Manchester House is reborn and rebranded - but is it any good?
Chef Aiden Byrne should be renamed twinkle toes. He’s all over Spinningfields like one of Black Sabbath’s fairies in boots. He’s arrived back at Manchester House, a place which, frankly, confuses yet delights this ageing, bald, fat (yet very good looking) reviewer.
Manchester House went from great to bad, then to good with great promise, and now? Hmm. It was retaken by Byrne just before Xmas, the gaff having been closed by Living Ventures. They were struggling to make money from it, but that was a pity as Chef Nat Tofan - Byrne's former protege - was finding his feet. Aiden, who'd recently left 20 Stories, took it back on in what must be a record three week turnover. It’s now called Restaurant MCR.
Too many chefs think they’re there to be adored
Byrne loses and retakes restaurants like an irritated Knight Templar in 12th century Palestine. He also doesn’t take prisoners, so when the food editor told Gordo to go and do the review, frankly he was a bit nervous, as he couldn’t find his stab vest.
Valiantly Gordo 'personed up' (a new inclusive term Gordo is now using after being reprogrammed by Katie Popplewell), pulled back his shoulders and strode into the restaurant followed by Blake, the editor, who was keeping a couple of sword lengths between them.
This place is still the best looking dining room in Manchester. Coming from the mind of the late, great Living Ventures boss, Tim Bacon, Aiden has stripped it back here and there, removed one of Gordo’s pet hates, ‘The Chef’s Table’, and kept it mainly as is.
It gets top marks for ambience, you feel as though you’re there for an occasion, one for the benefit of you and your fellow diners. You’ve worked hard for the money you’re about to spend. Too many chefs think they’re there to be adored. One such restaurant in Ancoats has most diners facing the open kitchen, so us lucky peeps, to his mind, can all sit, mouths agape, whilst the brigade perform a culinary version of Swan Lake.
The service at Restaurant MCR, delivered by Isabelle (one of a number of standout pros), is at a level close to The Ledbury, A. Wong and The French. This charming, funny and very savvy lady understands. She could dance Odette’s role with ease.
There were two menus available; six courses at £45 a head, twelve courses at £90. The restaurant also offers a standout value three course lunch menu at £32.50, if you wish to try Aiden’s cooking prior to having a full blown taster.
Gordo and Blake went for six, but probably had nine, ordering extra courses (the really good looking ones) with abandon. Gordo isn’t going to go through the lunch dish by dish, his memory isn’t good enough, plus the editor is bullying all writers to keep the word count below 800. (Apparently, you lot don’t read long form articles on t’internet anymore.) But let’s talk about a few stand outs.
Byrne starts delivering from the get-go (let’s not forget that he’s only had weeks to put the menu together), the first two ‘starters’ were crackers: one a sandwich of crispy chicken skin and ultra-freshly picked crab and another, mushrooms with Jerusalem artichokes, the latter having a wonderfully concentrated mushroom stock poured from a small teapot. The crab needs boosting a bit, but the mushrooms were top. Masterful.
Bread and butter was EXCELLENT; sourdough, crispy on the outside, warm and chewy inside, with that chicken butter Aiden is known for. Snails with grilled lettuce, razor clams and rioja reduction didn’t quite get there. That could be down to personal preference, but nothing stood out.
Cured venison, smoked cauliflower (really liked that) and blackcurrants delivered in spades. Gordo likes his berries these days. He'd been mentally scarred by berries until recently, as his elder brother told him, when he was six, that cats weed on them.
Both braised beef cheek and salt-aged duck were top class - the duck better than the beef.
The pastry section is on fire again. If you like chocolate, the chocolate, orange and spiced raisins are for you, whilst, after ten years of fucking about with Manchester tarts, Byrne’s finally got them right. To be fair, Gordo secretly believes that this tart is a fiction of some chef’s mind, messing about in the nineties. Let’s be honest, bananas and coconut in Salford? However, Aiden has made this one his own. You get two, like small cupcakes and they are bloody gorgeous.
We had a bottle of Clos L’Eglise 2008, from Pomerol in Bordeaux, value at £150. That sounds a lot, but from the merchant it’s over £70, which shows a mark-up that isn’t taking the mickey. It's an elegant drink, produced by one of the relatively few ladies in the game, Sylviane Garcin, who is doing a brilliant job at the property. It’s a once a year treat and well worth it.
Given that these guys have only had a few weeks to get the show on the road, this was a great start. There’s a little too much 2012 baby food on show and, to Gordo’s mind (who is still in love with the Ledbury way of surrounding a solid main course with a range of smaller plates), all Aiden needs to do is bring texture into play and consider looking at that ‘main course’.
This is a delightful restaurant and with Byrne now a ‘chef patron’, we believe it will improve. This reviewer is looking forward to another visit later in spring. Aiden knows how to bring a brigade together.
Tower 12, 18-22 Bridge St, Manchester, M3 3BZ - Tel: 0161 835 2557
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All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. 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.
Crab sandwich 8.75, snails 7, mushroom 9.25, bread and butter 9, venison 9.75, beef cheek 9, duck 9.5, chocolate 8.25, tart 10
Charming, funny and very savvy
Still the best looking dining room in Manchester