Jonathan Schofield enjoys a sharp new restaurant on a street that’s changing

Is Fress a sign of change on Oldham Street? Bars are one thing but handsome, smart restaurants are another. Maybe, and at last, the ramshackle nature of the north-eastern end of the street is about to neaten itself. Maybe. Northern Quarter watchers are wary to predict too much, the development of Oldham Street has been contrary, slow and sporadic at best.

Fress is good. The tiled interior is as sharp as a pin, the bar has impressive shine and the seats are comfortable. The menu is tidy too with enough to whet the appetite, although to encourage repeat visits two or three more choices on a specials board might be something to work towards. 

The hero of the starters, labeled a bar snack, was grilled octopus (£5) cooked to perfection and given delightful heat from a Roquito sauce. Make sure to get this if you visit, it won’t disappoint. A grilled halloumi (£7) dish was the disappointment of the meal, with honey and chilli grilled in hard and a dull baba ganoush (a sort of aubergine mash) lacking the correct smokiness. There was a heap of rocket as well. There always is. I’ve said this before, but there should be a year’s moratorium on the bitter little green so we can imagine a world without it.

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Fress - a sign of change on Oldham Street?
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Make sure to order the grilled octopus

A French onion soup (£7) worked well, with a strong crown of Gruyere. Mains were up to the mark and came in the form of roast chicken (£14) with sugar snap peas, spuds, beetroot and cheddar gratin, and the crispy lamb belly (£14, pictured top) with an anchovy and lemon butter, bacon and cabbage.

The slight winner here was the lamb which had a lovely balsamic glaze and was yielding and rich with flavour. The butter was a treat and there was something reassuringly solid and healthy-feeling about the robust cabbage. 

The roast chicken had a cracking crispy glaze too and the flesh was superb. Underneath, the beetroot soaked in juices from the bird was a big winner. The downside was that the half chicken was so large and the plate/bowl, whatever it was, so configured that I couldn’t get to the spuds and beetroot until I’d eaten half the chicken. I like to enjoy the range of flavours as an ensemble. Fress should change the plate/bowl for this dish so it can be enjoyed in all parts equally.

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The tiled interior is as sharp as a pin
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The half chicken - so large you'll struggle to locate the spuds

A pud of tarte au citron was a cracker at £6. A lovely blend of sweet and bitter with the right consistency and partnered with a refreshing ice cream.

Fress is just fine. An entertaining and urbane establishment that fits the direction the Northern Quarter (we suppose) is going. I liked the Bohemian atmosphere and the fact that at 7.30pm on a Tuesday half the tables were full. I wish it all success and recommend it heartily. Just get that plate/bowl changed and be the first restaurant in the world to announce proudly that they have banned rocket.

2 Oldham St, Manchester, M4 1LE. 0161 236 0856

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The scores:

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)

  • Food 7/10

    Soup 6.5, halloumi 6, octopus 7.5, chicken 7, lamb 7.5, tarte 7.5

  • Ambience 3.5/5

    Comfortable and modern

  • Service 3.5/5

    Cheerful and prompt