It's all about the toilets. Oh, and everything else
Burt Lancaster famously said: “I judge a restaurant by the bread and the coffee.” Sage advice indeed, Burt. But I judge a restaurant by the chips and the toilets.
Toilets because, well, it’s a rare person who wants to frequent an establishment where the prospect of going for a number one or two is a matter for serious trepidation. And chips because they’re pesky little buggers to get right. Most places, understandably, don’t bother making their own, so when you see the epithet handcut – hence, we can assume, homemade! – you’re full of nervous anticipation. Can this place fuck up chips?
On my first visit to West Didsbury’s Volta, the chips were triumphantly good. Served with a slab of gammon and a jiggly-yolked fried egg, those crisp-crusted, fluffy morsels managed to eclipse all other first impressions. A good chip can do that. The toilet experience isn’t indelibly etched on my memory, so no alarm bells there.
That was early 2014, not long after it opened. And while it’s tempting to review a place based on nothing more than a of plate of gammon, egg and chips, a black coffee and a hazy memory, that'd be unfair, to say nothing of disregarding Volta’s other talking points. After all, their ethos is interesting, tapas-style sharing plates, not excelling at cafe classics.
By the second time I visited, almost a year had passed; and hardly a bad word had been said about the place in that period. This time, there was a group of us and the menu had expanded somewhat. No need for restraint, then; we order pretty much all the small plates. And lots of chips.
The latter are every bit as a good as I remember. Beef cheeks with orange and anise are rich and aromatic; the potted shrimp, so simple to make but so rarely seen, are delicately spiced. There’s a decent earthy sea bass and puy lentil dish and we choose the Moorish chickpea and spinach to make ourselves feel better about the chips. With the exception of some slightly dry pork belly, everything smacks of high standards that are, judging by other reactions, rigorously maintained. And this is between Christmas and New Year too, when things might slip.
The beer selection and the back bar are well thought-out. Siren Craft Brew’s Liquid Mistress goes down well and I’m taken by some sort of chocolate IPA (at least I think I am; blasted memory!), a collaboration between two notable breweries whose names escape me. Do order a whisky-based cocktail: their exemplary version of a Tawny Manhattan (where port replaces the traditional sweet vermouth) probably didn’t help matters recollection-wise.
I once lived in West Didsbury for a short while, perhaps long before Volta was a twinkle in its owners’ eyes. It’s the sort of place I wish had been there in those days. I always thought Folk was okay, One Lounge did decent cocktails and The Drawing Room was just way too small. Mary and Archie had the best beer selection back then and The Rose Garden was great when you were in the mood for white.
I’ve never said this about anywhere in Manchester, but Volta is the kind of bar I have in my dreams. Ergo: I hate the owners just a little bit. They are well-travelled DJs Luke Cowdrey and Justin Crawford, who have already had a measure of success in the food and drink world with Chorlton's Electrik. That just makes it worse.
Anyway, I’ve just seen a special of duck fat confit scallops on Instagram. Damn, I need to go back here more than twice a year.
If you liked Volta, try: