The Clock Tower Dining Room at Rochdale Town Hall
PUBLISHED: 00:00 02 August 2019
Copyright © Simon W Randall 2019 @ swrdigital.com
It's one of the region's grandest buildings and now Rochdale Town Hall houses a stylish restaurant.
To reach the Clock Tower Dining Room in Rochdale's magnificent Town Hall you pass by giant Gothic columns set in a sea of ceramic tiles. Their colours are echoed by amazing stained glass windows set behind a sweeping stone staircase and huge chandeliers illuminating the vast space. That grandiose Victorian entrance doesn't prepare you for the airy, bright and warm style of the restaurant, although the wall of arched windows that floods the place with light links it with that self-confident era.
'The restaurant has been around for some time,' says Charlotte Preston, commercial marketing manager with Rochdale Council. 'But it was refurbished in 2016 to make it more elegant and bring it upmarket. It used to be almost canteen style, now it's much smarter and in-keeping with the surroundings.'
With a colour scheme of muted greys and quiet creams, crisp white linen and delicate Churchill cutlery and crockery, it is designed for intimate get-togethers, friendly chats, and taking a breather with something nice to eat. Currently the dining room is open between 10am and 3pm every weekday, though evening opening is being considered for the future.
'A lot of people have relaxed business meetings here over breakfast, or eat brunch to set them up for the day before doing their shopping,' says Charlotte. 'And we have regular gatherings too - every Thursday there's an Armed Forces Veterans Breakfast which is very popular.'
Whoever is eating the most important meal of the day there, they're spoiled for choice, from a hearty full English to more delicate offerings like Eggs Royale or Benedict, a very traditional Welsh Rarebit, and vegetarian and vegan options.
Lunchtime is the busiest time of the day at The Clock Tower, and it's when chefs Craig Grice and Adam Sothcott get the best opportunity to show off their skills. Even the wraps and sandwiches, along with simpler fare like farmhouse ham and cheddar and chutney, offer more intriguing flavours like spiced Asian falafel, and gin-cured smoked salmon.
The cheffy side of things is found too in menu items like squash and beetroot Wellington, and prawn and potato pie, but Adam and Craig get to push the boat out for occasional special events, like the early summer lobster festival this year.
'They prepared Canadian lobsters in garlic butter, or in a salad, or as a fabulous lobster bisque,' says Charlotte. 'It's worked really well, we've had people come specially for that.' As The Clock Tower is licenced, some of those enjoying the lobsters paired them with prosecco or champagne.
A glass of something cheering, likewise, welcomed the guests at another recent special event, Ascot Ladies' Day, before the suitably attired lunchers tucked into a specially selected two-course meal.
When the weather turns cold again there will be festive fare on offer for the Christmas events the restaurant's team of nine is already planning - some of which will be delights produced by The Clock Tower's pastry chef Carla Tomkins, whose training includes time spent at the celebrated Whitefield patisserie Slattery's.
Carla's cakes are a vital part of The Clock Tower experience for many - Charlotte's eyes glaze over when she talks about her rich chocolate brownies spiked with sharp raspberries, a key component of the restaurant's Gentleman's Afternoon Tea (though in these egalitarian times the menu stresses that it's for ladies as well). It is one of several selections to brighten the early afternoon, from the Classic (sandwiches, scones, cake and tea) to the decadent G&Tea for two, a trencherman's (and trencher lady's) spread with smoked salmon, ham, sandwiches, scones, cakes and chocolate cup. And if you're wondering where the G element of the G&Tea comes in, there's a Hendricks fruit teapot as part of that feast - raspberry and vanilla tea with sugar syrup, strawberry jam and Hendricks gin.
Along with the ladies who lunch, the managers making business a pleasure, and general gastronomes, The Clock Tower Dining Room serves another regular market. 'We have regular guided tours of the Town Hall,' explains Charlotte. 'It's a Grade I listed building that people come from all over to see, especially the old council chamber.'
That particular room with its hammerbeam ceiling, William Morris stained-glass windows, and stunning murals, is jaw-droppingly beautiful, but the whole edifice is so impressive that had we lost World War Two, Hitler planned to have it taken down and rebuilt in Germany! It's a very impressive place, and it has to be said, the restaurant now makes it even more so.
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