Jonathan Schofleld finds food not living up to the service or the surroundings
A restaurant meal should be judged three ways: service, ambience and food. This is the way Confidentials.com score reviews. If you have excellent food yet the service is boorish and the ambience dead, collectively you’ve got a poor experience; get a couple of those virtues right and the experience can still be rewarding.
This was the case at the Stock Market Grill (SMG) on our review visit. The service was fabulous, the mood in the spectacular dining room good but the food was struggling to catch up. I could almost hear Meatloaf singing 'two out of three, ain't bad'.
What the menus and food cry out for is some lightness of touch, some playfulness, a bit of joy
The month-old reincarnation of the restaurant in the Stock Exchange Hotel comes from the much-admired and much-praised Schofield brothers. The cocktail maestros, Joe and Daniel, with that glorious surname, run two of the best moody, magical, lowdown speakeasy-style bars in the North with the eponymous Schofields Bar in Sunlight House across town and, here, at the Stock Exchange Hotel, with Sterling.
The Schofields aren’t taking baby steps from champion mixologists into restaurateuring. They've made the brave leap of taking over a well-known, very large and very prestigious dining room. The name over the door prior to SMG was Tom Kerridge, with his Bull and Bear Restaurant. That's some boots to fill.
The Confidentials.com’s review started with a drink in the Schofields' Sterling bar. My vodka martini was balanced, nuanced and correct in every way, Mark Garner's Lucky Dip, a rum concoction, was just as good. Early on a weekend evening the candlelit basement space was carrying a current of Saturday night electricity. As a prelude to a meal upstairs the excursion into the depths under SMG is recommended.
Upstairs there was a warm welcome from front of house. A booth in the restaurant was acquired. All good. Then the food started arriving.
The six oysters with Champagne Mignonette (£18) were poorly shucked and awash with water. Messy. Better was the pork pie (£6) with a good peppery flavour and full of sturdy virtue and a proper pastry and jelly. The whipped English mustard that sat next to the pie would have been better rugged rather than smoothed.
The pork pie was as good as it got until the puds.
My steak tartare with beef fat yolk (£16) had a very good fennel cracker accompanying it. That was the best part of the dish. The main event was vinegary and cloying, simply unpleasant without an ounce of refinement or elegance which is surely the essence of any tartare.
The cured sea trout (£14) looked a picture but should have been several millimetres thicker and came with horseradish and pickled fennel that beat the flavour of the poor fish into submission.
The pork chop main with a caramel apple sauce (£28) was ok, or at least the meat was, but it was way too dry. The caramel apple sauce didn't have enough apple either, a plain apple sauce with a very plain chop would have been better.
Something mystical must have happened at this point as I don't seem to have a picture of the duck breast with peppercorn and and glazed turnips (£21). Perhaps just as well. Mark Garner described it thus: 'the turnips were exceptional, the peppercorn sauce unexceptional and the duck reprehensible with tough, flavourless, flaccid skin'. It was another dark dish with lowly presentation.
There is little point talking about the wild mushroom tart with Jerusalem artichoke mousse and parsley (£21) as it was again tastefree. This was a mush with a very artificial looking mousse.
The sides we shared were largely poor. The 'pressed' chips in dripping (£5) were fine, the creamed leeks dry, uncreamy and chewy, the 'Ogleshield (cheese) & Mangalitsa bacon hotpot' (£7) was overcooked, claggy and again, unpleasant.
Incidentially I had popped in on the Sunday before to test drive the roast and...you guessed it. Overcooked and unattractive to look at. Although the sponge had been superb. The desserts go so some way to rescuing things at SMG.
The profiteroles (£11) were the opposite of so much of the rest of the food. They were light and playful, juicy, creamy, chocolatey. They were grand. The blood orange tart (£10) might have looked uninspiring but Mark Garner loved it again for its lightness, excellent pastry and luxury. It was the fact it lived up to its name, blood orange tart, that was welcome.
Then it all went wrong again with the cheese (£15). The individual cheeses were fine, room temperature which was good, but the presentation was bewildering. This is a restaurant with aspirations so what about colour, verve, at the very least what about some grapes? It's a commonplace, but everybody knows we eat with our eyes as much as the other senses.
The dining room at SMG is an extravagant domed structure from 1907 built for the Northern Stock Exchange. It was designed by Bradshaw & Gass. They liked doing exchanges, the Royal Exchange round the corner was remodelled a decade or so later by the same architects under the slightly different name of Bradshaw, Gass & Hope, a company which remains in business. Back in 1907 they designed mills too. They were a solid, sober practice. All the curlicues and details on their fancy buildings such as the Northern Stock Exchange are stolid and never subtle, more formulaic than finessed.
The food at SMG follows suit.
This is bullish food but sometimes hard to bear – if you forgive the pun. What the menus and food cry out for is lightness of touch, playfulness, a bit of joy both in the presentation and the execution. On every table are fresh flowers, the food could do with a bit of that delicacy, meanwhile scattered across the huge room are ostentatious floral constructions, the food could do with a little of that pzazz.
The front of house asked us about our experience. We were polite but stated what has been said in this review. Understandably staff were disappointed and they gave us a discount. That was appreciated but shouldn't have to happen and wasn't sought.
It’s not pleasant to write this way especially about operators Confidentials.com admire, such as the Schofields, but given the superb service and the grandeur of the surroundings the food is a let down. If the restaurant grub is to improve the menu needs lightening up, probably re-writing, while the kitchen needs to concentrate on the basics then free itself up, have some fun and communicate that to customers. Yes the Stock Market Grill is a 'grill' but there's no need for this level of heaviness especially at these prices.
The Stock Market Grill, The Stock Exchange Hotel, 4 Norfolk Street, Manchester. M2 1DW.
You can follow Jonathan Schofield @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.
Pork pie 6, oysters 6, trout 4, steak tartare 4, duck breast 4, wild mushroom tart 4, pork chop 5, chips 6, leeks 4, hotpot 3.5, profiteroles 6.5, blood orange tart 8.75, cheeses 6