When Manchester House first opened, it was lauded as finally our answer to the ever vexing Michelin Star issue, Aiden Byrne (and at the same time Simon Rogan at The Midland).
Now, (maybe) I think we’ve finally outgrown that Michelin obsession – or at least I hope we have. I personally would rather see us concentrate on creating great food, investing in our indies, and enjoying what we create, rather than worrying about being lauded for any of it. But maybe that’s just me.
It was with curiosity that I headed back to Manchester House after the departure of Aiden. In truth, everything I’ve heard recently has been positive, so I was looking forward to indulging – and grateful that the dishes on my plate were likely to be far more sunny than the weather outside.
Ahh springtime in Manchester. Much like autumn in Manchester, but with a little more hope for a warm summer, rather than the disappointment of the lack of one.
We began with drinks on the 12th floor. Maybe it’s having my eyes open a bit, and focused on our surroundings rather than at an event, or on the skyline. Maybe it’s just because it was a bit lighter than when I normally visit, but The Lounge is starting to show it’s age a little bit. Scuffed floors, chipped tables. It’s a shame when the cocktails are still great, the bar selection is still bloody good, but I guess in the dark it doesn’t show?
Speaking of drinks, for once myself and Mr GFB were in accordance and both fancied the Smoke & Spice (Velvet Falernum, Ilegal Joven Mezcal, Amaro Montenegro, lime juice, sugar syrup, and black pepper). Dry, smoky, with a gentle warmth from the pepper, it was all I’d hoped it would be. However, I instead opted for the Worker Bee (Mason’s Lavender gin, lemon juice, sugar and orange bitters, decorated with crystallised petals). Refreshingly floral, it softened the somewhat oily lavender notes of the gin, and woke the palate ready for dinner.
Back downstairs, it’s clear that whilst upstairs is suffering a little wear and tear, the restaurant itself is still almost immaculate. It has a nod to our industrial past – the fabric and cotton symbolism throughout, but despite the presence of the girders and concrete, it doesn’t feel industrial in itself – instead it’s still got a more natural feel about it, there’s something more organic about it, a comfortable blend of the two.
Onto the food, and as Aiden has gone, Nathanial Tofan has swept in – and he’s had many a tongue wagging about the menu, in a positive way. Our bread and butter (which kept our tummies quiet while we ogled the menu) was excellent – that chewy, soft, crisp combination that has you automatically reaching back for another piece even though you swear you’re going to take your time with it. Add to that the soft butter and that crispy chicken skin and it’s gone before you realise and your mourning the loss, even as you’re contemplating what’s to come.
When it came to starters, we both opted for a little spice. Mr GFB for spiced quail with mango cardamom, and lime pickle, whilst I opted for langoustine with cauliflower, almond milk and lovage.
The quail was a gentle nod to the Curry Mile. lime pickle atop the quail, playing with the delicate flavour of the bird, the crisp game chips cooked in duck fat adding a richness, Bombay potato croquette adding a little softness.
The langoustine was delicate and sweet, the almond milk adding a little nuttiness to the roasted cauliflower which was itself dusted with a little spice. and delicate little cubes of cauliflower jelly adding a soft texture.
Both leaving our palates wanting more – which we certainly got with our mains.
I opted for the pan fried pollock with broccoli, Jersey Royal potato and chipiron squid. I must confess, I opted for it to balance my current training diet (pollock being suitably high in protein), and because Mr GFB was eyeing the lamb. The fish was crisp on the outside, soft and stickily flaky on the inside, the squid little soft sweet pieces that balanced the rich bitterness of the broccoli and the buttery potato. I was reminded why potatoes are such good things both on my dish and on Mr GFBs.
Whilst Mr GFB shared his lamb happily, I could have understood if he’d done so very reluctantly. The meat was tender, the fat that crisp but buttery balance, the baby onions dotted with an almost marmitey flavour of lamb, the sweetbread tender and creamy and both spiked with little hits of garlic flowers and finished softly by the potato.
It was the kind of dish you’d finish, and then seriously contemplate asking for the whole thing over again.
But onward we must go (elasticated pants still only stretch so far), and onto dessert. Relieved to see only one chocolate option on the menu, we both selected something fruity.
For Mr GFB it was passionfruit – sorbet, meringue, caramelised white chocolate sorbet, and a basil gel that had him initially raising his eyebrow, but actually exclaiming on how well it made everything simply ‘more’.
For me it had to be rhubarb and, whilst I’m not a massive dessert fan, the balance of this was bang on. Biscuit base, sheep yoghurt mousse providing a milky acidity, poached rhubarb was sweet and crisp, the tuille was light with a fruit acidity, and the raspberry sorbet softened everything off. I loathed to finish that last piece of rhubarb and if anyone wants to send me a how to poach it to get it that perfect, I won’t complain. Hint, hint.
Manchester House might need a little tart up upstairs, but there’s no question that the food is proving itself to be the star of the show anyway. We dined from the a la carte, but will probably book in for the tasting menu at some point and until then, succour ourselves with the lunch menu which is still ridiculously good value (especially if you’re not feeling so flush).
In a word? Go.