Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Manchester House - Manchester

Since I originally made the booking for this meal, the Restaurant Wars show was announced and shown on the BBC and partially spoiled my enthusiasm as let's be honest Manchester House didn't come across particularly impressively. I did take this partially with a pinch of salt as the program makers seemed to have been trying their best to portray Manchester as some sort of backwards small town that didn't deserve fine dining. I appreciate that most TV shows will be carefully cut to try and keep things interesting as possible but Aiden came across as trying too hard to please his new Living Ventures overlords, who in turn had pissed millions up the wall on what appeared on TV to be a monstrosity of a restaurant.

Whilst I like to read about food and restaurants, I also had concerns that running through the courses in such detail on the show would result in a menu I was already over-familiar with leaving no surprises for me. The good news was it was an almost entirely refreshed menu which seemed somewhat toned down from most of the dishes i'd seen on the show that at times seemed to have lost focus on preparing good food and aiming for the spectacle of the whole thing.

The decor was fairly typically tasteless identikit Living Ventures warehouse chic (I hate myself for using that term), ie decoration that says nothing about anything throughout. A massive plus point is having to walk past the well-lit open kitchen and being able to see the chefs at work as you're seated - I love feeling like everything is on show like that, it creates a fantastic first impression.
The menu was presented and explained as being made up of a bread course, 3 snacks, 3 starters, 3 mains and 3 desserts to finish. The wine list and cocktail menu itself was huge, frustratingly the index in the cocktail menu suggested page numbers for the details of the drinks but the book itself had no page numbers - a minor oversight but a tedious one all the same. Even the beer list had some thought gone into it with a couple of locals (Tickety Brew pale, Marble Manchester bitter) and a crisp fresh Camden Brewery lager to cover several bases and keep any beer fans relatively happy.
I tried several cocktails, which were all made to a high standard. The real highlight was the imperial tea which was served warm via the device shown in the photo which infused chamomile into the booze.

The bread course which opened the meal was a Parmesan and onion brioche which was lovely and light with the flakey pastry still warm from the oven.  It was accompanied by a small glass of onion consomme which was like a perfect chilled French onion soup with a thick luscious parmesan foam on top.
First of the snacks was "Tomato consommé, basil and mozzarella" which was the most disappointing course for me, a simple take on a Caprese salad made up of a small piece of tomato (described as the heart), a piece of mozzarella rolled in basil powder and then a liquid ball of basil that could either be popped into the basil consommé or in your mouth. I braced myself for an intense hit of flavour as I burst the basil ball in my mouth but it was really toned down and enjoyable.

Second snack was "Foie Gras and hazelnut mousse". Hidden in the mousse was a generous chunk of foie gras which had been cured in salt, sugar and lemon. It was just as rich as it sounds but the extra sweet and salty flavours took the edge off the richness of the foie gras making a for a very enjoyable treat. Hawthorne flowers were an added attractive decoration sprinkled over the top of the dish.

Final snack was "Sardine Rice Crisp" made up of Nori seaweed cracker, sprinkled with Sardine mayonnaise, pickled sardine, green and purple seaweed and sardine caviar. The Cracker was wonderful, each bite was like a mouthful of something fresh from the sea. The pickled sardine and sardine mayonnaise were fishy but not overwhelming and it all combined perfectly, the crunchy crisp, the pickle, the soft seaweed - just fantastic.
First of the starters was "Confit pigeon, gingerbread and spiced cherry". This was one of the most fun and imaginative courses presentation wise - especially the cherry which was made up of a Foie gras and palm sugar combination, and came served with a pistachio tweel which provided a satisfying crunch. The confit Pigeon was well cooked and flavoured. The elements of the dish arrived on a soft gingerbread base and the plate was further decorated with vinegar and cherry emulsion adding some needed sharpness to the whole course.

Second starter was "Charred smoked salmon, fresh goats cheese and leeks". Another course that was beautifully presented with the charred leek rings used as little pools, two filled with goats cheese emulsion and the third with salmon snow. The salmon itself was a generous chunk of perfectly tender fish and with salmon roe dotted around the plate again adding further consistencies and richness.

Final starter was "Aylesbury snails and wild garlic tartlet". This almost looked too good to eat and I admit to taking my time and admiring it for a short time before getting stuck in, the freeze dried garlic and flowers on the top disc looked stunning. Looks were slightly deceiving as the filo pastry discs appeared light but were quite dense - I expected it to snap with a tap of the fork but the pastry just crunched down squashing the ingredients below and spoiling the effect somewhat. It came served on a bone marrow emulsion which gave the snails a lovely meaty flavour (as you'd expect bone marrow to do).
First main was "Cured monkfish with blood orange puree and asparagus". The monkfish was cured in beetroot and was a sufficiently generous slice that it gave the flavours chance to shine as well as retaining the meatiness that makes monkfish so great in the first place.  It was accompanied by rosewater sherbet, a rosewater pickled shallot, blood Orange emulsion and French tip asparagus and the plate dotted with nurstergeon leaf. Quite a sweet dish overall but that set the scene for the quality of the mains to come well.

Second main was "Sea bass, avocado and sesame puree, soft shell crab and chicken satay". A very packed plate made up a piece of sea bass, a boneless chicken wing which was coated with the satay flavour, avocado mouse, soft shell crab claw as the centre piece and a small ravioli made of a thin slice of avocado and filled with cured sea bass. 

Third main was "Rose veal fillet, english peas and lardo". A generous well flavoured perfectly cooked piece of veal with a fine layer of translucent lardo delicately sat on top. Served on a bed of shelled peas which had been chopped through with veal tongue. Another exceptional dish, veal and lardo isn't a combination i've experienced before and was clearly very well thought out, the peas tasted incredibly fresh.
First dessert was "Apple and eucalyptus sorbet, elderflower granite" which was a perfect palate cleanser that i'll measure all future palate cleansers against The ice cold granita had apple freshly grated over it by the waiter, this mixed with the eucalyptus and elderflower flavours was incredibly refreshing.

Second dessert was "Strawberries, ewe's milk ice cream and panna cotta". The strawberries were presented in several ways - fresh, freeze dried, as meringue, as a small panna cotta and dotted with marshmallows and pieces of crunchy buttery biscuit. Another dish that a huge amount of thought and balance had gone into, the various strawberries could easily have made this incredibly sweet but it had been impressively reigned in. 

Final dessert was "Macaroons". A lovely end to a meal, each macaron had it's own very distinct flavour and they were perfectly light. Flavours were chocolate and orange, pineapple cheesecake, pistachio, lemon, blackcurrant and strawberry and basil. I had a double espresso to accompany this and had no complaints, a solid dark and rich coffee.
Our waiter Ross was extremely attentive, chatty and totally on point throughout. You expect quality service at a place like this but it was of such a high standard I took the time to compliment the maitre'd on how well everything had gone.

Overall this was easily one of my favourite meals in Manchester and on reflection i'd say that it probably just shaded the French for me. The atmosphere was a lot less sterile than the French making for an overall more enjoyable evening on this occasion, I need to re-visit the French to see whether that side of the experience has improved. Aside from the early blip with the tomato salad here the food was all to an exceptionally high standard and quality, I hate to mention Michelin stars but I will be extremely surprised if they aren't awarded one next year if this level of quality and imagination is maintained.
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