I recently popped into the offices of Manchester Confidential with some parkin – well they hardly ever eat in there, the poor dears…*rolls eyes*. They suggested I book a table on the new all-weather terrace of The Restaurant Bar and Grill. The PR of Individual Restaurants had been in touch and wanted a wide range of reviews as part of a blogger outreach campaign. What happens is Manchester Confidential invite local food bloggers to go for a free meal and the idea is that they are so thankful and flattered they write a positive piece, often splattered liberally with words like ‘lovely’ and ‘tasty’.
However, it takes more than a 35-day aged steak and a free cocktail to buy positive feedback from me (although, throw in the dessert trolley and we’ll talk.) My opinion gauge is firmly set at default position truth and if the venue actually knows I’m coming, it leaves pretty much zero room for error.
I haven’t been to the Restaurant Bar and Grill for about 10 years, for no particular reason, so I thought we’d go late on a Saturday afternoon for a spontaneous date. It first opened in 2001 and even though they are planning a refurb in February 2013, we conceded that the travertine stone bar designed by architect Roger Stephenson had aged far better than we had over the last decade. In a dubiously contrived nod towards Christmas spirit, I ordered a ‘Pear Tree’ cocktail and drifted up the impressive super-lightweight staircase to the restaurant.
Let’s cut to the chase here, the terrace is bloody brilliant. I’m always suspicious when anyone waxes lyrically about ‘views of Manchester’ but it is a pretty impressive spot to sit and watch the city go by. It runs the whole length of the restaurant, there’s a bar up there, plump cushioned sofas, glass topped rattan tables and a bank of heaters which turned the nippy November air into a tropical heat wave complete with mild sea breeze. They also provide extra blankets for those who like to be warm and cosy but realise that wearing a onesie to a fashionable bar is inappropriate (me).
Walking your fingers over the menu gets them a free trip round the world at the same time. Leading global dishes sit next to each other like an edible G8 summit. ‘Mezze’ sits next to ‘Asian Plate’, French onion soup sits in between Thai fish cakes and Iberico ham etc., but to be so crowd pleasing isn’t such a crime if you can do it properly. We’ve all been out with a group of people who have varying tastes, and to be honest, anywhere that has a Tandoor clay oven gets my vote.
What is a bit naughty are the simply untrue generic sound bites that food-naive PR’s like to splash all over menus. They proudly mention ‘seasonally inspired cooking’ several times on their website, and I’m sure they mean Britain, so why offer asparagus, avocados, raspberries and heirloom tomatoes in November? You can’t have both those dishes and those words on the same menu all year.
But that’s it, a tiny, easily redeemable blip in what was such a truly enjoyable Saturday afternoon, we were still talking about it the following Tuesday. Ok, my Thai spiced fishcakes (£8) were a little light on the chilli and heavy on the potato, but the accompanying coconut and lime leaf sauce was so good, I knocked it back like a shot when nobody was looking. Husband treated himself to a plate full of testosterone and zinc (6 Irish oysters £9.95) *feigns headache*
Man wants meat after oyster, so he had the 35 day dry aged bone in prime rib (£27.50) cooked rare. The steaks are excellent here and they are quite justifiably proud of them. The lunch menu features detailed information about the farmer, the farm, the breed, the feed, the ageing and the method of butchering. It only narrowly falls short of naming the actual cows. All steaks are served with hand cut chips and a choice of classic sauce or flavoured butters.
I had 7 fat king prawns marinated in tikka spices and cooked in the tandoor clay oven (£18.95) No corners cut here, the delicate aromatic flavour of toasted spices came through well. No lemon rice for me but a side of broccoli with cashews, chilli and garlic (£3.95) and a salad that included more 3 dimensional ingredients such as fennel and chicory.
One more slug of light Beaujolais and I was off to where you’ll always find me at parties. Head chef Kevin Wigglesworth seemed completely unfazed by the slightly drunken 40 year old woman leaning over the pass throwing questions at him. So unassuming and modest is he, he only casually mentions that he used to work at ‘Blanc’s place in Oxfordshire.’ By the time he’d dropped in the small detail of working for Albert Roux (only the father of all modern British cuisine) at le Gavroche for 3 years, I was sober, straight backed and open mouthed. He’s been with Individual Restaurant group since 2005 and loves it because they look after their staff, never rest on their laurels and invest in excellent equipment from the Robert Welch cutlery to the £18,000 Josper grill that’s on its way. His simple aim is to make The Restaurant Bar and Grill the best restaurant in Manchester.
Everything is made on the premises including bread, ketchup, ice cream and desserts which are wheeled to the table in a huge Perspex topped trolley. If stewards on budget airlines wheeled those down the aisle, there’d be a lot less complaints. We decided to share the classic glossy Gateau Opera with edible gold leaf (£6.50) which tasted like something straight from the 1950’s (in a good way) washing it down with a chocolate martini with chocolate caviar (little balls of cocoa suspended in sodium alginate, the molecular mixologists BFF.)
The best way to recommend a restaurant that plies you with free booze and food is to decide if you’d return again as a paying customer. This time I won’t be leaving it another 10 years for my next visit, I booked a table of 4 for next month on my way out.