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MADE IN THE NORTH: The tale of Corned beef hash and other classic British dishes from the Chop House



My intention was to put into words why I fell in love with Manchester’s Chop Houses. Then I realised I should put into words why I fell in love with the city first.

Manchester occupies a strange place in people’s minds.

They say it’s grim up North. But not here, they don’t. And they think they know what we are about.

I’m not so sure the city’s position in the world is fully appreciated.

Cotton mills spun Manchester into being the wealthiest city on earth for a time. And this inland town turned itself into a sea port to protect its industry, even though it is 36 miles from the coast. The Ship Canal proved Manchester’s ability to grasp big ideas and its determination to try to change the world. It also proved the city’s ability to dig its way out of trouble.

This is a place which is fiercely proud of its independence. It didn’t have permanent representation in parliament until 1832, yet it led the industrialisation of Britain and therefore the world. It led the fight for social justice. It’s where Marx met Engels. Where they wrote the Communist manifesto. Where the Trades Union Congress was founded. It built the world’s first industrial estate. It’s where Rolls met Royce. It was LS Lowry’s home. He made the city his canvas, preserving a society now long gone. The atom was first split here. It’s the home of television’s Coronation Street, which creates celebrity and stigma at exactly the same time. It’s where Morrissey met Jonny Marr. It’s known for 24-hour party people. The Hacienda. Madchester. Oasis. The Stone Roses. The Mondays. Elbow. In fact a list of bands so long you can propose Manchester as a global force to rival any. It’s also the home of football teams, famous the world over.

And it’s where I chose to make my home, like many who came here to learn. Some ask why anyone would choose to live in a post-industrial city, which is also famous for its rain? The answer’s simple. And then wonderfully complex.

Many people have their own take on its appeal. Here’s mine.

I think Manchester’s charm lies in its best-kept secrets. Places you can only find here. Places you just feel at home in. Places only we know. Many such come and go; a few seem to have been here forever. This book is about Manchester’s Chop Houses: Sam’s, Tom’s and Albert’s. Three such places, in three very distinctive buildings, which are unique to the city.

The Chop Houses are part of the fabric of the place. They’ve pretty much seen it all since the mid-eighteenth century. They each have their own character and they each attract the personalities or characters of successive eras. As such, they represent a kind of living history. And each of these Chop Houses has made their own contribution to the history of the city.

Nowadays, they champion the best of British foods, proud to be part of the new wave of confidence in our region’s produce and our country’s culinary heritage. Like most people I’m proud to live in a land which is now recognised for its cooking skills and its fine ingredients.

Along with war-time austerity, rationing is now long gone. We’ve passed through the culinary desert into a new world where the media, and their celebrity chefs, have changed the way that we all look at food and eating out. For many, Britain is now a country united in its love of eating out. Foodies are a new social category. Food heroes are recognised for their contribution to our society. And we have truly embraced the concept of diversity, in our diets, at least.

In Manchester alone you can eat the food of scores of countries. We have been invaded by Italians; we have the second largest expat Chinese community in the world; we have Rusholme’s famous curry mile; and the French continue to define what to expect in fine dining.

The chop houses are proud to fly the flag for Britain’s culinary heritage.

This is the food our mom’s made, the food we grew up with. These are the dishes we talked about with our grandparents, the ones that have been handed down the generations. The dishes that come from somewhere local. The methods that evolved as part of our island history. The food made famous by Mrs Beeton and Elizabeth David. It is classic British cooking put through modern kitchens, reinvented by chefs who love their food, and whose tastes have been refined by this era.

Manchester is lucky. In terms of its food, the city is blessed by its climate. And its location. It lies at the centre of a wonderful food-producing region. It nestles in the green heart of Lancashire and Cheshire, a stone’s throw from the dales of Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Cumbria – not to mention North Wales and the west coast of Scotland.

Our food, like our people and our attitude, is made in the North. And proud of it.

This book tells the story of Manchester’s Chop Houses. It looks back in time and it points the way forward. We present the dishes which have made us famous. We have collected together some of the best stories to emerge from a history spanning three centuries. And we are pleased to introduce our Modern British Classics. The dishes our customers think will become the best-sellers of the next few years.

Which brings me to my final point here: I am often asked what’s our signature dish? Every regular has their own favourites, and like parents everywhere, we are proud of all our culinary children, but I guess we have a fair claim to being the rightful home of the corned beef hash. It’s certainly our best-selling product. No, it doesn’t come from a tin. Yes, we corn (or preserve with salt) our own beef brisket. And we must be doing something right, because our customers bought more than 150  thousand corned beef-based dishes in the last five years.

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