The New A La Carte Menu At The River Restaurant
Recently The Lowry changed hands in a multi-million pound deal between Rocco Forte and the Westmont Hospitality Group. Since then, The Lowry has undergone a bit of a revamp although the main dining room remains the same. However, black and white photos of Mancunian greats like Johnny Marr and Sean Ryder now adorn the walls at reception and along the corridors and there is a noticeable exuberance about the place.
Considering the explosion of new restaurants and dining trends that Manchester has encountered of late, we wondered what the new executive chef Andrew Green had in store for The River Restaurant. There is now more emphasis on fine dining using locally sourced raw ingredients, as the grill takes a back seat.
Octopus Salad: With Apple, Potato, Fennel and Nasturtium
Soup of The Day: Roasted Tomato
It’s pretty, very pretty – The octopus salad I agree may not be the first choice for many, but it eats as good as it looks. Tentacle free, with a smoky hit cut width-wise so it looks distinctly un-octopus like. It’s crunchy, light and fresh. To be honest, octopus can be bland so the accompaniments always need to be particularly flavoursome. Crunchy apple and aromatic fennel are good friends but the smoky element was a game changer. Without the smoky hit I think the dish may have lacked a little, however, it was slick, good looking and low carb so I didn’t feel over faced - bang on the money.
Soup is soup right? Wrong – soup is good when it’s roasted, has the right seasoning and is presented immaculately. My dining partner gushed about the soup before I’d even cut a piece out of my perfectly dissected octopus. He described the roasted tomato soup as luxurious, silky and impeccably smoked. I was doubtful, until I dunked my bread roll in and succumbed… It was particularly velvety and lustrous. In fact, if I could compare it to the only other memorable tomato soup to have passed my lips -- once while in Tuscany,Tuscan tomatoes being particularly luscious -- I would say it wasn’t bursting with the rounded fullness of Mediterranean tomatoes, it had more of a smoky sweetness and satiny finish, but it was memorable none-the-less - a pretty tall order when it comes to soup.
The Main Event
Slow Cooked Fillet of Cheshire Beef: With celeriac puree, ceps, marrow bon bons and thyme jus
Wild Morecambe Bay Seabass: With clam ragout, potato and spinach
Marrow bon bons? I teetered between the hot potstyle High Peak rack of lamb, the saddle of rabbit and the beef fillet. There are nine main choices in total not including the grill offering. It was in fact, the marrow bon bons that twisted my arm. What are marrow bon bons? They sounded like a bit of fun, on what is an otherwise very grown-up menu. My dining partner would have simply asked our waiter for a run down, but, I like surprises, so decided to go ahead and order.
There was never a doubt that the fillet would be nothing less than exceptional, after all, The River Restaurant has upheld its reputation for fine dining since 2001 with a tried and tested supplier portfolio to rely upon. It was a safe choice but I was in fact looking for something a little more, I thought the bon bons would deliver.
I would describe them as croquettes, but a bon bon sounds sexier. Yes they were crispy and creamy, I hesitate to use the word panko, since it appears on every other menu from Manchester to Kyoto. But it was the jus that really hit the spot. The aroma was divine, it’s incredibly rich and meaty and slightly thicker than expected. I could have done with a touch more if I’m honest, since the fillet portion was generous. There is no skimping on the protein here; it’s a safe bet that delivers. It’s a classic dish and at £26.95, really is great value.
The seabass looked prettier than the beef when it arrived and for a moment I had food envy. My dining partner usually opts for a meaty main and I suspected he may have regretted his decision, however, after we exchanged a few mouthfuls he announced he’d made the right choice, succulent was repeated several times and he batted me off with the swiftness of a serpent’s tongue.
Like the soup earlier, the clam ragout was absolutely delicious. Buttery and rich, it really could have held its own as a stand-alone dish. The thick slab of seabass on top almost seemed to be a bonus. Once again there was no skimping on portion size; it’s a hearty dish that would easily satisfy a carnivorous appetite. If I had to make a choice between the beef and the seabass it’s a pretty close call, but the fillet just skims it, the jus has the edge on the ragout – only just mind.
Peanut Butter Mousse: with cocoa meringue, chocolate pudding and tonka bean ice-cream
Caramel Apple Tart Tatin: Milk Ice Cream
The Mysterious Tonka Bean I actually gasped when the desserts arrived at our table, the waiter grinned - he had obviously experienced this reaction on several occasions and the maître d’ came over to ask if we wanted to try the perfect dessert wine to accompany our final course.
My beautiful peanut butter mouse had every element you could possible conceive in a dessert. There was chocolate, caramel, meringue, pretty flowers, glossy sauce, tonka bean ice cream, peanut butter and a touch of mint to cleanse the pallet. It was like something out of Alice in Wonderland. We had a chilled glass of Maury Mas Amiel 2011 and as promised by the dashing Maître d’, it was an unadulterated addition to the finale, particularly good with chocolate, less so with apple.
I’d read about the Tonka bean on all manner of foodie blog posts, and the French have apparently had "fièvre tonka" ("tonka fever") for years, so I jumped at the chance at a taster. The beans are actually seeds from a South American tree quite similar to vanilla beans, hence the use in ice-cream. There is no doubt that that this mysterious bean packs a punch, it has depth of flavour that hints at vanilla but then blows it out of the water. Imagine almond and vanilla, a hint of cinnamon with a lingering aftertaste of buttery caramel and you’d be just about there. This dessert definitely has the wow factor. Though, it is slightly misleading to call it a peanut butter mousse. The peanut butter is a small element of an otherwise very chocolatey dessert.
Moving on to the tarte tatin, it was theatrical to say the least. I’m not entirely sure how the chef managed to get a whole delicately sliced apple to stand to attention without it going soggy or simply flopping over. It was a marvelous feat of culinary engineering. I had a good few mouthfuls of my guest’s apple tart and yes it was delightful - the sauce was spot on.
Both dishes are show stoppers for different reasons. The apple tart is a classic, and was executed with precision. Our waiter informed us that we would have a 15-minute wait since it was being cooked from scratch – and it was worth it. While the peanut butter mousse was a fun and truly decadent conclusion to my meal. For some, the desserts may have been a little overbearing as the portion sizes are very generous. Both desserts could easily have been halved in size and would still have been knockout. So many restaurants these days tend to skimp on portion sizes but you definitely get a lot of bang for your buck here.
To Sum It Up
The River Restaurant at the Lowry hotel have launched a new a la carte menu under the leadership of newly appointed executive head chef Andrew Green.
The Lowry has been a bastion of hospitality and fine dining in Manchester city centre since its inception in 2001. Well frequented by local residents, all-star footballers and celebrities alike it has a charm and grace about it that so many city centre hotels lack. When it comes to service, quality and hospitality, it is no exaggeration to say that the River Restaurant is one of the best places to eat in Manchester. The temptation to make any drastic changes has been tempered, the original front of house staff remain in place and the dining room is still as elegant and timeless as recalled from previous visits. An entire afternoon could be easily whiled away here as it’s such a comfortable and luxurious setting and the staff are happy to cater for your every need. Afternoon tea is available alongside private dining if the notion takes you, as well as weddings or civil ceremonies.
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