THE WHITE LION feels like a proper pub. Unreconstructed, ungastrofied, slightly unruly.
This is a good thing, a comfortable thing.
I dream in emails, in text messages and in twitter. My eyes are in thrall to the digital images flashing before them and my ears resound to the tap of fingers on keyboards. Every rushed aspect of 2011 life seems to define my days.
So stepping at teatime into the dark and pleasantly worn surroundings of the White Lion was a blessed relief. Not that I should have been there.
Blue curried goatSimon Binns, aka the news editor and Middlesbrough correspondent, was supposed to have reviewed the pub on a Monday lunchtime but he'd been feeling blue. He came back with photographs that were azure in tonal quality.
"Why's the curried goat blue, is it sad?" I said.
"Must have been something wrong with the camera," he mumbled with a silly grin on his face.
"Blue Monday, perhaps?" I said.
The truth was that he'd left it on the wrong settings and caused the weird special effect. He'd been giddy.
This was my excuse to be back down at the White Lion at 5pm; to take more pictures, enjoy a well kept pint of Timothy Taylor's Landlord and eat more food - free of the artificial colouring of photographic incompetence.
In the evenings on Monday there's a chef changeover and another chef comes along who cooks Chinese food (Rose, the landlady is Chinese), for eating in the pub or as take-away for Castlefield residents.
But I was hungry. And I thought what the hell. The menu was exactly what you'd expect from the standard Chinese take-away, but the special chow mein (£6.50) was a cut above the average. It was massive to start with, a Mount Everest of chow mein, with all the usual requirements of chicken, beef, spicy pork, veg oddments and chilli heat. But with the quantity came quality, it was bloody good.
Purists will scoff at chow mein and point out it isn't real Chinese food, as cooked in the old country, but really a dish adapted for Western tastes. They point this out because they are boorish gits who can't see the wood for the trees. Modern British cooking bears no resemblance to the proper British home cooking my mum used to do, but I never hear other Brits saying, "Oh don't go to that faker Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley there's nothing genuine about it."
For the record Binns liked the lunchtime specials and so did his dining partner Mr Dave Cyst (man of weird stories).
Cyst had a club sandwich (£7.50). He wrote: 'Club sandwiches are very simple but wrong too often. This, however, was spot on with the simple imperatives done well. Three-tiered triangular toasted quarters held together with decorative cocktail sticks, liberally filled with chicken breast and bacon, nicely grilled even to my fussy standards with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise. Slight disappointment on the intimidating mound of chips as they were clearly straight out of the bag, but nevertheless, this was a well-executed and enjoyable pub grub club.'
Shame it all looks blue in Binns' pics, who wrote of his £7.95 curried goat :'It sprang from the specials board like a lion jumping out of a rabbit hutch. It seemed an odd dish to have amid the roast this, burgered that and trad-British dishes. But it was worth the entrance fee alone, so to speak. It was spicy, but not overwhelmingly so. It was fiery but friendly. A good dish and one that more pubs like this should do more often. With a bit of tweaking it could actually become a bit of a destination dish.'
Memorial artGive the White Lion a chance folks. If you want something uncomplicated, a quick stomach busting, usually flavoursome filler than spin through its ancient doors. Or stay outside amidst the pleasantly re-arranged and tidied up drinking terrace. Of course it's a bit of a Red (United) pub but Rose welcomes Blues as well - and not only when people can't operate cameras.
People have clearly become obsessed with the place. Mike, whomsoever he should be, has a commemorative plaque on the wall that reads: 'Sometimes pissed but always missed'.
That hospitality is part of a long tradition. This isn't any fly-by-night operation. Some stories give the White Lion a pedigree that stretches as far back as 1778. It's possible that it was built by Abraham Collier - it sits on the junction of Collier Street and Liverpool Road. There are some good ghost stories that go with the property as well.
Good beer, decent food: the place makes you forget about emails for a while.
You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield
ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL. £1000 to the reader who can prove otherwise, and dismissal for the staff member who wrote a review scored out of twenty on a freebie from the restaurant.
The White Lion
43 Liverpool Road
Castlefield, Manchester, M3 4NQ
0871 951 1000
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