IT looked like there'd been a massacre in an abattoir. The port jus was a bloodbath on the plate, the rest resembled smashed viscera and churned flesh. This was seemingly surmounted by a bale of hide prepared for dispatch by some hideous reaper.
This is a surprise because the chefs are decent and cook from fresh in front of the diners. I know this because I stared at them as they prepared my lunch - with three people in there was very little people watching to be had.
As vegetarian dishes go it was an eye-opener. I didn't know whether to eat it or call the police. Then again I was in the Royal Exchange Theatre's restaurant: The Round. I suppose drama is to be expected, but this dish appeared to be hamming it up like a Victorian music hall villain.
Not that the prune and walnut loaf (main picture) wasn't without virtue. The construction was sturdy and the balance good, especially if like me you're a sucker for walnuts. The pureed celeriac was a dream accompaniment, a caress for the walnut and prune. The jus was too much bloodbath but by Christ I was full beyond the need for a pudding after this monster main.
A black pudding and poached egg starter wasn't bad either, although the power of the pudding was diminished by its dismemberment. An egg on a full round slice would have worked better.
Not bad but kill the rocket
The chopped tomato and onion added interest to the dish but please save me from the astringent remorseless attack of rocket leaves - the fallback solution for greens in chapter one of Cheffing Made Easy. I'm sure fields of rocket swaying gently in a summer's breeze is a lovely sight but the appeal fades when there's a blanket of green choking the life from starter dishes. Save me from too much cress for that matter too.
Odd place all round The Round. For one thing, it's rectangular. The name refers to the theatre in the main hall of the Royal Exchange which is of course 'in the round'.
Royal Exchange theatre and domes from the entrance of The Round
During this lunchtime visit there were two other tables occupied by three people. Yet, the view into St Ann's Square is splendid, the space pleasant enough and the menu isn't without interest. I suppose the place packs them in pre-show, but it seems like a waste of a good space. It closes 7.30pm or 8pm when shows start, which also seems a waste.
The view of St Ann's Square from the Royal Exchange
Then the bill comes and you learn the operator is Baxter Storey, the blandest of bland international caterers. This is a surprise because the chefs here are decent and cook from fresh in front of the diners. I know this because I stared at them as they prepared my lunch - with three people in there was very other little people watching to be had.
This is what I'd do with The Round.
I'd spend money to sound insulate the wall that faces the theatre and open the restaurant up during performances using the separate access from the main stairs on Exchange Street/St Ann's Square. These were clearly intended for the purpose of getting people in without disturbing shows.
Inside The Round
I'd also get rid of Baxter Storey and give the chef's team freedom to go their own way. Any group of people who can deliver that crazy veggie slaughterhouse dish should be encouraged.
There's an interesting comparison here.
Later this week I'll be sampling the Whitworth Art Gallery's new menu. That institution has gone with a local chef and his company, Peter Booth and the Modern Caterer. Just about all the other museums, art galleries, theatres and so on in Manchester go with big national caterers and almost all their food is dreary at best.
I'm looking forward to finding out whether the Whitworth's policy is sounder. After all, given DevoManc, surely local responsibility is all the rage right now.
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commerical relationship.
Food: 7/10 (black pudding and egg 6.5, mad prune and walnut log 7.5)
Jonathan recommends: mad nut logs
Give it a miss: caterer food dreary