The name The Fat Loaf speaks a thousand words: home-cooked, honest, fresh, and wholesome are just some them. The kitchen crew cooks to that exact brief. Nestled in the Ashton Village in Cheshire, England The Fat Loaf is a well-kept secret amongst the locals and one suspects they’d like to keep it that way. Chef-owners Paul Watson and Tim Wood think differently. The warm, cosy, well-lit eatery was one of a trio of Fat Loaf restaurants that has shrunk to a duo as a result of the global financial crisis. But the boys haven’t looked back. They’ve been too busy. One mans the pans at Ashton, the other at the venue in Didsbury, Manchester. It’s crunch time for the fat loaves.
“It’s a tough climate to trade in,” Watson says. “The industry is quite a difficult place especially in this country at the moment. It’s suffering a lot. We’re selling food for a lot less than they were 10 years ago.” The menu is fairly priced – for the customer, that is. In the kitchen the strategy is to keep costs down, without diners noticing.
There is no fillet steak on this menu. Skirt steak marinated in soy, garlic and thyme features in the Great British Grills section instead. The strategy works well. The only thing that stands out is a menu scattered with what sounds like good honest grub such as spinach, potato and nutmeg soup; grilled mackerel with rhubarb chutney; and free range chicken breast with potato rosti and fennel puree.
“We use local [produce] where possible and I mean that in the broadest sense,” Taylor says. “People bang on about local produce as if it fantastic. Not all of it is. We use local where it is good and makes sense.” He points to the cheese menu, which boasts five local cheeses and five imported from France. “The five local are a great showcase of cheese making in and around Cheshire, but the same goes for the ones from abroad. For us it’s about striking a balance but staying true to our ethics as well.”
Bits & bobs
Deep-fried whitebait and tartare sauce from the aptly named Bits & Bobs section kick things off for our table of two. They’re addictively salty fishy little bites that have been dipped in breadcrumbs that are thick with herbs and fried until crisp. We use them to wipe clean the shallow bowl of tartare sauce. They’re the stuff foodie dreams are made of.
A unanimous decision to share an entrée of red onion, goat’s cheese and pear risotto is rewarded with a harmonious dish. The sweetness of caramelised red onion cuts through salty goat’s cheese the smoothness of which balances the crunch delivered by a small mound of mini onion rings. Each forkful has just the right creamy liquidity and balance of flavour and texture. Throw in some sibling rivalry and we fight for last grains of risotto and onion rings.
A main course of slow roasted Chinese spiced pork belly with sweet potato mash and pak choi is a turbo-charged comfort food boost. A fat square slab of pork falls apart in moist shreds at the slightest poke of the fork. The mellow spiciness is warming, but not in your face. A thick square of crackling sitting on top is simply irresistible. The sweet potato mash may “look like sick” according to my dining companion but it tastes fine.
Roast rump of lamb, which is served with caramelised onion and bacon potato cake and a pea and mint fritter, is disappointingly overcooked – it’s not the “pink” we requested, despite the waiter asking our preference. However, the potato cake does a splendid job of soaking up the lamb juices and the fritter is a refreshing way to serve the traditional mint accompaniment. It’s our least favourite dish, but not a complete loss. We swear we don’t have room for dessert, but polish a generous square of sticky toffee pudding in a puddle of sauce off in minutes.
The food at The Fat Loaf doesn’t look as if it’s been laboured over for hours. It has home-cooked appeal, plus a generous pinch of finesse. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis the team is knuckling down, paying off business loans, and hoping that their reputation for consistently good food pays off and keeps them afloat. If I didn’t live about 16,000 kilometres away I’d be a Fat Loaf regular. It’s a local secret that needs to be appreciated more widely.
The fat loaves:
62 Green Lane
Cheshire. M33 5PG
Tel: +44 161 972 0397
846 Wilmslow Road
Tel: +44 161 438 0319