“ Address: Derby Brewery / Empire Street / Cheetham / Manchester / M3 1JD / Telephone: 0161 834 3285 „
The team I work with is quite a small one and even with all of us there at the same time we only add up to 8 people. Since we all travel a lot it's relatively rare that more than 3 or 4 of us are actually in the office at the same time. About ten days ago it looked like it might just be me and Naz, our Turkish placement student. So I said 'OK, let's go out for lunch and to hell with who answers the phones'. It was the recent Friday when the forecasters were predicting snow and I thought that if I was going to get stuck on the M6 going home, I might as well make sure I had a good meal inside me before I set off. Then as the day rolled on, a couple more colleagues showed up unexpectedly and we decided to make it an ad-hoc team lunch.
Our department secretary, Joyce, had lined up the group to go for lunch earlier in the week for her birthday but had gone down with something nasty and called in sick. She's our time-limiting factor as she always needs to be back to take over her switchboard duties so we were all ready at 11.45 prompt to go to the Griffin knowing we needed to be back for 1 pm.
We work within spitting distance of Manchester Airport. Head in one direction and you'd better raid your piggy bank if you want to dine with the Merry Wives of Wilmslow. Head in another direction towards Wythenshawe and you might want to count your hubcaps before and after your meal. So we generally head towards Heald Green and to our favourite pub which is called the Griffin.
The Griffin sits on the corner of two roads - Finney Lane and Wilmslow Road. If you find yourself heading for the big John Lewis and Sainsbury's at Cheadle and can't face paying the ludicrous prices in their in-house cafeteria, then consider a detour to the Griffin for better value and larger portions. There's a good-sized car park which is certainly plenty big enough at lunch-time but might get a bit stretched in the evenings although I can't confirm that.
The Griffin is part of the Joseph Holt pub chain which has 127 pubs within a 25 mile radius of Greater Manchester. As a brewery, Joseph Holt's has been one of relatively few family breweries to survive the industrialisation and consolidation of breweries that took place in the 1980s and 1990s. They've been brewing since 1849 and the company is now owned by the fourth generation of the same family. Their website describes the company as 'unashamedly old fashioned' so you might suppose then that their pubs will be of the 'old man and dog with a box of dominoes and a weekend folk concert' genre. But the Griffin couldn't be further from that image. If you are interested in brewing and breweries, a look at their website will tell you loads about what they do at www.joseph-holt.com/ourbeers.asp - but as we go at lunchtimes and never quaff anything stronger than a diet coke or a cup of cappuccino, I think further brewery-talk would be out of place in this review.
So if the Griffin isn't a 'dogs and dominoes' pub what is it like? Well to my mind it's a quite surprisingly light and stylish for a pub. Once you've fought your way through the desperate smokers who are huddled by the door, you find that there's a large drinking and dining area to your right, a long light-wood bar in front of you and a dining area to the left. We always sit to the left. The décor is a mix of fabrics, patterns and textures - it always makes me think I've gone to eat in a giant IKEA or B&Q show-room where someone's trying to display as many different wallpapers and fabrics as they can in a relatively restricted area. The windows are large and there's lots of natural light, the tables and chairs are arranged in different groupings to give tables that should be pretty much ideal for any group from two to eight people or more if you do a bit of removal work. The chairs and benches are upholstered in a wide range of fabrics including what seemed to me some pretty stupid ones for a bar/restaurant - would YOU upholster a dining bench in beige suedette for example?
So on this occasion we found a table for 6 and settled down to mull over the menu. If you check out the website all the food is there but not with prices - perhaps the individual pubs have some autonomy to adjust the prices or maybe they don't want to have to keep updating the website. Each day there are some specials on blackboards but there's so much in the big menu that I've never needed to go 'off-piste' to find something I like the look of. Each table has a little note pad where you can write down what you want - a section for drinks and another for food - so after everyone had plenty of time to make their choices I took down what they wanted and went off (with the table number written down because you ALWAYS forget, don't you) and ordered for all of us.
The menu is enormous. There's a section for starters and a choice of different salads - apparently they are so big you have to decide whether to eat them or climb them. The main courses are divided into some very traditional English dishes (such as sausage and mash and beef and ale pie), a few fish dishes, a 'grill' menu and a 'dishes of the world' selection (with the Kashmiri lamb, lasagne, chicken tikka masala and chilli con carne - a real 'cartoon' food world). There are a few vegetarian main courses too. Then there's the extensive 'sandwich' menu and baked potatoes and finally some puddings. Everything is substantial and makes up for the lack of sophistication by being consistently well prepared and presented.
Joyce is on a diet at the moment I think so she went for some vegetable soup. Naz was off to Leeds that night and needed a good meal to keep her going so she opted for the Kashmir Lamb, Marina who is French ordered liver and mash (mad or brave - you decide) and Bjoern and I went for sandwiches - in his case a ciabatta with bacon, cheese and onions and in mine the 'Harvester' with peppers, mushrooms, onions, cheese and salsa. For all five meals plus a soft drink each, the bill came to £36.
I went back to the table and within a few minutes the waitress brought our drinks over. The last time I'd eaten at the Griffin, the waiter brought the drinks to the table, perched his tray half on and half off the table, picked up two of the drinks and threw the other three straight down his trousers and over two of my colleagues. It was as if the whole thing happened in slow motion and no doubt would have earned us £250 on 'You've been framed' if anyone had a camcorder handy.
During the 10-15 minutes between ordering and getting the food, I played 'bank of koshkha' and sorted out everyone's bills - never volunteer to be the banker on a team lunch unless you have lots of change. Two weeks later and Marina still hasn't paid for her liver and I being English am too polite to remind her and she being French isn't in a hurry to bring up the topic. Of such things are international incidents created! I must remember to bring up the Battle of Agincourt some time.
The food arrived. Bjoern and I were more than happy with our ciabattas - you can order most of the fillings as ciabattas, baguettes or wraps and I usually have the wraps but had worked out that the wrap leaves you feeling a bit short-changed relative to the other bread options. You also get a nice heap of chips and a sprinkling of salad to make you feel less guilty about the chips which are - quite possibly - the best chips in the North West. Marina's liver was apparently delicious but as a non-meat eater, I have to take her word for that. Joyce's soup was in quite a large bowl and came with a roll and Naz's Kashmir lamb was the star performer. It came with a karahi-type metal bowl of spicy lamb stew, accompanied by a large portion of both chips and rice and a naan bread as well - what a carbohydrate overload! The lady taking the orders had asked me whether she wanted chips or rice or a mix but I'd never expected there would be so much.
And so it came to pass that about 45 minutes after arriving, we'd had a drink, a leisurely lunch and still had time to hop in the car and get back to the office in time for Joyce to take over the switchboard. Naz as our social-secretary has spent a lot of time trying to organise nights out but 90% of them get cancelled because we all live in different directions. I think our ad hoc lunchtime trip cheered us all up, probably all the more so because it wasn't planned in advance. I don't think anyone will object if we do it again soon. And if you find yourself in Heald Green - or anywhere not too far away - I definitely recommend the Griffin for a lunch-time treat at a price that won't break the bank and in a setting that's the match of many a gastro-pub that would charge at least double.
124 Wilmslow Road
Joseph Holt's Derby Brewery has remained in the family for over four generations. Currently, Joseph Holt's owns 93% of the existing 127 establishments.