Mad, isn’t it, how we’re all obsessed with small plates nowadays? We used to be nation of staunch three coursers. Starter, main, pudding. Soup, meat and veg, trifle. Small plates were called tapas and came from Spain and we ate them, every now and again, as a treat, at La Tasca.
Then, more actually good, independently owned Spanish restaurants began to appear. Some of them started daring to serve a lot of their dishes on bread with a toothpick through them, baffling a large section of the English population as to how to pronounce the x in pintxos, so soon after the same people had only just wrapped their heads around the l’s in tortilla.
The Italians saw this and thought to themselves, “let’s roll out cicchetti and aperitivo on these motherfuckers” and before you know it, Venetian and Milanese snacking culture was rife in the UK.
Following the resounding success of these Mediterranean picky bits, English chefs, en masse, said “right, enough arsing about with starters, mains, desserts and cheeseboards. Let’s stop making tasting menus six hours long and, instead, just have all these small plates of food all served at once. We just need a sophisticated, European moniker to give this new wave of casual British dining….”
“…….Erm, small plates?”
And thus a phenomenon was born.
Like most things that are any good, the immediate response to diners’ plate orders becoming more plentiful was one straight out of the ‘Alan Partridge pitching to the BBC’ playbook. People like them, let’s make more of them.
Now, this meandering diatribe is not merely some contrarian opinion on a popular culinary trend, but rather a lengthy exhale at the abundance of establishments currently veering away from regular sized plates. Typewriter fonted menus, butter that is cultured or whipped (or both), endive at some point and a ‘fun take on a classic’ and all.
The fact is, small plates are everywhere and, to be honest, they are a sensational way to enjoy a restaurant’s entire menu rather than actually having to make a choice about anything. Don’t make me think, just give me everything then I can decide what not to order again. It’s just that, when we are allowed nice things, as a society, we tend to immediately ruin them.
The inevitable oversaturation of small plated venues still, obviously, has plenty of swoon worthy spaces that beg for countless revisits. It can just be nigh on impossible to navigate your way through the less worthy ones at times. But then you land in a place that just gets it. A fuss free neighbourhood spot that, sure, will serve you a hunk of artisanal bread with miso butter, but will also cook you up a plate of something heartwarming and classic that envelopes your very soul like a hug off your mum.
So praise every deity that might be out there for Jonny and Joe Eyre, and their ‘warm and welcoming neighbourhood bar’ the Jane Eyre, christened in honour of their mum.
Jane now has two outposts. The first in Ancoats’ Cutting Room Square and a more recent opening in Chorlton. Yet despite sprawling out into the suburbs, there is still very much a sense of ‘if you know, you know’ about this Charlotte Brontë bothering bar. Jane feels lowkey and comfortable. I don’t feel like I’m ever really bombarded with their offerings on Instagram, yet it remains a spot I always return to and will readily reccommend to anyone willing to listen.
There is, somehow, always the right amount of bustle about the Ancoats original (I’m yet to visit the Chorlton branch, but have heard and seen nothing but great things). You never feel like you’re arse-to-elbow with the next table and the staff are beautifully convivial, putting you at ease with smalltalk that somehow feels familiar despite you having no knowledge of each other outside of the fact that they know you really want a large glass of wine.
This is now the bit where I run through, in impassioned and often over elaborate tones, every delectable dish that we wolfed into our gobs during a relatively recent visit. And I could. Absolutely I could type a good few hundred words about my adoration of the delicately spiced and immaculately cooked lamb kofta with sumac onions, which left me yearning for a flatbread from nearby Erst to wrap around them in order to invent Manchester’s most decadent kebab. I could also do an ALL CAPS love letter to those gooey, salty little fucking ham hock and manchego croquettes and all that pea and mint dip I slathered them in. Christ, could I fucking ever.
Yet the croquettes, the kofta, even the courgette fritters, the fried goat’s cheese with honey and crispy sage, they will all have to wait to get their flowers good and proper because, baby, we’ve got a big ol’ fucking pork chop to gesticulate wildly about (you can’t see me but I assure you I am gesticulating like a bastard right now).
In the year of our lord 2023, a pork chop being the icon, the main event, the showstopper of a well respected establishment’s menu sounds as beserk as the bloke who plays Ken Barlow playing any other role other than Ken Barlow. But here we are, presented with a chop of astounding beauty. Just seeing it placed in front of me felt akin to seeing Cameron Diaz show up in that red dress in The Mask for the first time.
If you saw this chop across a crowded dancefloor, you’d be asking to buy it a drink and telling it you could have gone pro if it wasn’t for a knee injury. It’s a stunner. An immaculately presented piece of meat, lounging on a bed truffle pomme puree and luxuriously crowned with sumptuous apple compote. A big, charming-but-clearly-very-mucky bastard of a plate.
Plus, the effing size of this thing. If our server had told us it had been freshly carved off the side of a triceratops that morning I would have believed them, no questions asked. You could imagine it adorning Desperate Dan’s dinner plate. The temptation to heave it up by the bone and rip into it like a cowboy after a day of rustlin’ and wranglin’ on the ranch is overfuckingwhelming. Yet such an effort would be futile. The pork slides apart on the knife, silently suggesting to you to douse a bit of that apple compote on it. Go on, you dirty sod, sandwich that juicy morsel between some sweet apple and rich, velvety truffle mash. Let it luxuriate like a menage a trois at the world’s most glamorous swinger’s party in your mouth for a few heavenly seconds, then allow it to descend before you go in for mouthful after mouthful.
Did that get a bit weird towards the end there? It did, didn’t it? Too needlessly erotic? Fuck sake. I’m sorry but a truly world class pork chop will do that to a person.
Overly sensual memories aside, this chop is a plate that sets Jane Eyre apart in a heaving marketplace of trying-too-hard small plates. It’s a signature dish that Head Chef Arthur Molloy has made his own. A plate that is synonymous with their establishment. A “steady on, let’s just calm down with the artichoke six ways, shall we?” triumph of simplicity, warmth and homely decadence with just the right nudge of nostalgia.
While the menus at Jane Eyre may change with the seasons, here’s hoping this pork chop never, ever leaves us. Ever. Expect me organising a picket line in both Cutting Room Square and Chorlton if it does. No pressure, lads.