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REVIEW: The Clarence | Bury

Neil Sowerby gets his gastropub kicks up the A56

Written by . Published on February 3rd 2015.

REVIEW: The Clarence | Bury

ON THE day my favourite food pub, The Sportsman at Seasalter, Kent, was named the UK’s No.1, with my North West best, The Freemason’s at Wiswell, sixth in the list compiled by The Publican, I had a fresh Pub Dining Road to Damascus moment – in Bury, of all places. 

Everything that came out of Liam Rutherford’s kitchen for our early evening dinner provoked little gasps of surprise and pleasure.

I say 'of all places' because for years no city-centric scoffer (in both senses of the term) has ventured up the A56 beyond Prestwich and Aumbry. Well, perhaps for a cake indulgence at Slattery’s in Whitefield or an obligatory black pudding haul from Bury Market. That’s about it. Reviews there have been few. 

So who would have expected a pub combining history with contemporary style, a sidekick of Gary Rhodes in the kitchen, an accomplished brewery in the basement, a cocktail hideaway in the attic? Step forward The Clarence in an unlikely resurrection that involves surf and turf with brill and ox cheek, a beer so good they named it four times and the cutest bog tiles this side of the Alhambra.

The ClarenceThe Clarence

Noble kind of moniker, Clarence – shared with Charles and Camilla’s London residence and that Plantagenet Duke who was drowned in a vat of Malmsey. Bury’s Clarence doesn’t feature Malmsey on the neat but an unambitious wine list. Indeed, you are more likely to find yourself supping its own Silver Street ales in the gorgeously pubby downstairs of this large corner hostelry, falling apart until Lee Hollinworth rescued it. 

Lee started his campaign to bring big city cool to Bury with his Automatic Cafe and Malt Real Ale Bar, showcasing ace cocktails and craft beer without over-hipstering the whole enterprise. The same applies at The Clarence big time, with the added bonus of some of the best pub food in the North West. Everything that came out of Liam Rutherford’s kitchen for our early evening dinner provoked little gasps of surprise and pleasure. Years in London as a sous chef and more for Gary Rhodes show in attention to detail, while keeping fuss on the plate to a minimum as befits an all-day pub food operation. Yes, you can have a burger, chilli or sharing platter.

The Clarence Is Still At Heart A PubThe Clarence Is Still At Heart A Pub

Fancy A Night On The TilesFancy A Night On The Tiles?

We chose to test out the a la carte (served 5pm to 9pm each day) in The Kitchen dining space on the first floor. An encouraging sign – just five starters, five mains plus meaty grill options. 

With a corner view across to Bury Parish Church we keened our palates with flights of ale. Our resplendently bearded waiters, Harry and Arran, introduced my trio of ‘thirds’ – a single hopped (for geeks: Kiwi hop Waimea) No 1 Pale Ale , Kaiser Chiefs tribute beer Ruby, Ruby, Ruby, Ruby (at first I thought Harry had a stammer), brewed in the cellar by Craig Adams, and a DV8 Stout from Deeply Vale down the road. Later the jolly beardies teased a party of blokes at another table by providing the ‘assigned driver’ with a flight of tap waters.  

The beers were perfect for my starter of braised ox tongue, bone marrow croquettes, parsley puree, soused shallots (£6.50, main image). Now this was a dish that sang of Old Bury, the melting texture of tongue ‘coins’, fat in crumble of the croquettes, sharp sweet pickle and a slick of vibrant chlorophyll, which I mopped up with bread from an odd iron receptacle (please, please don’t serve our wine in jam jars was my silent prayer).

The other starter, of chargrilled king scallops, cost a hefty tenner but it set the surf and turf bar high pairing the plump bivalves with fatty confit pork belly, golden raisin puree and scallops’ long-time buddy cauliflower, charred for intensity.

Brill And Ox CheekBrill and ox cheek

Bowland Venison LoinBowland Venison loin

By now I’d gravitated to a large glass of crisp Umbrele Recas Romanian Chardonnay, good value at £5.75 a large glass, as I tackled my own surf and turf main, an exquisite combo of fried Cornish Brill, braised ox cheek, wild mushrooms, salsify, tomato and shallot dressing (£16). I love salsify/scorzonera as a nutty root veg, but it’s not a common sight on Bury Market. The mushrooms added a fungal, earthy undertow to a very satisfying composition. 

My partner went the Romanian route, too, for the Pinot Noir to accompany her roast loin of Bowland Venison (£22). The juicy red berry fruit of the Calusari Recas (£6) stood up well to a judicious spice kaleidoscope across a braised shoulder samosa, carrot and anise puree, red cabbage, hot pot potatoes and a dense port jus. Another wow.

Black Forest CheesecakeBlack Forest Cheesecake

My rhubarb panna cotta erred on the stodgy side, similarly the accompanying conceit of candied beetroot, orange curd, gingerbread. Refined it could be a great pud, mind. The panna cotta cost £5.50, as did the deconstructed Black Forest cheesecake across the table. It was a cheesy chocolatey, cherryish treat.

Oh, almost forgot those bog tiles – an Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat flooring in the top floor loos, reached via the Fallen Angel cocktail lounge. So much love has gone into The Clarence. Take the A56 north and share it.

Follow @AntonEgoManc on twitter.

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

The Clarence, 2 Silver Street, Bury BL9 0EX. 0161 464 7404.

Rating: 16/20

Food: 8/10 (ox tongue 8, scallops 8.5, brill and ox cheek 9, venison 9, panna cotta 6, cheesecake 7.5)

Ambience: 4/5

Service: 4/5

Neil recommends: Everything from beer flights to bog tiles.

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

Michelle KellyFebruary 3rd 2015.

We have been here a few times, from the opening day to just last Saturday and i have to say the food is just as amazing now as it was last October - It makes a lovely refreshing change to eat top end food in a non pretentious surroundings, hats off to The Clarence and all its staff

Edward CrossFebruary 3rd 2015.

Slightly unfair criticism of the wine list Neil although I do have a slightly biased interest! There was a low alcohol Verdejo showing some originality and thought for any drivers plus a 'Tastvinage' Petit Chablis from the IWSC French Producer of the Year 2013 Dom de la Motte at a very reasonably £29; the Alasia Brachetto a more natural alternative to Californian White Zin; one the best roses and most food friendly wines from SouthAfrica, the Cape Coral from Waterkloof. The reds feature examples from rising stars Col McBryd with Passion has Red Lips, Walter Bressia's Pablo y Walter Malbec, Donovan Ralls Wandering Beeste Syrah (the best wine he says he's ever made and Decanter's top South African red in their recent tasting) and Alex Faviers Chateauneuf du Pape. You could have started with the Domenico de Bertiol Prosecco di Valdobbiade as served in Harrys Bar, Venice and finsihged with a glass of Colheita 1982 port and Fernando de Castillas PX Just some recommendations for your next visit, some of which we'll feature when I'm there for my Crash Course in Wine on 5th March :-)

1 Response: Reply To This...
Neil SowerbyFebruary 3rd 2015.

Apologies, Ed. Perhaps just a cursory look. Knew it was you guys. Invite me over to taste the range. I love the place.

AnonymousFebruary 3rd 2015.

Looks bloody delicious

Edward CrossFebruary 3rd 2015.

the Silver Street ales are good though ;-)

CamramanFebruary 3rd 2015.

Excellent meal the other day, though in future I'd go for beer rather than wine. Our £19 bottle was mediocre at best and had none of the character I'd expect from that particular style at that price. Pity, the rest was fine, the service excellent and the venue really well presented. Will be back, if they'll have me, as I did mention the wine!

GordoFebruary 3rd 2015.

Edward, sounds good but that Passion has Red Lips is a bit jammy for me

1 Response: Reply To This...
Edward CrossFebruary 4th 2015.

Thanks Gordo. The 2013 Passion is a touch firmer as its from is a much cooler vintage - they say the best for 20 years

Mark GarnerFebruary 3rd 2015.

Neil, great piece, top of your game. Love you.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousFebruary 3rd 2015.

Mark - Why are you writing as Gordo one minute then MG the next? X

Kathryn DownesFebruary 3rd 2015.

I have been here a few times and the food is stunning. The service is excellent. We will be back!

Kathryn DownesFebruary 3rd 2015.

I have been here a few times and the food is stunning. The service is excellent. We will be back!

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousFebruary 3rd 2015.

so good you told us twice..............

food for thoughtFebruary 3rd 2015.

So good you told us twice

AnonymousFebruary 3rd 2015.

Went a couple of weeks ago with some friends and i was looking forward to it, a nice place near home, excellent. But first impressions, the Lager wasn't good, reminded me of J.W.Lees or Holt's, my starter was really good but small (SCALLOPS), the main i didn't enjoy at all really, fish tails. The place is great and you have got 3 floors to choose from.

1 Response: Reply To This...
food for thoughtFebruary 3rd 2015.

I will go for the laminated one

Paul SoanesFebruary 4th 2015.

The food was great but one of the bar staff looked liked he couldn't be arsed.

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