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REVIEW: Chalk Bar & Grill, Didsbury

Lucy Tomlinson has a northern moment in a Didsbury bubble quaffer

Written by . Published on October 6th 2014.

REVIEW: Chalk Bar & Grill, Didsbury

IS THERE a locality equivalent of déjà vu? There should be a name for the moment when, despite a certain amount of cosmopolitan living in other cities and countries, it suddenly comes to you just how very Northern you are.

A restaurant full of people drinking champagne on a Saturday night is what restaurateurs dream of, of course

Didsbury’s Chalk opened earlier this summer, occupying a former Turkish kebab spot. If I hadn’t known it was a recent addition to the neighbourhood I would have assumed it had been around for a while. The mood - neutral greys, some padding and a massively ornate mirror or five – is taken directly from the early 2000s playbook. The point of interest is a Champagne wall, a very Cheshire-ish touch.

Chalk is an independent but it’s definitely got a bad case of the Living Ventures. Not as slick or as heavily branded (and that’s a good thing), it doesn’t attract the same glamour crowd either. It does say something about a place when on a Saturday night you are the youngest person there (don’t ask me but my dining partner admits to mid-thirties) who isn’t attending with their parents.

Chalk, Didsbury

Chalk, DidsburyChalk, Didsbury

Chalk’s main issue, it seems, is deciding whether it wants to be exclusive and trendy or a friendly local. Like the nervous new kid in school, the opposing instincts to be in with the in crowd and liked by everyone work in opposition.

On arrival we were seated at a terrible makeshift table by the bar. When I asked to be moved the manager was eagerly helpful, and apart from some of the drinks running late the service was genuine and friendly from then on. It just seemed odd that we were even put at a bad table to begin with.

We started with cocktails - a black mojito (£6.75) and an amaretto sour (£6.50) – which made some gestures to current trends but lacked commitment and were a bit weak. What people were really getting excited about was the 'Sozzled Saturday' offer, half-price House Champagne. A restaurant full of people drinking champagne on a Saturday night is what restaurateurs dream of, of course, but it gave the impression Chalk felt it really had to work to get people in. It didn’t – this is clearly a favoured Didsbury spot now.

The menu was a reflection of this instinct. On the one hand it is full of favourites that won’t scare your nan, but also seems unable to resist a foodie flourish. Take for instance the soft shell crab tempura (£6.95, main image). The tempura wasn’t light enough and tasted floury. If it had been called deep-fried rather than tempura my expectations would have been different and while I wasn’t ever going to like the taste of uncooked flour, I wouldn’t have expected it to be as light as tempura demands. But ‘battered’ isn’t current restaurantese, I suppose.

Chalk rabbit terrineChalk rabbit terrine

Chalk suetChalk suet

Our other starter, wild rabbit terrine (£6), had a rillettes-ish texture, though I’m presuming the fat content came mainly from the chunks of smoked bacon, which also lent this dish most of its flavour. Ideally the bread would have been homemade, but it wasn’t bad. The caper garnish needs a rethink. Once I’d visualised some cute little bunny hopping along and leaving me a caper-shaped present, I couldn’t really get into it in the same way.

For the mains we ordered a steak suet pudding with triple-cooked chips (£12.95). First, a word about triple-cooked chips. They are so ubiquitous it is easy to forget the term doesn’t mean ‘oversized and overpriced’ but actually refers to a cooking method which produces soft, fluffy insides with a crisp, glasslike exterior. The Japanese call chips furaido potato (a makeover of fried potato of course), and once I’d stated thinking of my side order as blocks of distinctly un-glassy fried potato rather than chips, I was perfectly happy with it. I loved my suet pudding (or baby’s head as I prefer to call it) which was a total ribsticker of a course, perfect for that first real autumn day.

The special Game Pie (£13) came with braised red cabbage, and was easily the pin-up dish of the meal. The cabbage was spiced quite extravagantly with star anise, creating lots of heat and sweetness, forming a great counterpoint to the rich, dark pie, full of meaty treasure (rabbit and venison if I must be precise). We should dethrone turkey and serve this for Christmas dinner.

Finally we shared a blueberry cheesecake (£5.95) which was a low point. The cheese layer, instead of being velvety and unctuous, was mousse-like, topped with a flap of viscid blue jelly, a bit like a Weightwatchers dessert. The ice-cream it came with was nice and vanilla-y though. Good coffee too.

And my Northern moment? It came while I was musing to myself that ‘it may not be the coolest place but damn these prices are good value’ while also noting that both the mains were forms of pie. And then my dining partner gazed into my eyes and said ‘watch out love, you’ve dipped your hair in gravy’.

And all because the lady loves suet.


CHALK Bar & Grill, 784-788 Wilmslow Road, Didsbury, Manchester, M20 2DR. 0161 445 1042.

Rating 13/20

Food: 5.5/10. (8 for the game pie, suet pud 7, tempura 4, rabbit terrine 5, cheesecake 2)

Service: 3.5/5 wide-eyed and eager, but a bit slow on the drinks.

Ambience: 4/5 good solid addition to Didsbury.

PLEASE NOTE: 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, 18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20, we get carried away

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

AnonymousOctober 6th 2014.

Nice review!

4 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousOctober 6th 2014.

Apart from saying the cheese cake should be "unctuous" - who wants an unctuous cheese cake?

AnonymousOctober 6th 2014.

haven't you got something better to do? maybe go take your head for a sh*t????

BusterOctober 6th 2014.

Gregg Wallace uses it wrongly all the time too! Which is priobably where this Journo picked it up. Poor

AnonymousOctober 6th 2014.

Eaten twice here and enjoyed both meals, the sunday roast being the highlight. Went for the pork and they weren't shy on the portions.

Alan DaviesOctober 7th 2014.

Maybe some people choose a restaurant on the basis of what the food is like rather than the age of the other diners. Hopefully they didn't notice your youth as much as you noticed their age.

sherlockOctober 7th 2014.

Eaten twice at chalk and enjoyed the food and atmosphere had the suet pudding very filling and generous portion would recommend

Mark SyddallOctober 7th 2014.

Eaten twice both visits a joy ,two different meals both lovely and I live in Cheshire

AnonymousOctober 8th 2014.

I'm a Didsbury local (and frequent restaurant goer), so I was really excited when Chalk opened. Sadly, it's disapointed on the two occasions that I've been, and unfortunately I won't be going back. First time round the service was slow and poor, the food mediocre in parts, but I put this down to first week teething problems, so I gave it another go. Starters and desserts that my friend and I had second time round were great, but both of our mains were poor (very dry, chewy suet pudding and fillet of fish that was full of bones - my friend filled a side plate of them). The manager made it clear he wasn't happy to hear that we didn't like the mains even though the waitress took both back to the kitchen and the chef admitted there were faults. I'd actually go as far as to say the manager was rude and offended. Twice bitten I'm afraid...

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