I originally posted this on egullet on that board's long-running "Manchester" thread, back in March. It's full title is "Manchetser - is it possible to eat something nice?"..........
......... Well, if your first experience of Manchester city centre eating had been Podium, then the answer might well have been “No”. But more of that in a bit.
We’d booked here on a TopTable offer. £29 would get us three courses, a bottle of wine for the two of us – and an aperitif in Cloud23 – the cocktail bar on the 23rd floor. Now the bar is a great place. It’s reached by its own lift, with greeter on the ground floor and greeter on the 23rd. The night view is fantastic even if you know you’re looking out onto the less salubrious suburbs of Whalley Range and Moss Side. It’s stylish, with roped off VIP sections at each end of the main bar area.
What’s not stylish is when you return to the ground floor Podium restaurant. It’s a big, soulless, corporate box, sparsely populated with customers. The menu is a short list of obviously bargain basement cooking – at the bottom there’s mention of meat coming from Mettricks of Glossop and the Rhug Organic Farm, but there’s no sign of this sort of quality amongst the actual listings. And the half bottle of wine per person has morphed into a glass each.
Butternut squash, coconut cream, coriander and chilli soup was OK. The predominant taste was of chilli. This was followed by fish pie, underseasoned and underendowed with seafood, topped with a cheese mash, accompanied by crushed peas and baby carrots. Just the sort of food you might cook at home on a Tuesday night – only you’d probably cook it better.
Sardines on toast can be a belter of a little dish. But not here. A couple of bland fillets sat on a slice of that frozen, and then barely baked, pappy baguette. I’m unsure if a mango and pineapple salsa would ever really have lifted it – but certainly not when the “salsa” was just a dice of the fruit. For a main, Toulouse sausage was pleasant enough in a sort of “bought from Lidl” way. It sat on well cooked lentils and what was described as “roast tomato” but tasted as though it was just a hefty dollop of overly sweet puree stirred through the lentils.
To finish, cheese was again OK – three indeterminate pieces (one mild goat, a cheddar and something blue with nuts in), chutney and crackers. A cheese plate circa Berni Inn 1980 if you will. A fruit crumble was described as “seasonal” – which it wasn’t – although I suppose blackcurrants must be in season somewhere in the world.
It’s not vile food. If your employer had booked you into the hotel and you didn’t want to go out to eat, you wouldn’t starve. But, really, there’s two or three much better offerings in less than 5 minutes walk. That said, taking the cocktail cost into account, this was a cheap “value for money” mid-week outing.