Confidential meets and eats with Nathanial Tofan
It is common knowledge that when Manchester House opened in 2013, at a cost of £3 million, its aim was to bring a much coveted Michelin star to the city. No Manchester restaurant had managed it since The French at The Midland Hotel gained one in 1974 - the year the very first UK Michelin Guide was published.
The late Living Ventures boss Tim Bacon appointed head chef Aiden Byrne who, in 1994, at the age of 22, had become the youngest chef to gain a Michelin star during his time at Adlard's in Norwich. In 2002, he would earn another at The Commons Restaurant in Dublin.
Four years after Byrne's appointment and that little red star still remains elusive, however (and much more importantly), the fine-dining restaurant continues to trade well and maintain consistently high standards.
Earlier this month the group announced that Byrne would be moved into a wider consultancy role, advising on menus at restaurants within the Living Ventures including Australasia, Artisan and Grand Pacific, allowing some new talent to emerge.
And they have not had to look too far.
Step forward Nottingham-born Nathanial Tofan, 28, who replaced Byrne as head chef three weeks ago.
Regular diners might recognise the athletic six-foot blond, as Nathan has worked alongside Aiden Byrne in the open kitchens since Manchester House opened, working his way through the ranks as sous and senior sous. Before that, he worked at Australasia. This will be his first head chef position.
“I want to push this restaurant as far as it can go, that’s why I’m here,” he told us on a recent visit. “I’ve always been driven and ambitious. I’ve got so many ideas.”
A trio of complimentary hors d’oeuvres gave us a glimpse into Nathan’s style
Manchester House has consistently been seen as a fine-dining destination and Tofan insists it will remain so, with no plans for any 'sudden or dramatic changes'. However, he is intent on making his own mark, marrying classical flavours and exacting presentation with his 'own interpretation'.
Tofan tells us he has adopted a strong supporting team, though the numbers in the kitchen - which was always one of the busiest (and most expensive) in the city - have been trimmed down a little. However, the chef is keen to stress that almost everything will still be made on-site, from 'stock bases to handmade chocolates'.
And with that The Tof is off and back on the pans.
For quality and value, their lunchtime deal remains one of the best in town - with two courses £22.50 and three courses £27.50 - which is likely why the place was buzzing when we visited on a Tuesday. Of course, you’re more than welcome to push the boat out with ten courses for £70 with a wine flight for £45 plus your pick of the excellent cheese trolley for £15.
A trio of complimentary hors d’oeuvres gave us a glimpse into Nathan’s style; tapioca cracker with pickled nasturtium buds, flowers and leaves; tender duck hearts on a sourdough cracker and a black cone filled with foie gras mousse and a sweet jelly topped with shards of crispy chicken skin.
Nathanial Tofan has injected Manchester House with both new blood and new ideas
Of the starters on the lunchtime menu, it was Texel lamb with sweetbreads and onion puree, with deeply satisfying savoury layers of flavour and texture, which impressed most, followed by a delicate Alaskan crab with tiny cubes of pink fir apple potatoes and cubes of sweet potato.
Our favourite main course of the two was a tranche of meltingly tender suckling pig topped with dehydrated potato, accompanied perfectly with an earthy boudin noir puree and slightly sweet butternut squash.
The cheeseboard here is a thing of beauty with handpicked cheeses from the UK and Europe including truffled camembert, epoisse, Beenleigh blue, Tomme Brulee and three types of goat’s cheese. Crackers too were excellent - there's clearly a talented pastry section at work here.
The pastry chefs shone again with a selection of excellent handmade chocolates: praline with cherry, milk chocolate with lime, chocolate with passion fruit, along with delicate madeleines and the kind of macarons Manchester House are renowned for - including a vivid green one made using the sharply citrusy calamansi.
It's clear Nathanial Tofan has injected Manchester House with both new blood and new ideas. Only time will tell whether he can make enough of a mark to tempt those finicky inspectors back.
In the meantime, Confidential will soon be back for a full scored review...