There always seems to be something new popping up in the Manchester restaurant scene. New concepts, new ideas, re-vamping tired menus or giving a new lease of life into forgotten venues. These are what seem to define many a city's food culture. To be fair, nothing against that. It's what keeps us on our toes - the buzz through social media, word of mouth or a quick e-mail and text after you see the erection of a ‘coming soon' sign. In Manchester, there is one company that seems to get the most buzz no matter what the concept or idea, and to count their venues to the mid-twenties is an astounding achievement. Living Ventures have proven once again that they can transform even the most quirky of locations into a masterpiece in the form of Artisan.
Located on Avenue North off Bridge Street, you immediately enter a lobby selling Artisan clothing and adorned with cast iron lamp shades, plenty a stencilled ‘A' on the walls and what looks like a giant poster advertising Artisan to the outside world. Wander yourself upstairs to be greeted by the welcome desk and smiles a plenty. It kind of reminds you that you've been greeted by an office receptionist, and once entering the main restaurant, it confirms your thoughts. It's a low-level, stripped back office floor converted in the best way possible. Exposed brick walls, iron castings and wooden features blend well to create a warm atmosphere. Makes no sense does it? It just seems to work! Low level lighting gives it that intimate feel, but big parties would not feel out-of-place at all.
I myself came down with my girlfriend (who we shall name Miss J from now on) so although having a table for two booked on a Tuesday evening, we were treated to a table for six to offer us a bit more room to spread out. I like that. Browsing the drink menu you see your usual array of delights with a good selection of beers of both lager and ale varieties, and some tempting wines which don't come in at a hefty price. We both opted for an Artisan Signature from their cocktail section. Myself been persuaded by the Choc Orange Crush (£5.95) which blended Grand Marnier with Illy coffee and Mozart dark chocolate liqueur, milk and cream, served up in a paint can over crushed ice. Another paint can cocktail arrived for Miss J in the form of a Tropical Julep (£5.95) built using Southern Comfort, peach liqueur, pineapple juice lime and fresh mint, again over crushed ice. Not a bad choice of concoctions, although always the way with crushed ice, the drink just seemed to disappear a little quicker than you expect. Never the less, we enjoyed whilst browsing the main menu.
Appropriately named little plates, big plates, salads and pizzas, you're, or we especially, were a little stumped of what to ask for. I could have easily gone for what could have amassed as a buffet than a single dish, which I think always says something for a new menu. Starters such as Wood Roasted Sardines (£5.95) or Mackerel and Horseradish Pâté (£5.75) jump out at you, but Miss J opted for the Baked Camembert with Spiced Sugar Nuts and a Beetroot and Red Onion Chutney (£6.50) whilst I had the Houmous with Sugar Spiced Nuts and Crispy Flatbread (£5.25). Miss J's came served hot on a wooden board, with the camembert housed within a pan, and ramekins for the sides. Nicely presented, with everything looking as fresh as possible. Mine came on what looked like a piece of corragated iron (no other way I could describe it), with each dip of the plate housing either salad, houmous or three long strands of flatbread. Warm and fresh, it took a while to get through them both, but did well to leave enough room for our mains.
Miss J went with the Whole Mackerel Baked on Pine (£12.95), which literally came out as a whole mackerel, complete with head and tail. Great presentation! And it was gone before you could even say "how is it". Surely one of the best compliments to receive? Myself I went for The Greek pizza (£10) which had toppings including feta, olives, tomato, cous cous salad and mint yoghurt. A rather sizeable pizza arrived, piping hot and looking inviting to devour. Tell you a little secret though, I couldn't finish it. It defeated me. But it did it in a way that I held my hands up to say "eyes bigger than my stomach!".
We'd been looked after throughout the evening, with a sole waitress for our set of tables doing what floor staff should do best, be attentive but not too over-bearing. Always with a smile, and making sure we had top-ups as and when. And of course, always on hand with a dessert menu.
Champagne Jelly with an Ice Cream Sandwich (£5.95) and Salted Caramel Baked Banana with Gingerbread Ice Cream (£4.50) looked the highlights, but for us both, we went for a liquid ending. Miss J had herself a Cucumber and Elderflower Cooler (£6.50) which mixed Beefeater gin, elderflower liqueur, mint, cucumber and lime juice then lengthened with lemonade, while I went for a caffeine boost in a Cappuccino (£2). I did take a look over the rest of the drinks menu though, and a couple of cocktails stood out for next time including The Artisan (£6.50) which involves Green Mark vodka, Aperol, pomegranate, mint and apple juice, whilst the Smokey Lynchburg (£6.95) has Jack Daniel's, Cointreau, fresh lemon juice and sugar, with hickory smoke flavouring for depth, and a splash of coke. Also there is the Chilli Gin Colada (£6.50) which has fresh red chilli shaken with Beefeater gin, pineapple juice, lime juice and coconut cream.
I was impressed. The atmosphere was good, the layout looks great, the 20ft bar garnered attention meaning it needs a proper visit on its own, and the food was top-notch. I'd go again, especially a big group within one of their private areas. Now THEY look artistic. Just when you thought it couldn't get any better.
Set in a vast 12, 000 square foot, semi-industrial space on the first floor of The Avenue North in Spinningfields. Cooking goes back to basics in the fire, this is casual dining at its best. Think artist's loft studio meets concrete warehouse: stripped back and raw. Showcasing sculptures, murals, art installations.
Open all day, everyday, serving brunch on weekends as well as lacing the city with music and drink into the night.