Neil Sowerby sees if the new arrival in the Village was worth the wait

Now I know how a mole feels as I train my phone torch on the slip of paper that constitutes the Maya menu. Stygian darkness prevails around our corner table below a speaker belching out beats. The marble-topped bar with a golden gantry dominates this main dining room. I'm not sure we signed up for all this moodiness. We have innocently come in search of the promised “ingredient-led, hyper-seasonal and regularly changing menu” from Gabe Lea, a Manc chef with an impressive CV (Le Manoir, The French and more). 

That’s why we chose this downstairs experience rather than the brighter ground floor promising a “modern-European style menu of brasserie classics.” I’m not sure, though, if that all-day format is properly up and running. The website is a little vague on detail, just offering a shot of a specimen à la carte menu, not dissimilar to the one we are peering at now – minus its inviting snacks of tomato en croûte and Lindisfarne oysters/spiced consommé, which would have been good to have. 

Also strangely absent is any fine dining de rigueur bread with fancy butter to nibble while contemplating the wine list. We have had to ask for that, having first been presented with a spirits booklet, which hinted at certain priorities.

This was polite food, matched by a certain old school formality in service, where one server brought each pair of courses from the kitchen on a tray. Then a separate colleague would lift and bring them to table.

Still we are not being neglected. There are staff aplenty. And yet…it feels nervy. Maya has been ‘eagerly awaited’ so long and that brings its own pressures. Chef Gabe joined the ambitious project in August 2022, expecting it to open early the following year, but eventually it took a total of 20 months. My inner Attenborough equates that span to the gestation of an African Bush Elephant. I don’t know the full delayed gratification story. Major elephant in the room? Or rather three rooms across three floors, plus some remarkably Instagrammable loos. There appears to have been structural issues in transforming this former textile warehouse – home a quarter of a century ago to the groundbreaking Mash & Air.

2024 04 15 Maya Review Exterior 2
Outside Maya Image: Confidentials
2024 04 15 Maya Review Loo Sign
Sign for the loos Image: Confidentials
2024 04 15 Maya Review Toilet
The Instagrammable loos Image: Confidentials

A continuing attention to detail seems locked into the Maya mindset. In the wake of our dinner visit a ‘give us your feedback’ email swiftly arrived. Allow six minutes to tick all 34 sets of boxes. Phew. The three course meal itself lasted little over an hour and cost £230 for the two of us (including a 13.5 per cent service charge). Did it live up to expectations? 

The menu read well – a manageable selection of five starters, five mains and five puds – and it was good to see so many fish options, which we went for. Hence the Tambora Albarino as our wine choice, a rewardingly rich and peachy white to handle our parade of scallops, monkfish, wild sea bass and turbot. It cost £65 off a bizarrely tiny list of wines by the bottle that soon tilted over the £100 mark. In the penumbral depths of the dining room there loomed a raft of wine racks. Maybe the cellar aspect is still a work in progress?

2024 04 15 Maya Review Dining Room Interior Port
Maya's main dining room Image: Confidentials
2024 04 15 Maya Review Main Bar
The dining room's central bar Image: Confidentials

Let’s begin at the climax of the dishes tried because one dessert is the best I’ve had all year. There’s a 15 minute wait for Pear Tatin (£12) to be baked and it is well worth it. From a pool of Calvados-tinged caramel rises an obelisk of whole pear encased in a delicate pastry that might almost be feuille de brick. Tucked into the fruit is a lavish riot of cinnamon quill and vanilla. Discard, don’t chew. A blob of vanilla ice cream has also definitely been shown the pod. Delicious also, though not quite as spectacular, is a bijou portion of triple cream Brillat Savarin cheesecake with a berry sorbet and crumb (£12).

2024 04 15 Maya Review Pear Tartin
Pear tatin Image: Confidentials
2024 04 15 Maya Review Cheesecake
Brillat Savarin cheesecake with a berry sorbet and crumb Image: Confidentials

Classical skills at play too in the fish dishes, but with more mixed results. Hand-dived scallop had been diced to create a near translucent tartare (£22). It's hard to tell if the advertised white grape has been similarly prepped. The citrus of bergamot is subtly there but the listed truffle is AWOL. Verdict: underpowered. 

The starter across the table suffered from its presentation. The tranche of seared monkfish (£18), some tightening membrane left on, and cubes of Granny Smith gel felt adrift from the pool of split green oil emulsion with its shelled clams and strip of braised fennel. Saffron had seemed an addition too far, but it too was surprisingly undetectable.

2024 04 15 Maya Review Scallop
Hand-dived scallop Image: Confidentials
2024 04 15 Maya Review Monkfish
Seared monkfish Image: Confidentials

The fish mains were thankfully not quite as busy on the plate, but suffered from over-intense saucing and a certain saltiness for my taste. Something of a slight downer because both turbot and sea bass fillets were gorgeous, satisfying specimens. The sauce for the first was the classic bonne femme, for the latter a brown butter sabayon, luxurious treatments at £40 and £35 a pop respectively. Mushrooms featured in both, a tangle of girolles for the turbot, with white asparagus and naked mussels.

2024 04 15 Maya Review Turbot
Turbot Image: Confidentials
2024 04 15 Maya Review Bass
Sea bass Image: Confidentials

This was polite food, matched by a certain old school formality in service, where one server brought each pair of courses from the kitchen on a tray. Then a separate colleague would lift and bring them to table. Maybe it’s the way they do things at Mayfair glam haunt Isabel, a previous success story for Maya creator, Scottie Bhattari, whose stellar hospitality track record also includes Soho House and Petersham Nurseries.

As he bolts A-lister Art Deco pastiche on our trademark industrial fabric at Maya he has installed a third space deeper still, an exclusive late night den that he insists is NOT going to be a private members club. That’s never worked in Manchester.

2024 04 15 Maya Review Basement Bar
The late night den in Maya's basement floor Image: Confidentials

As is obvious, much of this is not my bag, but I wish it well. Will it replicate the celeb honeypot that once was Mash & Air? There’s plenty of competition around from rival London imports. I just hope it will hold its nerve with the fine food offering, albeit with a more relaxed take. Time is finally on Maya’s side.

Maya, 40 Chorlton Street, M3 3BG

2024 04 15 Maya Review Shot
Maya Image: Confidentials

The Scores

All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, and ALWAYS paid for by and completely independent of any commercial relationship. They are a first-person account of one visit by one, knowledgeable restaurant reviewer and don't represent the company as a whole.

If you want to see the receipt as proof this magazine paid for the meal then a copy will be available upon request. Or maybe ask the restaurant.

Venues are rated against the best examples of their type. What we mean by this is a restaurant which aspires to be fine dining is measured against other fine dining restaurants, a mid-range restaurant against other mid-range restaurants, a pizzeria against other pizzerias, a teashop against other teashops, a KFC against the contents of your bin. You get the message.

Given the above, this is how we score: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: sigh and shake your head, 10-11: if you’re passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: nothing's that good is it?

  • Food 7.5/10

    Scallop tartare 6, seared monkfish 6, turbot 8, wild sea bass 7, cheesecake 8, pear tarte tatin 9

  • Service 4/5

    Well marshalled. They’ve had plenty of time to prepare.

  • Ambience 3/5

    The bar vibe is bound to benefit from its Village location, but maybe the dining aspect suffers.