Open for less than four weeks, this restaurant is a collaboration between former Michelin starred chef, Aiden Byrne and the Living Ventures group, owners of local mini-chains, Blackhouse Grills and Gusto. There’s a declared intent to work for a Michelin star for Manchester House. Now, it’s fair to say that we’ve been here before with Aiden Byrne. When he opened the Church Green at Lymm there was a similar declared intent but, within a comparatively short space of time, the menu was radically changed into little more than a “steak and chips” affair. Then he opened a restaurant at the Hillbark Hotel on Wirral with the same declared intent but, within weeks, he had left the enterprise. It was, apparently, to concentrate on developing a more down market pub business, at the Collingwood also on Wirral but, within a few weeks that closed. So, what I think I’m saying is that if you wanting to sample Aiden’s “fine dining” skills, you might want to do it sooner rather than later – just in case.
The restaurant is on the fringe of the Spinningfields area of the city centre, where I used to work for many years – before it was called anything and in buildings now demolished. The restaurant itself is on the second floor of the eponymous 12 storey building. On the top floor, is the bar which they are very anxious to steer you towards both before and after your meal - we declined both invitations. The room is excellent – sleek and modern – all wood block floors and exposed steelwork. Tables are a good size with plenty of space between them – our waiter told us that tests had been carried out to ensure that, whilst you are aware of a background hum of noise, you cannot overhear the conversation of the next table. It really is one of nicest dining rooms I’ve been in. You enter the room, effectively through the kitchen and it is one of the most open of open kitchens (there’s a chef’s table which would give a great view of the goings-on)
As for the food, it’s imaginative and well made, although not without glitches. There were, however, no glitches in the early stages. An amuse bouche comprised a delicious onion consommé, accompanied by a tiny onion bread roll.
Pigeon formed one starter. The breast cooked bang-on at pink with a boned out leg enclosing black pudding. There were a couple of cherries on the plate – although one wasn’t . It was cleverly crafted to disguise a mousse (foie?). At this point, Byrne arrives at the table to add sour cherry powder to the breast, explaining that it counteracts an otherwise sweetness to the dish. A much more interesting bit of showmanship than the usual late evening parade round a room by the chef. This really is a knockout dish. Also pretty much perfection as a starter was poached langoustine. Alongside here, and served at room temperature was a mix of heritage carrots – purple, white and the common orange – the sweetness of the vegetables highlighting the sweetness of the seafood.
Carrots also featured in a main course. Advertised as a Boddingtons steak and ale pie, you knew it was going to be anything but a pub steak and ale pie. There was a very thin round of pastry, closing the steak and ale stew. That was topped by mashed potato. The carrots were not advertised on the menu and came, oddly, as a warm salad, rather than hot vegetables. No, it didn’t work too well, particularly as it followed on from the carrots on the starter. The other main was also a bit of a let-down. Sea bass was nicely cooked, except for the flabby skin. I really don’t understand why restaurants serve it flabby – it really isn’t nice to eat. I wasn’t sure what to make of the “shrimp chorizo” when I read it on the menu and, having eaten it, am still not sure what was intended. Certainly there was a scattering of brown shrimps but as for anything chorizo-esque, in texture or flavour, it passed me by. All tasted fine though.
Things were back on track with desserts. A milk chocolate cup had a warm, sweet liquid poured into it at the table – the plate being decorated with peach. Very nice, if not earth shattering. However, on my side of the table, the earth certainly moved for me with one of the best desserts I can recall in a long time. There was a rectangle of blackberry jelly, topped with a chocolate cannelloni, enclosing star anise flavoured cream. A scattering of berries and other fruits brought interest in taste and texture, as did some matchsticks of beetroot. It was beautiful to look at and delicious to eat. Pastry chef deserves a pay rise!
There’s a polished approach to service as anyone who knows Living Ventures places would expect and experienced staff have been brought in from other outlets. It really did all make for a very enjoyable evening.
Oh, yes. That Michelin star. Well, I reckon if they iron out the glitches, then it could well happen.