I worried that it would be a case of Emperor’s new clothes, I wouldn’t ‘get it’, we’d be served course after course of micro-herb flavoured air and that we would have to stop at a service station on the way back for some actual food that required chewing. Most of all, I worried about sounding like a pretentious arse in my write up.
Unless you have been living on the moon for the past few months, you’ll be aware that award winning Chef Rogan, holder of 2 Michelin Stars and a 10/10 Good Food Guide rating, has joined forces with the iconic Midland Hotel in Manchester to give its outdated destination restaurant (and the city) a much needed culinary kick up the jacksie.
There are also imminent plans for him to oversee the larger 160-seater former ‘Colony’ restaurant in the hotel where the menu will feature more international dishes at a lower price point.
The Midland Hotel is a Grade 2 listed building, so the interior designer had to work around it’s original features. They were obviously keen to keep a neutral palette to match Rogan’s natural style but it’s been a little over-beiged.
Over the course of the evening, we were presented with a series of dishes displaying a riot of natural colour such as purple hued viola leaves, vibrant orange butternut puree and gloriously rosy pink rhubarb. Rainbows of colour flashed randomly as the huge and impressive spherical chandeliers caught the light, but touches of colour in the decor wouldn’t have gone amiss. Also, the huge 60’s style wooden tables made it look a bit utilitarian, like when they had to turn glorious country houses into code breaking offices during the war.
Let me just cut to the chase and try and give you a general idea of what to expect from a Simon Rogan meal. If you want to read a fuller description, here’s my write up of L’Enclume for Great British Chefs.
The tasting menu evolves dish by dish within days so I’m not really spoiling things for you by showing you what I ate on the preview a few days before it officially opened on March 12th 2013.
Don’t expect to be able to choose your 3 course option from a menu. Diners can expect a set 3 (£29), 6 (£55) or 10 course (£79) culinary adventure with a comparative vegetarian option and the option to include a matching wine flight. If you’re really adverse to particular ingredients, mention it when booking, they’re pretty accommodating.
Above - razor role reversal: Eggs, dill, celeriac and sea herbs
Ox in coal oil, pumpkin seed, kohlrabi and sunflower seeds
Fresh crab and caramelised cabbage, horseradish, chicken skin with crow garlic
Self styled ‘Google farmer’ Simon Rogan is fascinated by plant groups, botany and heritage dishes using ancient edible herbs and grains. He doesn’t hide behind modern molecular gastronomic techniques, but uses them as a tool to enhance the natural (and sometimes forgotten) purity of flavours. He’s not afraid to make something as simple as cabbage or turnip the central focus of a dish, often only using the protein element to enhance it.
Early spring offerings, vegetables, herbs and flowers, lovage salt
Sole fillet with onions, smoked scallops, parsley, leeks
If you counted it all up, over the course of the evening, we probably experienced well over 100 different ingredients and flavours in many different forms. Compare it to say, instruments in an orchestra. If the conductor doesn’t know what he’s doing, the sound can be the stuff of nightmares. In the hands of an expert, you can witness a harmonious experience that’ll stay with you forever.
Many ingredients come from the North West. Rogan now has 25 acres on 4 dedicated farms at his disposal to grow vegetables, herbs and lesser known leaves. There is also a garden on the roof of the Midland where the chefs intend to grow their own in season.
Yew Tree Farm Herdwick hogget, sweetbread, sheep’s milk and ramsons
Studded Cumbrian Rose veal, blewitts, split peas, sorrel and beetroot
Sweet cheese, with rhubarb, toasted oats, mulled cider - This turned out to be one of the highest highs in a series of highlights for me. A perfect collection of complimentary flavours and textures. If I had to have this for breakfast every day for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t put up a fight.
Pear, meadowsweet and rye, buttermilk, linseeds - Despite it’s slightly muculent texture, I imagine this would be the type of pudding Elizabeth I would have gladly tucked into. Apparently she was a big fan of meadowsweet and all the other ingredients would have been available during her reign.
Sass ‘n’ soda - A shot of home brewed herbal sasparilla was poured into the cup at the table whilst the thin meringue sandwiched a thicker paste and a little ice cream. It smelled a little like play-dough and I wouldn’t be surprised if further research lead me to a good plant based reason why.
I’m hardly going to be awarded the ‘Sherlock Holmes Award for stating the bleedin’ obvious’ in saying that Simon and his team will be the ones to finally bring the highly coveted Michelin star back to Manchester and The Midland Hotel in October, but I think that is merely the start of the journey.
As someone who spends much time pondering on the definition of success, I leave you with this thought. Obviously the reservation book is now full of bookings from eager bloggers and food enthusiasts, but this is a long term project and Manchester, as a destination for serious food enthusiasts, is being judged. He has built it, will they come?
The Midland French Peter Street, Manchester, M60 2DS
Tel: +44 (0)161 236 3333 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Open Tues-Sat 12-2pm Dinner 6.30-9.30pm