Category: Restaurants: fine dining. Score 18.5/20 (Full breakdown below and score explained. Venues are compared with similar venues and measured against the best examples in their category.)
AROUND this time last autumn, Aiden Byrne – a chef known for being the youngest holder of a Michelin star and subsequently two stars at The Dorchester - announced, along with Tim Bacon of the Living Ventures group, (Grill on the Alley, Alchemist, Australasia and so on) that he was to launch a fine dining restaurant in Manchester House.
Manchester House is going to be a remarkable restaurant. It’s got that feeling of the old classic two and three stars in France
This is a sixties building that has been spruced up and for the Bacon/Byrne project given a cocktail bar on the twelfth floor and on the second, Aiden’s restaurant. Collectively the pair form Manchester House.
This opened a few weeks back after a three million pound fit out. Both Byrne and Bacon are chasing Michelin glory.
But while they do so what’s it like?
Walking there on a typical Manchester Saturday night, the streets were full of life’s oddballs, the women on hen nights being the most challenging.
Dear God, they are frightening. It should be THE LAW someone films them, shows this to the Groom and asks him: ‘Are you really, really sure you want to go through with this?’
Manchester House has an entrance on the corner of Tower 12, the unromantic name of the building in which they are located. This entrance is in an ‘arcade’, filled with the smokers from venues Neighbourhood and Artisan which also share the building. The ‘arcade’ plays host to various beggars, bouncers and papparazi as well as the smokers: the atmosphere is jumping, to say the least.
Gordo and his carer walked out of this scrum into a minimalist reception with a grinning security guard and two stunning ladies who were ready for him.
“Hi, my name’s…” started Gordo. “We know who you are Gordo,” says the tall blond. “Welcome to Manchester House, the lift is just arriving to take you to the second floor.” Gordo’s mouth was going dry.
Outside, Manchester is Bladerunner; inside, Manchester House is The Matrix.
The sudden calm in the lift, then the door opens, and there is another greeter, a beautiful brunette and a young bloke who really should be in the movies. Again, well balanced greetings, coats, scarves taken and we walk through a corridor, moving from deep calm to find ourselves becoming part of the kitchen, with a dozen or so chefs working, grinning, pointing, chopping, conferring. No Marco Pierre White screaming here, just polished concentration.
Aiden Bryne In Meat Mode
Aiden nods welcome to us as we are passed over to our waitress for the evening, another good looking women who starts us on the journey into the dining area which is all part of the Kitchen. People are spread out on huge tables which would all handle a game of Subbuteo. Your back goes straight as you walk past tables of good looking people, smiling faces from all of the different foodie tribes.
You may have been saving up for a month to come, but you are made to feel like a film star.
The room, wrapped by windows, allows Manchester to pump up the atmosphere like a Liam Spencer painting; inside oft lighting with conversations murmuring in the background, outside the buildings and the world. This is a velvet cocoon spun from understated glamour.
If we had been a half hour earlier we would have been given drinks on the twelfth floor, a bar open to every one but we had to miss out on this. If you are going, please take advantage. It is exceptional.
Manchester House - Twelfth Floor Bar
Onto the food. On Saturday nights, there is a fixed menu. Luckily, Gordo has been twice before and eaten off the a la carte menus as well, putting these into the overall score. Here are the observations across the visits.
When he had been up there previously canapés on the Twelfth Floor disappeared so fast Gordo can’t remember anything but the feeling of luxury, like a Geisha girl before she opens the kimono, promises of heaven. They were. No charge for these.
Bacon bread with ‘peas’ and another with ‘onions’ appears with the set menus and as a freebie with the a la carte; Gordo isn’t overly impressed, it’s a (relatively) boring start.
Bacon bread and peas
Swiftly moving on: roasted scallops with barley (£18). This was like someone letting off a banger by your ear having just been underwhelmed by a half-hearted sparkler. The scallops were superb, but the soft, squidgy pearl barley had layers on layers of flavour unknown to mankind, mainly from a stock made from using the ‘skirts’ of the scallops, the stuff that most people throw away. These impart huge, meaty flavour, soaked up by the pearl barley. A really moreish dish.
Scallops and truffles
Squab pigeon with cherries, pistachio and violet mustard (£16). Gordo’s had this twice now and amongst most of Manchester’s press and bloggerati it has been agreed that this is the dish to be beaten across Manchester; Gordo and Schofield instantly awarded it Dish of the Year at the press tasting. It is a masterpiece of flavours, texture, taste and drop dead ingredients with a little cheekiness folded in. Go and have it, Gordo isn’t giving anything away. But you are allowed a few tears of joy as you motor through it.
The perfect pigeon
Frogs legs KievFrogs legs Kiev (£12) were semi-boned, lollipop style, with the bones being used to making a stock that is fortified with fermented black garlic and crumbs of torn sourdough bread that shows even panko breadcrumbs the way home; the other half done in a similar way with simple garlic. Saucing here masterful.
Braised snails (Taster Menu) had been prepped, braised in red wine, smoked bacon, a tricky little brunoise with thyme, finished in a reduced beef stock. Laid on the plate and married up with a parsley puree and topped with potatoes that had been beaten, whipped and then whipped again into a near Chantilly consistency. A world first for this writer, who felt like he was wandering about on a cloud.
Fire roasted lamb rack, pine stock and sheep’s cheese (£27) was a main course on the a la carte. The lamb is tender, cooked pink, slightly crisped and draped in a remarkable gravy. Or jus. Whatever. A separate bowl of goodies came with it, including meaty little dumplings alongside cheesy ones, which married well, in a highly charged stock. The second dish of lamb a couple of weeks later (taster menu) was a one plate-er, again rack but in one piece with stronger flavours, married with (slightly overcooked) sweetbreads.
Lamb number one
Turbot is Gordo’s favourite fish. Here it was cooked faultlessly in fermented cabbage with Morteaux sausage (£29). It was mis-matched to Gordo’s taste, the cabbage reminding him of sauerkraut, one of his personal hates. If you, dear reader, like the stuff you will bloody love this. But Gordo doesn’t. The final visit saw Aiden having re-worked the dish, marrying the turbot with langoustines, playing teaspoons with braised and roasted? Artichokes. Just simply knockout.
Turbot number one
It would be silly to examine every dish that has been given a try out by this porker. There were two duds in Gordo’s mind, one down to his tastebuds and one experiment that Aiden sent out, lobster, which was bullied by the other ingredients, including crisped Serrano ham.
The puddings are a delight, with blackberry and beetroot cannelloni (£8.50) scoring 8/10 and milk and honey (£8.50) being a good deal more complex and crafted than it sounds, hiding a fabulously smooth lemon cheese (err, maybe) in the middle scoring 9/10.
Pudd - very good
The wine list, apparently chosen over the year by a committee headed up by Sam Shepherd has turned out well.
If you are taking a taster menu Sam’s choices of matching wines are good, but they won’t include the Puligny Montrachet from that stalwart Louis Latour that Gordo had on Saturday. At £80 for the bottle it was still value. Other wines down in the twenties and thirties are plentiful; it’s worth getting a separate opinion from the team.
Service is enthusiastic, knowledgeable and doesn’t ask ‘how was that?’ just as you pop a forkful in your mouth. Please, staff at other Living Ventures venues, take note.
They stand back as you are half way through an anecdote (not a good thing for them in Gordo’s case as it’s probably the third time of telling) but they are ready with a clear explanation of what’s on the plate if required.
All in all, this is still a work in progress, but hugely enjoyable all the same. Aiden is a man who can’t help taking chances, but listens carefully to criticism at the same time. After a number of comments about some bland efforts, he is coming up with dishes that truly delight, as in the case of the snails and the turbot with langoustines finishing up as 10/10 dishes.
Canapes on the twelfth
Manchester House is going to be a remarkable restaurant. It’s got that feeling of the old classic two and three stars in France of being a special occasion on the walk through, but in a softened industrial way that befits a restaurant in a reborn city that holds such historic resonance.
Somehow, the achievement by Aiden Byrne, The Living Ventures team and Mike Ingall, the delightful socially dyslexic owner of Spinningfields, makes Gordo feel that Manchester and the North West are heading for the great times again.
It’s a Gordo ‘Mega Go’, put the glad rags on and take an appetite and a taxi.
You can follow Gordo on Twitter here @gordomanchester
ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL AND PAID FOR BY THE MAGAZINE.
Manchester House, Tower 12, Spinningfields, City centre. M3 3BZ. Website.
Rating: 18.5/20 (please read the scoring system in the box below, venues are rated against the best examples of their kind)
Food: 8.5/10 (Prawn cocktail 9, roasted scallops 10, braised snails 9, bacon bread 7, squab pigeon 10, lamb rack two 8, lamb rack one 8.5, frogs legs 8.5, turbot and cabbage 6, turbot in langoustine 10, blackberry 9, milk and honey 9.5, cheese 8)
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