David Adamson opens with lunch in snowy Macclesfield
What: Savages Mussels Bar
Where: Church Street, Macclesfield
Type of food/beverage: Mussels, seafood appetizers and sides, but mostly mussels
When: Mon: closed // Tue 12-16 // Wed-Sat: 12-23 // Sunday: 12-18
standalone or chain: Sovereign
Bearded, hermetic and perhaps not to everyone’s taste, I feel an affinity with clams.
These most offensive of molluscs have plenty of opportunities to knock off: the unopened blue-black, speckled shells show no signs of being food at all; opened, they may still have some convincing to do.
But then some of the more satisfying foods require a certain level of mental gymnastics, a release of taste from childhood hang-ups, prejudices and a seething collage of iron associations.
Personally, I don’t understand. Eating mussels is one of those great pleasures when enjoyed regularly.
I couldn’t eat them for lunch every dayeven crouched on the wharf in Collioure with a bunch of leather-clad Catalan fishermen, thumbs up for the sheer work of my French.
So it’s all the better when the opportunity just comes, and in Macclesfield of all places.
Squeezed into a small unit between the barbers and The Castle pub, Savages Mussels Bar is firmly situated in its new premises as a pop-up and later in the Macclesfield Picturedrome food hall.
However, this cozy place is just that, cozy. The double tables are not piled up into bunk beds, the aromas of your dinner fight in the air with the conversation of the couple next door.
The bar and kitchen, elevated at the back of the room, overlook the relaxed atmosphere, all facilitated by the understated decor. Yes, there are sea blues and the odd slight nod to nautical, but in a clam restaurant it could have hit a rock and become a bit off theme. There is a smell of sea air, but nothing more.
The main event
I started by ordering an intriguing appetizer; popcorn mussels (€9.50) with pickled carrot, pickled red onion and strawberry chili jam. As much as I love deep-fried foods of almost all varieties, it’s not enough to drag an animal, vitamin, or mineral through flour and throw it into hot oil.
Savages clearly understand that. The flour was rich with cumin, turmeric and paprika, and the plump clams were well coated so that they arrived an attractive golden brown. Together with the bright pink, orange and red of the pickles and jam, it made a beautiful dinner plate.
In particular, the flavor of the cumin shines through beautifully, offsetting the potentially similar flavors of the clams and the batter. After all, that’s pretty much all you’re going to eat, so you want to make sure you don’t get full after four clams. I certainly wasn’t. If anything, I set my mind straight ahead to the moules marinière, wondering if I was dangerously close to being stuffed. I ordered the molets and eagerly finished the ones in front of me and piled pickles on top of the jam-soaked molets. Call it the Macclesfield canapé.
With moules marinière (£14.95) you should know what’s coming. Fresh, fat clams rising from a broth of white wine, garlic and parsley, with a touch of cream and shallot floating in the middle of it all. And bread.
The broth was clearly the result of boiling on the stovetop. You’ll only know when you’ve come up short in this regard when the wine, cream and surrounding flavors are awkwardly eyeing each other from the other side of the bowl. Here they were a tight clique, taking me back to a dizzying, seaside summer holiday I spent in San Vicens, Collioure Clock Tower.
The main event
There are many fads that make the rounds, but the strangely fashion-free one is clams. Savages are loved by those who love them, as their busy weekend bookings already suggest, and while it may seem odd to dedicate an entire restaurant to molluscs, I think Savages is onto something.
Savages Mussels Bar, 23b Church Street, Macclesfield, SK11 6LB
Popcorn mussels 8.5, Moules mariniere 8.5
The relaxed staff and chatty chefs made me feel very welcome.
I visited on a quiet Tuesday afternoon, but busy weekends would raise the bar, I’m sure.