James and I really spoilt ourselves by going to Aiden Byrne’s Manchester House. We had wanted to go ever since we watched ‘The Battle For Manchester: Restaurant Wars’ programme a couple of years ago which showed the development of The French and Manchester House.
We were not disappointed, it was such a theatrical experience and just, cool. When you arrive you a directed to a lift where you go up, anticipating what is to come. First you step out into the bar area where a booth is reserved for you if you have pre-booked. Most of the walls consist of huge windows which gives you great views looking down onto town, we went on a very cold and wet day in late November so it was lovely to see all the Christmas lights winking through the rain-pounded windows.
After a couple of cocktails, we were led to another lift where we ascended up to our very large table on the restaurant floor.
The restaurant is the height of modern and all open plan, so you can see the Chefs expertly preparing what you are about to devour. You can pay extra to sit at the Chef’s table which is right in front of the action. I think I would feel a bit awkward doing that though I must say. But Aiden was there the night we went, cheffing away and surveying his kingdom. As it happened, he was even there when we left to ‘practically hand us our coats’. I was very flustered though and just about managed a ‘thank you very much’.
We treated ourselves by opting for the 15 course tasting menu, as when in Rome, why not eh? Plus the restaurant’s forte is all about the tasting menus. I couldn’t tell you how many different ingredients we would have consumed, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was in the hundreds.
The waiters were all dressed in smart jeans, a shirt and tweed jacket. The spiel they gave us about what each dish was and how it was made was rehearsed to perfection and was actually really interesting, without them just standing there and talking at us in an awkward way. Their attentiveness and knowledge was excellent; your glass only had to merely hint that it needed filling and they were already there re-charging it.
Every dish was presented in such a clever way it felt like it needed an applause when served out to you; from birds’ nests and melting spheres to mystical dry ice which danced across our table. These were our top two favourite dishes:
- Brioche with Chestnut Veloute– One of the best ‘starters’ I have ever eaten. A warm, wonderfully light brioche topped with Parmesan and salt crystals- I can still taste them melting on my tongue now. Served with a sublimely savoury and silky volute which was drunk out of a small cup.
- Squab Pigeon, gingerbread, spiced cherry and foie gras – Expertly cooked, tender and sweet pigeon, paired with a sliver of gingerbread cake, spiced berries and a scoop of cooling berry sorbet- a taste sensation for the mouth using ingredients that you would never pair together yourself. Truly wonderful and a sight for sore eyes.
The portion sizes of the dishes was outstanding, I didn’t feel uncomfortably full by the end, it was well paced.
A couple of negatives- we sat down at 7pm and didn’t finish eating until 11pm. Now I can eat for hours when vegging out on my sofa but I have to say that the chairs were too fashionable and not designed to be sat in for that long and by the end of it, our backs and bums were rather numb. Secondly, when the service was good, it was bloody brilliant, but as soon as the restaurant started to fill up, it did lapse and start to tail off somewhat, we were left stranded waiting to pay our bill for a good 20 minutes and someone only came over when I finally caught someone’s attention. When you are paying those sorts of prices, that is not cool or acceptable in my humble opinion.
However, I will leave you with this, if you are ever privileged enough to get the opportunity then DEFINITELY GO. The theatre of eating there is a must.
View Jay Rayner’s review here.