We were looking forward to this dinner. We last ate here in October, just four weeks after opening. It was very good, although not glitch free. Since then, the restaurant featured in “Restaurant Wars” – a programme packed with as much fake tension as you could ever want, as both Manchester House and Simon Rogan’s “French at the Midland Hotel” established themselves in the city with the avowed intent of gaining a Michelin star. The publicity has done no harm whatsoever – place was packed and it takes weeks to get a Friday or Saturday table.
So, were there to be glitches? Were there to be disappointments? Well, no – not a one. There’s a greater clarity to the cuisine. It was bang-on cooking of things that just made sense together. As far as we were concerned, Aiden Byrne has absolutely nailed it.
There’s a tasting menu as you might expect but we decided to go for the main carte – we find a traditional three courser generally more to our taste these days. But they offer an interesting twist, in that you can “extend” the carte by buying in the first three starters on the tasting menu, before getting to “starter proper”. Oh, yes, we went for that, although swapping one of the taster dishes did mean two of the three were now soups.
And a third came in the amuse bouche. A clear onion soup, topped with a potato foam – clean, clear flavours and, alongside, a Parmesan brioche that was as light as the proverbial feather.
Next up, a bowl is put in front of you containing a little smoked mozzarella, basil, truffle and heritage tomato. A tomato consommé is poured over. They get techie with this - the tomatoes have been whizzed in a centrifuge to extract the liquid. It’s essence of tomato. It’s delicious. Then the replacement for our swap – a borlotti bean soup – creamy with a couple of beans. And finally, a rice crisp topped with slivers of sardine, a little micro salad, the occasional edible flower – the crisp was so, erm, crisp it was impossible to eat with knife & fork and just had to be picked up and nibbled at.
We both went with the same scallop starter. It comes, perhaps a little oddly, as two servings. On one plate, a roasted scallop presented on the shell, accompanied by a thin curl of cucumber. On the other, a chunk of deseeded and charred cucumber, topped with chopped scallop, prepped in a gravadlax style, accompanied by a cucumber sorbet that was one of the nicest things I’ve put in my mouth for quite a while.
The Texel lamb main course brought a perfectly pink cutlet and some very flavoursome breast. It was a seemingly simple presentation, strewn with wild garlic and surrounded by a little jus (or gravy as we say in these parts). It takes skill to be this simple! And, anything but simple, was a “cannelloni” made from leek, rolled in something black (nope, I couldn’t identify it and forget to ask) and stuffed with chopped sweetbreads.
Beercan chicken brought an enormous breast and a little thigh. Good chicken with the cooking accurately judged, leaving it still very moist. It’s difficult to describe the accompanying macaroni. Lets call it a slab, with the individual pieces of pasta stuck together somehow and stuffed with onion puree. Clever. All very clever.
We then shared a cheese course. All seven in their prime and served without a hint of fridge coldness. A fig chutney was thick and rich and had another flavour in there – fennel perhaps. Olive sable biscuits to pile it on to. The cheeses – Kinderton Ash, Cornish Kern, Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire, Tornegus, No. 5 Goddess, Blacksticks Blue and Mrs Bell’s Blue.
As our last visit, desserts were outstanding. One centred around a warm date sponge – lovely light texture, a mile away from the traditional sticky toffee pudding. It plays to the current fashion of incorporating vegetables into desserts with a parsnip pannacotta – sweet, but not overly sweet; spicy but not overly spicy and appropriately wobbly. There’s also bits and bobs of sweet, creamy, carroty,stuff on the plate. Chocolate cake was another bit of bang-on baking. There’s coffee (?) ice cream and shards of dark and white chocolate.
Service feels sharper, yet more relaxed, than last time. Certainly not as much up its own arse. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening. And, truth be told, I’m going to be right disappointed if Aiden Byrne’s skill isn’t recognised by the Michelin inspectors in a few months. The cooking really is up there.