What do you want to do when you grow up? What is your goal in life? Forgive me for sounding like a curious crusty counsellor from your secondary school questioning your life’s ambitions. One of my life goals is to dine at my lovingly curated hit list of ‘Must Visit’ restaurants. (Eleven Madison Park, Per Se, Noma, The Ledbury all feature on this list.) In my Top Ten is Manchester House, which I had the privilege to dine at last week.
Spinningfields has reinvented itself from boutique fashion precinct to foodie haven and it is here, in Avenue North, where Manchester House is located. Headed up by Chef Aiden Byrne in conjunction with Living Ventures, the restaurant continues to win accolades including AA Rosette Awards for Culinary Excellence and National Restaurant Awards since it opened in 2013.
It felt like any other normal day. We entered the nondescript office block, checked in, and within minutes, the lift had whooshed us up to the hallowed space of Manchester House. It’s understated cool with a hint of gentility which makes you take your seat with respect.
There are various lunch menus available, including 2, 3 and 10 course tasting menu, cheese trolley and wine flight. After being seated by Sam, we ordered a couple of cocktails. I had the Pornstar Martini, which is one of the best I have ever tasted. Smooth undertones of ketel one were pitched perfectly with passoã, and pineapple juice, whilst the caramelised passion fruit was inventive and pretty to gawk at.
I always thought Shakespeare’s Romeo was a fickle idiot. He professes undying love for Rosaline, before falling head over heels for Juliet. For the first time in my life, I appreciate Romeo’s predicament. After each course, I told my myself “That was the best dish I have ever tasted” only for me to pledge my undying love to the new course on the table. The first three tasters came on one big wooden serving platter. Hat-tip to the waiters who have to carry said planks numerous times and squeeze in a mini gym workout during service. For the interest of brevity, here is a list of the tasting menu.
01 Nori rice cracker, sweet peas, lemon and goats curd. The humble rice cracker, puffy and light, was elevated to another level with the addition of salty seaweed. Two separate sets of curd at differing ends of the spectrum (sweet and sour) was delicious. The tang of the goats curd married well with the sticky sweetness of the lemon curd, which eaten with the fragrant peas was divine.
02 Langoustine, turbot tartare, capers, broad beans. The succulent langoustine and turbot tartare combination was heavenly. Capers had a refreshing Tom Thumb kick of pungent piquancy, whilst broad beans were a moreish creamy canvas.
03 Crisp chicken skin, foie gras mousse, aged Parmesan. Crisp chicken skin seems to be ubiquitous and the ingredient du jour. I’m seeing it on a lot of menus, including on the BBC’s Great British Menu. Here, the skin was a gorgeous backdrop on which silky mousse and friable, beautifully chalky cheese were balanced.
04 Cured halibut, Carabineros prawn, charentais melon, Keta caviar. A visually pleasing dish which delivered an authentic taste of the sea. Luscious halibut was melt in your mouth, and caviar provided bursts of intense flavour. Mini melon discs tempered the fish hit, which I found to be balanced perfectly. I refrained from tipping juices from the prawn head, just because I thought the fish flavour was just right. (Note: only severe prawn lovers should taste the prawn head juices. My dining partner tried it and thought it was good and extremely fishy.)
05 Roasted smoked foie gras, braised chicken and haricot beans. Chicken was juicy on the bite, haricot beans earthy and beautiful, which paired with the mellow foie gras, made for a genius dish. I could have eaten this all day and kidnapped the chef to have a never-ending supply of this stunning dish at home.
06 Glazed monkfish, grilled peaches, Muscat grapes, tomato and basil. Meaty monkfish with slightly caramelised peaches was wondrous. The sweetness of the tomatoes and perfume from the peaches and basil were great partners to the monkfish. I found it best to eat this dish with eyes closed, as I could smell the Muscat grapes more.
07 Goosnargh duck breast, pickled walnuts, blackberries, beetroot. Gin infused duck was always going to be an interesting combination. I loved the gin hit on the swallow, of the perfectly cooked duck. Pickled walnuts brought vigour to the dish, whilst beetroot a mellow earthiness that made this dish complete.
08 Blondies, caramelised white chocolate, blueberry, yoghurt, lemon verbena. Milk foam was a joy to crunch through, and blondies stunning when swiped through the creamy, dreamy white chocolate. Tart blueberries added a pop of colour and sharp zing, to make this dish one of my favourites.
09 Pumpkin, praline and chocolate. Sweet, smooth pumpkin purée was the stunning ganache base to the quenelle of ice-cream. The generous sprinkling of caramelised praline was beautiful and a simple addition to make this dessert a hit at our table.
10 Macarons, madeleines. Lime macarons with perfect feet were a pleasure to behold, whilst vanilla madeleines were delectably spongy. Served with hand-made chocolate, this course is a must for sweet-toothed fiends.
11 Manchester Tart ice-cream. I know it’s a 10 course menu, but as I expressed curiosity about this, the lovely Sam said he’d let us have a taste. Serving this dish was pure theatre; check out the video here on Instagram. Liquid was poured over dry ice imbued with banana essence, to give this dish a hint of banana flavour. The ice-cream itself was magnificent, whilst freeze dried raspberry cells provided that gorgeous chilled zing. If you ever see this on the menu, I beg you, get it and marvel.
It may just have been me, but by the end of the meal, Sam had taken on a cherub-like quality. He presented delicious food with the grace of a ballerino, provided exceptional service and was never too far away. If heaven exists, then Manchester House will most certainly be up there, nestled behind pearly white gates serving delectable Pornstar Martinis.
Dining at Manchester House has been an educational experience. I learnt Chef Aiden Byrne has a very talented team who cook outstanding food. I learnt I have a soft spot for cured fish. I learnt that dining at Manchester House needn’t be an expensive affair. The set lunch menus are excellent value for money. The two and three course menus are priced at just £22.50 and £27.50 respectively, meaning you can enjoy a stunning lunch without feeling guilty.
Manchester House has been an AA Rosette Award winner for two consecutive years and I expect this to be a pattern not to be broken for the foreseeable future. As for Michelin stars… it’s an utter travesty that Manchester House hasn’t been awarded one. This is an open call to Michelin judges; I dare you to visit Manchester House. I defy you not to fall in love with the food and let the sublime cured halibut and Manchester Tart ice-cream do the talking. For dishes that are a joy to look at, and which fill you with sheer delight, go, nay run to Manchester House now.
Star Rating 1-10 (1: “I’d rather eat my own shoe, I hated it that much” – 10: “I’d pillage for a meal here”.)
Value for money: 10
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Address: Manchester House, 18-22 Bridge Street, Spinningfields, Manchester M3 3BZ
Tel: 0161 835 2557