Fine Dining In Manchester (2007)
It's about 10 years since Manchester's renaissance as a fine dining destination began. Back in the good old days when people liked Tony Blair and New Labour, movers and shakers like Paul Heathcote and Oliver Peyton moved into the city and opened eateries to really excite the palate. Ten years on and Peyton's Mash and Air (which combined a microbrewery, bar and first-class restaurant) is but a Cool Britannia memory, although Simply Heathcote's is still there (albeit not anything like as cutting-edge as it was).
Peyton closed the place down, moved back to London and concluded that Manchester just wasn't up for a top-class eaterie. Harsh words, but maybe he had a point. Since then, many restaurants have come and gone. And many have been first-rate. The highly rated Lincoln in Brasenose Street was another casualty and recent months have seen the culinary end for premium-rate places like Le Mont and Establishment. Now Manchester city centre is, frankly, awash with middle-market, mediocre places and chain restaurants. And it still lacks that elusive Michelin-starred venue (the nearest is Juniper in Altrincham). Many top chefs choose to eat in Chinatown rather than brave the less consistent shores of the many 'Modern British' restaurants which have sprung up. But all is not lost.
There have been great reports from Linen, which is housed in a casino within the Great Northern Warehouse complex. The setting may be slightly bizarre but Head Chef Arlindo Anjo has an impeccable pedigree. He has worked at Michelin two-star restaurant Le Gavroche in London, The Ivy in Manhattan and The Greenhouse under Gary Rhodes and most recently Nectar in Hale. Many of the dishes at Linen are heavily focused on local, North West produce, with the emphasis on luxury ingredients. So there is caviar, oysters and Foie Gras terrine for starters, Vegetarians aren't forgotten and there is a Twice Baked Mrs Kirkham's Lancashire Cheese Soufflé. Fish, too, in abundance; lemon sole, seabass, tuna sashimi and interesting side dishes like pomegranate, dates, Feta and mint. In season, there are game dishes like partridge wrapped in vine leaves and the crispy duck leg salad is particularly popular. After dinner, you can take a turn at the gambling tables. But investing £50 in a decent dinner is surely a safer bet.
Lounge 10 , tucked away off Cross Street, has been fashionable since it opened five years or so ago. But the original tapas-style menu has been replaced by more traditional cuisine. Under the direction of Head Chef Marcus Humphreys the food really has moved on to consistent excellence. Flagship starters include cream of butternut soup infused with rosemary, wild mushroom beignet, seared scallops with celeriac puree, spinach gnocchi, and tomato salsa, and veal involtini with a red wine spicy salsa. The vegetarian menu is inspiring, too. There is chick pea and basil cake; warm yellow zucchini with goat's cheese salad and the really brave can enjoy gourmet treats like warm tripe salad with goose liver cream puffs. Starters about £7 apiece and mains check in at about £15 plus. Offerings include pan fried calves liver, with razor clams and crispy pancetta, veal chops a la forestiere with mung beans, capers and devilled sauce and imaginative dishes like steamed red snapper fillets with okra and thyme, white rice and fried plantain. Side orders, at £3.75 each, include fat chips with saffron aioli and rock salt roasted Mediterranean vegetables with pesto dressing and Asian greens with ginger sauce. Desserts are gloriously indulgent.They include baked lemon curd and sultana cheesecakes, Ferrero Rocher trifles with biscotto biscuits. and 'Chocolate Junkyard', an iced parfait of dark Belgian chocolate topped with chunks of confectionary favourites. A selection of English cheeses with chutney, grapes and celery is £6 and pink champagne, if you fancy a spot of serious indulgence, is £35 a bottle.
On the swanky side of town there is top store Harvey Nichols, where the Second Floor Restaurant is winning renown. Head Chef Alison Seagrave recently triumphed as Best Chef at the Hi-Life Diners Club Awards. Here, the views across the city are fantastic, and the prices (for this quality of food) very reasonable. About £30 a head. Local produce and regional dishes inspire the menu. Starters include slow cooked ham hock with pease pudding, pot roast wood pigeon with vegetables, and red mullet with braised celery and salsa verde. A standout veggie dish is the beetroot and cumin potato cake with smoked garlic and coriander yoghurt. Main courses include old reliables like beef bourgignon, lemon sole 'Veronique' and roasted John Dory with potato puree and Jerusalem artichokes. Perfect puds include crepes Suzette with marmalade ice cream, baked bitter chocolate tart, pineapple carpaccio with coconut and lemongrass pannacotta. Artisan cheeses are served with fruitcake and apple and pear chuney. All fabulous stuff.
The new Hilton Manchester Deansgate, which opened last year, has the Podium Restaurant, open from 7am till 1am in the morning. Its menu is decidedly eclectic, with everything from a Full English breakfast to Malaysian King Prawn curry. Another flagship dish is duck vindaloo. Typical starters include smoked duck breast with figs and dressed Cornish crab with crayfish tails and citrus dressing. Bury black pudding with Bramley apples and pancetta is another imaginative options and produce from the county of Lancashire also features largely on the main course list. There's the homely option of local sausage with mash and onion gravy, plus yummy Lancashire lamb rump with root vegetables and red cabbage. Calorie counters have a nice range of salads to choose from and the Podium's grill offers halibut, free-range chicken and Ribble Valley fillet steak. Given its five-star location, prices at Podium are not particularly eye-watering -- it's about £45 a head for three courses with house wine.
Traditionalists should head for the Midland French (pictured above), which has the finest in French cuisine (see this month's Neighbourhood Watch). Out of town, there are also fantastic choices. Most notably in Altrincham, which is famed for Juniper, the only Michelin-starred restaurant in Greater Manchester. Head chef Paul Kitching pioneered the gastronomic "taster menus" which are now de rigueur in gourmet circles. Paul himself has been described by none other than Gordon Ramsay as "pure talent, driven by a great creative energy; a powerhouse of the North." He is also one of the few chefs in the world to have retained Michelin star status for 10 solid years. Juniper's Prix Fix dinners offer three courses plus an amuse bouche and pre-dessert. They cost £40 on Wednesdays and Thursdays and £47.50 on Fridays and Saturdays. The eight-course gourmet menu is £65 a head.
Urmston might not be the most glamorous side of Greater Manchester but it does have Isinglass, a critically acclaimed 'English Dining Room'. The food is grown and reared in the countryside ringing Manchester. Salad, for example, is from nearby Chat Moss. It is located in an old bakery on a busy shopping street, full of high ceilings, wood floors, original fireplaces and cooking ranges. Typical starters include Seared monkfish and black pudding in a coarse mustard and shallot cream sauce. Or how about a homely corned beef hash with pumpkin seed pastry and mulled spice beetroot pickle? Typical mains include an open tart of Parlick Fell ewes' cheese, complete with roast Dunham Massey pumpkin and sticky onions with rosemary roasted potatoes. Then there's real comfort stuff like roast pork with crackling, apples, creamed cabbage, sage potato rosti and rum-barrel matured cider sauce .A highlight for fish fans is the fish pie in a fantastic parsley sauce topped with mash with Victorian honey-roast root vegetables. Prices, as it's out of town, are extremely reasonable. Mains are about £13 with starters about £5 and people drive from all over Manchester to sample the fabulous cooking here.
Actually, unfashionable suburbs can be real finds for restaurants as they are not charging OTT prices to cover the business rates. Over in Whalley Range (admittedly becoming more fashionable by the day) is Palmiro. Recently extended, this fine local trattoria restaurant run by Stefano Bagnoli specialises in regional Italian cooking of a kind you will never find in the pasta and pizza joints to be found in every town centre. The frequently changing menu has simple, seasonal and regional dishes which are changed every six weeks. Typical dishes include tagliatelle with brown shrimps, beef and Gorgonzola risotto, stuffed peppers, whole chargilled seabream, and herb stuffed chicken supreme .Sicilian marinated seabass is a flagship dish. Puddings are also seasonal and there are excellent cheeses. The owner describes the fare as River Café in style "only more authentic." Three courses, wine and brandy is a very reasonable £50 a head. Who says great food can't be had in Manchester!
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