THERE are certain Manchester restaurants which are always on the list of desirable places to visit.
Here the soft fish flesh with its mild flavour was lifted in a similar manner by the lardo as the pate had been by the plum chutney. Only this time the effect was amplified, it made the dish an intense rush of flavours.
Room is one such place, if only for the spectacular two storey hall that forms the dining space.
This was always the main dining room even when the building was completed as the former Reform Club in 1871. The details (including the coat of arms of Liverpool - this was a Liberal Party gents' club for all of Lancashire) are excellent with the wooden ceiling the star. The architect was Edward Salomans and he did a fine job.
As for the food, a recent visit showed I'd been away too long. The newish chef here, James Wallis, is both highly competent and highly confident.
We went for a two course lunch for £14 and a three course lunch for £17.50. Both come with a glass of Sollazzo red or white wine.
We chose starters of gazpacho and potted chicken liver pate.
The gazpacho came with a lovely piece of cucumber jelly. This should be an oxymoron. To combine two of the blandest food items in the world should fail, instead the jelly mingled well with the very good gazpacho. The latter had the right heat and needed no extra seasoning.
The chicken liver pate was as rugged as a rugby player's ear and as coarse as a footy player's banter. It should be of course, you don't want a smooth paste with chicken liver pate.
It came with plum chutney and toasted brioche. The coarse but flavour heavy chicken slammed on a fork with the chutney was gold medal material. The sweet/sour astringency of the chutney lifting the flightless bird high into the stratosphere. The only thing lacking was another triangle of brioche.
My main was a little gem of fishiness. Baked coley with roast parsnip, cockles, fondant spuds, and beurre rouge. These were good, but the key was the lardo.
Stroke of genius this. Lardo is the fat from the back of a pig. It's Italian in origin, and the fat - subcutaneous fat, if you really want to know - is cured with herbs. Here the soft fish flesh with its mild flavour was lifted in a similar manner by the lardo as the pate had been by the plum chutney. Only this time the effect was amplified, it made the dish an intense rush of flavours. Well done Wallis for that one.
Apparently the steak sandwich with horseradish, pickles and so on was good as well, but I was too lost in living the life of lardo so I didn't try more than a corner. The fat no-nonsense chips were winners.
A pudding of lemon vanilla panna cotta with peanut and popping candy didn't do it for me. The panna cotta was fine but that popping candy space dust was too much of a kid's sweetshop sensation and flavour. It tainted everything else. The whole back to the future thing with puddings and childhood references is becoming a bit tiresome. I should have gone for the cheeseboard.
Still a stylistic difference over the dessert couldn't cloud a really excellent lunch at a tremendous price. It was served quickly and with panache too.
Sadly there were only seven other tables occupied. This was a Friday lunchtime. Seven? Ok this is August, the quietest of Manchester months, but still...
Room, in terms of good looks, in terms of food and atmosphere, in terms of comfort, was a joy. I can't think of a better lunchtime venue. People with an hour to spare should try it. The chef, James Wallis, seems on top form.
You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield
ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL AND PAID FOR BY THE MAGAZINE.
Room, 81 King Street, City, M2 4AH. 0161 839 2005
PLEASE NOTE: Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20, we get carried away.