The Complete Works of William Shakespeare could be just one of many diversions if you were dining alone at The Manx. It looked like a nice, clean, unread copy. Fretting about slopping my burger over some soliloquy, I chose not to pull it off the back shelf for company at my solo Manx meal last week.
Besides, the burger required my full concentration. Was it the chipotle aioli that gave it such a sultry smokiness? Or was there something else?
After she caught me in the act of pulling the thing apart for closer inspection, my server poked her head out the bar pass (I was deep in the corner booth) to report that it was the cheddar that was smoked.
“We smoke it here. We smoke everything ourselves. In fact, we make everything from scratch.”
When I last wrote about this long-running underground pub, it had no competition. If you were on Elgin Street and wanted a tasty meal for a reasonable price in convivial surroundings, The Manx was it. Today, there are good-bet choices on what seems to me an increasingly tastier street. Among those good bets, the funky Oz Kafe and the new Town Gastropub. So given what you might call neighbourly competition, I wondered if The Manx queues were quite as long as I remembered them.
Well they are.
I also wanted to check out the renovation job I had been told about. The room is essentially the same, I’m happy to report, but it is now rimmed with a padded red bench, and the floors seem to have been redone since my last visit. They’ve added more copper-topped tables, some high, some low, and perhaps that copy of The Bard’s best stuff is also new? But The Manx remains a loud, happy place with a gnarled-around-the-edges English alehouse feel, and here you may eat and drink well and fully and for not too much. Benches may have budged about in the four years since I last darkened The Manx doors, but not the prices.
Of the starters, the lentil soup with roasted corn and cumin warmth was lovely. Very good as well, the black bean quesadillas with smoked onion and a distinctive tomatillo salsa. Butter beans and roasted vegetables gave depth and body to a garlicky hummus, served with warm naan.
From the sandwiches section, the club with roasted chicken breast and peameal bacon was well done, but it was the daily burger with its pile of Le Coprin mushrooms, bronzed onions, chipotle mayo and smoked cheddar that I loved. The meat was juicy, herbed and perfectly seasoned, the portion of vegetables in balance with the thin patty, and the bun was fresh and yielding.
There are four main dishes on offer. The blackboard lists the day’s additions. Unfixed to any wall, it roams the room. From that board I encountered the first mild disappointment in the form of a flat iron steak, a bit overcooked and a bit tough, on a layer of avocado and a bed of rice. Better the fish, I thought, miso-glazed trout, gently cooked, with gorgeous fingerling spuds, roasted and lightly doused with sesame, soy and ginger.
The house tomato sauce is delicious, and it makes the naan pizza worth ordering, this one covered lightly with cheese and zucchini.
Warm brownies for dessert with ice cream. Great choice of beer on tap, strong local content on the list, plus an impressive selection of wines and whiskies. The long-running Manx charmingly runs on.