Restaurant Opening: Rock Spice, Stretford

As a kid – sort of around my teens – I dreamt of managing a hotel. I’ve no idea where this want came from, but of all the options out there, it was the one I wanted, and after high school, I tried to make it happen. 

Once my apprenticeship in business administration ended, I got a job as a hotel receptionist at a local venue. Right next to Old Trafford football ground, it was popular with the footie crowds and despite having zero interest in the game, it was a job, and on the right path. If I tell you I worked Euro 96 at the tender age of 17 – we are definitely talking about back in the day. 

The hours were fairly long (7am-3pm or 3pm to 11pm) but I was relatively local, so this worked fine. You were fed (breakfast or dinner, bring your own lunch because the kitchen was closed) and when you were on a double shift – late then early (we were chronically understaffed, so this was at least once a week), if there was a spare room, you could stay over. Though obviously tidying and remaking the room up yourself in the morning before your shift. We usually made sure that the room directly behind reception was the last sold, so it was the best option and closest to the office. 

Perhaps the biggest drawback was the manager. Loud, abrasive, sexist, rude – he shouted at staff in front of guests, and guests in front of staff. He was… A character. So after a suitable period of time, I started looking for another job. 

I struggled. Really, really struggled. Despite a decent working background, relevant qualifications, and a current role in the same area, I couldn’t get anything. I was, to be honest, too fat for most venues. They wanted someone small, slender, pretty. Eventually, after a particularly vocal shouty session with Syd, I finally resigned and went into temp work. I gave up the dream of running my own place. 

Since then, the place has changed hands a fair bit. I’m not even sure Syd, who was no spring chicken at the time, is even still alive. But after the launch this weekend of Rock Spice, I do know that the housekeeper, Mary, is still there after 30 years. How? Why? 

Because the hotel is in new hands, and so is the restaurant. Stretford, and the DJ Suites Hotel, is now home to Rock Spice, offering a range of Asian food, it plans to open a number of venues across the north, from Blackpool to Liverpool, before making it’s way down to London. With an investment of £10million behind the venture, we were expecting big things from this opening.

 

 

From a physical standpoint, a lot remains the same. Even down to the lift, sticking with the restaurant (words on the hotel later), but the ambiance is definitely different. Gone is the dark dingy carpet, and the darkly lit bar. It’s much lighter, brighter and more open.

We were welcomed with a glass of fizz (that would never have happened in Syd’s day), and took a seat with a couple of familiar faces, including Rachel from DollyBakes. Entertainment was provided by Harry Robson with his card tricks whilst we sipped fizz ahead of the main event – a little menu sampling. 

 

After crisp puri and a shot of something spicy, and some yoghurt marinaded fish, out came a delicious mango salad, and meat platter. The salad was delicious – shredded mango, peppers, carrot and red onion, with a coriander and mint dressing served to cut through the richness of the lamb cutlets, chicken kebabs and marinated chicken pieces. 

 

 

And when you didn’t think you had any room left, the chicken biryani appeared to tempt your tastebuds, followed by a selection of curries – chicken afzaa with its distinctive fermented flavour, lamb karahi and channa masala, with soft buttery naan bread. 

 

 

How was it? The food was good, but it’s taken me a little detective work to figure out what the dishes were (and I’m still not 100% certain I’m right). I can see it being a popular venue, but I do have concerns about footfall. This is in a match hotspot and whilst lots of match goers will be up for a curry before or after the game, there will be those who just want a plate of chips and a pint. And that’s a lot of footfall to miss out on. Something which brings me neatly back to the hotel. 

 

 

Given my history there, I had to pop my head in to see what remained of the old reception. It looks very much the same, with the old manager’s office gone, to be replaced by a lounge space (with the same carpet in immaculate condition!). The management however, has very much changed, and I’m really pleased to say that I think it’s in very capable hands – a husband and wife team who want to bring something personal, and personable to the venue. They’re working with the restaurant on the breakfast offering, and alternative food for visitors. But most importantly, they want it to be somewhere that people come back to again and again, and sure, whilst the floorboards still creak a bit, it’s often the service, and the experience that will bring you back for more. So far from the reviews I’ve seen, it’s working.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed. 

 

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This was a launch event, where both we and a number of attendees were invited to dine and drink for free. 

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