Jonathan Schofield finds himself in Japan, Manchester, and all around the well-to-do world
Kitten’s food is Japanese in inspiration and very good because the cooking and preparation are of a high standard and the presentation gorgeous. Yet, despite these qualities, I found the overall experience disorientating. This is all down to the location at Deansgate Square and the décor and the ambience of this self-styled "izakaya and cocktail bar".
I confess I liked its vulgar opulence, it matched the cutlery.
I admire the sculptural quality of the four tall towers at Deansgate Square, how they catch the light and throw it back into the city, and how the public realm has made a virtue of what could be an awkward riverside site. It’s all very impressive in scale and style but it could be any good quality residential development anywhere across the world.
Kitten fits this mood perfectly. Open the grand entrance and enter the double-height space and you’re transported to wealthy resorts where rolling bass thrums the eardrums, the diners are as polished as seaside pebbles, the cutlery is golden and outside there’s a magnificent sunset every evening over a beach of white sand. Or in this case a white and grey granite public area over the River Medlock. All guarantees of sunshine are subject to prevailing weather patterns.
I treat this upscale internationalism at Deansgate Square as a virtue because if you want a bit of genuine Manc-ness then it’s a four-minute walk to the Briton’s Protection pub. Variety is the spice of life and only narrow-minded folk want "old-fashioned". Still, it’d be fun if a chippy opened at Deansgate Square, a Yorkshire chippy frying things in dripping. Or maybe a Gregg’s. Just for a month. As a laugh.
The food as stated is mostly grand although the biggest of the dishes was a disappointment.
We started with salmon sashimi and scallop sashimi at £10 and £11 each. The presentation was so colourful it went off the Pantone scale. Both were excellent but let’s single out the salmon sashimi because salmon can be the very dullest of fish. Not here though, here there’s an effervescent juiciness, a sort of gentle beauty. The extras on the dish bring colour and flavour. Was that seaweed there? If so it was tangy and complemented the fish superbly. The wasabi inclusion was odd, too aggressive.
We also dived into a selection of nigiri; tuna (£3), cuttlefish (£3), foie gras (£10) and tamago (£2). All good, very entertaining, with the excellent cuttlefish perhaps the winner and the tamago – a sort of egg thingymajig – coming in last.
The foie gras nigiri was an oddity. It must be so far away from traditional Japanese nosh that if served in Tokyo would cause a diplomatic incident. I confess I liked its vulgar opulence, it matched the cutlery.
The fact of the matter is Kitten isn’t a Japanese-owned restaurant, as a simple excursion to Companies House shows. Food morphs as it crosses seas and continents and that's as it should be but the foie gras nigiri will terrify purists.
The whole seabass was a hefty scale and a hefty £32 and while the flesh was cooked just right, the surface layering of “red miso, sake, garlic” was not pleasant being sweetish and cloying. This crust didn’t bring out the flavours in the fish, it hospitalised them. Usually, with fish, less is more.
What helped was a magnificent side of heritage tomatoes (£7) which was so good it felt that single-handedly it was extending one’s life expectancy.
A dessert of Summer Smash (£9), all sorbets and mousse, lacked flavour despite the riot of colour. The nashi pear tart (£8) was a darling with a particularly lovely sponge. Recommended. A Vallemayor Reserva at £40 was our choice for booze although given the emphasis on cocktails perhaps we should have chosen one from the extensive list at Kitten.
The meal was delivered by staff who smiled and answered questions. Staff seem motivated, well-chosen and well-trained. Kitten is a slick operation. It also has the tallest toilet doors in Manchester which I’m not sure is a promotional point but is surprising. The doors have six large hinges each. The doors are so high I couldn’t capture them on a picture, although I did capture some startled looks from other customers as I attempted to do so.
The bill is based on the toilet doors, very steep and very long.
Kitten describes itself as a “Japanese Isakaya” which the internet informs me is made up of three words meaning “stay-drink-place” or a “type of informal Japanese bar that serves alcoholic drinks and snacks”.
That is not this place, that’s as misleading as just about every oxymoron-ignoring restaurant in Manchester that dubs itself a “street food restaurant”.
No, here at Kitten, the emphasis is on the food and the ambience is not casual but much more of a dress-up, see-and-be-seen place. Indeed the MEN would definitely place it high up in the “glitzy” category. Its target audience is clearly the younger end of the market with a bit of money and maybe a couple of holidays in Dubai under their belt. If that's you then give it a try.
Kitten, 9 Deansgate Square, Manchester M15 4YB
Follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter @Jonathschofield
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: 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: nigiri tuna 8, nigiri cuttlefish 7, nigiri tamago 6, nigiri foie gras 7, sashimi scallop 8, sashimi salmon 8.5, heritage tomatoes 9, seabass 7, pear tart 8, summer smash 6.5
Slick with smiles
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