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Sinclair’s Oyster Bar

Dave Bishop continues his tour of Manchester pubs and gets worried by molluscs

Published on January 8th 2008.

Sinclair’s Oyster Bar

As confessions go, it’s not up there with, “Honey, you know how I said I never really liked your younger, prettier sister, especially after she won the lottery and started bragging when she clinched that lingerie modelling contract, well…”

And Sinclair’s doesn’t disappoint with most of the walls plastered in a deep chocolate colour, reminiscent of a Dutch Brown Bar. One can only assume that all those unwanted Ferrero Rocher presents have been melted down and used to smear this delicious pub.

Nevertheless it’s one I’m still ashamed of – I’ve never eaten an oyster. Forgive me, father, for I have sinned against the blessed mollusc.

It’s not that I’ve never had the opportunity to sample the mucus in a shell. On holidays in northern France I’ve been so close to the oyster beds I’ve virtually been tucked up with them, and my wife scoffs them by the bucketload.

The thing is, even though I’ve munched on mussels and chewed many a cockle – I just can’t face sliding something so slimy and, well, alive, down my throat, even with the dubious promise of it turning me into a testosterone-charged love machine.

So visiting the famous black and white Sinclair’s Oyster Bar near Exchange Square seemed a bit like Paul McCartney on a day out with the Vegan Society enjoying a lunch break at a Angus Steak House.

Would this be the time to be a big boy at last, forget about appearances and just swallow? Give over.

My wife ordered Sinclair’s mega seafood platter with cockles, mussels, prawns, smoked mackerel, rollmop herrings and, yes, an oyster on a bed of leaves with seafood sauce for £8.25. And I could swear the big-mouthed oyster goaded me with the words, “come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough.”

I wasn’t, and instead went for the sautéed pork steak with shallots and mushrooms in a rich creamy stilton and red win sauce (£7.90).

And we both enjoyed our grub, which was as well-cooked and tasty as it was plentiful, but here’s the rub. Sinclair’s is so popular, so attractive and so damn cheap that the place just can’t cope. Even with twice the staff they’d be pushed to satisfy all the customers.

So we waited, and waited, and waited for our meals and by the time they’d arrived we’d already had two pints each and were on our way to la-la land.

Mind you, what a way to go. Sinclair’s is a Sam Smith’s pub, which means they virtually give the Old Brewery bitter away at under £1.50. At that price, you’d be mad not to try it, and my pint confirmed that Sam’s is still one of the real ale masters. But I was also tempted by Sam’s own wheat beer.

Now Sam Smith’s don’t fanny about with fancy titles. The wheat beer is called simply Wheat Beer.

Yet as prosaic as it may sound, the wheaty stuff is every bit as good as market leader Hoegaarden but for half the price – and a third of the price of Leffe.

We supped and munched at a marble covered table in one of Sinclair’s many cosy alcoves. The pub, on many floors connected by a spiral staircase, is a maze of rooms all packed with character and history.

The pub reputedly began life in 1328 when Manchester was a hamlet and was rebuilt repeatedly over the centuries and was even moved twice – when the old Manchester corporation built the Arndale and after the IRA re-landscaped the city centre.

With something so old it would be inappropriate to sport the kind of unimaginative, ‘neutral’ and sterile décor that has blighted so many of Manchester’s newer watering holes.

And Sinclair’s doesn’t disappoint with most of the walls plastered in a deep chocolate colour, reminiscent of a Dutch Brown Bar. One can only assume that all those unwanted Ferrero Rocher presents over the years have been collected up, melted down and used to smear this delicious pub.

Photographs and illustrations of old Manchester, including one of a medieval looking Market Street, clutter the walls and one room has lots of pots and pans and an impressive looking stone and brick fireplace. Heavy tapestry drapes cover the leaded windows and floors are either richly carpeted or flagged.

The atmosphere is unique. The distant drummers outside Marks & Spencer made it seem like we were listening to a subterranean version of Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express, while the banter around was equally surreal.

On one side there was a posh Chorlton-like family with a couple of free-range kids in Bowden gear, while on the other a chavish couple with a wannabe Vicky Pollard in tow rabbited on for England.

Elsewhere smart city types supped cheek by jowl with raddled old sots. And that’s the beauty of Sinclair’s – characters and character, all human life, in one gorgeous, wattle and daub medieval package.

Rating: 17/20
Breakdown: 4/5 Food
5/5 Drink
4/5 Decor
4/5 Ambience
Address: Sinclair’s Oyster Bar
2 Cathedral Gates
M3 1SW
0161 834 0430

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

leeJanuary 8th 2008.

I'm sorry to say I agree with Rooney. My girlfriend and I went to Sinclair's after a day shopping over Christmas. I suggested it because I went a couple of years ago, remembering it was quite good! It wasn't too busy, a couple of spare tables in each of the areas. The service was appauling. The waitress's face was in itself enough to put you off the food. The coffee served had bits floating around both the cups as though the filter was over-filled. We had them both reluctantly exchanged. My girlfriend's cajun chicken wrap was tasty in itself, but the meal was dry. I ordered the steak and oyster pie which was satisfactory, yet the veg served was embarrassing, in both taste and appearance. I will not be going there in the near future. What is happening with all these Old English hearty eateries?

Jonathan - editorJanuary 8th 2008.

Thanks for pointing that out David. I live Old Triffid myself. We've changed it now.

DavidJanuary 8th 2008.

Chorlton and Boden - they must have from Didsbury. How very dare you....

RooneyJanuary 8th 2008.

Well "crazy john" I think the name says it all, I have tried eating there twice and the food was expensive rubbish on both occasions, with all the options available to me in manchester why would I choose to waste more money and time in sinclair`s?let me known when you change the chef and we may revisit as we do like the cheep beer

crazyjohnJanuary 8th 2008.

People who say 'we certainly will never be eating there again' don't deserve food in the first place.

sprouterJanuary 8th 2008.

i too disagree with the review. Is your man on a backhander or something? And surely a restaurant critic should be aware that Leffe isn't a wheat beer?

RooneyJanuary 8th 2008.

I have to disagree totally with this review, I have worked in manchester for six years and the food used to be good at sinclairs but recently we have been twice and both times the food was of a very poor standard, small portions (with chips means five or six stale ones apparently), reheated battered fish so the batter was soggy? when you are paying 8 pound for the meal you expect it to be fresh. my friends ordered chicken pie which looked like it had been bought in bulk from sweeny tod with stale vegetables and again six chips on each plate. We certainly will never be eating there again.

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