Jonathan Schofield doesn't have a terrible time in a Crowne Plaza Hotel

SO this was a surprise.

A new sky-tickling behemoth of bland rising on Booth Street West in Univille turned out to provide well-crafted and interesting food in a restaurant called the Laureate, so named because of Manchester University's 25 Nobel laureates. What’s more surprising is this good food is emanating from a Crowne Plaza Hotel. 

Above the hotel, I mean literally above it and connected to it, is another hotel called Staybridge (I read it originally as ‘Stalybridge’). This is very odd and made me think there was some accountancy wizardry involved in the bizarre symbiosis, maybe involving Russian oligarchs, semi-royalty in Abu Dhabi, and casino owners in Las Vegas - or perhaps just grey people in central London. The way money moves in 2018 is a mystery wrapped up in an enigma as someone once said about something else.

Unfortunately, the Laureate dining room was very quiet, living up to its Crowne Plaza billing

Anyway Crowne Plazas are not known for good food. They are usually sub-Wetherspoons in terms of grub yet charge three times the price. They are also rubbish for people watching unlike Wetherspoons’ pubs. I, for reasons I can’t recall, was in the Piccadilly Wetherspoons after a recent and very enjoyable meal in Viet Shack, and it was such utter chaos it almost immediately became my favourite pub in the world.

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Beetroots, hazelnuts, quinoa and goat’s cheese curd carried heft and flavour
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Langoustine bisque with chilli and coriander: rich yet refined

Crowne Plaza dining rooms are never chaos. They normally consist of Trevor, dining on his own, who’s had a bad day selling software he no longer understands, several bewildered tourists wondering why nobody eats out in the UK, and me reviewing them once every blue moon.

The Laureate restaurant deserves more people. If visiting the University area it’s worth a dabble, particularly with the mains. The stone bass (£17) and the chicken (£15) were correct all the way through, imparting chunky flavours, good presentation and little flourishes of skill. Best of all the skin on both was just perfect. I loved the crunch and the oily moistness.

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Chicken with mushrooms, tomatoes and liquefied water-cress (I hate bloody cress)
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The stone bass with perfect skin

In some respects neither dish needed anything else, just the simple flesh, but for the record the citrus, avocado, bok-choi and ginger with the fish was entertaining. The mushrooms and the chips with the chicken were grand, especially the chips, but the pulverised, liquefied water-cress was poor (bloody cress, I wrote about it recently here).

The starters of langoustine bisque with chilli and coriander at £6.50 was rich yet refined, while the beetroots, hazelnuts, quinoa and goat’s cheese curd (£7) looked lovely and carried heft and flavour. A sticky toffee pudding needed more toffee and was a bit of fail at £7 despite it looking good. The homemade bread, especially the rye, was a winner and worth the £4.

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A big, echoey room to fill

Unfortunately, the Laureate dining room was very quiet on a Sunday evening. It was living up to its Crowne Plaza billing. The handsome/could-be-anywhere space is all long horizontals and high ceilings. Maybe it’s busy during the week with visiting professors at the nearby university. On my visit there was Trevor, dining on his own, after a bad day selling software he no longer understands, several bewildered tourists wondering why nobody eats out in the UK and me reviewing.

To finish off, I conducted ten minutes exhaustive and extensive research looking up who owns the Crowne Plaza group. It turns out to be the British company InterContinental Hotels, with an upper case C in the middle. The headquarters of this business, with over 800,000 bedrooms and 5,000 hotels worldwide, is in the small Buckinghamshire town/village of Denham, which, if the pictures are anything to go by, could be the setting for one of those Midsomer Murders episodes on TV that take place in idyllic southern English villages. 

Happily, it turns out that Denham is exactly one of those idyllic southern English villages in which Midsomer Murders is filmed. Denham is also where Trevor lives.

The Laureate, Crowne Plaza Hotel, 55 Booth Street West, Manchester M15 9 PQ. Tel: 0161 359 5550

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 6.5/10

    Bisque 6.5, beetroots 6.5, bread 7.5, chicken 7, stone bass 7, pudding 5

  • Ambience 2/5

    a big, echoey room to fill

  • Service 3/5

    Friendly and efficient