The Preview of Manchester House by Bacon on the Beech
I came back from our travels in Spain and the weather had properly turned for the worse, we'd lost almost 20 degrees overnight, (from 30˚ and sunny to 11˚ and grey), the heating came on and I was totally and utterly skint - I'd spent it all on fine food as usual. Things were looking a little bleak. Luckily though, I'd been invited to one of the first previews at the most anticipated restaurant opening of the year (along with The French); Aiden Byrne's Manchester House.
I nervously arrived at the the swish entrance near to Artisan, and I was taken straight up to the Cocktail Bar on one of the upper floors above the restaurant. It's a great modern space with fine views over the city (bear in mind it is Manchester and not Barcelona), and probably the best smokers room in town. Everyone who dines here will take a drink in the bar first. When it goes dark and the lights go on, I'd imagine it would be even more spectacular.
I met up with fellow bloggers in the bar and wandered about the place taking photos with the occasional canapé coming round. I tried them all naturally; red pepper tuille, beetroot, foie gras and palm sugar macaroon (obviously my favourite), and carrot wafer with crab and lemon grass.
We were soon shown downstairs and into the proper restaurant. The first thing you notice is the huge open kitchen, (230 grands worth), and the space itself is a little like Artisan, and perhaps not quite as bling as you'd expect (this would be a good thing in my book). It didn't take long for the food to start coming out, and it was a really buzzing atmosphere with press and the like all excited about what was to come.
First we had Ajwain cracker bread with carrot butter. Nice!
Next Oyster, beetroot and oxtail. This had a bit of smoke and mirrors theatricality, which I always enjoy, similar to what we'd seen at Azurmendi earlier in the year. Aiden Byrne later mentioned what an inspiration these world class Basque restaurants, had been on him (Mugaritz also), rejecting the stuffiness of the French style, I think it really suits Manchester as well and reflects how people want to eat. The round shell like dish was also similar to one from El Celler de Can Roca, in Spain but without tweezers to eat with (is Manchester ready to eat with tweezers?) The broth needed a bit more strength of flavour for me, but the oyster was fabulous.
But quality always comes at a price. They're aiming high, but to break even is apparently the real goal. The idea is that the bar upstairs will really make the money. The cost of set up was 3 million pounds, so this is a really big operation as you might expect from Living Ventures. Really exciting times for our city I think. Chef Aiden Byrne came to have a little chat with us, a friendlier more genuine bloke you couldn't hope meet, absolutely no big chefs ego, he was very honest about the challenges and the necessary compromises that come with ripping up his old recipe books and starting again from scratch. We've been lucky to meet a few chefs on our travels recently, (Eneko Atxa of Azurmendi and Ángel León from Aponiente) and the more talented they are, the more genuinely humble they seem to be, which is perhaps not how you'd imagine it to be.
Next, Manchester Tart. I really liked this pudding, pretty too.
At this point Tim Bacon head of Living Ventures and Aiden Byrne himself gave a small speech about the origins, aims, aspirations of Manchester House. It's a new challenge for them both, but I think now is the right time for another restaurant of this type, the success of The French has shown that Manchester is ready for a high end food like this, (but in a more casual style), and I think we deserve it; to show that we are the world class city we claim to be.
I'm going to compare it to Michelin star restaurants like Azurmendi, and El Celler de Can Roca as they're pricing it in a similar way, which I think is fair, although it's only the beginning for them of course. It's already one of the two best restaurants in the city, and I can only see it getting better.
All the food was of a high standard as you'd expect, but maybe I've been overly spoilt of late, with visits to some stunning world class restaurants, so honestly, it didn't totally knock my socks off yet in comparison to those, but it's a very fine start indeed. I look forward to trying the taster menu properly when I return next week.
Price: A little controversial for some, but they're aiming to be the very best in the city, and this simply costs more. Simple as that.
Service: Very good, friendly and informal.
Food: On the way to a Michelin star, hopefully.
Star dish: Roasted pigeon with black cherries and pistachio.
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