Lucy Tomlinson enjoys a very fine feed in Manchester Hall's first new restaurant
There is something relaxing about putting yourself in the hands of others. No I’m not talking about a massage but letting other people tell you what you want. Despite many people in the world scrabbling for the right to make decisions about their lives, us first-worlders report that being faced with too many choices is taxing our poor little brains. Boo hoo.
Psychologists know the stress of making endless choices by the term 'decision fatigue'. This refers to the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual after a long session of choosing. President Obama famously decided to wear only one type of suit so he didn’t have to think about what to wear each morning. (Like Obama, I have also streamlined my routine by limiting my choice of what to wear. I call it 'staying in your pyjamas').
Fighting the scourge of decision fatigue is something that new restaurant bar Masons is taking very seriously. The fancy new eatery is nestled in the renovated grade II-listed Freemason’s Hall, now known as Manchester Hall. The room is done out very fetchingly in shades of pistachio and forest green velvet, with a very Instagrammable wall of plants, and has the feel of a sophisticated hotel bar.
Masons USP is that they’ve kept all the detail off the menu – allowing you to simply decide if you fancy lamb, fish or steak without getting bogged down in all that crazy detail, like whether it comes with potatoes or not. The website blurb describes it like this:
“We know it’s easy to be bamboozled by flowery language on restaurant menus. Therefore we’ve deliberately kept our menu simple with the names of traditional British dishes that you’ll immediately recognise. We then expect our experienced waiting staff to do the rest – giving you all the details of the locally sourced ingredients that make up the day’s dishes – to help you make your choices.”
To be fair, Masons are exactly right that menu writing is a dark art, notoriously corruptible. If you don’t know your beignets from your brunoise you can become totally baffled. Or in contrast, latest trend seems to be to blast you with a list of ingredients, fired out like bullets from a foodie machine gun: Chicken Skin. Pickled Mushrooms. Fermented Turnips. Bang, bang bang. Masons simply lists the protein and has done with it.
We kick off the evening with a visit from the Tanquery 10 martini trolley (really, how could we refuse?) which is manned by the effusive JD, a font of knowledge about all things martini. I asked for a vodka martini with a twist, while my partner let JD take charge. After a very entertaining demonstration, in which JD offers to smear me with his scent (it’s alright, he was rubbing citrus oil on my wrist) we end up with two martinis (£12 each).
JD’s gin version is miles superior to my vodka (which is perfectly pure and crisp but lacks the wow factor of the gin) and from this point I decide it really is time to lean back and let the experts make the decisions.
For the starters we have a Welsh goats' cheese (£7.50) and a charcuterie board (£8.95). I don’t know if all that alcohol has sharpened my tastebuds but god it's good. The cheese is creamy and rich, dusted with a black snow of powdered walnuts and studded with a collar of grapes (quite a 70s touch), while the charcuterie is uniformly good, a fennel-flecked salami is especially moreish, while the olives are punchy with garlic.
The mains follow the theme by being of very high quality but also very simple. I have the Gressingham duck (£20.95) which is accompanied by varying things to do with parsnips and a duck samosa, while my partner has the lamb rump (£15.25) which comes with Moroccan-style crushed potatoes. In both dishes the meat is superb, the flavours very clear and powerful.
As for the wine, I look at an Australian Shiraz to stand up to both the lamb and the duck, but, in keeping with my new laidback approach, I take the sommelier’s recommendation of a Valpolicella (£54), which I would not have gone for myself, and I do have to admit it was a very enjoyable number.
Finally we finish with a brioche pudding (£7) that is a very rich and decadent take on your bread and butter, plus a decent cheese board (£9) featuring all-British cheeses and a port flight (£15), again explained very knowledgably and honestly by a member of staff.
I don’t know if it is the amount of rich food, the excellent booze or the fact I’d put myself in the hands of some very well-informed staff, but I felt very tranquil at the end of the evening (perhaps the knowledge that Gordo would be footing the near-on £200 bill was also a factor). Maybe there is something to this decision fatigue lark.
I realise that in truth Masons is not really aimed at me per se. I’m not so high-powered or important that taking time off from decisions is the luxury that it must be for those in their pre-allocated suits (a la Obama), but I enjoyed my taste of the high life none the less. I wonder how they feel about pyjamas as eveningwear…
Masons, 36 Bridge St, Manchester M3 3BT. Tel: 0161 359 6952 (closed Mondays).
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.
Food and drink
(goats cheese 8, charcuterie 7, duck 7, lamb 8, pudding 6, cheese & port 7.5, martinis 7, wine 8)
Has the feel of a sophisticated hotel bar
Thoroughly knowledgeable and charming, but occasional repetition due to eagerness