March 25th, 2014

Manchester House: The Lunch Menu Reviewed

By Jonathan Schofield, Manchester Confidential.

Manchester House: The Lunch Menu Reviewed

CELEBRITY CHEF is a bloody awful phrase. Cheap.

After all 'celebrity' has become the most debased word in the English language, spread as thin as jam on a crust in a nineteenth century workhouse.

Whether you approve or disapprove of the food, is the chef who created it, Aiden Byrne, will be in the kitchen when you visit. He's open to face-to-face feedback too.
Celebrity means having your face in the meedya for a bit. Probably because you've made an arse of yourself on some asinine reality TV.

It seems cruel given the long hours chefs have put in, the blood, sweat and tears, to be bracketed with Joey Essex and Helen Flanagan. Yeah, right, who?

Problem is the phrase celebrity chef acts as a poison. It makes them elusive, more on the box than at the stove. This is because after that TV spot and double-page spread in a Sunday supplement they get giddy and open franchises across the country in places most of them had never considered visiting until someone put their name in lights over the door.

One of the best things about Manchester House is that Aiden Byrne is a, more or less, ever present. On most visits you'll see him bent over a hot counter doing his thing or arranging pretty edible patterns ready for the delectation of his ready audience.

This matters.

It means Byrne is in control, keeping up standards, driving the kitchen through direct leadership. That level of intimate knowledge of the business, that attention to detail, shows in the cooking.

And it's not as expensive as you might think.

Of course this is fine dining, it isn't Subway, so it's not a fiver in and out, but if you want to sample top level fine dining before maybe diving into a full evening tasting menu then the lunch menu at Manchester House is a fine introduction.

The price is two courses, £22.50, three courses, £27.50. The menu features two mains, two starters and two puddings. There's always a substantial amuse too so three courses become four. You can get matching wines for a supplement.

The menu I recently sampled is shown below. If you go you won't receive this. Byrne changes it constantly. Gordo's been a couple of times at lunch in the last few months and so have I and the lunch menu has never been replicated. That's part of the excitement of the trip.

People can still indulge in the full a la carte if they wish.

I had a go at all of the dishes on the menu pictured.

The construction of say the asparagus and lamb 'beginning' tells you all you need to know about the craftsmanship. It features explosions of carefully collected flavours especially when the food is bunched on the fork. The lamb tongue was delicate yet strong, an asparagus 'emulsion' (not a good word for a food) was a symphony of subtle power.

One of the 'end' puddings had gone insane. This was the chocolate, violet and honeycomb thingy. It reminded me of one of those older ladies who in a last gesture of defiance at the passing of the years, in a final clenched fist of individuality, dye their hair purple or bright green.

Mavis Smitheman, an ex-Lord Mayor of Manchester had crazy hair and was a great representative of the city. It suited her.

This pudding didn't suit me.

Whereas the other dishes had been complex and clever this seemed gaudy, a violent lurch towards gimmickry. It looked vaguely sinister and the competing sweetnesses were too much.

We were back on form with the artful creation that was the honey and vanilla parfait with pomegranate and rhubarb. This cunning play on a dessert classic was delivered with confidence and panache.

Overall it was massively rewarding lunch at Manchester House with the only negative the visual assault of the purple pudd. That aside, what it proved again is this lunch menu could be their 'in' for readers who may be wary of the recent big 'name' openings.

Certainly for flavour chasers the occasional lunch at Manchester House charges the batteries and whets the appetite. The next stage of course, might be the evening a la carte or maybe for a special occasion, the full-on £95 taster menu.

A further bonus, whether you approve or disapprove of the food, is the chef who created it, Aiden Byrne, will be in the kitchen when you visit. He's open to face-to-face feedback too. He won't be in Kent helping set up a pub spin-off to visit every fourth month for an hour, he'll be a few metres away.

Manchester House, Tower 12, Spinningfields, City centre. M3 3BZ

Rating: 17/20 (remember venues are rated against the best examples of their type - see yellow box below)
Food: 9/10 (soup 9.5, asparagus and lamb tongue 9, duck 9.5, salmon 9.5, parfait 8, choc thing with violet shocker 7)
Service: 4/5
Ambience: 4/5


Tags: Manchester Confidential, Manchester House, Review
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