What with its relative dominance in matters of football and music, contributions towards the industrial revolution and things like ‘inventing computers’, we Mancs seem to have collectively adopted the attitude that things should automatically be ours by right. That’s why we’ve been increasingly narked by the fact that we’ve not yet been showered with hospitality accolades for our cuisine. There have been some big attempts to change this recently; God has thrown a gigantious wad of cash at Aiden Byrne to open Manchester House and Simon Rogan has turned his 2* attentions towards The Midland Hotel. Rogan’s generally well received reworking of The French opened to the public in March but that wasn’t how the story started.
Someone at Q Hotels saw the need to re-invigorate the dining options at The Midland so charged General Manager Michael Magrane with the job of sorting it out. It was the larger 160-seater ‘Colony’ restaurant at the front of the hotel that was the initial focus for change. Mike told me he’d tentatively approached a few ‘named’ chefs but all seemed happy to have their name in lights, pocket the cash and just drop by every so often (I’m paraphrasing as he was much more diplomatic).
A visit to L’Enclume and a chat with Simon Rogan, who was already considering an outpost in Manchester at the time, convinced Mike that he’d finally found a man who understood his vision - he just had to agree to throw in The French to seal the deal.
Simon Rogan told me that, despite his love of English heritage dishes and the purity of foraged and home grown ingredients, this larger restaurant gave him an opportunity to create more internationally inspired dishes. The name ‘Mr Cooper’s House and Garden’ reflects his back to basics starting point approach. Before becoming the location for this giant terracotta clad landmark, the site of The Midland was previously owned and occupied by a local industrialist named Mr Cooper.
The interior designers have run amok with the brief by dividing the space into areas which represent different rooms, each with its own atmosphere. Mums would probably enjoy sitting in the garden twiddling an imaginary parasol whilst dads would perhaps be more comfortable in the study discussing the abolition of slavery and the new fangled penny farthing.
Initially we were seated in ‘the garden’ area complete with painted wooden gazebo and tree, but someone who likes having ideas more than they like eating had taken the garden theme too far by running an overpowering rose scent through the air conditioning system. It was like being slowly suffocated in the perfumed bosom of an over-enthusiastic auntie, so we had to ask to be moved to the study hoping that didn’t reek of pipe smoke and old books.
They’ve already addressed a few initial teething problems such as the menus which have been lovingly designed to be seasonal collectors’ items. Unfortunately in shiny light, the shiny words on shiny paper can’t actually be read by the human eye so they’re being re-thought.
There was no issue with the menu contents which contain lots of things that I wanted to eat at a reasonable price; starters range between £4 - £8.50 and rib steak is the top end main course at £19. I’d already seen a few early blogs featuring the pretty ‘smoked eel torte, lovage and pork belly’, so we decided to share ‘chicken wings in pomegranate molasses, chives and sepia noodles’ (£6.50) and ‘Nick’s meatballs with hyssop, baked apricots and tzatziki’ (£6). Apparently Nick was Rogan’s first boss in his native Southampton and I’m sure he’s flattered to hear that his balls have been held in such high esteem by Rogan for all these years.
For our mains we chose the uncompromisingly meaty Cumbrian rib steak, truffle pudding and purple potato latkes as the sample canapé version we tried at the launch party left us wanting more. I ordered halibut baked in cabbage leaf with broad beans and vin blanc (£16) as I’m a fan of the humble cabbage; it’s versatile and would keep you alive in the event of a global food shortage.
The first few mouthfuls were very pleasant; however, I think everyone in the kitchen had thrown some salt in the mash just in case no-one else had seasoned it. As a result, the potatoes turned out to be saltier than the sea. Usually when dishes are a bit salty I describe them politely as ‘highly seasoned’, but if I’d have lain out in the sun after eating it, I’d have turned into a kipper.
I’d have been happy to order anything from the dessert menu but was very pleased with the caramel tart with mascarpone ice cream (£6) which had the perfect sweetness, gloss and wobble of a true 50’s Hollywood starlet. The white chocolate cake with pineapple-cardamom compote (£6.50) was less successful as the white chocolate and cardamom were a bit shy. The cake was more like a sophisticated school dinner pudding and you could tell they’d gone to great lengths to push a fresh pineapple through modern kitchen gadgetry so it’d come out tasting just like a tinned version.
Service was a perfect balance between attentive, formal and relaxed.
I’m rooting for The Midland Hotel and look forward to spreading the word about the gastro weekend offers General Manager Mike is planning. His idea is to incorporate a stay in the hotel and the opportunity to dine at both The French and Mr Coopers with time to go into Manchester for lunch or dinner and discover we have indeed come a long way from whippet pies and Vimto.
Mr Cooper’s House and Garden
THE MIDLAND HOTEL, PETER STREET
MANCHESTER, M60 2DS
0161 932 4128