Guardian food critic Jay Rayner has been in Salford checking out the (relatively) newly-reopened Black Friar pub, brought back to life in spectacular fashion following two decades of closure.
A glowing review, published this weekend, showers the pub with praise – with Rayner ultimately concluding that he’d be ‘rather chuffed’ if the Black Friar was his local.
With former 20 Stories chef Ben Chaplin at the helm, when it first threw open its doors this summer the Black Friar initially offered two menus – a ‘pub classics’ menu and a selection of more ‘fancy’ restaurant dishes.
However, rather conveniently, the day of Rayner’s visit also happens to be the day the team decided to merge them into one, leaving him to comment: “don’t therefore expect the food to be confined to essence of British pub.”
“What you now get is a hybrid. There are pies and terrines and fish and chips from the boozer side of the ledger, and altogether grander things involving truffles and champagne from the fat-walleted end.”
He does still take a good-natured swipe at some of the prices, mind.
That ‘fat-walleted’ comment, a reference in part to the residents above “working at the very cutting edge of modern media communications, or whatever it is the denizens of these tidy apartments do”, leads him to describe a few dish prices as either ‘brave’ or ‘enthusiastic’.
Still, for the most part, he’s on-side, stating: “When I get on to those prices some of you may wish to start curling your noses like the Catherine Tate characters Janice and Ray while shouting, “And this! In Salford! The dirty robbing bastards.”
“Get it out of your system now. […] What matters is that the cooking is big and bullish and, for the most part, on point.”
He heaps praise on the pub’s daily rotation of pies, proclaiming: “the pie liberationists will be pleased to know that it is very much a single item, clad from top to toe in crumbly, flaky puff.
“Pie purists will agree that if you can’t throw it across a room with one hand, it’s not a pie. This is a pie.”
Adding ‘obviously sipping gravy should be a thing’, a fact we couldn’t possibly agree with any more enthusiastically, despite his enjoyment he can’t help but point out that a similar creation in London’s The Windmill in Mayfair still comes in at a pound cheaper.
“As Janice and Ray might point out, we really are on the edge of a dual carriageway in Salford,” he quips.
Elsewhere, he waxes lyrical about a charming plate of ‘big fat scallops’ and a boar and pheasant terrine served with warm brioche and chutney, stating: “If you’re going to pay £10 for a terrine, you want it to look like this.”
All in all, it seems the visit is a hit, with Rayner proclaiming, “This is serious cookery: both profoundly beautiful and profoundly eatable.”
He’s got great things to say about the dessert menu, which he notes features all the ‘much-loved usual suspects’, calling a beautifully made bitter orange parfait ‘a gift to marmalade lovers everywhere’.
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His only real critique, in truth, is for a dish of turbot with smoked ell choucroute, champagne velouté and caviar -described as “a brave £32.”
But even this, he concedes, is a ‘very good dish indeed fighting to get out from underneath all this overkill’ – adding that a spoonful of caviar is ‘more symbol of northwestern largesse than vital ingredient’.
The Black Friar is remarkably chuffed to have had the esteemed critic down for a visit, sharing the review to its Facebook page with the caption: “The Blackfriar has made the pages of The Guardian and we couldn’t be prouder.
“Thanks to Jay Rayner for paying us a visit and a big thanks to our team and customers. Without their hard work and support over the last 20 weeks what we have achieved wouldn’t have been possible. We love you all.”
Feature image – The Black Friar