Olivia Potts asks herself, ‘Why am I eating dinner in a nightclub?’
The last time I ate dinner in an actual nightclub was 2007 and I had a 50% off voucher for food at Revolution if I ate before 7pm. You can see why, as a student with questionable culinary standards and a limited budget, this might have been an attractive offer.
16 years later, I’m sitting in MNKY HSE on Lloyd Street, the fourth branch in the vowel-averse brand that has restaurants in Mayfair, Riyadh and Dubai. In theory, the Manchester branch is a Latin American restaurant and bar until 10pm, at which point it transforms into a club open until 4am at the weekend. The reality is that it’s 8:30pm on a Wednesday evening and I’m eating a Wagyu slider while unidentifiable bass music thumps loudly behind me. It feels an awful lot like eating dinner in a nightclub, and I’m not sure why anyone would want that.
For all the moody lighting, ridiculously priced menus, and countless signature dishes and drinks, its food is completely without personality
MNKY HSE is unflinchingly, offensively, geared towards demonstrative cash-splashing. The menu is a roll-call of the most expensive produce and dishes available – wagyu beef, truffle, ceviche, lobster – and seems to have been curated with one idea in mind: how much money can we make a punter spend?
The first item on the ‘especialidades’ section of the menu takes this idea to its logical extreme: a platter of Oscietra caviar, lobster, ceviche, oysters, tacos, and sushi is listed as £1000. One thousand pounds. I am prepared to die on the hill that there is simply no dish, even a sharing platter piled with luxe ingredients, that is worth £1000. Actually, the thought of paying that makes me feel a bit sick. So I dance my way around the menu, choosing the comparatively cheaper items, and still come away with a bill of £250 for two people.
The short rib beef tacos (£16 for 3) are bizarre: perfectly pleasant at first, with a generous squidge of meat, fresh chilli, little cubes of grilled, pickled pineapple, dabs of sweet potato and an emerald aioli. But the aftertaste is weird: perfumed and synthetic and fruity, like one of those scented gel pens we all lusted after in the 90s, or a blueberry lip balm. I quiz our waiter on how the short rib is prepared (suspecting liquid smoke) but he is evasive, and I am no closer to solving the mystery.
Fried baby squid (£12) is a highlight: crisp on the outside, and perfectly soft within, without a whisper of chewiness, and accompanied by a deliciously sharp, runny poblano sauce. The prawn ceviche (£10), cured with blood orange tiger’s milk marinade, is a good companion to the squid: fresh, and bright, with giant corn and crisp shards of (I think) fried rice paper. Wagyu sliders (£18 for the pair) are perky and cute; the crispy onions, cheese and gherkin are all perfectly nice, and the meat is moist and tender. But the flavour of the Wagyu beef is muted and I honestly can’t even detect the fresh truffles, which makes the whole thing feel a bit pointless.
Salmon with jalapeno ponzu and Cornish leaves (£19) is nicely cooked, with glassy skin, and a translucent centre, but the ponzu sauce doesn’t work. There’s no hint of jalapeno, and, if I’m being kind I would call it ‘punchy’, but if I was being truthful I would call it ‘very, very salty’. The lamb chops anticucho (£28 for the 3) are so deeply underwhelming – chewy, and the aji panca marinade is bitter – that we leave one of them. The tenderstem broccoli, tossed simply with chilli butter and sesame seeds (£9) is probably my favourite dish: well balanced, and well cooked, no notes.
Puddings are unmemorable: a dark chocolate fondant sponge is nice, but the ‘red mole centre’ is, even when eaten in isolation, completely, disconcertingly flavourless. While ‘Mnky’s best friend’ – layered chilli toffee, passion fruit foam, black crumble, banana ice cream – is another confusing one. I’m not sure what happened to the chilli toffee, but I couldn’t find it. The flavour of the rest of the dish is nice, but overall, it’s very, very soft. Which I suppose makes sense for a dish which is essentially a bowl of whipped cream sitting on ice cream.
Listen, as a country we routinely devalue the amount of money and skill it takes to produce food and to run a food business in a city centre. I do not think for one moment that restaurants should be made to feel that they can’t charge proper money for what they’re offering. But that is not what’s happening here. And, crucially, if you’re charging these prices, your dishes, your service, everything you do has to be flawless. And this was certainly not that. The cocktails are good. Much of the food is fine. Not awful, just not worth even half of the money that’s being charged.
I expected to hate MNKY HSE, but actually, I ended up just… nothing-ing MNKY HSE. For all the moody lighting, ridiculously priced menus, and countless signature dishes and drinks, its food is completely without personality. It turns out, you can’t buy taste.
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidentials 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.
Venues are rated against the best examples of their type, so tea rooms are measured against other tea rooms, casual dining against other casual dining, fine dining against other fine dining.
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.
Short rib tacos (4) Baby squid (7) Ceviche (6) Wagyu sliders (5) Salmon (5) Lamb chops (4) Tenderstem broccoli (9) Chocolate fondant (5) Passionfruit cream (5)
Attentive and welcoming, but occasionally a little vague on details
Why am I eating dinner in a nightclub?