A friend who is a proper food critic, writing proper reviews for proper publications invited me to go to Manchester House, which is so prohibitively expensive for someone like me with
kids a limited disposable income, I grabbed the opportunity.
The bar on the 12th floor offers wraparound views of Manchester, which is ok if you enjoy noseying into office blocks, but for me, a great view is more Tuscany than Trafford. The cocktail menu weighs the same as a small dog and lists the name of every barman that invented every cocktail for the last hundred years.
Diners are served canapés in the bar with pre-dinner drinks. Ours included spoonfuls of crab with lemongrass, beetroot and foie gras macaron and a wafer thin film of red pepper.
Down in the 2nd floor restaurant, bread was served as a course in itself; light Onion and Bacon Brioche with a quenelle of whipped sweet onion butter. Thanks to modern kitchen gadgetry, the accompanying broth tasted like packet onion soup which was nostalgically comforting, though extraneous.
The kitchen knew my friend was there to review so sent out a few courses before providing what we’d ordered. These are offered generally as an ‘extended a la carte’ option at £15 to bridge the £95, 12 course tasting menu and a standard three course choice.
Maintaining a conversation was impossible. When waiting staff weren’t serving or reciting the involved technicalities of each course, they were pouring water or popping back throughout the meal to keenly require our opinion of each dish whilst we were still forming one.
First we were served a pretty bowl of (out of season) Chilled Broad Bean Soup with goats cheese.
Next was Razor clam, Squid and Pepper. Yellow pepper puree on a razor clam shell, tiny deep fried tentacles and steamed clam, eye-catching squares of black squid ink jelly with nasturtium leaves and flowers.
We especially enjoyed the next course of Braised Snails, Potato and Parsley. Slow cooking rendered the snails rich, dark and soft, under a layer of bright green parsley and a topping of lightly whipped, perfectly seasoned potato puree, and a potato crisp.
The mainly monochromatic Frog’s Leg Kiev is visually impressive and I paused to give a mental note of thanks to the chef who must spend hours French trimming and coating hundreds of them. I could have done without the dehydrated parsley fairy carpet tiles and the frog-gristle but this well thought out and stunning interpretation of classic components illustrates why parsley, frog’s legs and garlic are such BFFs.
Truffle-poached chicken with baby artichokes was lightly poached chicken breast under a dramatic swathe of crouton topped with potatoes paysanne and micro herbs. The well dressed globe artichoke stood to the side waiting our attention like a gawky teenager at a church dance. A squat ball of frozen goat’s cheese lurked, waiting to play a trick on us. Its acidity cut through well and the powdered truffle coating added depth to the whole dish, but its iciness contributed nothing.
Turbot cooked in fermented cabbage with Morteaux sausage was a less successful melange of various culinary influences. The delicate fish is topped with light oriental flavours, nori seaweed and samphire which clashed with the lower half of the dish. The thinly sliced sausage, red wine sauce and abundant sauerkraut jarred like an over-enthusiastic German gate crashing a Zen garden.
Fire-roasted lamb, pine stock and sheep’s cheese was another dish of two halves. Our waitress whipped off a conical lid to reveal two thick, juicy lamb cutlets and a smoking piece of hot coal which she deftly removed with tongs – I’d hate to be there when that manoeuvre goes wrong. The perfectly cooked lamb was the nicest I’ve eaten in this country and the delicate smoky infusion made me wonder when the Danish are going to start mass producing lamb bacon (baaa-con?)
In a separate bowl was a messy looking soup of regurgitated pine nuts, lamb faggots and sheep cheese gnocci.
The desserts sound pretty ambiguous so choosing is pot luck. Our waitress put on a bit of a show for my friend but my view of Peach, pistachio and milk chocolate was obscured by her elbow so I can only imagine that what was taking an interminably long time was her pouring something into the middle of the chocolate. The milk chocolate mousse was heavenly and the peach sauce was like nectar but together? Not so much. Pistachio came in the form of a deep fried coated wodge of infused crème patisserie and was so horrid it made us both do a simultaneous gurn, the likes of which you’d never recover from if you were there on a first date.
Milk and Honey is a dessert with bling. We dived into the frozen milk bubbles first. Underneath was a gelatine rich vanilla shard and gilded honey like spilled Barry M nail varnish. I was saving the caramel cube until last, imagining the rich dulce de leche wonders within, but it actually just tasted a bit mass produced and aerated as if the caramel and lemon flavours were having a battle of politeness in order to not outshine each other.
To finish, we were presented with a box of multi-coloured, slightly mis-shaped macarons. Their idea of a lasting impression of our meal was to offer something that’s readily available at any farmer’s market. Perhaps the gadgetry used to make the red pepper wafer canapé could be used to make a range of flavoured fruit papers to finish instead?
Backer Tim Bacon and head chef Aiden Byrne have made no secret of wanting to bring a Michelin Star back to Manchester but to do that they’d have to consistently lead and not just regurgitate ideas. This was a meal of highs and lows. To reach the level they desire, they’d need to originate and simplify.
Aiden Byrne does not want to have reached the pinnacle of his career at 22 when he was the youngest chef to win a Michelin star. He wants that to be when he won his first star. He’s clearly pulling out all the stops and giving it everything, but I can’t help thinking he’s been given a faulty brief.
I‘m just not sure who Manchester House has been pitched at. The young moneyed crowd generally aren’t all that bothered about fancy shmancy food and the rest of us can find better ways to get value out of £95 excluding drinks.
Tower 12 ,
18-22 Bridge Street,
0161 835 2557
Twitter - @McrHouse