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REVIEW: Abel Heywood | Northern Quarter

Jonathan Schofield tries not to use the word cosy and fails

Written by . Published on December 29th 2014.

REVIEW: Abel Heywood | Northern Quarter

'WE cleared a vast area, and Mr Waterhouse’s beautiful design rose, stone on stone and pillar on pillar. We spared no expense. Every detail we desired to have perfect. To have been parsimonious, to have neglected corners or recesses which were obscure, to have allowed ornamentation which was tawdry, would have been for ever to brand Manchester as a city given up to no higher thought than the quickest accumulation of wealth.'

I lingered in the pub far longer than I should have, but it's that sort of place. I'll be back, but the Abel Heywood needs to think about dropping the food prices a notch or two.

Abel Heywood spoke those words as he looked back on his long life and his role as Lord Mayor in delivering our present Town Hall.

The word 'polymath' just about does him justice: printer, publisher, politician, policeman, protester, petticoat plucker, pastrycook and paleontologist. Abel Heywood lived an extraordinary life, although for accuracy's sake I concede I made up the last three jobs on that list. Forgiveable I reckon because I was on an aliteration roll and nobody should get in the way of one of those.

Good atmosphere in the Abel HeywoodGood atmosphere in the Abel Heywood

Heywood served four months in New Bailey Prison in 1832 for refusing to pay a Stamp Duty tax in protest at its gross unfairness. This was a tax aimed at suppressing publishing, by making it largely impossible for any but the rich or those with patronage to print pamplets, magazines, newspapers and so on. Suppress publishing and it makes it hard to disseminate naughty insurrectionist thoughts, it helps keeps radicalism under control. Heywood's imprisonment was one of the nails in the coffin for the unjust tax. He was quite a man. 

Most honourably, of course, he was a guidebook writer.

The Abel HeywoodThe Abel Heywood

Heywood never ran any pubs - at least I don't think he did - but he might have approved of this conversion by Manchester brewer Hydes. Like the Town Hall it doesn't appear to have been done on the cheap. The ornamentation is never tawdry.

The pub and its fifteen sweet bedrooms occupy a former workshop, warehouse and occasional TV set - hairdressing sitcom Cutting It was filmed here. There are handsome wooden fixtures and fittings and big feature bars. It could have been a pastiche dog's dinner but it works, makes you want to cosy up and hang around for the second pint.

Unparsimonious fit outUnparsimonious fit out

The menu makes you want to hang around as well but as with the Town Hall, as with the fit-out, the food is not for the parsimonious. Prices are high. 

The one that leaps out is the chargrilled NQ beef striploin, skinny fries, watercress salad and Bearnaise for £18.95. In a NQ pub? Bit much that, as is the seared scallops starter at £11.95 and the Goosnargh corn fed chicken with asparagus risotto at £15.95. 

The brisket hash starter with a fried egg and beetroot relish (£7.95) is a proper little star though (main image) and worth every penny. Chunky, fibrous, satisfying, all the elements giving it a proper go. I could eat a couple of portions of this at each sitting.

Broccoli fritters and anchovies and caperberriesBroccoli fritters and anchovies and caperberries

I adored another starter of broccoli fritters with goats cheese and thyme (£6.95). There was a cracking consistency to the mix and good edge to the flavours. Suddenly the drabest of brassicas had purpose. A cheeky 'snack' of anchovies and caperberries (£3.75) joined the party to good effect. 

A main of cider battered cod goujons for £13.50 was pleasant enough, fish no better than expected, minted peas similarly, with a vast stack of chips. This was a portion of chips for a cold night walking home from school trying to attract the attention of an unattainable love interest with the prospect of a flirty fried spud. It was a stack for two. It was too much.

Good with lots of chipsGood with lots of chips

The pie was better, a port wine game pie with mash (£14.95) and gravy that was rich and flavoursome thing with a pastry casing I wanted to applaud. This is one of the best pies in the city. The braised red cabbage was characterless though, needed to be doused in the gravy to ease its passage.

An Eton Mess was £6.50 and properly sweet, properly fruity, properly laden with cream and meringue. Good one that.

A very good messA very good mess

All in all I really enjoyed the meal and I really enjoyed the atmosphere. The crowd were a mix of Northern Quarter types and regular townies. The staff were enthusiastic and well-trained. The pints of hefty Arctic Blonde helped, more than 6% and brewed under the Beer Studio label by Hydes. I lingered in the pub far longer than I should, but it's that sort of place. I'll be back, but the Abel Heywood needs to think about dropping the food prices a notch or two.

The name is well-chosen though and completes the trinity of boozers named after the main people involved with Manchester Town Hall: The Waterhouse (named after the architect), The Ford Madox Brown (named after the painter of the Town Hall murals) and now The Abel Heywood (the politician who oversaw its creation and attended its completion). 

By the way the main hour bell in Manchester Town Hall is known as Great Abel after our friend. Good name for a bell, Abel. 

Great Abel, the 8 ton Town Hall hour bellGreat Abel, the 8 ton Town Hall hour bell

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter @JonathSchofield or connect via Google+ 

All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commerical relationship.

Abel Heywood, 38 Turner Street, Northern Quarter, M4 1DZ. 

Rating: 14/20

Food: 7/10 (brisket 7.5, broccoli fritters 7.5, anchovies 7, cod 7, pie 7.5, Eton Mess 7)
Service: 3.5/5
Ambience: 3.5/5

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

RobbsyDecember 29th 2014.

£11.95 for a scallop starter - almost exactly the same price as Mr Cooper's ... that pricing rethink can't come a moment too soon, I suspect!

mancadamDecember 29th 2014.

fish and chips for £14, pie and mash for £15, chicken and rice for £16.... and yet i've no doubt this place will probably succeed, given that people have been paying the best part of £20 for a burger and "sides" in the NQ for the last 3 years.

1 Response: Reply To This...
DavidDecember 29th 2014.

We have inflation in this country at 1%,we even have falling prices in supermarkets for food,but the price of restaurants in Manchester seems to be rising at a far far higher level.Are they all paying a living wage rather than the minimum?,or do we just have lot greedy landlords and operators who are taking people for a ride by hiking prices.

Bill WoodDecember 30th 2014.

Have to say I think the place is, as said, really well done out and cosy, but you must have had different bar staff as yesterday afternoon (29th Dec) was shocking service, with staff looking anything but well trained, rather more like, I am on my own and it is my first day and I have no idea type. Also to be told that brunch is served till 2pm and then to witness someone being refused at 1.45pm as 'we only serve brunch till 12pm' is just wrong. The full breakfast was pretty good - the bacon was beautiful, but sausages and one of the 2 fried eggs looked as though they had been cooked a while before and put under lights - not good for £8.50. Have to say that Beef and Pudd brekky menu knocks Abel down every time. Still a nice place to while away a couple of hours with a good selection of beers (although do not expect Spoons prices!!!

PiemanDecember 31st 2014.

Love this place, interior has been well done, right down, or up, to the fake nocotine stained ceiling. Pricey though, very pricey

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousDecember 31st 2014.

Fake nicotine stained ceiling lol.

AnonymousDecember 31st 2014.

Bring back smoking and real nicotine stains

AnonymousJanuary 6th 2015.

Too many chips? Wuss

Paul TaylorJanuary 28th 2015.

Went last night for dinner and was diappointed. Nicely fitted out traditional looking pub. The staff were great. But the food..... Ravioli cold in the middle, fish batter soggy, meat in the burger massively over-cooked and dry. As for the chips - better a small portion of really well cooked fries, rather than a plate full of mediocre spuds. But that's just a personal preference. Wouldn't rush back for dinner.

Paul SoanesFebruary 6th 2015.

All in all folks my two visits there were SHITE. Not somewhere to recommend to visitors from further a field like I did.

AnonymousMarch 10th 2015.

Yet people pay 20 pounds plus for terrible American burgers at other places in the northern quarter which have no money spent on the interior and feels like some students flat.. This place is deffo going to be almost famous... "ba ching"

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