Why Edinburgh Castle’s Chip Butty Is Now Manchester’s Most Important Dish

"I feel an impromptu love sonnet coming on at the mere thought of it"

Simple pleasures are often the easiest things to fuck up. It is, after all, their simplicity that allows for all manner of artistic interpretation and experimentation. The humbler the item, the blanker the canvas for the more creative or audacious (or flat out foolish) individuals among us to go hog fucking wild with.

Elevation can be a wondrous accomplishment. Or it can be an outright fiasco. So when presented with a plate as universally beloved as the chip butty, you better tread very fucking carefully.

After all, there is seldom a dining experience as heartwarmingly wholesome, as uproariously simplistic and joyous as the chip butty. Chippy chips, homemade efforts or from the freezer straight into the oven, no judgements here. Onto a roll or between a couple of slices of toastie loaf, slathered in golden butter. A dash of ketchup or maybe a smattering of salt and vinegar? Go for your fucking life, love. Enjoy yourself.

The compact squash of another uncomplicated masterpiece is as satisfying as watching scissors glide uninterrupted through a ream of wrapping paper. Then you sink your teeth into your big, beautiful, beige boy and all is right with the world for a few glorious, starch soaked minutes.

It is difficult to imagine that this moment could be improved upon. There you are, pair of joggers, scalding hot brew in tow, in front of Steph’s Packed Lunch on a drizzle drenched Wednesday afternoon. Or huddled over a peeling formica table, lashing on your condiment of choice in your favourite caff, washing down every other mouthful with a swig of freezing cold Fizzy Vimto. Or heavily pissed/hungover, constructing a behemoth on your kitchen counter, wondering if you’ll successfully be able to unhinge your jaw like a Burmese Python in order to consume it.

Somehow though, the team at Edinburgh Castle have taken these cherished scenarios and adapted them in such a way that is elevated, yet without pretension while, and I’m not being dramatic here, making you question everything that you’ve ever known about anything ever.

The first thing to note is, obviously, the ingredients. These go far beyond chips, butter and sliced bread. To read them out loud is to wonder why such a risk would even be taken. You could easily forgive anyone who contorts their facial features at the thought of beef tartare and seaweed mayonnaise adorning their chips. After all, how many sarnies are truly in need of extra raw meat?

Yet this exquisite tartare crowns chef Shaun Moffat’s spuds, all triple cooked and glistening like resplendent golden columns that have been felled for the sole purpose of providing the filling for this immaculate creation.

The aforementioned mayo of seaweed is one of two mayonnaises to be smeared within a Pollen Bakery brioche roll of such magnificence I feel an impromptu love sonnet coming on at the mere thought of it. The second mayo is that of beef fat. Until my introduction to EC’s chip butty I had only ever dealt with mayonnaise in a singular form. Pairing two together took me back to April 2001 when, on an episode of WWF Monday Night Raw, Triple H and Stone Cold Steve Austin buried their years long rivalry to batter The Rock together and form The Two Man Power Trip. It was a teaming that piqued my interest and combined two entities for which I had an enormous amount of admiration, but I was wary of the pairing being overkill.

“And Alexander wept, because he had no more butties left to conquer”

However, unlike The Game and The Texas Rattlesnake’s ill fated tag team, Chef Moffat’s duo of mayos is an umami laden accomplishment of seismic proportions. Especially when accompanied by delicately pickled shallots, providing that desperately crucial vinegar acidity, and tremendous Cinderwood mustard greens.

And, of course, what would beef tartare be without a blissfully prepared egg yolk? Vivid as the sun in colour, cascading southwards upon that first bite, acting as a gloriously decadent adhesive, binding every element together and coating your fingers in such a way your fellow barflies go weak at the knees, rather than be reviled at the sight of another patron being doused in dripping, viscous egg.

As I stared at the menu, already previously aware of the existence of this bar topping leviathan, I attempted to wrap my head around its contents. I supped my Guinness, consulted the instagram pictures that had already been shared of Manchester’s most talked about new sandwich, and deliberated.

You see, every single bit of it filled me with passionate levels of hysteria. It was the sandwich equivalent of Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman. Whereas chef Moffat had blended together a series of ingredients that sparked enormous enthusiasm, Scorsese produced a line up of my favourite ever actors in Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci, drizzled over a couple of supporting acts that I could watch in almost anything in Bobby Cannavale and Ray Romano and even added a dash of Jesse Plemons and Steven Graham for good measure. What came forth was a cinematic masterstroke, no doubt, but one that I haven’t been prepared to revisit since my first viewing. It left me full and satisfied, but to the point where I knew it would be a long while until I felt any sort of desire to experience it again, despite its depth and genius.

Upon completion of my final morsel, when the last fleck of autumn leaf brown Pollen brioche was swept past my lips, soaked in the remnants of yolk that had redecorated my plate with an avant garde splatter, I realised Edinburgh Castle’s chip butty was not actually The Irishman and was, it turns out, Michael Mann’s Heat. It was Pacino and De Niro cat and mousing across Los Angeles, crescendoing in that coffee shop scene, their first ever on-camera pairing together.

Every mouthful of EC’s sandwich hits your tastebuds like an atomic bomb. As you chew you both marvel at every intricacy and nuance of flavour and ingenuity and breathlessly anticipate your next mouthful, akin to witnessing Al and Bob verbally sparring back-and-forth across cups of coffee, ratcheting up the tension for their final act, each line reading an Academy Award worthy performance. It isn’t bombastic, it’s something simple taken to a whole different level in the hands of the very best.

A masterpiece

Shaun Moffat has recently made his way to Ancoats from the much (and rightfully) acclaimed Manteca in London. In his short time in Manchester so far, it is safe to say that he has established himself as one of the very best chefs the city has to offer. It goes without saying that the upstairs dining menu at EC is almost unspeakably brilliant. That Cavolo Nero with pearl barley, Yorkshire pecorino fiore and the same Buford brown egg yolk found on the chip butty is both a culinary and artistic celebration of flavour that everyone in the city must make a pilgrimage for. That Tamworth pork chop, semi-circled around apple and mustard leaves? Bury me in it, to be honest. Some of the finest food served in one of the finest establishments in the city.

But for every joyful plate that is devoured upstairs, it is the butties that are gorged upon by the lager swigging punters downstairs that will remain the most important dishes served here or anywhere across Manchester.

At a time where restaurants, bars and shops are shuttering left, right and centre, Manchester continues to be ripped from its charm and its true identity. The recent closures haven’t just been overly ambitious start ups that have failed, either. It is institutions disappearing before our eyes. Metro Cafe opposite the Arndale, a victim of redevelopment after a quarter century of family run service. Student favourite Font unable to cover exorbitant rent increases after 22 years of slinging cocktails and soundtracking endless uni nights out. Northern Quarter shop Oklahoma has said goodbye after 30 years, while just up the road much loved florist Flourish has sold its final bouquet. Late night ramen and bun legends CBRB shared the emotional news of their closure two weeks ago to a deluge of devastated regulars.

And that’s before you mention Manchester Book Buyers and McCall’s Organics, two stalls synonymous with the city centre, adored by the masses with an almost unsurpassed history in NQ and beyond. You may have heard this one before, but property developers are behind their imminent disappearance too.

For all the success stories and potential currently being discussed in Manchester, there’s also an inordinate amount of heartbreak and despair. Business owners unprotected by uncaring landlords. History being torn away from the city one shop and stall at a time. Identikit gentrification swarming the streets where there was once an abundance of character, all rough around the edges and enticing. Most importantly, there was warmth. Now, there is more and more sterility seeping into every corner of a city that is barely clinging onto the very facets of what make it so unique.

And so we circle back to Shaun Moffat and his chip butty. An exuberant, uplifting creation. A towering work of wonder that can genuinely bring the masses together. A (not so) simple sandwich that can put a smile on even the most hardened of faces. A properly Mancunian plate (even if it was crafted by a Londoner) that inspires almost endless discussion and newfound devotion. It’s a standout from the pack sort of sandwich. One which will go onto become a reliable fixture of the city’s dining scene for years to come. A generational dish, full of Northern heart and high end eccentricities. Something to make the crises feel manageable. A plate of promise and, most importantly, pride.

You might read this and think, “fucking hell, steady on Joe, it’s a nice butty, but calm down”. I get that. But I also get the fact that an alarming amount of Manchester business owners are seeing their hopes and dreams eviscerated on an almost daily basis. I get the heartbreak and the depression at a city crumbling from what it once was and still should and could be. A chip butty becoming one of the most talked about menu items in the city is, for whatever my opinion’s worth, the perfect antidote to all this cost of living and landlord led bleakness.

The classics are classic for a reason. And Shaun Moffat and his team have delivered us another just when the city needed it the most. Cheers.

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