Saturday, October 24, 2009

Taps me up

Taps, the new bar at the Great Northern, doesn't give much away. Certainly not beer; you pour your own from the taps that are installed at each table, and with pricing done by tenths of a pint, an amateurish pour is money down the foamy drain.

The food offer is a bit of a mystery, too. In a big brown bar off Peter Street, clean in a corporate way with a wipe-clean A3-size menu, it's not immediately apparent whether an inventive selection is going to be the result of a quick flick through the Brakes catalogue, or some thoughtful home-cooking.

The first indicator that we might be in for a nice surprise came when I asked if they had any preg-safe factory-made mayo, all pasteurised and flavourless but perfectly adequate for chip-dipping. The answer was no – it's all made in house, from fresh eggs. Good Lord.

The beers supplied vary from table to table – a hen party near us had Duvel and Vedett flowing freely – and Tim poured both Amstel and a lambic which smelt, tasted and looked exactly like cherryade and was clearly there For The Ladies. It's difficult to leave the shiny, shiny beer levers alone when they're right in front of you, which is presumably why the concept of Taps, which started off in Leicester, has proved lucrative enough to extend to Manchester. There's table service for other drinks and bottled beers from a long list, but it is not a concept that has been thoroughly grasped. Our empties were ignored every time someone dropped by with cutlery, or my glasses of lime and soda, each more thrilling than the last.

It feels odd to be eating good, fairly interesting food in such a bland and beery environment, but eat it we did. From the tapas-cum-starter list, the mini venison Wellington (pictured), with a fat chunk of foie gras tucked inside, was cooked rare and came with mustardy devilled mushrooms. Soft shell crab, in a coconuty crumb, was good with a herb salad even if the fearsomely garlicky mayo didn't really match.

Tim's ribeye steak (it's the weekend, right, you can't have something interesting every day of the week) was decent enough, and a kilo pot of mussels with white wine and cream, although a bit shoddy on the debearding front, did the job nicely. It reminded me of moule frites at the Hopleaf, a proper beer-loving pub in a suburb of Chicago, where we were very glad that our friends Abra and Erik had made us take ID. At the ripe combined age of 66, we weren't going to be allowed in without it. Now that's something that wouldn't happen on Peter Street.

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