Every plate wiped clean is a critical success but here are some more official comments.
Recommended in the Michelin Guide for the last two years
Manchester Evening News, Go Guide: Isinglass is a restaurant with a modern attitude to cooking but with an old-fashioned approach to using seasonal, organic ingredients. The menu is British, it is simple, it works and hits the heights. Urmston has very few appealing places to dine, so it is good that a place of this calibre has opened. The place looks the part too, situated in a former shop with a number of original features including an ancient range and old cupboards used to store plates and glassware. The simple use of wood and warm tones for floor and walls, plus fresh, live herbs on each table, make Isinglass relaxed and contemporary. The small but varied menu has enough depth to encourage repeat visitors and the service is both friendly and attentive. Isinglass sources the majority of its ingredients from local producers and its fish and seafood from Cornwall. This is an immediate and refreshing point of difference with other restaurants. I started with Crab cakes (£5.85) and found the increasingly peppery warmth of crab and rocket, partnered with the earthy potato of the cake and sour pickled cucumber, a sublime start to my meal. My friend went for the Spiced potted beef with home-made pickled vegetables (£4.80). Usually rabidly anti-celery, he raved about this pickled version. Despite the tempting vegetarian and vegan options, I plumped for one of the specials at the other end of the spectrum. Rabbit casserole with roasted fennel and a creamy fluffy mash (£10.25) The rabbit was cooked perfectly, falling off the bone, although the former rabbit owners on the next table didn’t seem so sure of my choice. The chicken breast wrapped in Cumbrian air-dried ham and stuffed with a tomato mousse and saffron cream teamed with crispy onions and lentils (£9.25) was a combination of diverse flavours that both puzzled and delighted. Might have to try that again to get a real angle on it. We also ordered side dishes of home-made chips and Chat Moss salad – one of the local connections on the menu (£1.95) Little known fact; Chat Moss was Manchester night soil (the “product” of cesspools and privies) was dumped for over a century. Consequently it has some of the richest soil in Europe, perfect for market gardening. From a good and fairly priced drinks list, we tried the organic cider (£2.20) and then a bottle of Rioja Crianza (£14.60) Normally I feel let down by puddings in restaurants. This time I wanted to see is this would be as enjoyable as the others. The Oatmeal flapjack with fresh raspberries and whisky cream (£4.45) was superb – the slivers of flapjack worked well with the ripe, sweet raspberries and although there was not enough of the whisky to complete the Scottish theme, we could allow them that.
Urmston might previously have been a mere byway on Manchesters culinary A-Z but this place might finally have put it on the map. And by the way, for the curious, Isinglass is a gelatine made from the air bladders of freshwater fish and used as a clarifying agent and adhesive. Maybe that should have been left undefined.
Food 4/5 Service 4/5 Décor 4/5
Independent, Roundup of Manchester Restaurants: All food is locally sourced; roast pheasant, and British cheeses with their own savoury biscuits. (Caroline Stacey)
Guardian: Restaurants love to make a fuss about the provenance of their ingredients. How often that organic or seasonal produce transfers to a dramatically improved taste on the plate, however, is a moot point. Cynics might call it hype. But, then those cynics haven’t had the Chat Moss salad at Isinglass; it is a knockout ensemble of spinach, peppery sinuous rocket that is both testament to the fertility of the Chat Moss peat bog and Isinglass’s determination to root out the best local produce. This loving care – try the unusual homemade cheese biscuits – was evident throughout the cooking; a great mallard, with whole roasted orange and celeriac cake, or the starter of black pudding , lardoons and softened apple, mixing earthy simplicity and modish technique. Sensibly priced, for suburban Urmston, Isinglass is a neighbourhood restaurant with real flair.
Metro Life: Research for their British restaurant, Isinglass… led… to some ancient texts, with new winter menu featuring recipes translated from 13th-century Latin. They take a traditional approach to ingredients, too, using English suppliers, most of them local – although spices, coffee and dried fruits are allowed, because we’ve been buying them from abroad since the heyday of the spice trails. Winter is an ideal time to eat at Isinglass as stews, game roasts, pies, puddings and bakes provide the right kind of bolstering warmth. With a leather sofa, little pictures of sprouting seedlings and original Victoria fireplaces, the former bakery also has a homely charm; pots of herbs and handsomely misshapen pumpkins are testament to a love of food, even as part of the décor. The head chef, has cooked other cuisines but claims a particular fondness for British dishes and it shows. My friend started with mutton pies with quince jelly (£4.75), tender little pasty-shaped parcels of spiced mutton. As well as demonstrating that the kitchen isn’t afraid of hard work (quinces aren’t easy to find or a joy to prepare), the jelly enhanced the slight sweetness of the pies and a pile of fresh watercress added a crisper note. My cup of Cullen Skink (£4.25). the Scottish milk, potato and smoked haddock soup, came topped with pink Keta salmon roe, each tiny ball providing a fresh burst of seawater saltiness, and crisp sourdough toast. Overcome by slightly smug feelings of earth-mother joy, we drank bottles of organic perry (£2.80) and hot ginger beer (£1.70).
My friend’s main course was a bowl of black-as-night Tatton Park venison stew (£12.45) flavoured with dark chocolate and port. The chocolate was the most obvious in the extremely rich, smooth texture of the stew, but there was no unwelcome sweetness and the well-flavoured meat required just a gentle nudge to fall apart. She merrily polished off the accompanying dumpling, stuffed with a vivid beetroot jam, but the clammy texture was too much for me. More quince – this time roasted- turned up with my main course, roast pheasant (£10.95) with a creamy mustard sauce and slices of intensely smoky bacon. The leg, complete with bronzed skin and crunchy flakes of salt, was the real treat. The addition of a fat roast potato made the dish into a feast, though it’s wise not to tuck into pheasant with too much gusto in case you bite down on a piece of shot.
My friend’s gusto almost deserted her when her trifle (£3.95) was delivered. Bursting out of a pudding basin, it was easily enough for two and full of the sweet, old-fashioned flavours of mulled wine and plum jelly, with lashings of vanilla custard, whipped cream and grated chocolate. I settled on the cheese plate (£4.95), dominated by white, crumbly local cheese with sliced pear poached in red wine and a very festive-tasting apple chutney, rich with sultanas and raisins.
The dishes are traditional, but Isinglass is innovating and taking risks by reviving them; though some chefs would like to use it more than they do, mutton doesn’t sell much, so it rarely appears on English menus. The risotto is made with pearl barley and an English Parmesan-style hard cheese, there’s a good vegan wild mushroom, ginger and bean pottage, and the menu carries the telephone numbers of the restaurant’s suppliers of meat, fish, cheese and game. Isinglass may revel in the past, but it’s outlook is thoroughly contemporary. (Emma Jean Sturgess)
Metro Life: We’re evangelical about the ‘English Dining Room’ … in a pretty unlikely part of town. Others may bleat about going local and seasonal, but these… do it with absolute integrity, using fully traceable meat and excellent bacon from the butcher up the road, picking up produce from Dunham Massey and adorning the small, understated premises with brightly coloured misshapen squashes instead of flowers. The food – carefully researched and adapted English dishes, with real options for vegetarians and even vegans – is the perfect antidote to the same old lamb shanks, and it’s described with such enthusiasm… that it’s hard to say no to the pudding-basin full of trifle or the fully loaded cheese plate. (Emma Jean Sturgess)
Hi-Life Magazine: All the signs are that the next place to be hit… is none other than Urmston. This huge area has already begun to benefit because the first indication of such upward mobility is often the opening of high quality restaurants, rather than the mediocre tandooris or Italians which were previously the only choices in such areas. With the opening of Isinglass that’s exactly what you’ve got here – a very good restaurant that’s raised the bar of quality for all the others to aim for.
Their ethos at Isinglass is that all produce used be British and indeed, the vast majority of it is sourced from local, where possible, organic suppliers. They back farmers around Manchester, bringing food from the field to your plate without middlemen, processing or wasted air miles. With that in mind they’ve resurrected the use of several ingredients which, sadly, have long since been dropped off other restaurant menus such as Chat Moss or mutton. I dined there recently and started with a terrific kedgeree of smoked haddock served with quails eggs but was equally impressed by my partners timbale of poached salmon served with sweet beetroot and capers wrapped in cavolo nero and set on a bed of lambs leaf. For main I enjoyed some lovely sea bass fillets on roast vegetable salad with pumpkin seed pesto with beautifully crispy skin and tasty flakes of fish. My partner, however, couldn’t resist her field-reared fillet steak from Cheshire’s Holly Tree Farm. Served rare, it was as soft as pate and certainly didn’t need a steak knife to cut it. There was no fat and along with some delicious home-made chips, was true taste sensation.
Desserts such as treacle tart with toasted hazelnuts and clotted cream, or the apple and Wensleydale tart – served with a Yorkshire tea fruitcake and apple cider jelly – were equally accomplished, and completed a truly memorable meal. Manchester now has several high quality restaurants but the recent opening of Isinglass means that if you want to enjoy innovative and creative cuisine, you no longer need to make the inevitable trek into the city centre.
Out North West: If, like me, you enjoy a meal out, are constantly looking for a change from Italian, Indian, Thai or Chinese and fancy something different, look no further than … Isinglass restaurant in Urmston. Since its opening in May 2004, the English Dining Rooms offer beautifully cooked traditional English food sourced mainly from organic producers in the North West. As the menu boasts, this is a chef-led restaurant, and it shows in the fare. I started with Judy Bells Yorkshire Blue and Cornish Pepper Cheesecake, which as a cheese lover, practically made me orgasmic. This was followed by chicken fillet stuffed with tomato mousse, wrapped in Cumbrian air dried ham with lentils and saffron cream, an unusual combination which worked perfectly together. And for dessert, Cheshire raspberries on an oatmeal flapjack served with whisky cream. One word for it – divine. The restaurant is housed in an old bakery which… lovingly refurbished, keeping many of the original features. Dispensing with the traditional flowers in a vase, tables are decorated with pots brimming with fresh herbs, and the muted wall colours and reclaimed furniture make for a fantastic ambience. If you are looking for good prices, a welcoming atmosphere and probably the most delicious food you will eat this year, book your table and be one of the first to experience English food at its best at Isinglass. (Annie Emery)
Manchester Evening News, Reader’s Review: It was a busy Thursday at the beginning of September, I was launching the new satellite tracking system in Salford and was moving on to Trafford to talk to young people in relation to reducing offending behaviour and to deal with those youngsters who, if we don’t get this right, could spend a lifetime in and out of jail. So it was with some pleasure that I managed to get an hour for a working lunch in Urmston at a restaurant recommended by my good friend, Bev Hughes MP, and an example of Mancunian enterprise at its best. I mention this because the great ovens and the fireplaces are still there and are a real feature, but I digress. What you really want to know is what the food was like. It’s a little different, in fact, what I really needed was an afternoon off to fully digest and do justice to what might be called traditional north west fare, for this restaurant unashamedly sets out to replicate the best of traditional northern food. Its wholesome, its tasty and, yes, its filling! Mineral water (because it was lunch time) could not do justice. What we really needed was some red wine or, for those with a real ale bent, a pint of something really strong. Forget for a minute that the name of the restaurant is actually taken from fish oil made into jelly – the sort of preservative favoured by traditional cooks in the North West in years gone by. The real touches are those wonderful examples of North West humour coupled with a semblance of real food science. Take for instance one of my colleagues (Prison and Probation Minister Paul Goggins), who had the lamb. This wasn’t any old lamb, this was home grown Rossendale lamb. But lamb with a difference. You couldn’t make it up! For the lamb had been “massaged”. Not the meat, the lambs! Massaged lamb for tenderness – the equivalent of beaten, but giving the lamb such wonderful pleasure that it literally melted in the mouth. Other diners had excellent calves liver, pork done in the oven and two of us had pike. I have never had pike before. Its not the sort of fish you normally get down at the chippy. It is, however, a very traditional dish. It was cooked excellently and for anyone who likes freshwater fish this is really worth trying. The sauce with it was superb and complimented it excellently. For me there was a problem – and it is only my problem – that of getting the skin of. It has its fair share of bones but that isn’t the real worry, its making sure you avoid the scales. Most people can do this very easily and, in hindsight, I should have requested the kitchen to do this for me. That apart, I thought it was wonderful, if only we had had time to stay for some diet-busting puddings but, having tried (we all tried) the interesting parsnip bake (another root vegetable grossly underestimated), it was time to move on! But before doing so some of us sampled the wonderful variety of teas on offer. What about “Yorkshire Hemp with Raspberry. I didn’t tell the young people what I had been drinking before arriving for the afternoon session! I hope this unusual venture proves a great success (David Blunkett).