It’s been a funny year.
Yes, there were no Michelin stars for anyone. The only place in the city deserving was Adam Reid at The French, but, hey ho, so Michelin goes. It’s getting irritating, but we’ve better things to applaud; we’ll come to those shortly.
Staying on the Michelin theme for a minute, looking at the restaurants within an easy hour-or-so journey from a Confidential city centre, are some absolutely fab places to visit and if you are serious you should take a look at our brand-spanking new Top 100 Restaurants in the North. Written and judged by northerners (us) for northerners (you), it's judged by seven of the best food writers in the area, three of whom don’t work for Confidentials and three who do, with yours truly being the Chair.
Take a look. For the first time we aren’t waiting for a few scraps from the southerners' table in the form of Michelin, The Good Food Guide, Harden’s or indeed The AA. Support this guide: it’s serious, independent and published by a family-run and -owned business who publish without fear nor favour.
Less of the self-promo and on to the things to applaud; it’s all about Cutting Room Square in Ancoats.
It has some of the best restaurant openings in the city this last year. Places that impress: Canto (Portuguese), Elnecot (modern British), Trove (café on steroids), Seven Brothers Brewery (beer and food), Sugo (Italian by English), Pollen (arguably the best bakery/café in the UK). And across the road, The Pasta Factory have opened the hugely popular Noi Quattro pizzeria in the NQ.
These guys are all small to medium independents and they should be supported, as they are the North’s f&b future; a growing stream of excellent young people flowing out into the region at the top of their game through training, professionalism, flair and self-respect.
Across the city, other small ‘mom n pops’ are joining this renaissance and the suburbs are joining in the party. In Chorlton, we have had two stellar openings - Oystercatcher, a truly special fish restaurant, and The Creameries - both of whom this Top 100 judge decided to champion on the first mouthfuls for the guide.
Over in Altrincham, Tre Ciccio delivered another superb mouthful of food called rotolini; a scrap of pizza dough, wrapping up nuggets of melted cheese and earthy Italian ham, baked in fierce purpose-built ovens so that the bases are caramel-burnt. And there are whispers that California Coffee and Wine, the new coffee-into-wine shop opened by delightful yanks Diana and Justin, is a superstar.
Manchester and the North West can look forward to its food offering getting stronger, more varied and of better quality month by month and year by year. These restaurants are being helped by the supply of some of the greatest produce; not just in the UK, but in Europe. Lambs can graze on salt marshes at sea level or spend a summer on lush, herb-rich pastures on the hillsides of Cumbria. Is there an asparagus spear snappier than one from Formby? Or a cheekier cauliflower than those growing either side of the road on the way to Lytham?
Dishoom landed in our midst a few weeks before Xmas. Most southern grab raids aren’t that welcome from the capital. More of that later. Dishoom however, was a monster hit. Queues formed. From India, based on ‘Irani’ ideas, it’s phenomenal food and service; within ten steps, you walk from industrial Manchester into Raj Bombay. These guys are going to be instrumental in getting the area's current pretty bloody good Punjabi and Bengali fellers to up their game. Nowt but good is going to be coming from this one. Even better curry! Go eat a naan bacon roll and tell me you don’t immediately want to fuck off to India.
Then we have the southern robber barons. I don’t know about you lot, but I don’t like having the piss taken out of me. And boy, do they try and take the piss. These guys are after making money. That is it. They want to give the punter a food experience that is just about good enough, getting away with spending the least possible on their purchasing and aiming to satisfy the diner with Instagrammable ladies' toilets and dishes designed to look good on the plate.
Most of the food is cooked not in the kitchen in the restaurant, but in a shed by a motorway down south. Portion-controlled to within a gram of its life, cooked in monster ovens by chefs on minimum wages grimly watching the clock, it’s everything that any kind of dining shouldn’t be, from chippies to fine dining. It’s food without soul.
The Ivy is everything I have described above and more. It’s like a sarcophagus, beautiful on the outside, decayed within. It’s not The Ivy. It’s Richard Caring’s greedy roll-out Ivy. Caring, a rag trade boy, bought The Ivy in 2002 and tore out its heart - and I don’t mean the re-furbishment, selling the pearls and replacing them with swine. In a rare interview a while ago, he proudly confessed that before 2014, he had never been further north than Hemel Hampstead.
One critic asked if the kitchen could do spinach with no cream. “No” came the reply from the kitchen. And that is everything you, dear reader, need know. Because all the portions are sat in plastic trays like you get in Marks and Spencer, delivered in from hundreds of miles away. Reheated in the ‘kitchen’ by the ‘chefs’.
The only difference to Marks and Spencer? M&S tastes better. You should not choose anything at The Ivy Manchester that can be reheated in bags. And that includes the ‘slow-roasted shoulder of lamb’. Which, by the way, this writer can confirm is better at home reheating an M&S-bought sachet. Theirs are really quite good as it happens.
It is hoped that Manchester is the place that shames Caring into cooking properly by not going back. All of us are allowed one visit, it’s spectacular. But next time you go out, show some class and support the independents. They actually do have fresh spinach in the kitchen; in some cases grown on the chef’s own allotment.