Ruth Allan wonders whether this new city centre plant powered place might have run out of steam
Vegan chef, Matt Nutter, made a splash with his fine dining restaurant in Stockport when it opened in 2016. Carnivores and plant people alike loved his inventive cooking (including us) – and he won a host of awards including MFDF Chef of the Year in 2017 and The Times Best Vegetarian Restaurant in 2018.
my gut feeling is that all is not well behind the scenes
A Manchester restaurant was the obvious next step and Allotment moved to the city centre in early November opening on Lloyd Street in a pared-back cellar space that feels somewhat half-baked.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve visited the restaurant twice in the evening – and my gut feeling is that all is not well behind the scenes. There’s good food on offer, however first time around, we’re whizzed through three courses in under an hour. On my second visit, the kitchen turns rogue, emitting dishes infrequently or not at all, missing ingredients and in no particular order. No wonder the staff look stressed.
The three-course, £30 set evening menu is roughly the same on both visits; a vegetable soup (parsnip or red pepper), battered enoki with Nutter’s signature roast cauliflower and a Thai-spiced butternut pie for dessert.
I particularly like the shitake mousse – a kind of whipped butter affair – served with soup and either ‘raw’ linseed crackers or fresh, gram flour beignets. The enoki is brilliant the first time too. Biting through the crisp, perfectly seasoned shell, I remember thinking, oh yeah, that’s what tempura should taste like. A side order of steaming ‘Southern fried’ tofu (£6), comes with a limey, creamy ‘hollandaise’ that we can’t get enough of.
The pumpkin-pie-style dessert is Michelin-grade fusion – there are salt baked pineapple pieces, ginger crumble, pear ice cream, peppermint jelly and tamarind drizzle in here - although presentation is more ‘plonk it on the plate’ than you’d expect from the UK’s best veggie restaurant. To drink, there’s a sparkling, biodynamic Catalan white Saniger (£25), and an excellent Aussie Chardonnay and Shiraz from Woolpunda (£23/£22).
But all is not well at Allotment - and that’s particularly obvious on my second visit. To our right, a table of two walk after waiting for an hour for dessert. Across the room, four diners walk after a two hour wait. “Do you have any bread?” one of them wonders. The answer is no – Allotment doesn’t serve bread – but they’re hungry and unhappy.
As for us; we don’t see a menu for 30 minutes. After we order, a team member tells us they’ve run out of something, so they’re going to give us roast potatoes instead. One main turns up, followed by another 25 minutes later. They end up taking almost everything off the bill.
One of the two mains isn’t great either: enoki with a funky tang. And the cheese board (£10, which I recall with huge affection from my visit to the Stockport Allotment in 2016) feels and looks like its spent too long on the sunbed.
Problems aside, there is still something brilliant at the heart of Nutter’s cooking. Famous for his aubergine ‘steak’, Nutter has the ability to turn vegetables into dishes that stick in your mind. Fans who have time during the day may enjoy the £65, 10-course tasting menu (Wednesday – Sunday, noon-5pm). In the evening (5-8pm only), it’s bar snacks or the £30 set menu.
However, being rushed out early, the inability of the kitchen to keep up with relatively few covers, and the varying quality of the mains (among many other things) makes Allotment impossible to recommend right now. There is good stuff here; it’s just hidden under a mountain of troubles.
Allotment, 18-22 Lloyd Street, Manchester, Tel: 0161 478 1331
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All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Soup 7, crackers or beignets with shitake mousse 8 main version one 8, main version two 3, dessert 7, cheese 4