A night at the dogs has always been good fun.
And Manchester’s Belle Vue is probably one of the best places in the country to enjoy the action.
But fine dining? At a dog track? Surely not.
Well, maybe not Michelin-star fine dining but certainly a level of service and quality of grub to blast away the long-held image of chicken in a basket, burgers and other such stereotypical sporting fare.
Belle Vue’s Grandstand restaurant is not trying to be anything it has no chance of ever being.
What it is doing though is serving up good British food in nice surroundings with the added spice of giving diners the best seats in the house for the on-track action.
The whole experience is excellent and after we were shown to our table – right on the finish line no less – we browsed the race card for the form for the first race and then the menu.
It is worth pointing out at this stage that each course of the menu is given a greyhound racing makeover. Just to add to the fun I guess.
So, from the ‘starting orders’ section, two of us plumped for the goose terrine with traditional mustard piccalilli, while our respective better halves went for the field mushroom rarebit with a HP dressing and a plate entitled Taste of the Sea.
The terrine was superb, all chunks of goose with a lovely slab of crusty bread and a really delicious piccalilli (which, to be fair, I have never really been a fan of).
The mushroom rarebit was filling while the HP dressing provided a flavoursome twist on the builder’s favourite dollop of brown sauce.
On a more delicate note, the Taste of the Sea was a generous plate of smoked salmon and succulent prawns on a bed of mixed leaves and smothered in Marie Rose sauce.
Choosing a main course – ‘on the straight’ in menu terms – was far simpler.
Whilst tempted by the mouthwatering array of steaks, three of us opted for The Haystack, a real hearty take on the popular hunter’s chicken.
Stacked high on a garlic ciabatta slice was a chicken breast marinated in barbecue sauce, smoked streaky bacon, lashings of cheddar cheese a ginormous field mushroom, a slice of beef tomato and red onions.
Well, throw in a pile of onion rings, a pot of coleslaw and a corn on the cob – not to mention the straw chips which, while delicious, were no substitute for proper chips (for me anyway!) – and you have a dish to finish off even the biggest of appetites.
Fancying something a bit more dainty, my other half decided to go for the salmon which, whilst slightly dry for her taste, was another dish not lacking in flavour or size.
To be honest, I think we could have all probably left it at that but, in the name of journalistic duty, we ploughed on with some whoppers from the ‘final stretch’ part of the menu.
Two of us, with eyes clearly bigger than our bellies, went for the Sunday Best which was, quite possibly, the largest ice cream sundae I have ever seen.
Packed with bits of crushed Crunchie, chocolate and vanilla ice cream and loads of whipped cream, it is big enough for two or three people to share and there was no way either of us could make much of a dent in it.
The girls, being far more sensible, opted for the vanilla cheesecake. This was far more manageable and, if I’m honest, tastier than our ice cream spectaculars.
A round of coffees and a couple more ace wins later, we ventured outside for a taxi with our stomachs – and pockets in some cases – full after a cracking night.