In a nutshell
The Pen and Pencil is the latest entrant to Manchester’s Northern Quarter bar and restaurant scene. Inspired by the whisky and steak hangout frequented by Don Draper and his cronies in Mad Men, the emphasis here is on suave sophistication mixed with a stripped back, semi-industrial style.
Local lad Damien Cunliffe in the kitchen, joining from award-winning West Didsbury venue Volta. The Pen is the first city-centre foray for owner Dan Pollard, who sold well-thought-of Didsbury bar The Violet Hour to put all his eggs into this sizable central basket.
What are they cooking?
The daytime menu is all about the brunches as well as the lunches (eggs feature in nine of the dishes on offer) and the evening offer gets a bit more ambitious, as bigger dishes such as steak, mac and cheese and brisket-topped nachos take over.
What’s the room like?
Bare brick walls and bespoke wooden booths are mixed with softer seating and bigger tables in the bar, which is convivial and comfortable. MacBooks and meetings in the daytime give way to the post-work drinks crowd later on, while the separate dining room is a bit more grown-up, if a little detached from the fun.
Menu must-orders and misfires
The eggs Pen and Pencil (£7) is like a sausage McMuffin on steroids (poached eggs, sausage patty, pancetta crisps, hash brown) and worth dragging yourself out of bed for after a few too menu helpings of the bar’s bacon-infused Benton’s Old Fashioned the night before. The surf and turf (£15) offers a sumptuously slow-cooked piece of beef short rib, but two tidily prawns didn’t quite pull their weight. So, order the corned beef hash (pictured below) instead (£7). It’s rich yet delicate and served with two eggs (of course) cooked over-easy.
Pen and Pencil does cocktails really well. La Liberté (Martel VS Fine Cognac, almond liqueur, absinthe, cream, egg white, £7.50) is an attention grabber – although probably not a session drink – and they serve a vodka martini that the shareholders of Sterling Cooper would be more than happy with. There’s also a decent supply of craft ales and a better-than-average wine list on offer, too.
What else I liked/disliked
The toilets will divide opinion – torn out pages of girly magazines are plastered on every inch of the walls – but the open-plan bar is a great place to lose an evening (or an afternoon).
The Pen and Pencil can feel a little safe at times and perhaps confidence in its offering will come with time, but friendly service and a warm, amiable vibe should hold plenty of appeal for those already enjoying the bar scene in this vibrant quarter.
The Pen and Pencil, Fourways House, 57 Hilton St, Manchester M1 2EJ
0161 660 3303
Words by Simon Binns
First published October 2015
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