Before I start my waffle: Please be aware that I visited Manchester House on their first busy Saturday night, having only been open to the public for a couple of days. It is perhaps unfair to post this early on but I do so in the hope that any 'negative' comments will be taken on board and as time goes on Manchester House will firmly establish itself as not only one of the best restaurants in the city but also in the UK. In my opinion, the first of these is already true and the potential is certainly there for the latter.
When I was growing up, Coronation
Street’s resident businessman and ‘fat cat’ was a character called Mike
Baldwin. Among other things, through one of his companies, Underworld, he sold
In ‘real life’ Manchester today,
businessman and hospitality industry ‘fat cat’, Tim Bacon and his company,
Living Ventures’ enterprises have often* been described as being “all fur coat
and no knickers” (*a phrase used by me about Australasia and
in the comments section of Marina O’Loughlin’s recent review of Artisan.)
What Living Ventures have clearly
been in need of is a ‘showpiece’ restaurant that has knickers – one where the
food can be regarded as highly as the swish finish. With Mike Baldwin retired
(and fictional), Mr. Bacon turned to Chef
Aiden Byrne to provide him with the required “Reg Grundy’s”, and,
hopefully, a Michelin star at Manchester
With a fit out costing in excess of
£3 million, the décor and atmos in both the welcoming lounge and bar and the
restaurant is without doubt sleek, slick and buzzing. But what I really wanted
to find out is, would the food be akin to the quality of a pair of silky La
Perla panties, or more your Primark pants?
Before we do, a note on service.
I imagine people will take this in
one of three ways – some will consider it overbearing; others will lap it up as
the height of sophistication or, like us, as all a little bemusing,
unnecessarily showy and a tad obsequious.
Initially, we were greeted by three friendly
doorman (the first time I’ve known this at any ‘high end’ restaurant anywhere
in the world). In the foyer, we also met the first of an army of ‘hosts’, one
of whom joined us in the lift so as to press the button to the twelfth floor;
engage us in idle chit chat about the speed of and reliability of lifts and to
tell us to turn left – here she departed and tagged in the greeting party of
three more smiling hosts.
One led us to our seat, where
apparently we would be served “free
canapés”. Here we were introduced to our waitress.
The cocktail menu arrived – this we
did find overwhelming. Each classic cocktail being given its own page complete
with a detailed history of the drink… all interesting stuff, but having just
driven into town, parked some way away and successfully negotiated the salvo of
eager hosts we just wanted a drink not the complete history of cocktails. We
gave up reading it and just ordered a couple of Goose & Tonics.
The drinks took some fifteen minutes
to arrive. Long enough to take in the impressive views of the city and to be
asked twice more if we would like a drink… yes we would. The free canapés arrived. They tasted good
but the sticky surface of the beetroot and foie gras meringue and tuile left
our hands all gooey.
Eventually the drinks arrived too
(in gorgeous quality glassware) and were drunk. Then, when we finally were in
need of a host or waitress… there was none to be found and we sat with empty
glasses until it was time for our eight o’clock reservation. We had been there
close to an hour.
Later on, my wife’s bottle of wine
sat teasingly on the bar for a good five minutes and I ordered a tonic before
the pork that only arrived after the dessert when I requested one again. It’s
early days of course but the bar service especially is going to need to be on
Smoked bacon & onion brioche – after positive tweets from those that went to the press /
bloggers lunch, I was looking forward to this one. The bacon and onion brioche
at The Ledbury (here)
is possibly one of the tastiest breads I’ve ever eaten but this sadly
disappointed. I did love the pea butter but I found the texture too ‘cakey’ and
the bacon not intense enough for my taste. The ‘clever’ pea juice made with
fancy bits of kitchen kit was insipid and watery… it’s now I expect the water
in tinned peas to taste.
At this point, I was beginning to
think about that mink and lack of smalls… but then things took a turn for the
Chilled broad bean soup – a subtle broad bean soup, given a hearty zing with goat’s
cheese. A delightfully fresh tasting dish, served in a striking bowl with holes
(which made an appearance later).
Razor clam, squid & pepper – another beautifully presented dish with clear vibrant
Braised snails, potato & parsley – this dish was the first one where I thought ‘Wow!
This place really could win a Michelin star!” World class… a definite equal to
the Fat Duck’s snail porridge (here).
The pickled and braised snails were so plump and succulent enrobed in the
potato foam and their perfect partner in parsley.
Pigeon, foie gras, palm sugar, cherries & pistachio – a classic flavour combination
refined to exemplary standards… each component was cooked to perfection and
showcased modern kitchen techniques and humour. This dish is already proving to
be a firm favourite with many who have been lucky enough to taste it.
– I love passion fruit but often find it overpowers so I was a little concerned
this would be a ‘style over substance’ dish, conceived more for the brief on
Adien’s last winning appearance on the Great British Menu. These fears were
unfounded; it did have that sharp tropical taste but I felt it balanced well
and I particularly enjoyed the contrast in temperatures between the warm prawns
and icy orb.
Beetroot fed oyster & oxtail – I saw Aiden demonstrate this dish at the recent Liverpool
Food & Drink Festival and have a great photo of the billowing sea scented
liquid nitrogen on my post (here).
Sadly, on the night, mine failed to flourish and my wife’s only managed the weakest
of wisps. Fortunately, this did not effect the flavour. I found the oxtail
consommé to be exemplary and the oysters that are fed for two weeks on beetroot
infused liquid are a stroke of genius.
This is served with an oxtail
‘doughnut’ with a samphire and oyster emulsion with a beetroot crumb – dreamily
Potato & artichoke salad with truffle – on paper this sounded right up my
alley. Each component was good but it did not all pull together for me… especially
the ‘faux truffle’ – an iced Parmesan mouse with powdered cep. It wasn’t a bad
dish but it had a few tough acts to follow and therefore did not wow; I’d
suggest placing it before the snails on the menu.
Turbot, morteaux & choucroute – this dish did wow! Another world class plate of food. The
‘king of fish’ had been wrapped in cabbage leaf and salted for some time, which
imparted flavour and gave it the most delightful meaty texture. I love anything
fermented (or pickled) and the choucroute (a French version of sauerkraut) complete
with dinky pickled cockles gave a delightful sour kick, buoyed by the sea
vegetables smoky Mortueau sausage.
Pork cutlet with pineapple, rose & rosemary – this dish was not to my taste (or
my wife’s) we both found the rose element overpowering, like potpourri. The
pork too, was ‘lost’ amidst what I found to be an excess of pineapple.
Szechuan, lychee & rose – I suggest this dish is renamed ‘Lychee, rose &
Szechuan’. It was a lovely dish and the perfect palate cleansing ‘pre-dessert’
but by listing ‘Szechuan’ first, I expected it to take a more prominent role.
Manchester tart – I am ashamed to say that despite living in Manchester for over twelve
years, I have as yet eaten a traditional Manchester tart. This one may not win
over purists but I found it to be a fabulous thing… a stunning synergy of
flavours and textures.
Coffee & macarons – I adore macarons and cannot think of a better way to end
a meal than a selection of macarons and a ristretto to end a meal. On a
personal note, may I suggest two of each flavour (I’m ok with less flavours) to
save arguments? Eating half a macaron does not offer the same satisfaction, as
it's the initial bite that I particularly enjoy.
So, do Living Ventures finally have
a restaurant with knickers to accompany their fur coats? To my mind yes… Aiden
Byrne has given them, and Manchester a pair of Underworld’s finest. I’m sure even
the discerning and flashy Mike Baldwin would love Manchester House, thanks to
the food and general buzz, so do I. For food this good, I can live with the
farcical parade of hosts.