A return to old school charm and traditional British techniques for the Midland hotel's restaurant
It was the week before Mother’s Day in March and our diaries were as packed with spring bunnies as a magician's hat. On the list was to visit the newly revamped restaurant at The Midland, formerly known as Mr Cooper’s House and Garden and rebranded as Mount Street Dining Room & Bar. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.
We try and source as much produce as we can from Manchester and the North West. Our cheeseboards are all local cheeses. We’ve got our own in-house butcher
Flash forward to the last week in August - over five months later - and we finally made that visit as the restaurant was gearing up for its grand reopening.
Head chef Brian Spark tells us they had been booked up with ‘about 500 afternoon teas’ for the Mother’s Day weekend. By the time it got to Thursday, they’d had ‘about two table bookings left.’ Mount Street was due to open the following Tuesday and of course we all know the rest of the story.
So we're pleased to report that the restaurant will finally reopen today, 1st September, albeit with a little less of a party than planned. For the next month, the restaurant will be serving dinner and then, in October, it will open for lunch as well.
Mr Cooper’s opened in 2013 under the tutelage of one Simon Rogan. It was a bright and relaxed botanically-styled affair with a huge tree growing in the centre in stark contrast to the grandiose hotel’s pink granite and terracotta façade. Adapting its style slightly over the years, it never really seemed to find its mojo. A revamp was overdue, if we’re honest.
Aberdeenshire-born Spark spent 13 years in London working at fancy establishments - like The Lanesborough at Hyde Park Corner - before coming to Manchester via Crewe five years ago. He talks us through the new menu which he tells us is designed to complement the new (or should we say old) decor. The revived restaurant decor evokes that old-fashioned glamour of the mid-1900s with its dark wood panelling complementing those huge grand windows.
“It’s real tradition with a modern tweak. We’ve got a smoker for fish and chicken for our terrines. We’re cooking over coals and barbecues, preserving and pickling. Those traditional ways of cooking and preserving and so on. We’ve got things like whole lemon sole cooked on the bone for flavour and moisture and taken off the bone in the kitchen. There’s smoked salmon with fennel compote, fennel flowers and horseradish granita. We cure the salmon and then we cold smoke it.
"There’s a pie section with hand raised pies, little pithiviers and beef Wellington to share. We were going to do the Wellingtons carved at the table but because of social distancing you just can’t do that now. It’s hindered us a little bit but we’ve just had to adapt. We’re going to put a pork pie on, baked fresh every day with a hot water crust. Again, we were going to carve that table side and with all the pickles and everything but we’ve had to evolve the menu a little bit in terms of social distancing.
"Things like sharing platters you’ve got to be very careful with and of course, things have moved out of season. We’ve missed a great growing season for wonderful spring vegetables but the menu has evolved into autumn and it will continue to evolve with the seasons.
"We try and source as much produce as we can from Manchester and the North West. Our cheeseboards are all local cheeses. We’ve got our own in-house butcher, which a lot of places don’t have. We buy the whole carcasses in and he butchers them all down. All the prime bits of the carcass come up here; the fillet steaks, ribeyes, sirloins and any trims we can use when banqueting comes back, it’s so important to use every bit of the animal and cut down wastage.
“It’s why we do what we do. We’re chefs. It’s great for us to have juniors in the kitchen that can learn the proper way of doing it. Spend the day with the butcher or learn how to pickle vegetables properly and get the right amount of sugar and salt.”
When some other high-end restaurants are palming off centrally cooked and vacuum packed meals on unsuspecting diners for an eye-watering price, it's fantastic to hear of the in-house skills on show here at Mount Street Dining Room & Bar. They're doing it right.
Of course, the gorgeous bar area is also open to the public to visit for drinks. There will be table service in the bar but booking is not necessary. The staff are vigilant about track and trace and the bar area is more than spacious enough for smooth social distancing. Staff wearing masks and visors don't miss a beat, providing the elegant and refined service the hotel is known for.
Hotel bars here in Manchester don’t tend to enjoy the same local custom as those in places like New York or Paris. Of course, many hotel bars are unremarkable exercises in box ticking, not so the Midland’s. Managing to have both grandeur and intimacy, the bar is perfect for a quiet evening drink - perhaps a local brew from the likes of Seven Bro7hers.
A separate entrance for the bar and restaurant on Mount Street means you don’t need to go through the hotel. A feature clock above that entrance and vintage railway posters celebrate the hotel’s history - it was of course built by the Midland Railway to serve what was once our main railway station at Manchester Central.
Venue director Emily Norvaisaite tells us how excited the staff were at the simple act of unveiling the new signage with flower wall outside. The plan had been to hand out pies and steaks on the street as part of a launch event but that had to be shelved and celebrations pared down. She hopes they might be able to toast the opening properly nearer to Christmas time but assures us they are confident, raring to go and excited to welcome their first guests this week.
Mount Street Dining Room & Bar, The Midland Hotel, Peter Street, Manchester M60 2DS