21-23 Bedford Street
01642 802 232
Gluten free? Yes
Everyone knows that good cooking starts with great shopping. Top-name chefs are always saying stuff like that, which is curious; you’d think their egos would demand that they give themselves a little more credit, and less to the farmer or the butcher. What a magnanimous demographic they are, these top-name chefs.
I thoroughly agree of course, although I would also maintain that it is quite possible to make something delicious out of even the cheapest can of tomatoes if one employs judicious seasoning, lively spicing and thoughtful cooking. I speak here very much from experience: I was a student once.
The point I’m lurching towards is that sometimes the most enjoyable restaurant dishes can involve very little cooking on the part of the chef at all. I’m thinking of good caviar with blinis. Open the tin - and your wallet - and away you go. Or of the sensational (bought-in) bread and butter we had that time we went to the Fat Duck. Or, more recently and less predictably, of the wonderful plate of Italian charcuterie we had on a trip down to Middlesbrough.
The Curing House is one of a number of food businesses that have opened in the last couple of years on Bedford Street in the town centre. It’s not a completely beautiful location, being bang opposite a brutalist concrete lump of high-rise grey, but hats off to whoever it was in the Council’s planning department that saw the potential for such a venture.
The Curing House itself is really rather lovely inside, with upholstery in smart shades of grey and mustard yellow and a funky tiled floor that reminded me of the Blockbusters board. Ah, Bob Holness! Simpler times.
Anyway, that plate of cured meat was some serious stuff, sliced to order. Coppa, from the pig’s neck, was dense with the funk that you get from well aged salume, the ribbons of fat melting away like a lit candle. Finocchiona from Tuscany came with quite a back story: the butcher who makes it uses the hand-picked wild fennel pollen his mum collects as a seasoning, rather than boring old farmed fennel seed. The net result was an almost narcotically powerful but complex fennel taste that caught the back of the throat in a very pleasant way. Salsiccia Vastese had a spicy tingle that began far off in the distance, but came zooming into full view after a couple of slices.
All were served with care, a scatter of olives and roast peppers, cornichons, pickled shallot rings, a slice or two of pecorino and washed down with a moreishly astringent glass of Lustau’s Botaina Amontillado sherry. No, not in some glorious Mediterranean backstreet, in Middlesbrough town centre. I know. I also spotted the excellent English fizz Nyetimber on the wine list. Classy.
So much for the shopping, but much of the cooking we tried was really enjoyable too.
Salt and pepper squid included crisped-up tentacles as well as tender pieces from the body of the beast. Good: if we must eat animals, we ought at least to have the courage of our convictions. They were all nicely seasoned and fried, and served with a pokey lemon aioli.
I normally try and steer Mrs Diner away from Sunday lunches - what hasn’t already been said about roast beef? - but the curing house promised dry-aged meat so I relented. The single thick slice of sirloin that arrived had some serious mineral thump to it and the fat was joy itself. The pick of the accoutrements were some sensational roast carrots which had been sprinkled with magic dust, I think. Also, a good gravy with a strong wine-powered back-bone and a bowl of perky al dente cabbage, mange tout and broccoli that kept us feeling virtuous.
The only real clanger was my main course, a risotto of mushrooms and tarragon that was pretty much a case study in how this dish should not be done. A good risotto is creamy and soupy; this was was a sad mound of mealiness and clag. It needed another ladle or two of stock, a few more minutes in the pan and a good beating, or mantecatura as they say back in Lombardy.
No such technical issues with the dessert we shared, a neat slice of key lime pie featuring a zingy rich curd-like centre and torched Italian meringue topping, all on a ground biscuit base. If the pie itself had zip and vim, the accompanying lime and mint sorbet was like an electric shock of acidity, reined in by just enough sugar to make it an enjoyable experience. Tiny fronds of - I think - lemon verbena and crunchy twigs of candied lime peel demonstrated admirable attention to detail.
Service, on what looked to be shaping up to be a fairly busy Sunday, was attentive and full of charm. The menu was pretty varied. In addition to the blackboarded specials and Sunday lunch option which we went for, we could have had a full English (which included beef dripping chips – now that’s a breakfast worth getting up for), one of a couple of variations on Eggs Benedict, a burger, a salad or a sandwich. Opening hours vary, so check online before making plans.
A quick word too for Bedford Street Coffee House, just a few doors down from The Curing House, who made as good a flat white as I’ve had just about anywhere.
This was one of those restaurant visits that falls annoyingly slap-bang between two points on my self-imposed 5-star rating scale, but on this occasion I’m inclined to pretend that the risotto never happened: so 4 stars it is. There are few enough restaurants making efforts to source ingredients as good as these, then presenting or cooking them with care and diligence, not to give a big thumbs-up to those that do.
Middlesbrough has plenty of nice places to eat just outside it; this is the best I’ve found so far in the town itself. Here’s to great shopping - and good cooking.