Opening at the end of September, the restaurant replaces Linen at the 235 Casino. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s a bit of a schlep from the front door to the actual restaurant – past the poker tables, up two escalators and then right to the back of the main gaming floor. Once there, it’s quite a decent space. Much of the brick and steelwork of the original Great Northern Railway warehouse has been left exposed – good to be reminded of some of the city’s industrial heritage. And there’s good sized tables, well spaced apart and with comfy seats.
Of course, you don’t expect a celeb chef to actually be cooking in a restaurant that bears his name. And I remember some of the puffery when it was announced that James Martin was opening – “I know the city really well, my sister lives up near Bolton”. But he’s put together a decent enough menu in a style that will surprise no-one who has seen his TV cooking.
Scallops on a starter were local to the north west, as was the black pudding (a particularly good example of the pudding makers craft). Alongside, a chutney zingy from tamarind and ginger. The other starter was more of an oddity – a fusion of Italy and Thailand which didn’t really work on either count. Described as “Thai crab risotto”, it failed to have an identifiable taste of crab, whilst the consistency of the dish was like rice pudding, all soft and gloopy. The Thai element came from lemongrass and chilli, with both lifting, if oddly, an otherwise disappointing plate.
We probably eat in more “Modern British” restaurants than anywhere else. And it’s pretty much a given that the menu will include roast belly pork. And it’s pretty much a given that I will think that the pork is the best sounding dish on the menu. Which means that, if I am not to have the same dinner every week, then I must regularly pick something second best. But not tonight. It was long cooked and very flavoursome – the free range piggy coming from Redhill Farm in Lincolnshire (which does nothing for the restaurant’s claim to “give top billing to locally sourced ingredients”). Alongside, a sculpted dollop of mashed potato which reminded me of the scene in “Close Encounters”. It was topped with a little braised pig cheek that was a delight in itself. Garnishes of a pickled baby apple, braised spring onion and a cider sauce. I took a side order of mixed greens – cabbage and green beans.
My partner’s plaice was a west coast landed fish and was cooked absolutely spot-on. There were herb dumplings – unfortunately a bit gluey. And samphire, a scatter of Morecambe Bay potted shrimps and a drizzle of butter to form a sauce. There was an extra order of chips which were not too clever – they needed finishing in the fryer at a higher temperature to properly crisp them.
Much of Martin’s restaurant career was in the pasty section, so it seemed as though we must order dessert. Disappointingly, they were not really worth the calories. Lemon tart was nicely sharp but let down by soggy pastry. And sticky toffee pudding was nowhere near sticky enough, nor did the accompanying condensed milk ice cream added the hoped for richness. Oh, and the espressos afterwards were only lukewarm.
Service was pretty good with a team approach being deployed – there must have been half a dozen servers attend to our table at some point.