With flavours spanning the Far East, Deanna Thomas was expecting it to pack a bit more punch
Your age will dictate which incarnation you remember best of the ornately adorned building at the top of King Street. You might remember it as Room, a modern British restaurant with eccentric touches. Or perhaps its days as Reform, where you could find yourself rubbing shoulders (and occasionally other body parts) with the Class of ’92. If you remember it as a gentlemen’s club of the Victorian era, built for the networking pleasure of the Liberal Party’s top brass, then may I say how wonderful you look for your age.
For the past year it’s been Grand Pacific. Living Ventures acquired the building within hours of Room going bust and it was the last project for the late CEO Tim Bacon, who always admired the space. Tim oversaw plans to work with the original features of the listed building to create ‘our homage to the golden age of high society’ - inspired by the early years of colonial Singapore.
Giant palms and symbolic pineapples are everywhere, lots of carved dark wood mixed with cream leather, embossed rattan effect patterns and high ceiling fans. It’s a gorgeous room with one of the best looking oval bars in Manchester serving ‘delights of the highest order’, each accompanied, of course, by their own back story.
I went during the day. An evening visit might offer a different experience, but it felt like something more than that was missing. Instead of capturing heady weekends at the Raffles Hotel bar, it fell short of reaching all the senses. All promise and no punch, like an empty stage or a two dimensional cardboard cut out.
Everything was as polite, nice, lovely and inoffensive as a blogger’s thesaurus. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’d prefer an offensive dining experience, but it felt like they’d captured the tiger and pulled out its teeth.
Everything was ‘very nice thank you’, but the kitchen needs to crank up the volume
All chefs would benefit from spending some time in Malaysia and Singapore. Ingredients have even deeper subsections; young ginger for fast stir-frying Chinese-style, older ginger for Indian curries and almost medicinal roots to create different base notes. There are leaves rarely seen over here to impart flavour, or to use as a piquant garnish or hardier ones for use as serving vessels. There are versatile exotic fruits, spice blends, pastes, nuts and chillies along with the skills to turn all this into dishes that will make your taste buds form a line and do the conga through your nervous system.
Grand Pacific’s menu barely scratches the surface, although additional flavour inspirations have been thrown at it from as far as Indonesia and Japan, Korea and China. King prawn cocktail (£7.95) was a mound of shredded lettuce and chopped salad served in the type of silver dish your posh nan used to keep her peppermints in. You have to angle your cutlery around the handle and if you push your fork in too deeply, the salad creeps up and over.
Duck gyozas (£6.25 for 4) were a good example of east meets west. The filling had a satisfying touch of Sunday roast about it. The accompanying frippery on this dish alone is enough to keep the starter section busy all morning with tiny balls of cucumber, deep fried parsnip ribbons, a sweet potato puree, perfectly picked pea shoots and some miso, hoi sin, sesame drizzle. Their efforts didn’t go unappreciated.
Marinated tuna and salmon tartare (£8.95) was formed into a square topped with more pea shoots and radish shavings. But when raw fish cubes are fridge cold, they tend not to give much away. The chilli dressing wasn’t punchy, so even if you close your eyes and really concentrate, it doesn’t taste of much.
There was a similar response to the large chirasushi bowl (£12.95) with ‘scattered’ sushi rice, tuna and salmon sashimi, tiger prawn, avocado and cucumber – looks great on Instagram, but I wouldn’t necessarily write home about it. My son described his Grand Pacific beef burger with wasabi crème fraiche, pickled vegetables, kimchi ketchup, fresh cut chips (£12.95) as ‘very meaty’. I needed more info, he knows why he’s here. He managed a thumbs up.
We had argued about who was having pot-roasted prawns and mussels with udon noodles, lobster and coconut broth (£14.75) because it sounds good on paper. Unfortunately, that’s what it tasted like too. Instead of capturing the deep marine essence of the glorious sea creature that sacrificed itself for our broth, it was insipid and lacklustre.
Sesame crusted tuna with broccoli, asparagus, butternut and miso purée (£18.95) was a generous portion, so it was a slight relief by the time I’d finished chewing slowly through two meaty slabs of almost raw tuna.
Everything was ‘very nice thank you’, but the kitchen needs to crank up the volume. The room is beautiful, the atmosphere pleasant, the service fine (although, someone could have made another fair few quid off us if they’d taken a drinks order other than water. No one asked.) I highly recommend this as a place to bring out-of-towners who are after a glimpse of Mancunian heritage. The food is not necessarily this restaurant’s strength, but I suppose a limp handshake is still a handshake.
Grand Pacific, 50 Spring Gardens, Manchester, M2 1EN
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. 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.
Prawn cocktail 6, duck gyoza 6, tuna tartare 6, chirasushi bowl 6, GP burger 7, sesame tuna 6, prawn mussel udon 6, sherry trifle 6
Minor mistakes and left a little dehydrated
A gorgeous space with good chatter