Saturday 20 February 2016

Quill, Manchester

Fans of the BBC2 show will know, one thing that angers the Dragons in the Den is when people pitch their businesses at a value well above what they’re worth.

Pricewise, Quill has pitched itself on par* with Four AA Rosette places such as The French by Simon Rogan and Manchester House. Sadly, to my mind it’s poles apart in terms of quality of cooking and, most importantly, in delivering on taste.

(*Quill’s 9 course Tasting Menu is £85; the 5 course Chef’s Signature at £65
Mcr House’s offer 15 courses for £95; and an impressive 8 courses for £60
The French’s menus are 10 courses for £85; the smaller tasting is 6 courses at £65)

Before I go on to knock the food, I should point out that I dined from the cheaper ‘Lunch Menu’ which offers 3 courses for £24.50 – obviously, at this price, I wasn’t expecting the food to equal to the two places mentioned above (however, Mcr House do have a 3 course lunch for just £27.50)… but, I was expecting the food to be flavoursome and harmonised.  

Laughingly served like a pimple on a duck’s arse in an oversized straw bed, housed within a bespoke wine box, the Chicken Liver Parfait with blood orange & chicory jam was, along with the Sourdough Bread, the nicest thing I ate.

Re. the butter: I’m in the “Love Marmite” camp – I’ve had the Marmite Butter at The Typing Room in London and it’s a wonderful thing. I found the Quill version to be far too strong – surely even a fan does not want a “full on” side of marmite on toast with a supposedly well balanced meal?

Pigeon – Cabbage, Tuna, Parmesan
The pigeon starter was okay. Artfully presented, it consisted of a “pigeon pastrami” with slaw, shallots, raisins, parmesan wafers and a well judged smoked tuna mayo. Promise shown from the young chef, Curtis Stewart.

Sea Bream – Chorizo, Corn, Cockle Broth
Then things took an awry turn. On paper an excellent combination, the dashi broth flavoured with chorizo and cockles appeared off kilter to me – there was an acidic element which overrode, rather than enhanced. The flesh of the Sea Bream was well cooked but I’d have liked the flavour and texture that a crispy skin would’ve added.

Passion Fruit – Meringue, Cucumber, Wasabi
For me, the dessert was another dish that just didn’t deliver at the expected level. I found the passion fruit cheese cake was served far too cold; the wasabi ice cream lacked all but the subtlest of flavours and the cucumber balls tasted like they’d been marinated in dish water.  

Despite my negatives, Chef Curtis Stewart is obviously a young talent. I’m hoping that, given time, as he and team his team mature and develop, Quill will be able to justify their prices and achieve their ambitions of competing with the best in Manchester.

Until that time, I believe better food is available at greater value for money at Two AA Rosette places in such as Mr Cooper’s House & Garden or Grenache; and at One AA Rosette places such as Earle in Hale or Nutters.

Thursday 18 February 2016

The French by Simon Rogan

After a long absence, I treated myself this half term by returning to an old fave, The French by Simon Rogan – a place I still rate as the best in Manchester.

Checking out the menu prior to my visit, I noticed they now serve an a la carte. I assumed this was as well as the usual tasting menus but it turns out that it’s the only offering at lunchtimes Wed to Fri.

Telling myself one would be a starter and the other a “fish course”, I opted for two starters. A sucker for anything ‘fermented’ and knowing that few work with vegetables better than Simon Rogan, I plumped for the veggie main.

This was my first time in The French since their refurb – adding a new entrance, toilets, a lounge and central booths. The changes take the whole experience to the next level. One thing that hasn’t changed is the warm welcome and exceptional service from Restaurant Manager Kamila Płońska and her team.

Regular readers of my blog will know that I love Simon’s food so there’s no point waxing lyrical over each dish, so here’s some simple descriptions and pics for your enjoyment:

Pre starter: Salt Baked Turnips topped with frozen sheep’s milk, fried ale bread, mushroom purée underscored with hints of mustard & truffle.

Bread: Sourdough Roll with Winter Tarn Butter

Starter: Salt Baked Swede with a smoked Maran yolk, cubes of ox tongue & shavings of Wiltshire truffle with a deep heady broth of barbecued beef & onion

Fish course: Flaked Cornish Crab with horseradish cream & crispy chicken skin and a kohlrabi & dill sauce.  

Bread: Manchester Ale Bread with Smoked Bone Marrow Butter

Main: Celeriac Baked in Hay with fermented cabbage, abalone mushroom, toasted grains & a mustard cream sauce.

Pud: Forced Yorkshire Rhubarb poached in grenadine with yoghurt sorbet, Douglas fur syrup & toasted oats.  

Sass ‘n’ Soda

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