I’VE LONG HAD an affiliation with the city of Manchester. The music scene in the late '80s through to the mid-'90s inspired me to pick up the bass guitar and join a band, and I’ve enjoyed bags of success as a United fan since I was eight years old. But, it always lacked a food scene to satisfy my hat-trick of hobbies. Until now…
Manchester House is located in the upmarket business district of Spinningfields and is run by one of the youngest chefs ever to gain a Michelin star, when a then 22-year-old named Aiden Byrne achieved the accolade at Adlard’s in Norwich.
Byrne’s CV boasts a host of top establishments, including The Dorchester and Tom Aiken's Chelsea restaurant. He also cooked at The Great British Menu banquet a couple of years back, and owns another restaurant, The Church Green, in Cheshire. Manchester House sees Aiden return to his fine dining roots. With a huge £3million investment in the restaurant from Living Ventures, the aim is to gain a star here too.
You enter via lift from the ground floor and are instantly hit by the modern, chic vibe of the place, with the metal work and exposed brick giving a nod to Manchester's industrial past. We stroll past the open kitchen where the man himself is keeping a steely eye on proceedings as we take our seats for lunch.
I felt immediately relaxed, despite thinking the restaurant décor would be a tad loud and modern (I’m an old 30 year old) for my tastes. It wasn’t at all. Actually, I surmised it might be one of my favourite dining spots. Mind you, I haven’t tasted the food yet.
The waiting staff were all dressed casually, with just matching waistcoats and shirts resembling any sort of uniform. Our waitress Charlie started us off with an amuse bouche of cep brioche that was light as a feather, a light and delightful mushroom consommé, which she suggests "needs a couple of minutes to really infuse" and a delicious seaweed butter that would set the tone for the entire meal.
To begin, Sarah and I both had chicken and lobster consommé with Jerusalem artichoke ravioli. If the beautiful presentation didn’t give this dish instant appeal, the smell of the consommé certainly did. Crystal clear, it was packed with flavour and seasoned perfectly. The lobster was so soft, and the chicken rich with the woody artichoke ravioli lending another welcome note of flavour. I thought that dish looked amazing – it tasted even better.
For the main, I had Longhorn beef sirloin, with caramelised onions and watercress purée, which was a variation of Aiden’s Great British Menu main course. For me, this dish epitomises everything modern British cooking should be: simple, with exceptional produce, sound technique and not a pointless foam in sight. The beef was rare and cut with the back of your knife, while the watercress pureé brought a pepperiness that was an ideal partner for the meat. Aiden later told me the beef is hung in the restaurant for an extra two weeks in addition to the three on the farm; it's that extra touch that leads to accolades. There were also these little ox tongue croquettes that gave a contrast of cheap to expensive cut. Perfectly seasoned, they held their own against the sirloin.
While the cow was amazing, the real star for me was those little onion petals. It made me sad so many people across the country were in supermarkets buying tasteless, rubbish alliums while I was sitting in this fine restaurant appreciating what an onion should taste like.
Sarah had roasted turbot with asparagus risotto and red Sicilian prawns for her main course. You could tell the risotto had been expertly cooked by the way it held its shape on the plate, with the prawn’s head adding a playful touch to the presentation. The turbot was magnificent, with the sweetness and a garlicky taste of the prawn a notable highlight. I’m big on seasoning, as you can probably tell, and this dish yet again fulfilled by expectations.
Charlie and her co-workers really delivered on top service throughout the couple of hours we spent at Manchester House. They were friendly and chatty, and had an effortless confidence about their work. I especially liked how she came across and kept Sarah company as I popped to the bathroom – lovely touch.
I’m a sucker for a panna cotta, and opted for the lavender version with gooseberries and Champagne bubbles. The set cream came with some majestic candyfloss that kind of tasted like Palma Violets. The panna cotta was creamy and scored sufficiently high on the wobbly scale. Those little Champagne spherifications were little globules of pure flavour – a prime example of molecular gastronomy actually enhancing a dish. The little shortbread biscuits brought crunch and counterbalanced the sharpness of the gooseberries.
The warm date sponge with parsnip cream and carrot distillation was another eye catcher. There were a few mini parsnip panna cottas in there that brought a creaminess to the light, warmth of the sponge. The slightly sweet carrot brought texture to the plate with the ice cream bringing it all together. It was like a carrot cake meets a sticky toffee pudding, but not as rich and heavy. Delicious.
I’m reading my words back and thinking through this meal trying to find fault, but I genuinely can’t pinpoint one. From entry to exit, the staff were phenomenal and the food attractive, well-seasoned and a joy to eat. At £27.50 for three courses, it’s up there for a Michelin-starred lunch, and I certainly think it was there standards wise too. Hat-trick completed.
Phone: 0161 835 2557
Opening hours: Tues-Thurs Lunch 12.30-14.30
Fri-Sat Lunch 12:00- 14:30
Dinner 18:00- 22:00