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REVIEW: 4244, Northern Quarter

David Blake on the Great British Menu chef dipping into the city centre

Written by . Published on October 10th 2014.

REVIEW: 4244, Northern Quarter

CHOP chop. There's only a few weeks until Mary-Ellen McTague's swift dip into the city centre is over. Though she'll probably stay until the New Year, call it a hunch.

4244, at the back-end of Northern Quarter's Teacup on Edge Street, is a temporary operation from the Great British Menu finalist while her permanent gaff, Aumbry in Prestwich, gets a touching-up.

Going off the slow cooked partridge alone, I personally volunteer to nip over to Prestwich, wrench Aumbry up by the foundations and donkey it back to the city centre, if that's what it takes. It's a thigh-rubber. More on that later.

4244, Edge Street4244, Edge Street

Each evening of the stint, 4244 gets knocked together. When Teacup's daily trade is almost done, this pop-up restaurant kicks in at the rear. The mise en place is done off-site (in the hired kitchens of Co-op's New Century House) and carried in, the room-divider shuts out the teashop below as the fancy antique dresser turns bus stand, the tables are laid white against red and black quarry tiles and spread with posh crockery. It's the equivalent of Teacup slipping into a fancy skirt for a night on the town. It works. It's a charmer.

Mary Ellen-McTague was absent on the night, tending to the nippers by the sounds of it, but Aumbry co-head chef, Laurence Tottingham, was doing a stint in the kitchen and looked to have things well in hand.

The food is very Aumbry, very British, very Bury. You may have expected to see McTague, with the luxury of a pop-up, spread her cheffy wings and dive into those ancient cookbooks she hoards. Experiment. She hasn't. Most dishes from this seven round taster menu (£50, there's no à la carte option) are lifted straight from the Aumbry menu, or at least, variations of. Should we be disappointed? Perhaps. Should we be tired of tasting menus? Maybe. But when the eatings this good it's hard to be narky, better to just dive in... again.

The rounds of 'snackettes' pre-amuse bouche (said through gritted teeth, amuse bouche being two words that make me want to bite myself) were little crackers. McTague's signature black peas with fried vinegar jelly is a little treasure, a dainty nod to a cold Bury Bonfire Night. The black pudding Scotch egg is another McTague banker, and with a runny quail's egg yolk is the best Scotch egg I've had since a smoked haddock wonder at Broadway Market in Hackney. Around ten times smaller, mind.

Img-20141003-Wa0001Black pudding Scotch egg

Smoked mackerelSmoked mackerel

Then came the dripping, my giddy, giddy aunt the dripping. Served with homemade sourdough bread it barely touched the linen. Red-faced and grunting, I had to Oliver Twist a second round just to make sure it wasn't a fluke. It actually gets better. A companion's veggie version not so much, too sweet, too oily. The smoked Mackerel with celeriac and pickled beets was a step away from the homespun Lancastrian bites and had a touch of the sashimis, a rich little number, delicate and pretty.

By this point we were well on our way with a bottle of finest Croatian Milos Plavac, a deep, dense and robust red, which at £40 (the cheapest red on an all Croatian menu, by the way) was at least £35 more than they're charging in the local Konzum. 4244 needs to review its wine list - particularly when Aumbry are peddling plonk at £20 a bottle - and not being able to score a 175ml glass of red for under a tenner is bordering on the heinous.

See off two bottles (as well you should) and a £100 meal-for-two suddenly comes closer to £200. This seriously irked a nearby couple, who'd been freely ordering by the glass throughout and got stung by a £250 bill. As abrasive as they were, their point was sound. Front of housers Kate and Siobhan (once of the Fat Duck) managed the situation masterfully, as they did all evening. A real asset this pair.


Partridge piePartridge pie

Moving on. The sautéed mushrooms were a winner but missing the snails I'd been told were going to blow my socks right through the toe-end of my boots. The hare consommé, looking a little sad in its brown puddle at the bottom of a china teacup, was beautifully rare and ferociously pungent. To the point where the pescatarian across the table chose this point to scarper to the ladies. This one needs to be turned down from eleven to seven.

The slow cooked partridge pie yanked it back, tender like the Dalai Lama but much more intense and succulent (if one were to eat the Holy Man of Tibet), the sweet game bird was accompanied by pie pasty that flaked if you threw it a wink.

Praise too for the salsify propping up the savoy with bacon bits and toasted chestnuts. I've only had this unloved root veg once before, for good reason, it's an unsightly little bugger. Here it looked, er, cute. The best dish of the night the partridge, if only I'd saved some of that dripping, ooo that dripping *slides out of chair and onto the floor*.

To finish, the kitchen happily whipped out an almond-free Cox apple Ratafia pudding (the pescatarian's head explodes when approached by a nut). The pud was decent but by this point, still purring after the partridge, I'd have preferred one of Aumbry's famed possets before curtains down.

McTague isn't making waves here, she's sticking to her guns, cooking the same food that's made her a telly face and Aumbry a destination - one of Manchester's finest.

But then, why would she change? She's preaching to a different congregation in the Northern Quarter, and one suspects, whetting appetites for a more permanent move to the city.

Follow @David8Blake on twitter.


4244, 42-44 Edge Street, Northern Quarter, M4 1HW.

Officially open until the end of October (but we imagine 4244 will remain until the New Year).

Rating 17/20

Food: 8/10 (snackettes 8, mackerel 8, mushrooms 8, hare 7, partridge 9, Ratafia 7)

Service: 5/5 faultless

Ambience: 4/5 relaxed

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

AnonymousOctober 10th 2014.

Ouch! That's really one for the Prestwich set.

1 Response: Reply To This...
MaggieOctober 14th 2014.


Mike ChannonOctober 14th 2014.

I must be getting better at this reviewing game. Agree with the food review and the stupid drink prices. Maybe the idea was to "sell" the flight.

Steph HughesOctober 14th 2014.

As a Prestwich local and a many time customer of Aumbry I think it's the right approach from Mary Ellen and Laurence in serving up the favourite dishes from the regular Aumbry menu. Many people won't risk venturing that far North of town without knowing how good the place is. This gives people the chance to taste for themselves and maybe grab a 6 mile cab ride in future to visit Aumbry itself. If they do, they'd find Cuckoo not ten yards away, serving very nice cocktails and local ales in a decent, contemporary setting. We have some good stuff in Prestwich. Nice to see it being showcased in town for a broader audience.

Dave ThorleyOctober 15th 2014.

I went for my birthday as a treat and the food was lovely. I'm going back as soon as the menu changes for more. I don't mind paying the price for something special, which it is. However, much as I love Plavac, £40 a bottle (which we did pay) is ridiculous. I've got four bottles of Plavac Mali sat on the shelf from a recent trip to Dubrovnik and they didn't come to £30 for the lot.

1 Response: Reply To This...
pollolocoOctober 17th 2014.

its called a mark up Dave...

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