Olivia Potts enjoys Northern dishes with a twist at The Midland Hotel's fine dining offering; Adam Reid at The French
Look, I’d love to give you a framing device for this review: something witty and perceptive and profound. But Christ on a bike, there are 11 courses and seven matched drinks to get through, and I only have 700 words to play with. So let’s get into it.
The French’s Northern theming is more than just schtick
First, the facts: The French, set inside the imposing Midland Hotel in the very centre of Manchester has been under Adam Reid’s name and chef-patronage since 2017, when he took over from his former boss, Simon Rogan. Now, under Reid’s guidance, Blaise Murphy, formerly of Mana, has just come on as head chef. At £130, and another £65 for the booze, it’s one of the priciest tasting menus in the city.
‘Adam’s signature menu’ – the only option – is whimsical without quite slipping into gimmick. From the ‘warm Northern welcome’ (bread and butter) that starts the meal, to the tea and cake that finishes it, it’s all a play on Northern food culture. As I enter, the Happy Mondays are playing, and I wonder how immersive we’re going to go. But next it’s Depeche Mode, and then Simon & Garfunkel. Reid has previously said the music is just a selection of his own favourites (which makes the inclusion of Noah and the Whale really rather sweet).
That Northern welcome is suitably generous, with huge hunks of malty Pollen sourdough (made to Reid’s recipe, apparently) and butter flavoured with a beef reduction. It’s the best butter I’ve had in ages.
Next up are three ‘snacks’. First, a ‘little fish pie with more eggs than fish’ is a butter croustade filled with whipped roe, potato foam, and more trout eggs than you should be able to balance on something so small. Then there’s a Kirkham’s cheddar cracker sandwich, filled with cheese mousse, and a hazelnut sugar tuile balanced on top. Finally, there’s trotter and pork belly braised in soy, and coated in tiny pieces of Rice Krispie-like puffed pig skin, which fly off and skitter across the table as I bite into it. The sharp onion sauce that accompanies it could awaken the dead; it reminds me of pickled onion Monster Munch (and I mean that as a sincere compliment).
‘Yesterday’s dinner’ is a lovely concept: cold cuts and fish served at the table, accompanied by rye crackers, pickled veg and mustard. The ham, which comes from the same Middle White used for the pork belly snack, is particularly good, the glaze sticky and heavy with clove, the thick border of magnolia fat impossibly tender. The hot smoked salmon doesn’t work for me: it’s soggy and a little bland, save for the taste of smoke, but it’s a small blip.
Next, some spankingly fresh fish: Orkney scallops followed by beautiful cod and Cornish crab, all treated with immaculate care. This is the first night this scallop dish is on the menu, and the chefs are visibly excited by it: the meat is cool and creamy, dusted with dehydrated roe, and served with nubbles of sherry vinegar-dressed hazelnuts and the first asparagus of the season.
The meat is just as good. Salt-aged Devonshire duck breast is served on a bed of stewed offal with a pickled cherry sauce. There’s a sweet, sticky, duck-leg kebab, and a steamed dumpling, unadorned save for a lick of butter (‘for wiping up the sauce’, the chef explains, which convinces me that The French’s Northern theming is more than just schtick).
There’s a degree of theatre to the cheese course, with the pungent Stichleton served at the table, spooned directly from the truckle. It is accompanied by a single armagnac-soaked prune, diced celery and apple, and a fly pie – a short, rich, crumbly pastry encasing an Eccles-style filling of sweet, juicy vine fruits and, notably, thickly buttered on top. I can only imagine the reason we don’t habitually butter shortbread is propriety, because it’s fantastic. The cider vinegar and apple reduction zips through you, like you’ve just licked a particularly delicious battery.
There are dishes I've left out here, and they're all just as good. The matched drinks, too, are smart and fun. As well as obvious choices – English sparkling wine to start; a ballsy Argentinian red – there’s a natural white that tastes of oyster shells, a Macclesfield beer to accompany cold cuts, a sake that is like the essence of lychee for the scallops.
An obvious sticking point here is the price. Paying just south of £200 per person for dinner (or rather, tea) isn’t for everyone. But this is proper fine dining, from the setting to the execution of the menu and the service, and it certainly doesn’t feel like a swindle. And it won’t leave you hungry, as these kinds of tasting menus sometimes do. That’s the North for you. Was it perfect? Not quite. But you know, it wasn’t far off.
About the writer
Olivia won the Fortnum and Mason Debut Food Book of the Year in 2020, as well as Guild of Food Writers Food Writer of the year. She also writes Spectator Life's Vintage Chef column for The Spectator magazine. She has two books in print, A Half Baked Idea and Butter: A Celebration.
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidentials 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.
Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you’re passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Bread and butter 9 Fish pie 10 Cheese cracker 10 Trotter croquette 9 Cold cuts 9 Scallops 10 Cod and crab 10 Duck 9 Stichelton 10 Rhubarb 10 Tipsy cake 10
I normally hate it when chefs are dragged out of the kitchen to present their dishes to the diner, but at The French, it’s done with admirable charm.
The French achieves the seemingly impossible: genuinely relaxed fine dining.