Alston Bar & Beef, both the original in Glasgow, and the newer site in Manchester, specialise in two things.
Gin and steak.
Now, whilst they do have a selection of veggie options, and can even cater to vegan tastes, I am a meat eater. So if you don’t like looking at pictures of rare steak, this post probably isn’t going to be for you, or you can maybe skip those bits and stick to the gin? For me, in the gin and steak themed venue, I’m pretty much guaranteed to be eating steak and drinking gin.
I can be a bit traditional like that.
Though it opened back in October, this was my first visit to Alston. It was always an intention to go, but as usual, I get buried in projects, and ideas, and before I know it, it’s four months later and I still haven’t wandered in.
But I made it. Finally. A small group of us were going to try a starter and dessert that form part of their possible spring menu – not only giving us the opportunity to visit the venue (and eat the steak for our main course) but also give feedback on the dishes for future diners.
We began with a cocktail – and it’s one that Alston are very proud of. Their location in the Corn Exchange is particularly close to Manchester Cathedral, and the Cathedral’s own bee hives provide the honey for the Cathedral Honey Bee’s Knees. In addition, 25p from every cocktail is donated to the Cathedral’s volunteer fund. It’s a real collaboration in both ingredients and flavour, the gin and lemon being the high notes, the rich honey lingering in the finish.
Our starter and the first ‘possible’ new menu option was scallops with Jersusalem artichoke mousse, pickled wild mushrooms, pancetta, buttered peas and mustard frills. I must admit I loved this. The scallops were just done, soft and sweet, the mousse earthy, the pickled mushroom cutting through the earthiness and lightening it, all backed up by the green flavour from the peas and the salty pancetta. In truth, I could have eaten another couple of platefuls – but I’m very glad I did, given the size of our main.
Onto the steak.
A hefty rib eye steak, cooked to order, triple cooked skin on chips, Bearnaise sauce (there were options for blue cheese, or jus) and a side of roasted veggies.
And when the meat is this good – only from accredited farms in the Scottish borders – it was always going to be as pink as I can get it. The fat is buttery and soft, the meat tender, and seasoned well. It needed no messing with, just cooked simply on their specialist grills, visible from our seats in the private dining area. Who doesn’t like a little kitchen theatre with their dinner?
Away from the steak the chips were crisp and properly potatoey, the bearnaise everything it should have been, so good I actually had to hide them to stop picking at them when we still had dessert to enjoy.
Dessert was a fruit topped feast. Meringue nests – crispy on the outside, chewy in the middle, filled with whipped cream, topped with blueberries, blackberries and strawberries and served with a gently sharp coulis. Everyone who had protested about having room for dessert soon dove in and cleared their plates, citing that meringue and whipped cream were mostly air, dontcha know.
I think it’s safe to say, we’re all hoping this heads onto the menu for spring, or indeed summer.
But, I hear you cry, what of the gin?
Served with every course was a matched gin and tonic, from their own compound gins. A compound gin is an infused spirit. Whereas most that you buy will involve distillation process (or rectification as it’s known), this involves a neat grain spirit, and the botanicals being added and left to steep. The result is gin, but with an earthy, slightly floral background. On top of this process, each has a further flavour profile. So with our starter, we sampled the pineapple gin – fruity, but not sweet, it’s perfectly sippable neat, the fruit opens a touch with a little tonic. Our main featured peppercorn gin, punchy and perfectly paired to the rare steak. And finally with dessert, the raspberry and rose, fruity, floral with the background earthiness, it paired beautifully with the fruit and meringue.
The list of these compound gins is ever changing and, backed up by 62 more traditional gins (both in the restaurant and in their separate bar downstairs) there’s possibly enough gin for everyone.
For me, meat and gin? It was always going to be a bit of a winner.