Gordo tries the new Asian offering from his near-namesake
I’m not sure why celebrity chefs from London do it. They come out of a capital city with its huge transient population, trailing PRs and social media teams fine tuned to working in that environment, and arrive in second cities convinced the population there is going to fall on their knees in adulation.
This resembles the fabled Kray twins visit to take over our city’s protection racket in the sixties. Their lieutenants were sent straight back to London unconscious in the Pullman’s Royal Mail carriage. It's the same with the chefs who have all to a man gone back with their tails between their legs.
Now Gordo Ramsey has arrived with his Lucky Cat brand: to be fair, this feller has done the hard yards down the years and can have a fight.
Think Tim Bacon’s Australasia, in a clubby atmosphere
The menu is familiar to Mancs, we’re well-served by small, family run Asian and Pacific Rim restaurants, starting well over fifty years ago with Harry Yeung’s now defunct Yang Sing, the first truly authentic Hong Kong style restaurant in the UK. Those dim sum trolleys in the afternoon, fought over by English bankers and Chinese Triads alike. Blimey, they were good.
My answer to a pal who was asking me about Lucky Cat was “think Tim Bacon’s Australasia, in a clubby atmosphere”. Ramsay has put together an offering that will please everyone, with dishes designed for sharing. I was sat down at the sushi counter, the team behind doing the Maki rolls at an industrial pace. I chose from the à la carte. There’s a good value lunch menu, by the way, at £35.
Salt and pepper baby squid (£9.50) was a chunky, good-looking portion. Not an adventurous choice from the snacks menu, but well-seasoned crunchy little fire crackers. I always feel a bit guilty eating these little fellers, but usually get over it. I’m going to nip in next week on my way home and have a bowl with a beer.
I like the bar. You can pretend you’re in a colonial five-star hotel in 1942 Singapore, trying to get over the reality that the Japanese, having unexpectedly arrived at the jungle’s edge, are about to let you teach them how to build a railway. You might as well get pissed. Which was, apparently, what one of my friend’s granddads did.
Alongside that, from the raw and salad section, the tuna tartare with chilli crunch, egg yolk and ponzu (£19) sits as a patty, on top of those crunchy fine strands you get in a Bombay mix. A lightly cooked egg yolk sits on top, with a ponzu dressing. It looks handsome. The idea is that the whole lot gets mixed in by the server and you end up with a rugby ball-shaped patty with the chilli crisp sticking out like a hedgehog, providing texture and seasoning. I would have made the crisp with a bit more heat. The ponzu lends a sharp tone, ensuring the tuna, whilst silky, isn’t smarmy and has that intriguing slightly beef jerky back tone to it.
Things drop onto the counter top in no order. It’s a relaxing experience, punctuated with my server Tihan’s habit of shouting down my left ear when he was delivering the goods. I think he was concerned that I was asleep.
Ramsay says he’s designed the menu for sharing. In the main he’s right, but if he ever wants a serious problem he can try standing between me and the hand dived scallops, yuzu and sweetcorn (£26). There is no way I’m sharing these with anyone. Lightly seared exteriors leaving a just tepid, naturally sweet interior that only masters of the robata art can achieve. Baby sweetcorn is sliced into four, lightly charred strips draped over whilst the yuzu saucing, sweet and sour mellow grapefruit tones fuss around like a wardrobe mistress around a prima ballerina about to go on stage.
Finished with tiny ‘salty fingers’ this dish is as exquisite as Osipova’s dying swan. It is remarkable dish fluttering under a perfect 10.
The spiced lamb cutlets, chili sauce and tofu cream (£28) are a missed opportunity; they start off as a superb quality double rib cutlet from the best end, marinated in a gentle spice-sweet reduction and cooked - I’m not sure if on a grill or in an oven - then sliced down the middle to produce two cutlets and placed on a hibachi grill.
Two challenges here; the prep means that only half the cutlet is exposed to the grill, whilst the hibachi clay pot oven isn’t used to either keep the meat warm by addition of a lump of burning charcoal nor the traditional aromatics added, so a bit boring. The two sauces are needed to add flavour, which shouldn’t be necessary. Mind you I’d like a jar of that chili sauce to take home for Frosty the butcher’s sausages.
Egg fried rice with XO sauce and a slow cooked egg yolk (£9.50) topped with various bits like crispy fried onions was another meant for mixing at the table. Superb. Best rice dish in Manchester? I’ll be debating this for a while to come.
Japanese Citrus Soufflé was a technically perfect piece of work with the precision of a piston slowly emerging from a Rolls Royce engineered engine block. The yuzu and passion fruit together made for wonderful aroma-led dish, but the Sue was a bit too Fflé for me, and along with the creme fraiche ice needs a bit more personality.
I didn’t drink wine so little to report apart from next time I have those scallops it will be with a bottle of Meursault, les narvaux by Vincent Girardin 2019 (£220). The list is comprehensive, if a little on the young side, with some good stuff by the glass.
I have a feeling that this place, unlike most southern robber baron types, is going to last. I like it, the staff are great, with a shout out to the assistant manager Steven Bonnington as well as the excellent Tihons who drew the short straw of having to serve me. I enjoyed it.
Lucky Cat by Gordon Ramsay, 100 King St, Manchester M2 4WU
Twitter and Instagram @GordoManchester
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.
Tuna 7.5, Squid 7.5, Rice 9, Lamb chops 7, Scallops 9.75, Souffleé 7.75