. But here the simple (and simple to spoil) portions of cauliflower and broccoli were perfectly al dente and full of flavour.

The quiet and modest David Watson is the chef proprietor along with his wife Lorraine. Lorraine’s sister Helen takes care of the bar. It’s a family affair. In fact David’s modest demeanour tends to reflect the mood of this 110 cover restaurant tucked away in an attractive hillside location between Bury and Rochdale. It is unassuming and successful with devoted regular customers who return again and again. Most importantly real care and attention go into the cooking.

The interior has a contemporary feel, decorated in muted tones of brown and beige. There’s sufficient space between the tables to allow you to eat and not have your meal ruined by noise from a group dining nearby.

Dishes are eclectic and read well, for instance, potted salted brisket and ox tongue with celeriac salad or goats cheese and vignotte pithvier with a red pepper and basil sauce. Nice.

There is a main menu and a Market Menu that offers two courses for £13.50 or three courses for £15.50. This latter changes every two weeks. My companion and I ate across these menus so where the price is not stated the dish is from the Market Menu.

My starter was the salmon croquettes with chilli, garlic, honey and soy dip. The salmon was generous in the croquettes and its lightly salted savoury aftertaste was offset well by the citrus dip. Over the table the sole and crab terrine with herb mayonnaise, lemon oil and dill (£6.45) was a complete contrast in taste with a nice plump meatiness to the terrine.

The Waggon deserves real praise for its wine list because not only is it comprehensive but each wine is allotted a whole paragraph highlighting its origins. As much as I would’ve loved to sample Latour’s Aloxe-Corton 1st Cru Les Chaillots from the fine 2002 vintage at £39.95, I settled for a glass of a Tempranillo/Cabernet Sauvignon from Spain’s interesting Somontano region (£3.25 per 175ml).

My chicken and Italian sausage stew with haricot beans, sage, tomatoes and onions was delicately flavoured but not as rustic as I thought it might be. It was excellently presented and a fine dish but not as hearty as it the name suggested. My companion was intrigued by how delicately the Parma ham had been threaded between the puff pastry with his fillet of pork. The saltiness of the meat was helped along by the piquancy of the accompanying mushroom puree and Madeira sauce.

Sides are so often the poor bloody infantrymen of the dining experience, left to dry on the pass like cannon fodder. But here the simple (and simple to spoil) portions of cauliflower and broccoli were perfectly al dente and full of flavour.

Puddings are a passion with an impressive choice of Cheshire Farm sorbets and ice cream (3 scoops £3.95, 2 scoops £2.95 and additional scoops £1.50). The plum crumble (£5.50) with cinnamon ice cream was a lovely and generously proportioned dish – I can still almost taste it. My dining partner tucked into a delightful vanilla crème brûlée with peach, nectarine and amaretto compote.

Overall though despite the weakness in the Italian sausage dish, dining at the Waggon remains a very enjoyable experience. Indeed, lying forty minutes outside the city centre, the Waggon is more than worth the trip north. As a bonus it is set in splendid countryside high on the West Pennines which makes for extravagant views back to the city. A good idea is to combine a visit with a hill walk and then a meal. Sunday Roast or £9.50, served between 12 30 and 8 pm is especially recommended.
Breakdown:7/10 Food
4/5 Service
4/5 Ambience
Address: The Waggon at Birtle
131 Bury and Rochdale Old Road
01706 622955

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GSeptember 22nd 2008.

Out of interest, if an establishment were to receive a rating of 17, would this be 'very good' (as falling within the 16-17 range) or 'exceptional' (as also falling within the 17-18 range)?Or, and I think I think that this might be the most likely option, did the person tasked with creating this scale not really give it much thought?

Ex Bury BoySeptember 22nd 2008.

As a city centre resident the Wagon is one of the only reason to travel north for something to eat. I've been back again and again and never dissappointed. I think it is better than 15/20 but perhaps the stew let it down on the day. Didn't know about Sunday lunch, definately going to head up and try that one. GO!

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