Jonathan Schofield has a fine time in Manchester's moodiest grill

‘Moody’, ‘glamorous’, ‘a bit sexy’.

Is that:

a) How I was feeling as I passed two giant ceramic cherries in the reception of the Dakota Hotel?

b) How many guests and visitors to Manchester describe the Dakota?

Thankfully, it’s b and that mood-setting is very deliberate. It’s part of the story. 

The very particular ambience is a real point of difference with many other restaurants in Manchester, in hotels or otherwise

Back in 1994 Scot entrepreneur, Ken McCullough, opened the first Malmaison Hotel in his home town of Glasgow. A couple or so years later he opened in Manchester. The latter was different from other hotels in the city; it was, as referred to above, moody, glamorous and a bit sexy.

McCullough sold his Malmaison chain in 1998 and several years and business ventures later returned to hotels with Dakota. Cheekily he opened his hotels close to existing Malmaisons, literally yards away in Glasgow and just around the corner in Manchester. This was cheeky because it was Amanda Rosa, his wife, who had designed the Malmaison interiors back in the day and now she was back designing the even moodier Dakotas. Sort of Malmaison 2:0 and a clever bit of chutzpah. 

Lucy Tomlinson with a previous review wrote how the interior was 'dripping in candlelight, (whispering) in a silkily seductive voice, ‘assignation’.'

2024 01 30 Dakota Hotel
The moody restaurant Image: Confidentials

As for the dining experience, let's start with the room.

The Dakota Manchester Grill is generous in scale and continues the sultry low-lit mood of the bar and the reception. It's got loads of legroom. When you’re over six foot that is a real asset. 

The menu is as straightforward as the name grill would imply with prices that are hotel extravagant. Steaks are big part of the offer so they had to be part of this review.

Before we could choose though we received a gift. This was a complimentary ‘Venetian dip’ which thankfully doesn’t involve being thrown in the adjacent Rochdale Canal but is a rich tomato sauce with a fat blob of goats cheese and bread to scoop it up. This is very good, very good indeed, deeply satisfying.

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The Venetian dip is gift to all guests when they sit to dine Image: Confidentials

From the menu I started with tempura prawns, wakame seawood and a generous splash of dashi (£12). This was superb with a refined tempura batter, generously juicy prawns, elegant dashi. The seawood added grist. All in all the dish was beautifully handled. 

The other starter of chicken ravioli (£13) was almost as good and pretty as a picture. The ravioli was juicy with good fowl flesh given texture with chopped chorizo and all the better for the grated Parmesan. 

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Tempura prawns, a winner Image: Confidentials
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Chicken ravioli, another hit Image: Confidentials

I was dining with that indefatigable Gordo, aka Mark Garner. So until the next set of pictures this is his paean to the grill at Dakota from Mr Meaty himself and in his own words. 

'I ate the USDA Prime Black Angus 340 gram sirloin (£68). USDA stands for United States Department of Agriculture, they have a good system of grading. It’s not mandatory but all the quality producers over there invite the visit; the ones who don’t tend to be a bit shifty. Steaks are graded select, choice and prime. I like the prime, as they are the ones with obvious fat marbling; most of which melts during the cook, and makes it fabulously juicy. USDA beef is fattened on corn and has a distinct flavour. 

The Dakota Grill team know what they are doing and treat this with great respect. The velum, that piece of gristle that connects muscle to bone, is properly dealt with by the butcher, though I would have paired the fat cap back and left it intact, but that might scare the lean brigade. But don’t forget, fat means flavour, you can always cut it off. 

My hunk arrived perfectly dealt with; it was glorious. Some restaurants won’t take imported beef. Some say because of flavour, some say they are supporting local produce. I tend to worry about the latter, most of whom are virtue signalling, which thankfully is on the wane. 

It’s a lot of money but this steer got my respect. Along with Mr Schofield's 300 gram ribeye (£78) this is one of the top ten steaks in the region. I took my time eating my sirloin, Schofield did his usual impersonation of a wolf that's not eaten for a month, saying something about how rich, juicy and generally outstanding it was.

When you are celebrating every now and again, I can thoroughly recommend you try Dakotas steaks.' 

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Sirloin worth a knighthood Image: Confidentials
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The outstanding ribeye Image: Confidentials

Schofield back again and I want to praise the bone marrow (£8) an ingredient with a primal and almost unique texture delivering flavours both creamy yet savoury. After discussing the exact nature of umami in my review of the fabulous Vetch in Liverpool, let's say there was plenty of umami present in the excellent Dakota bone marrow. 

The dauphinoise and thyme was excellently moist and creamy (£12) and the tenderstem broccoli (£7) was timed well.      

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Superb bone marrow Image: Confidentials
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Dauphinoise potatoes were a creamy delight Image: Confidentials
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Al dente tenderstem broccoli Image: Confidentials

The desserts were cracking. The vanilla cheesecake (£7) was as rampant as a Roman off to an orgy with a full amphora of grog and a clean conscience. The braised cherries and cherry sorbet joined in the fun with the excellently textured cheesecake to produce a gleefully excessive pudd. The affogato (£5) was a delight too with the coffee adding a real kick.

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A fabulous cheesecake Image: Confidentials
2024 01 29 Dakota Restaurant Again
Affogato excellence Image: Confidentials

Dining in the Dakota Grill is a very enjoyable experience. 

The ambience is excellent driven by the seductive lighting, the food is very good and the music is happily not too loud. Chatter is encouraged. Cocktails are a hit I’m told and the wine list is extensive. It's one that makes you want to return to it.

So back to where we started, ‘moody’, glamorous’, ‘a bit sexy’. Given those characteristics Gordo may not have been my ideal co-diner, nor me his, but we were working folks, working. 

That very particular ambience is a real point of difference with many other restaurants in Manchester, in hotels or otherwise. It's a welcome point of difference and encourages return visits.

Dakota Bar & Grill, Dakota Hotel, Ducie Street, Manchester

Dakota Grill is on Confidential Guides

Recommended by Confidential Guides

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 8/10

    Venetian dip 7, prawns 8, chicken ravioli 7, sirloin 8.25, ribeye 8, bone marrow 8, broccoli side 7, dauphinoise 7.5, cheesecake 8, affogato 7.5

  • Service 4/5

  • Ambience 4/5