Restaurant review - Manchester House, Spinningfields
A huge £3 million investment has gone into a 1960s' office block to create the new dining venue in Manchester that everybody's talking about
Few culinary ventures have raised so many eyebrows, fuelled so much gastronomic ambition and as a result, raised epicurean expectations quite like the partnership between Living Ventures' Tim Bacon and prodigal chef Aiden Byrne - youngest ever recipient of a coveted Michelin Star and one-time holder of two at London's Dorchester Grill.
Could even an investment of £3m reconcile Byrne's deserved place in the fine dining firmament with Bacon's genius for populism that has seen the success of concepts like the Alchemist, Australasia, the Blackhouse Grill, Gusto and the Botanist? How does the quest for Manchester's first Michelin Star since the 1980s stack up with a mission statement to be accessible to all?
The vehicle for Bacon and Byrne's driving aspiration is Manchester House, probably - along with Simon Rogan's transformation of the Midland Hotel's French - the most talked about restaurant this side of Watford Gap. I used to pass the 1960s office block on the corner of Bridge Street and Dolefield at least twice a day for more years than I care to remember and despite the transformation of the surrounding area, into greater Spinningfields if you like, the building looks much the same from the outside. But on emerging from the lift on the second floor it was easy to see where the £3m went.
We were immediately confronted by a huge open ‘theatre' kitchen in which Aiden Byrne and a dozen chefs were beavering away. In fact the kitchen is almost as big as the dining area, despite the latter's spacious feel. There's a decidedly industrial theme - I guess Living Ventures cannot ever resist a theme - with a ceiling of exposed girders and clusters of functional pendant lighting, but the space is impressive and enhanced by the light pouring through the floor-to-ceiling windows on both sides of the room. Light? Yes we decided to square the Manchester House ambition with accessibility (aka affordability) by going at lunchtime, a card always well worth playing - if possible - at the nation's finest restaurants!
The outside balconies with huge wicker chairs would tempt anyone on a sunny day.
We opted for the fixed lunch menu rather than the a la carte on which starters range from £12 - £18, mains from £24 - £50 and puddings are £8.50, and it proved a real treat and excellent value three courses for £27.50. There were six courses on the menu - two starters, two mains and two desserts and the £50-a-head lunchtime taster features them all; we contrived to try everything anyway by each of us ordering alternative courses. And so it was that, after a sublime amuse bouche of impossibly light brioche, quenelle of sweet salty caramelised onion butter, and dainty roasted onion consommé topped with a Parmesan foam, we began in some style.
I chose ballotine of woodland quail - served from a box - with Savoy cabbage and smoked bacon and Mrs K opened with baked salmon with fennel confit, fermented garlic, red wine and cockles, both dishes perfectly illustrating Byrne's signature cooking style marrying delicate, exquisite presentation and instinct for taste combinations with gutsy, satisfying flavours. Indeed both starters paid lip service to classic pairings - quail, Savoy and bacon; fish with fennel's anise qualities - and the obviously complex execution was tip-top. For her main course, Mrs K had breast of Moulard duck (the gourmet's breed) served with delicious cep purée and rich liver parfait, again gorgeously presented, while I chose pan-fried red mullet with basil ricotta gnocchi, brown shrimps, lemon and broccoli.
We had two delightful desserts; hazelnut cake, roasted plums and Greek yoghurt and honey ice cream for her and pink peppercorn infused pannacotta with chilli, lime, compressed pineapple, coriander vanilla and orange for him, both sensational and well-judged combinations of diverse yet harmonious flavours.
We drank from a short but interesting choice of wines by the glass including fresh, zingy Tierra Antica Sauvignon Blanc from Chile and Mountadam Shiraz, a cracker from just outside Adelaide. Service You' box.
Manchester House, Tower 12, 18-27 Bridge Street, Manchester M3 3BZ; Tel 0161 835 2557;
When you approach Tower 12 in Spinningfields Manchester, it looks like a very normal city tower, don’t be fooled. Inside lies a very special experience for both food lovers and lovers of a life with a view. Two stunning independently different environments. The Lounge on level 12 and the Restaurant by Aiden Byrne on level 2.