Wednesday 19th January 2011
Mr Thomas's Chop House is a Manchester institution and in these present times it is truly remarkable, inasmuch that it has hardly changed since the day it was built. Please look at the photographs to observe the evidence. I'm not a time traveller but I can't see how much different it could have been back in the nineteenth century, compared to how it looks today.
It opened in 1870 on a site that was once occupied by a town house, hence the long and narrow internal plan. It has a cast iron frame, one of the first in Manchester buildings. The walls infilling the frame is made of Accrington brick and the whole structure is clad with terra-cotta.
One puzzling aspect of its history is that the owning company claims to have been established in 1867. Possibly the Chop House was located somewhere else until the new structure was completed. Naturally, it is a listed building, Grade II.
Chop Houses are an old institution in cities and were where business was conducted over lunch. Certainly one can imagine the cotton barons discussing trade here, along with those from banking and newspapers, both very important industries in this city.
Basically a Chop House can be regarded as a development of the Coffee House, which basically served the same function a century earlier.
In 1901 the house was extended forward as Cross Street was narrowed. The architect was Robert Walker and his extension provided the ornate frontage we see today. It has been done in what could possibly said to be a British version of Art Nouveau. The main purpose of this new part of the building was to provide another bar.
One entering the front door you enter what is definitely a pub, with tiled floor and cream coloured walls festooned with old photographs and paintings. In an aside, it is worth noting that it is often the venue for art exhibitions. The bar is solid varnished wood with brass rail. There are shelves along the walls with stools.
Walking through the arch, which defines the transitional point between the later extension and the original building, you will notice another bar on the right. There's a bit more standing room and then some wooden tables and chairs for seated drinking. This room has green tiles that extend up to head height. The bar is again shiny dark wood with a brass rail. There are two very impressive pedestal lighting columns on it surmounted with globe shades. Another very notable feature is the superb bar-back which was also installed when the pub was built.
Continuing along the building and passing under the green tiled archway, you will find yourself in the Chop House Restaurant and confronting you will be the "meeting and greeting" desk from which you will be shown your reserved table or allocated one. The black and white floor tiling and the green wall tiling continue down this room. On the right is a huge arched wrought iron pair of gates that guard the wine cellar. On the same side a bit further along is a lovely old fireplace that I'm sure is still used. Beyond this is a small serving bar before another arch that leads to another dining room.
It is all very impressive. In fact, in the whole pub, I could not find anything that was not original, except the beer dispenses on the two bars.
The beer range in the past has been criticised for relying too much on national brands. However things have changed a bit in recent years as there are now more regional family brewers' beers available. I think the following list is representative of what can be found nowadays: Robinson's (Stockport, Gtr Manchester) Unicorn (4.2%); Black Sheep (Masham, N Yorks) Bitter (3.8%); Holt's (Cheetham, Manchester) Bitter (4.0%); Lees (Middleton Junction, Gtr Manchester) Bitter (4.0%) and Flowers IPA (3.6%). The latter beer is brewed by Brains in Cardiff under licence from multinational AB-InBev.
As can be expected the cooking is British and nothing wrong with that; although it is worthy of note that the Head Chef was trained in France. I'd like to try their Onion Soup with a giant cheese-encrusted crouton and for main course have a traditional Steak & Kidney Pudding. Or, possibly, their Corned Beef Hash that is made in-house with brisket and takes ten days marinating.
This is a smashing time-warp of a pub and well worth calling in for a pint or the full dining experience.
Mr. Thomas's Chop House, 52 Cross Street, Manchester M2 7AR. Tel: 0161 832 2245
Open: Bar: Monday to Thursday 11.00-23.00;
Friday and Saturday 11.00-24.00; Sunday 12.00-22.30
Open: Restaurant: Monday to Thursday 12.00-15.00 / 17.00-21.30;
Friday and Saturday 12.00-22.00; Sunday 12.00-20.30
There a number of nearby bus routes. It is between five and ten minutes from the St Peter's Square, Mosley Street, Market Street, Piccadilly Gardens and Shude Hill stations of the Metrolink tram. Walking times to the nearest National Rail stations are: Manchester Victoria: 10 minutes and Manchester Piccadilly: 20 minutes.