Few restaurants caused as much of a stir when they opened in the social media world, as Quill.
Perhaps not for the right reasons. Initially, there was excitement at the idea of a new fine dining venue in the city – for such a large population, there are few venues at this level – but then consternation and frustration hit following the opening.
Celeb after celeb visited the venue – why did it seemingly need to lean on the soap crowd for promotion? Was this a reflection of the food, of the venue?
Was it simply going to be a ‘place to be seen’, rather than a credible dining experience?
Stepping inside from the chill of King Street, we were greeted by black, differing shades and textures, broken up with silver and chrome, soft greys and splashes of gold.
As the name would suggest, the theme is literary, leaning a little on gothic, and perhaps a touch of Poe, as taxidermied crows eye you from a number of places throughout, particularly as you make your way from the windowed space at the front of the venue, towards the rear.
As the host didn’t appear to be around to greet us, and we were distinctly early, we wandered into the bar area, to find an empty space and indulge in a pre dinner cocktail.
My own cocktail, the Mrs Robinson was a sweet herbal concoction with gin, lemon barley water and thyme (I must admit that the heavy garnish nearly made it’s way into my handbag for a recycling into the following day’s roast chicken). Meanwhile Mr GFB was feeling the bookish theme and selected Of the Pen, with flavours of all spice, rum and ginger, bubbling with dry ice and garnished with a pen.
NB Quill, invest in branded pens for this cocktail. People will take them home and be regularly reminded of you.
We sipped and chatted in anticipation of our food , trying hard not to swear overmuch given that there were children at the table next to us. Not my obvious choice for a ten year old, but perhaps mum and dad were weary of seasonal shopping and needed something to recover. Plus, you know, start ’em young.
Retrieved by James as we finished our drinks we were whisked upstairs to the main restaurant. Here more layers of black and grey mingled with gold and glass, an open view of the kitchen and, in the front of the venue a view of one of King Street’s prettier buildings, the Tudor style frontage of what was once Manchester’s first department store.
The dining options for the evening are straightforward – a tasting menu offering 8 courses (£80 per person) also available with matching wine (£150 per person) or the A La Carte menu at a much less purse grinding £45 for two courses, or £50 for three courses.
Let’s be honest here, for an extra £5 you’re going to indulge in dessert aren’t you?
As we were sampling the A La Carte menu, we kept the wine choice simple, Riijks Reserve Chenin Blanc that would compliment (or at least not detract from) the majority of our courses, and at £46 was a step above the second cheapest on the list, but wouldn’t break the bank.
We sipped and awaited our starters.
But Quill has another treat up it’s sleeve for you, a selection of canapes to awaken the tastebuds. A razor clam tartar with curry mango and lime that was both gently sweet and creamy and had my tastebuds wanting more, pigeon pastrami on a just hinting at sweetness raisin bread and a tapioca crisp, soy emulsion and goat’s cheese – a blend of textures and acidity.
All followed by chicken liver parfait with morello cherry offering a rich, buttery earthiness, with bursts of sweetness and a nutty toasted granola.
Indeed, my taste buds were more than awake and, as I write they are quietly reminiscing about the bread course. The bread was delicious – freshly made, and with a great balance of crust and soft crumb, but it was the butter that set them aflutter.
I give you Marmite butter. Oh yes, when it comes to that love or hate delicacy, for me it’s a love affair from my childhood (dippy eggs) that has continued, resurging when Nigella boasted of Marmite Spaghetti, a thing of beauty. This butter proved so delicious that the staff serving us, returned with more bread so that I didn’t have to leave a scrap on the, er, wooden block.
I was already over the moon and we hadn’t yet eaten our dinner.
Both Mr GFB and I had both gone for a fish based starter. Cured trout, with cucumber, and a wasabi snow. The latter lost a bit of flavour on being so chilled, but the gently salty trout and clean cucumber made this a fabulous beginning.
My own starter was far more theatrical, scallop with a bitter chocolate crumb, salt cod and crisp mooli was enhanced by sea essence and dashi stock, which were poured into a prettily decorated bowl of dry ice. The scent of the sea arose from the table.
Onto our mains and my choice was ravioli with spinach, egg and mushroom. Beneath a tapioca crisp lay caramelised onion caviar, a single perfect piece of pasta, and vegetables all bathed delicately with a hint of truffle. In fact chef had such a gentle hand with the truffle it was an enhancement to the dish, rather than overpowering the other flavours, meaning it was very well balanced.
Mr GFB’s main course was also a sight to behold. Cheshire lamb with anchovy, pearl barley and yoghurt. Delightfully pink, tender lamb, with a hint of charring and fat that was both crisp, and tender.
Silence reigned at the table, to be interrupted only by the clink of knife and fork. Had we been home alone, I’d have contemplated licking the plate clean.
Dessert soon beckoned and Mr GFB indulged his sweet tooth.
A mixture of textures featuring pineapple, coconut, rum and jam – in essence a pina colada in dessert form, served with his own accompanying cocktail.
I, however, tried not to be too envious, having selected the cheese board.
Home made crackers and walnut and raisin bread mingled with French and British cheeses, accompanied by home made chutneys, including a pear chutney that proved a perfect foil for the richer cheeses.
As is becoming the theme, however, Quill still weren’t finished with us, as petit fours arrived in a dainty wooden box. Macarons and a heavenly Seville orange pastille (that I would like the recipe for please chef) that finished the meal off in style.
Given the hype over social media, you could be forgiven for thinking that Quill is style over substance – it hints at pretentiousness with the black gloss and bottles of Champagne that cover the wall upstairs.
But actually what you’re getting is a very good food, excellent service and most importantly (particularly as it’s January and we’re all skint) excellent value for money.
I think you should go. And maybe take me with you?
This meal and accompanying drinks were supplied for free by Quill. As ever, this doesn’t guarantee a positive review (if anything, I tend to be a harsher critic).
In this case the experience was above what we expected on all levels. We would be happy to visit again, and again, and having spotted their rather bargainous lunch menu, suspect we will do shortly.