Gordo gets all excited about what the future may hold

Michelin stars are important. They get press and have something of a mythical status in the hospitality industry, as well as the seasoned foodies who collect them like trainspotters collecting engine numbers.

In my thirties and forties, I spent a lot of time visiting starred restaurants across France. At one point I had covered all the three stars, as well as many two and one stars. The food in the three stars became, to me, a bit boring.

The menus started to morph into each other, everyone had a way of presenting foie gras, lobster, fillets of beef and duck, and it appeared to me that the Michelin inspectors were running the show. 

This started to fracture in a big way with a group of superstar chefs in the late eighties and early nineties, the likes of Bocuse, Vergé and Guerard. Guerard was, I think, the first of the gang to tear up Escoffier and introduce a lightness to his saucing that delighted the restaurant world and is the basis of today’s French cuisines across the world.

2024 06 18 Skof Review Int Kitchen
Inside Skof Image: Confidentials

Manchester now stands at a crossroads. Twenty-four years ago, it was a culinary desert, with a Chinese quarter that consistently outshone everything else. 

It steadily started to improve. In 2002 there were 46 restaurants which scored 13/20 or above in Greater Manchester. At the beginning of the pandemic, 19 years later, there were 532. 

And, we finally had a Michelin star, Mana by the controversial chef-patron Simon Martin. Martin and his team have earned their star, and no pamphleteer can take that away from him and his team. 

Then, a bug arrived. Covid. It was like Mother Earth had decided to thin out the humans, Earth’s real virus. March 23rd, 2020. It certainly thinned out the restaurants and the effects carry on today.

Of the 564 restaurants talked of earlier over a hundred have closed; being replaced by about thirty others. It’s taken three years, but we are finally seeing the green shoots that inevitably appear after black swan events like that pandemic.

The biggest sign for me, giving me hope for the future, is the arrival of two remarkable chefs in Manchester. Niall Keating has taken over the restaurant room in the Stock Exchange Hotel. It’s called Tender, and this chef is a banger. He’s won two stars for Whatley Manor, and I fully expect him to do the same at Stock. It’s the only room in Manchester currently that will tick the two stars and above box for Michelin.

2024 06 18 Skof Review Front Door Sign
Skof, a restaurant by Tom Barnes Image: Confidentials

Then there is Tom Barnes. Tom has Michelin star form, a Roux Scholar at age 25, winning a star for Rogan & Co, the little sister (and a favourite of mine) of Simon Rogan’s remarkable two star in L’Enclume as head chef, then moving into the big brother, taking over as Executive Head Chef and winning L’Enclume a third star there a year later.

I haven’t yet eaten at Chef Keating’s Tender, but I have twice at Tom’s Skof in the past five weeks. It’s situated in the beautiful Hanover Building next door to CIS tower, a stone’s throw from Victoria station on the ground floor corner. It was a rare sunny day when we visited, and the room lights up from its great position to catch sun rays. It reminds me of the late, great Tim Bacon’s Manchester House with its gentle use of wood across the room and those windows, again trapping the rays of sunshine.

2024 06 18 Skof Review Menu
Menus at the ready Image: Confidentials

The first occasion was the press dinner on a Friday evening; the second a lunch with two of Confidentials' newer restaurant writers, now enjoying the spoils as Assistant Publisher in Harley Young and David Adamson, now Editor. Schofield was in attendance as well in his new capacity as Editor-at-Large/Lunch. We took the remarkably priced lunch menu, £50 a head. The others are priced at £120 and £165, following the now familiar ‘tasting’ formats developed over the last decade in Copenhagen and Cumbria.

I am interested to see what happens next with this format, it will evolve and change and Chef Barnes has had a depth of experience over the past couple of decades in top-flight kitchens worldwide; as he starts to stretch his legs I am sure we will start to see the next wave, as I witnessed forty years ago at Eugenie les Bains as well as Vergere’s cuisine of the sun in Provence.

2024 06 18 Skof Review Kitchen Prep
The kitchen Image: Confidentials

But let’s talk about Skof. The staff have been hand-picked from Rogan’s establishments across Cumbria, the Umbel group. And they are superb, headed up by the masterful Sean Oakford. As with most of Simon Rogan’s various front of houses, they are trained and motivated. 

And Human.

They like people, and they are as unintrusive, or indeed intrusive as you would want them to be. They know how to ensure you are only a glance away from having your needs sorted, they understand what’s on the plate and they have a wry sense of humour. 

The seats are supremely comfortable. The lighting is at a level where old fuckers like me don’t need the torch on their iPhone and the music is there but not there; everything in this room has been thought through. The kitchen is open, and the team are getting on with it, artistry and concentration happening in front of your eyes. It’s poetic.

2024 06 18 Skof Review Tom Barnes
Tom Barnes Image: Confidentials

The first delight to hit the table was a dish I also ate at the press dinner. Cured mackerel in horseradish. Half the size again of a macaroon, a sandwich made with two healthy discs of potato flatbread, filled with the thickly diced mackerel and horseradish cream and topped off with sharp droplets of fermented gooseberry ‘jam’ keeping the mackerel in place as did Ginger with Fred. A fabulous affair which turned my mouth into a thirties movie soundstage.

2024 06 18 Skof Review Canapes
Cured mackerel in horseradish Image: Confidentials

Next a broth of grilled onions that was as deep and masculine as Louis Armstrong singing La Vie en Rose. The greatest onion soup in the world. It was poured over small marble-sized bubbles of liquified Park House cheddar, studded with wild garlic. It’s a bit like a bubble tea for grown-ups. An umami dream.

2024 06 18 Skof Review Onion Soup Closeup
Onion broth Image: Confidentials

Jersey Royal potatoes cooked in Aromats was a mound in the bowl, matched with chunky smoked chopped eel adding flavour and texture, the crisped skins of the potatoes scattered over then for almost Chinese precision to add texture. An emulsion, with the consistency and silkiness of Jersey cream, flavoured and boosted with oil infused with a delicate stock made with the eel bones, finished with dill.


2024 06 18 Skof Review Jersey Royals Closeup
Jersey Royal potatoes cooked in Aromats Image: Confidentials

Confit of Sladesdown duck, celeriac, grilled lettuce, asparagus tips, pickled walnut, nasturtium. 

And here is the signpost to the future of Skof’s menus. I’ve eaten a duck course at the press dinner. I can’t make it part of the scores on this review - it wasn’t paid for - but I believe it to be a modern classic, standing shoulder to shoulder with the best duck dish I have ever eaten, the Duckling Frédéric Delair at La Tour d’Argent in Paris. It was a three star at the time.

What you have is a substantial course. It arrives as the breast, cooked to the same point as those master meat roasters, The Happy Seasons in Manchester’s Chinatown.

The legs of the ducks were ‘étaient confites’ and stuffed into the small sticky bread loaves. I still couldn’t work out where the rest of the duck was going, that is, the thighs and drumsticks.

Until the duck course arrived at lunch. The thighs and drumsticks had been boned and cooked further. I think a little aniseed had been introduced. Star anise in the stock and jus prep? The skin having been removed, crisped a little further and lightly folded. The meat was then removed from the bones, plated and covered with blankets of the crispy skin. 

Great use of the garden vegetables from Rogan’s farm back at the ranch outside Cartmel. And that glorious bread to mop up that jus. The two lads serving this knowingly brought me an extra pan full. If I see them in the Victoria Tap, I’m buying.

2024 06 18 Skof Review Duck
Confit of Sladesdown duck Image: Confidentials

Finally, the pudding. Sweet Jesus. Chamomile Sponge Cake. Compressed strawberries, Manchester honey, spring herbs. I think Julie Andrews must have eaten this when she was doing The Sound of Music because all I could think about, whilst never wanting the experience to end, was that scene in the world-famous poster of her singing in the mountain flower meadows in Austria. The best sponge cake I have ever eaten.

2024 06 18 Skof Review Sponge
Chamomile Sponge Cake Image: Confidentials
2024 06 18 Skof Review White Wine
Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru, Les Folatières 2020 by Xavier Monnot Image: Confidentials
2024 06 18 Skof Review Red Wine
Drouhin Dundee Hills Pinot Noir Image: Confidentials

The wine list, curated by Max Lawrence, is medium sized but cute and reassuringly top end. Mark-ups are what you would expect and justified. I fell deeply in love with the Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru, Les Folatières 2020 by Xavier Monnot. A quality vintage that will improve. It was a chunky £300, but the Drouhin Dundee Hills Pinot Noir from Oregon at around £100 was superb for the duck and brought us back into relative normality. We were also shown a plum sake, gorgeous, and a ‘slightly funky’ Tschida Himel auf Erden (£110) which only served to make the Puligny look even better.

Skof is truly outstanding in all ways and there is already huge interest. It’s booked out until October. Blimey.

Skof, 3 Federation Street, M4 4BF

2024 06 18 Skof Review Int Building
Skof Image: Confidentials

Skof is on Confidential Guides

Recommended by Confidential Guides

The Scores

All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, and ALWAYS paid for by Confidentials.com 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: 9.5/10

Mackerel 10, Onion Broth 10, Jersey Royals 9.5, Confit Duck 9, Sponge Cake 10

SERVICE: 4.5/5


TOTAL: 18.5/20

Win lunch for two at Skof

Having only been open a matter of weeks, Skof has already claimed its spot amongst Manchester’s top restaurants with a waiting list of three months. It’s difficult to get a table here, but well worth the effort. Trust us.

Because we’re so fond of this restaurant, and we’re sure you will be too, we’ve secured a table for two for one lucky winner with drinks up to £350 at one of Skof’s lunch sittings on Thursday 11 July. Entries cost £5 and a winner will be chosen at random.

See full T&Cs below.

Offer Terms & Conditions

  • Prize includes a set £50 lunch menu for two. Total bill must be equal to or less than £350.
  • This prize can only be claimed at Skof at 12:30pm on Thursday 11 July 2024.
  • Winner will be chosen at random and contacted by the Confidentials team.
  • Each entry costs £5.
  • Enter as many times as you like - the more entries, the better your chance of winning.
  • Entries close on Wednesday 3 July 2024.
  • Prize cannot be transferred for cash value.

Enter here