Decent food let down by bad service, says Ruth Allan
“This is the camembert,” our waitress announces, pointing to a goat’s log on my plate. It’s doesn’t look like the 'local artisan cheese' listed on the menu. Or camembert, for that matter. But not everything at Store Street Exchange Restaurant and Craft Bar is quite as it seems.
Back in September, the self-described ‘foodie theatre’ launched after a major overhaul in Piccadilly’s Hilton Double Tree hotel, and the interior, at least, is an improvement. Neon signs and showers of bulbs jostle with concrete blocks and booths around a glass-clad space that feels relaxed and pulled together. To the side, there’s a cosy private dining room showing the football.
The menu is a meaty, please-all affair. Group executive head chef, Stuart Fox is, for the most part, getting things spot on. In the ‘Craft Bar’ small plates like chicken koftas are served alongside JW Lee’s Manchester IPA battered fish and chips, burgers and salads. However, I’m here to review the restaurant, which has a similar menu with the addition of more hearty stuff like rose veal and melt-in-the-middle chocolate pudding.
Although the menu pushes the rotisserie chicken, whirring along in full view of the dining room, the veal chop (£27.50, sourced from the Queen’s butcher, Aubrey Allen) is easily the best thing on offer. Served medium rare with charcoal notes, it’s creamy, tender and rich: the gelato of the meat world.
Padron peppers are a tad under salted (£4.75), while Bury black pudding fritters are a feast for two at £3.95. A salad of buffalo mozzarella, basil, and heirloom tomatoes (£5.95) is confidently paired with British rapeseed oil.
Always a hard one to pull off, the melt-in-the-middle chocolate pudding has the unctuous texture of brie that’s been out the fridge for a week. Last time I was here, I had the lemon and mascarpone cheesecake (also excellent), while other options include Eton mess and a steamed ginger and parkin pudding (all £6).
It’s not all great. The potato gnocchi with mushrooms (£14.95) is a real nothing dish. No flavour, claggy sauce and the gnocchi looks bought in. Moroccan spiced lamb shoulder with aubergines (£17.50) is both turgid and surprisingly beige. Conversely, the ‘local artisan’ cheese selection misidentified by our waiter (cheddar, stilton, goat’s log, £8.95, sourced in part from Yorkshire’s Shepherds Purse) is rather good.
Things only start to get weird in the drinks department. Middleton brewer, JW Lee’s, runs the beer side of things and there are few other brewers, and certainly no local craft brands in sight - which is odd considering its called Store Street Craft Bar. Surely, it can’t be that hard to include some regional talent? The wine list is on the small side too, with just six of the most obvious bottles per shade.
And then there’s the service.
We come into contact with four staff over the course of the meal; none of whom I believe have ever even been to a restaurant before. The barman takes 25 minutes to make a watery Manhattan (£9.75), handling the cocktail shaker like a nervous dad dressing his baby for the first time. Another guy asks us if we’d like to open the screw-top Malbec ourselves (Esquinas de Argento £28). And then there’s the aforementioned ‘is it camembert or goat's cheese?’ episode.
We end up taking everything into our own hands - finding a table, waving someone down to order, chasing up the wine. I feel like I’ve walked into a play populated by students, pretending to be waiters. Which would be funny, I guess, if it wasn’t potentially damaging.
I know it sounds dramatic but service is a big deal. These are the people who colour your day as you head out to a meeting or explore Manchester’s heritage. Just imagine coming here from any other city in the world. Perhaps Manchester just doesn’t have the staff, you’d think. Or they think they’re above international standards. Either way, you’d be unlikely to recommend the hotel – and possibly Manchester - to anyone again.
Unfortunately, the service at Store Street lets the kitchen down too. So, it’s a yes (with reservations) to the food, a shrug when it comes to booze - and a fail on the staff front.
Store Street Exchange Restaurant and Store Street Craft Bar, One Piccadilly Place, 1 Auburn Street, Manchester M1 3DG. Tel 0161 2421020
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.
(veal 9, Moroccan spiced lamb 6, black pudding 7, padron peppers 6, tomato salad 7, gnocchi 4, cheeseboard 7, chocolate pudding 8)
The interior is an improvement
Not sure they've ever been to a restaurant before