Davey Brett went in looking pale and sickly but did he leave revived?
It’s just gone 8pm and I’m about to inject a mixture of honeydew melon, beetroot, aloe vera, cayenne pepper and milk thistle into my face. How’s your Monday night going?
I’m not a class A veg user. I’m out for dinner at The Green Lab at Deansgate Square. I’ve had a rough two weeks and I want to eat healthy. The mixture is a Drop The Beet wellness shot (£2.50) and it comes served in a syringe over ice. It’s going to lower my blood pressure and improve blood flow, according to the menu.
The thing with build it and they will come though, is what if they don’t?
Cult Welsh footballer Hal Robson-Kanu swears by these sorts of shots, don't you know? He says they saved his career. Me and my dining partner, unable to bring ourselves to squirt them directly into our mouths, politely press them into ice-filled glasses and down them in one. Hers, I’ve Got The Power (apples, lemon, turmeric, Himalayan pink salt and ginger, £2.50) tastes like “acid curry”.
Looking this good hurts, babes. Welcome to the club.
You might already know The Green Lab. There’s one in the Northern Quarter and it deals in clean eating and wellness. You know the deal. Smoothies, foodstuffs named after protein (strawberry and vanilla pronut anyone?), colourful salads and vitamin shots in syringes. Healthy food for healthy-looking people, but make it fast fashion.
This second outpost, which opens later and serves dinner seven days a week as well as brunch, sits in a large unit underneath the residential towers of Deansgate Square. Full disclosure: I want to live here. Renaker, Legal & General, call me. I want to exist among the influencers, drink my morning coffee a few seats away from culturally-marooned footballers and live a luxury hotel life of premium facilities. I want the full J.G Ballard does Love Island experience.
You sense there’s an element of "build it and they will come" to the units beneath Deansgate Square. Salvi’s, Kitten and The Green Lab make up the current food offering whilst General Store (and its insane nightly reduced section), Flourish and Atomeca bring groceries, flowers and drinks respectively. After tonight’s meal I will have one of the best Aperol Spritzes I have ever had from Atomeca. The secret ingredient being passionfruit.
The thing with "build it and they will come" though, is what if they don’t? Granted, tonight is a scorchio Monday night in summer, the pavements are fizzing with flying ants and people are (trying) to go on their holidays. But you can’t help but notice - aside from hegemonic sushi palace Kitten - that the restaurants rarely look busy. The place doesn’t buzz like Kampus for example. Meanwhile, on the other side of the towers, Deliveroo drivers flock to deliver breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Are residents going to sustain these places like genuine neighbourhood restaurants long-term? Are non-residents going to venture this way for food? We'll have to see, won't we?
Inside, The Green Lab is industrial chic meets upmarket dining. There’s a fridge full of smoothies and an open kitchen-style counter but also charming table spreads and a cocktail and wine menu.
The staff member looking after us reveals the main menu which runs from noon, has undergone changes of late. The arrival of Kitten nearby has made The Green Lab reassess its sushi offering. It’s still on there but reduced. Sharing plates, small plates, large plates, sides and salads complete the evening’s offering. We’re encouraged to get two or three dishes each.
The menu is mostly Asian-inspired and I assume, healthy. Pasta of the day today is chicken and tomato and other large plates include Thai green curries and chicken skewers. Our server tells us that everything is dairy-free and refined sugar is also kept to a minimum. As well as our wellness shots, we order a cocktail each.
The drinks, a grape and yuzu cobbler (£11) and chai spiced sour (£9.50), are aesthetically pleasing but don’t blow us away. It’s also worth noting that no cocktail on nearby Atomeca’s main menu costs more than nine quid. Make of that what you will.
Our food arrives bit by bit in true small plates fashion. The black pepper and turmeric bao (£7) and lettuce wraps (£10) first. The bao, unlike standard steamed ones, have a cookie-dough-like texture stained with turmeric. Inside mashed patties of panko-crumbed aubergine have a welcome crunch with the pickled red cabbage and zingy lemon mayo spiking each mouthful with a citrus-flecked creaminess. Commendably vegan also.
The lettuce sharing cups are deconstructed Dairylea Lunchables for rabbits. A DIY choose your own adventure of freshness and crispy oyster mushroom. Their flavoursome, earthiness meets the sweetness of the hoisin-style dip. Crispy shallots are always welcome. The only thing that kills it is the lettuce is a bit sad and limp. Of course, leaves serving as a wrap need a bit of give, but these needed their own wellness shot.
If you’re wondering whether the food at The Green Lab is seasonal, I would say: yes. As the cod and lamb chops arrive, it would appear we’re in cutting season. Considering their respective price points, miso black cod with ginger soubise, crispy quinoa and pickled ginger (£24) and Korean glazed lamb chops with carrot puree, pomegranate and sesame (£18) seem a bit, well, small, for supposedly large plates. What about my bulking season boys?
There are certainly flavours and there’s an effort to make it look the part. The Korean glazed lamb chops are covered in a sweet, sticky sauce with an underlying soy saltiness. The carrot puree and pomegranate on top work well too, bringing vibrant earthy root veg and little pops of concentrated bitterness. But, there’s barely a bite on each chop.
The cod is a similar story. Cooked to silky flakiness, there’s not so much flavour in the fish itself but that punchy soubise combined with shreds of ginger bring a freshness that elevates the fish.
We dip into a bowl of new potatoes (£4) alongside cod and lamb and they’re a real highlight. Green harissa yoghurt with lemon brings a creamy aioli familiarity but the ginger offers an enjoyable curveball. They also feel filling and we’re yearning to be filled at this point. Four dishes each would’ve been more filling, in hindsight.
Now, this is where in the best interests of transparency, I need to come clean. Reader, I don’t lift - unless you count balancing my unfortunately large head on its lollipop stick body - and I’m not that conscious about what I put into that body. Most importantly, I don’t have enough disposable income to warrant spending it on food that doesn’t contain indulgent amounts of unhealthy ingredients.
The Green Lab was never going to rise to the heights of my favourite small plates restaurants. It’s at a buttery disadvantage. But for it to briefly cross my mind that it could be comparable is a credit to itself. Well worth considering if you’ve got abs and money. But also if you’re skinny lad who just fancies a bit of clean eating from time to time.
The Green Lab, East Tower, 7 Owen St., Deansgate, Manchester M15 4YB
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidentials and completely independent of any commercial relationship. They are a first-person account of one visit by one, knowledgeable restaurant reviewer and don't represent the company as a whole.
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.
Bao 6.5, lettuce cups 6, cod 6.5, lamb chops 6.5, potatoes 7
Informative, friendly, glowing
Comfortable at the table but lacking buzz