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Published January 17th 2013
Ever eaten in a shed? Try Albert's Shed in Manchester
Who is Albert and what was I doing eating dinner in his shed?
Those are the first questions you'd be well-entitled to throw at me.
Well, Albert was the uncle of the present owner, Jim Ramsbottom, and the restaurant is in his refurbished tool shed.
He agreed to vacate it only on condition that Jim named the restaurant after him.
Albert's Shed in Castlefield
And so it came to be that a rather dilapidated area of old industrial Manchester became home to a sleek dining destination, right on the canal side.
I love Castlefield, the name given to this area round the canal. All of Manchester seems to be here. If you duck under enough forbidding-looking railway arches, you'll always discover some new delight. You can traipse across the site of old Roman grain stores, those crumbling leftovers of the city's origins.
Then you can see remnants of the massive monuments of red-brick industry that gave the city its spectacular Victorian springboard to success. Many of these have been converted into offices, shops and museums, such as the Museum of Science and Industry, that are great to explore. In between, you'll weave round lovely old Victorian boozers. All very nice!
Underneath the arches and out the other side is Albert's Shed.
Little remains but the outline of its sheddy past, but it does retain a sleek industrial charm. Step inside and you'll find a candlelit cave of iron girders and polished food. It's also got a lovely atmosphere. The air hums with Latino jazz, while big impressionistic artworks seem to display Manchester's canals with the glowing vibrancy of Venice. Service is smiling and attentive. You instantly unwind.
Albert's Shed: Review
I'm seated in a window slot overlooking the canal and left to peruse the menu. I'd describe the food as British-European – there's a good selection of imaginative pasta and pizza, such as chilli chicken, but there are also earthy flavours such as Lancashire cheese pie, duck cassoulet and a pot roast, with sides of chunky chips. And, in case you have a more delicate palate, there are lighter touches like a goats cheese and fig salad and spinach and potato samosas. Prices are reasonable – it's £16.95 for steak but between £7.50 and £9.50 for pizza. Plus, they occasionally do deals like £10.95 for two courses – something to look out for.
I opt for two specials: white onion and stilton soup and sea bass with butternut squash risotto. The soup is a pale, warming broth, decorated with basil oil and a sprig of parsley. The stilton is nicely balanced by soothing onion. My only complaint was that my bread roll was ping-pong sized.
Still, it was good to leave room for the main. The fish had been fried soft and flaky, with a caramel-crisp skin. The squash sat in lovely, fudge-sized chunks in the risotto which was peppered with parsley and chilli. For me, the risotto was outstanding – one of the best I've ever tasted.
Outside, snow was starting to ghost past the windows. But what did I care? To paraphrase Billie Holiday, I had Albert's Shed to keep me warm!