Neil Sowerby laps up a slightly wacky mix of Mykonos, Myth and Manc
Opulent new restaurant? Bound to be serving sushi or pan-Asian small plates. But the food of the Gods? Down near the wine-dark Irwell? Surely that’s a Greek myth. Yet here I am in a £7m Mykonos-themed destination named after the legendary bird that symbolises renewal and rebirth. Apt really with Aviva Studios already in situ and Soho House set to join the new colonisers of old Granadaland.
It arrives in a smoking, steed-shaped decanter, as a homage to the great hero’s capture of a herd of man-eating, fire-breathing horses
Mykonos was where Hercules slew the Titans after luring them away from their stronghold on Mount Olympus; it was also where a bit later Fenix exec chef Ippokratis Anagnostelis and head chef Zisis Giannouras met at the high end Kenshō Ornos Hotel. Now they are reunited to replicate the same ‘elevated’ Greek cuisine with wider global influences. So alongside ceviches and anticuchos expect a plethora of tartares.
I’ve never been to the island seen as the ‘Cycladean Ibiza’, inspiration for the Jones Brothers’ latest project after the success of the Tattu brand, their own spin on ‘Modern Chinese’ food. The original Tattu in Spinningfields was dominated by a transformative, twinkling tree; honouring the Hellenic world, Fenix offers us an olive branch or two. Actually there is a large tree in the spiral stairwell between the flame-flickered ground floor bar themed around the mythical bird’s nest and the sun-baked cave ambience of the upstairs restaurant, all set inside a glassy new-build.
Our base-camp before we mount culinary Olympus is that moody bar with its cocktail list, themed around the four elements. So you pick from the likes of Medusa’s Curse (Earth), Circe’s Poison (Air), Sirens Call (Water) and for me – it was fated by Zeus – Heracle’s Eighth Trial (Fire), a blend of Signal Hill whisky, vermouth rosso, watermelon oleo and lemon. It arrives in a smoking steed-shaped decanter, as a homage to the great hero’s “capture of a herd of man-eating and fire-breathing horses from Diomedes.”
It was surprisingly refreshing, but for food pairing I’d urge diners to seek out the clutch of Greek wines on offer across a predominantly international list – tipples from top producers such as Thymiopoulos, Gaia, Domaine Skouras and, especially, Santorini cult heroes Hatzidakis. Their Assyrtiko whites, including the amazingly complex ‘Skitali’, are a perfect match for Ippokratis and Zisis’ fish dishes (say that three times), which are the strongest draw on the menu. Maybe wild Wagyu do roam the plains of the Peloponnese, but ‘Wagyu Stifado’ (striploin glazed with Wagyu jus, served with braised onions, spices and cumin potato emulsion for £85 a pop) just feels like one of those token glam offerings, like the Super Tuscan Solaia red listed at £1,500 the magnum.
On a previous visit I’d loved dishes featuring langoustine, crab, octopus and sea bass, washed down with that ‘Skitali’ – a particular fine partner for a delicate disc of King Crab Truffle Salad (£35) or an intensely fishy orzo ‘risotto’ with langoustine and sharp feta (£32). Our return Odyssey is meant to lead us to meat. But then when ordering we hit the whirlpool, bump into the Minotaur. The joint is heaving on a late Friday afternoon, staff stretched and stocks depleted. No half chickens left, no smoked Iberico ribs glazed with Cantonese sauce, among other absentees. We regret not signing up, the requisite 24 hours in advance, for the leg of lamb slow-roasted in clay, but had balked at a £95 bill for four to share.
Undaunted, to check out the robata open grill, we order 200g of beef tagliata (£34.90) and sea bass fillet (£27). There’s a bitter edge to the former, Jalapeño cream and chimichurri battling for possession of over-scorched bavette strips; in contrast the bass is a delight, grilled piccata style, aubergine puree and a perky red pepper sauce all part of a more properly Mykonian package. Sea bass is quite a staple here, its treatment ranging from a simple ceviche style to a spectacular £95 sharer off the robata, where the fish has been boned and stuffed with shitake mushrooms and spinach. In its presentation it resembles a trireme sailing into battle. My fave, though is Ippokratis’ radical interpretation of an ‘Athenian Salad’ – where a sea bass tartare is served with saffron and citrus dressing and Ossetra caviar (£19). A beef tartare is equally good on this return visit with a crumb crunch and an addictive cumin kick.
Three dishes that demonstrate a less fussy side to the menu are a stand-out moussaka (£15.90), where the shortrib/aubergine ‘sandwich’ is enriched with honey and topped with a graviera cheese foam; grilled octopus (£19) given oomph by an earthy split pea cream and parsley vinaigrette; and a ‘broken down tart’. I presume the presentation is an affectionate homage to the Greek taverna tradition of plate smashing (somewhat suppressed nowadays by health and safety issues). This is basically slow-cooked lamb shank and parsnip cream, baked tarte tatin style in delicate pastry.
These are basically meze dishes. With wonderfully fluffy pita (£4.90 a pair), minty cucumber-gelled tzatziki (£6) and proper un-pink taramasalata (£6.50) with olive ‘rocks’ and smoked oil, this is the direction to go if you get nostalgic about holiday tavernas. Well, Shirley Valentine was filmed on Mykonos.
For pud, rather than the expected baklava, there is over-sweet ‘Bannoffee New Style’ (£12.50); I’d suggest sharing a Selection of Greek Delicacies (£14.90), which feels more beach body ready. You get Greek Tsoureki ice cream, yuzu-lemon sorbet, chocolate Valrhona sorbet plus (phew) baklava-flavoured ice cream. Lovely combo.
Further diehard spoiler alert: the soundtrack lacks Nana, Demos or bouzouki bashing. It’s more ambient Aegean beats to match the sleek, curvy ambience. Described on the label as “ash-toned driftwood dining chairs paired with decadent marble tables.”
Let me quote the Fenix ‘story’ behind all this. Every restaurant has to have a story these days: 'In Greek mythology, the Phoenix represents triumph over adversity, cyclical regeneration and rebirth. Only one of these rare creatures can exist at a time, and each lives for 500 years. As that lifecycle ends, a nest is built and set on fire. From those flames new life arises, and the process continues. Fenix was born into uncertain and challenging times, and its character is its destiny — breathing fresh energy into a Manchester dining scene when it’s most needed.'
A Herculean task but, a few teething problems aside and the obvious spelling issue, Fenix is a playful, quality addition to a new frontier. Man (or woman) does not live by raw fish and ramen broth alone.
Fenix Restaurant and Bar, The Goods Yard Building Goods Yard Street, Manchester M3 3BG. 0161 646 0231.
Prices quoted are from the à la carte, but there is a variety of set menus, including an attractive lunch deal for £31.50. Affordable white wine that’s a great match for the dishes, as well as being another tongue-twister: Thymiopoulos’s Macedonian Malagouzia-Assyrtiko (£10 a glass, £39 a bottle).
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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?
Heracles’ Eighth Trial 6, pita 8, tztatziki 7, taramasalata 8, octopus 9, king crab salad 9, steak tartare 8, Athenian tartare 9, sea bass tartare 8, sea bass fillet 8, broken down tart 8, moussaka 8, orzo with langoustine 8, beef tagliata 5, bannoffee 5, Greek delicacies 8
Under pressure as a new food hero on the block; smart restaurant manager Spiros is marshalling his troops valiantly.
Bar and dining space are both really buzzing. In the bleak midwinter a shaft of summery Mykonos.