Malmaison Manchester – Birthday Brasserie at Chez Mal
Organising a Saturday night group booking in Manchester was a surprising pain in the derriere. Despite the plethora of culinary hotspots the fine city offered, it became oddly frustrating: El Gato Negro (no bookings), Refuge By Volta (limited tapas menu), The Hawksmoor (hates vegetarians), Mr Cooper’s (no availability), Iberica (brilliant, but went recently), Manchester House (too expensive)…Then, down a dreary Piccadilly, the shimmering mirage of Malmaison Brasserie rose from the horizon and my anxiety washed away in the rain.
On paper, Malmaison Manchester ticked the boxes required for a 30th birthday, with a party of foodies. It appeared suitably ambient, dark and sophisticated, while the menu was diverse, interesting and not extortionate. Chez Mal menu looked pleasingly premium without being too expensive to alienate a large group of ordinary people.
On arrival, Chez Mal Manchester was gently buzzing away. Men in jackets and ladies in denial of Manchester’s Baltic conditions filled the space. My large party didn’t register a flicker of emotion with the staff, and I slouched to the bar without anyone noticing. Some bourbon-based beverages were mixed together with too much sugar and not enough rapport.
We slipped to the large, awkwardly shaped and oddly positioned tables in anonymity and given only the Al La Carte and Wine List in silence – The Chez Mal Set Menu was mysteriously withheld. Some well-chilled dry white wine arrived in a laboured manner, sluggishly followed by fresh bread, served with the panache of a prison officer issuing their least favourite death row inmate’s last meal.
To start, the tuna tartare was elegantly presented with sophisticated, vibrant flavour combinations – if only there was more of it. The duck ragu soup could have passed for a school canteen’s Sponge Pudding; fortunately, it was delicious. Despite its suspiciously beige, lumpy demeanour, the depth of flavour and balance of seasoning was superb. One guest was allergic to prawns, and so asked for the tempura calamari and prawns to be adapted – this was ingeniously accommodated by serving half the starter at the full price. The smell of the spatchcock quail made my pescetarian mouth water with jealousy. The dead bird was wonderfully smoked without it drying out, with the pomegranate providing an exotic touch.
For mains, the lobster risotto was suitably al dente, with well-formed, proud standing arborio, draped in well seasoned, rich stock. Unfortunately, the dish was lacking lobster and thus its raison d’etre. The fleshy morsel placed on top was really only a delicious garnish. The venison was an excellent autumnal thing – well rested, properly seared and satisfyingly meaty. I also had it on good authority the Chez Mal burger managed a respectable account of itself.
For desserts, the chocolate fondant was a black hole of sensual cocoa, which I liked so much it was embarrassing. Finally, the gooey le fromage tray sluttily spread itself everywhere and as good as any I can remember. In keeping with the muted rapport, I wasn’t advised what constituted it – unfortunate, as this was Malmaison Manchester’s highlight.
Like most chain hotel restaurants, I suggest Malmaison Manchester offers decent food in good locations for punters with expense accounts. For date nights or more special occasions, I’d look elsewhere.
Chez Mal, Manchester Malmaison
Atmosphere 6 Cost 5 Quality 8 Service 3