My visit to 1761 – and for that matter, my visit to Lily’s, as I’ve visited both as paying customer and to review – was surprising for a number of reasons.
Firstly, gone is the garish blue lighting, and cold feel of Avalanche, and in it’s place is warmth. Leather, wood, softer lighting, big comfy sofas.
Secondly, it was quiet.
I appreciate it had just opened, but it was close to Christmas, and at a stone’s throw from Albert Square, even on a weekday night, I expected a few more people. Instead, a handful of us were sipping cocktails,, relaxing on those big squishy Chesterfields, eyeing the decor and in my case wondering if I could fit one of the sofas in my living room. (Spoiler: No).
The bonus to it being quiet was that the service was beautiful. Forget the hustle and bustle of pre Christmas staff, stressed by fitting too many people into too small a space. This was relaxed, professional, attentive.
The two spaces – Lily’s Bar and 1761 are distinctly separate. Lily’s downstairs offers a full cocktail menu, wine, and all the fizz you can dream of. There’s a limited food menu available (there are few things better than popcorn cockles and dripping chips and a glass of Champagne on a comfy sofa), and vice versa there is a different, more limited cocktail menu upstairs.
Though I’d visited Lily’s before for, er, an after work meeting, today was all about upstairs and the dining menu.
The menu is relatively small, but well formed. Solid I think is a good word for it. There are hints of creativity. The oysters margarita with tequila, mango, lime, and chilli being one, with the soft earthy acidity working well with the salty seafood. Perhaps a step too far for a classicist, for I’m far from that.
As previously mentioned, the popcorn cockles are great, and the deepfried pickles too are well done – there are few things more depressing than a soggy pickle, wet batter sliding off. This was crisp, crunchy, and my date and I might have had to slice the last in half to save fighting over it like children.
The mains, again, are solid. I obviously plumped for the Three Rivers battered cod with beef dripping chips, tartar sauce and mushy peas.
The aforementioned chips are bang on, the fish is great – this should be a special with a glass of fizz as the two are such good friends.
My date’s main, the corned beef hash with a slice of crispy bacon, and a fried egg, again was great, the egg still runny, the bacon thin and crunchy. Another northern classic done well.
Onto desserts, and somehow, we ended up with three. Mostly I think because we were debating about the sticky toffee pudding, though chose different dishes, and low and behold, it did appear.
And we were awfully glad it did. The pudding managed to be rich, but still light and fluffy – even though we couldn’t by this point do any of our desserts justice.
The poached quince, with honeycomb, granola and mascarpone was the lighter of the three. The granola provided a nuttiness, the honeycomb a rich sweetness, but it felt like it was missing a little something – and to be honest, I’m not sure what that something is.
By comparison, my date was a very happy chap with his Manchester Tart. As ever, we had the usual conversation about banana versus no banana.
But no matter which side of the fence (or if you’re a no Manchester tart, in a field somewhere) the crisp pastry and toasted curls of coconut not only made it pretty, but added another dimension.
Overall, it’s good. But it’s a space that feels like it needs a little more time. The current menu is good, solid fayre, well priced, tasty. The cocktails are great too. And believe me when I say I’ll be going back (because I will, because if nothing else, I need more chips).
But the aquarium downstairs still unfinished, and the food menu (especially compared to the cocktail menu) needing a little, something something.
Lily’s is almost there. It just needs to flower.
This meal and accompanying drinks were supplied for free by Lily’s. As ever, this doesn’t guarantee a positive review (if anything, I tend to be a harsher critic).
I’m so pleased that such a good venue has taken over a spot with a bit of a…. Troubled past. The food is goog, the drinks delightfully creative and the service good too. Can’t wait to see more.