Getting into a conversation with people about food or restaurants in Manchester invariably ends up with someone asking, “Have you been to that Simon Rimmer’s place?” To which, I always respond, “Which one?” Most people have heard of Simon’s Greens vegetarian restaurant in Didsbury but few, certainly of those whom I have spoken to, are aware that he also owns EARLE.
Now, I’m sure Simon needs no introduction, being one of the more prolific television chefs (and celebrity Mastermind contestant), but in case you don’t own a television, here’s a quick TV resume: Over the past 12 years or so, Simon Rimmer has been a regular on daytime magazine and cookery shows. His earlier work, including a slot on ‘This Morning’ and more recently, ‘Something for the Weekend.’ An untrained (or self-trained) chef, Simon also took on Petrus’ one star Marcus Wareing in the first series of ‘Great British Menu’ (2006) – sadly he didn’t go on to cook for the Queen, but ‘the underdog’, as Jennie Bond described him at the time, certainly gave the man with the Michelin star a run for his money.
Due to the success of Greens and two of his cookbooks, ‘The Accidental Vegetarian’ and the later ‘Seasoned Vegetarian’ - many people mistakenly assume that Simon is, himself, a non-meat eater. He has however done a lot to change people’s attitudes towards vegetarian food; myself included.
Begrudgingly, to please my wife, I first went to Greens back in 2002 when they had just 30 or so covers. Vowing on the way there (to ensure that I didn’t die of some sort of protein deficiency) to get a kebab on the way home. Needless to say, I survived - but not only did I survive a meal without meat, I actually enjoyed it and have been a regular customer ever since. Their growing collection of accolades and the 2008 expansion into the dress shop next door, increasing capacity to 90 covers, proves that I am not in the minority.
Anyway, back to EARLE – Simon’s ‘other’ restaurant, one that also caters for facultative carnivores. Situated in one of the wealthiest parts of England, the affluent Hale (now in Greater Manchester, but once part of Cheshire) EARLE is ideally placed to serve the footballers, WAGs and TV stars who make up the ‘Cheshire set’, as well as hungry Mancunians and Liverpudlians. Fittingly, former Liverpool FC midfielder Jason McAteer is one of the restaurants co-investors.
In reality, this information is a little unfair because I may be leading you to believe that it is one of those overpriced glitzy showbiz hangouts; when in fact, EARLE is a comfortable, modern brasserie that prides itself on serving locally sourced products. Prices are reasonable too – ‘EARLE classics’ mains come in at under £11; they have competitive ‘set price’ and ‘early dinner’ menus and kids can even eat free before 7pm.
Being greedy, to start our meal, we opted for a couple of ‘nibbles’ and the ‘Artisan bread selection’. My wife chose the Red Pepper hummus with pitta bread whereas I went for the controversial, Veggie Black pudding with mustard dip.
The hummus was very loose and oily (a little too much for my personal preference) but with a good sweet red pepper taste.
Some of you may be thinking, ‘What’s the point of veggie black pudding?’ Or ‘V Pud’ as it’s called by manufacturers R.S Ireland, The Real Lancashire Black Pudding Company. I like the traditional version, including the French and Spanish equivalents but I thought it was about time I gave the veggie stuff another go. I first tried one (not R.S Ireland’s) at a farmer’s market a few years ago and it tasted like window putty. I know the blood, in the traditional version, puts off many people. I wont go into detail about how Simon’s is made but the colour is achieved through using powdered beetroot; if you are interested further, Google it – fried, the resulting crispy discs of herbs and spices were a delight dipped into the mustard mayo.
My wife’s Peach, Parma ham & mozzarella salad, sweet & spicy red pepper and basil dressing looked light and summery; the mouthful I had was ‘peachy.’
My Smoked salmon, crayfish & dill crème fraiche parcel with pickled cucumber ribbons was very tasty. The heavily smoked, smoked salmon enveloped a plentiful serving of the crayfish and dill crème fraiche cocktail. To my mind, the pickled cucumber could have been ‘picklier’.
My wife was very happy with her Crab linguine, chilli, parsley, garlic & lemon and Parmesan shavings – generous chunks of sweet crabmeat were subtly complimented by flavours of the chilli, parsley, garlic, lemon and Parmesan.
My Pan-fried fillet of hake, chilli king prawns, chargrilled new potatoes and clam salsa was a mixed bag. The fish was absolutely divine – the best piece of hake I have ever tasted! The clams were also very good but dish was let down slightly by the chilli sauce on the king prawns which I found far too sweet and overpowering.
We had a couple of sides dishes, Hand cut chips with mayo and Boiled new potatoes, herb butter & grated Parmesan – both were very good.
For afters my wife opted for the Baked peanut butter & jelly cheesecake, peanut brittle and summer fruit coulis – she reported that the baked cheesecake had, ‘an unusually dense texture but a pleasingly delicate peanut flavour.’
My choice of pud was the Chocolate brownie, honeycomb ice cream and fudge sauce – a really well executed dish: the brownie had a rich chocolaty flavour with a perfect soft, sticky centre with a crisp shell; the honeycomb ice cream and sugar work provided the desired temperature and texture variances; as did the pièce de résistance, the hot fudge sauce! Amazing! I paired this with a 1978 Krohn Colheita Port, an inspired selection, even if I do say so myself.
To summarise, from eating there now a few times, EARLE is a lovely restaurant, which serves lovely food. From what I have seen of him on telly, Simon is a lovely chap; and Hale is a lovely village. My recommendation? “Go - you’ll have a lovely time.”