Hipster Brunch Spot
TROF NQ REVIEW SUMMARY
Atmosphere 8/10 Cost 7/10 Quality 6/10 Service 8/10
Atmosphere 8/10 Cost 7/10 Quality 6/10 Service 8/10
Atmosphere 10/10 Cost 6/10 Quality 10/10 Service 9/10
Nestled between war-torn Syria and tumultuous Israel, Lebanon could be forgiven for producing depressed cuisine: Comptoir Libanais Manchester’s environment was anything but. Dizzying splashes of vibrant colour with the frenetic fusing of glossy tiles, kitsch prints and miles of merchandise, created a spotlessly clean, immersive dining area.
Comptoir Libanais‘ zingy ‘Toufaha’ (apple, mint, ginger) and ‘Roomana’ (pomegranate, orange blossom) juices were the most refreshing entity my mouth had encountered: I now no longer regard non-alcoholic drinks the domain of the devout, prepubescent or recovering alcoholics only.
Starters provided mouth-watering salty, golden, succulent halloumi – God’s consolation prize to vegetarians. The accompanying robust tomatoes, vigorous dressing and flavourful olives whisked me away from Spinningfields to the Mediterranean. The simple Baba Ghanuj granted me authentically smokey bread, lifted with bursts of exotic pomegranate.
Regarding mains, a generous hunk of hot lamb was tender, satisfying with well-formed rice. The dish was properly slow-cooked, flavourful, zealously salty but ultimately one dimensional in taste, texture and presentation. Meanwhile, the falafel & fattoush salad was attractively arranged, with pleasingly contrasting colours and shapes. The falafel was skilfully formed, with befittingly crispy out edges and bready, soft centres. The dish provided a glorious balance of sweetness and acidity, and the fresh herbs worked wonders – a rare example of a salad that didn’t need a side of chips to make it delicious.
Comptoir Libanais Manchester produced food as genuine as the charming servers’ tans – a novelty for chain restaurants. Give it a go.
Atmosphere 8/10 Cost 9/10 Quality 9/10 Service 9/10
El Gato Negro – aka The Black Cat – an Edgar Allan Poe tale and a charming tapas restaurant on Manchester’s upmarket King Street. Tapas, at least in England, I find is generally predictable and served inauthentically; happily, El Gato Negro provided a welcome contrast with plates intriguingly designed and prepared in quick succession.
The oddly endearing Guinilla Peppers tasted curiously of Pickled Onion Monster Munch, which was no bad thing. Its cousin Mr Padron – unheard of three years ago, now everywhere – was fresh, flavourful and rightly, generously seasoned. I suggest the 2017 Award For Most Awesome Sounding Dish is given to ‘Gin Cured Salmon w/ Truffle Honey on Toast’. Although expensive, this little bundle of joy was well-balanced, somehow harmonious and certainly unique. The ‘Bikini’ was disappointingly not a swimsuit model but a rather pedestrian, small, ham and cheese toasty. The Chargrilled Sweet Potato provided a depth of flavour it had no right to have, with an ingeniously composed mango and chilli dressing.
The surprise star of the show was an ostentatiously elongated carrot. El Gato Negro’s equally elongated description of: ‘Chargrilled heritage carrots, aubergine purée, miso, walnut pesto and Manchego’, was an umami-filled revelation. I had something of a carrot based spiritual awakening (opened root chakra?) at Dinner By Heston, and El Gato Negro’s offering was a delicious close second to their two Michelin starred operation.
The savoury shenanigans were far from outdone by the beautifully presented sharing dessert. This ensemble of Spanish and European fancies was technically well crafted, and equally lovely on the palate. The perfect Barbie-pink macaroon was fought over and the ice-cream was as good as you’ll find anywhere.
El Gato Negro service was organised, expressive but not overbearing, and genuinely friendly by irksomely handsome, tattooed Spaniards. My only minor gripe from the well-oiled kitchen was most of the pescetarian dishes arriving at the end, rather than interspersed through the procession.
These culinary dopamine hits came at a cost; but, El Gato Negro Tapas’ urban cool environment and numerous memorable flavours made it certainly worth it.
Atmosphere 8/10 Cost 6/10 Quality 10/10 Service 10/10
Entry to Rudy’s Neapolitan Pizza was a lottery: like a meek sixteen-year-old slipping into Wetherspoons with fake ID and an even faker moustache, I prayed for access. Rudy’s Pizza is too cool for bookings and the queue was an hour. Fortuitously, Seven Bro7hers BeerHouse was ready and waiting moments away, temporarily quenching hunger pangs with excellent craft ales.
I was chirpily greeted and ushered to ring side seats opposite the chefs. I asked about the different Mozzarella – I couldn’t tell a word they said – but felt their passion and gratefully received delicious samples. Rudy’s Pizza is about simplicity; dough contains only four ingredients (flour, water, salt and yeast) and pizzas are only cooked for one minute. Rudy’s is proudly Neapolitan – not ‘thin and crispy’ and absolutely not ‘deep pan’.
Rudy’s pizzas are a thing of beauty. Billowing doughy crusts, rising and falling, before popping with lightly charred edges, run down to tissue paper thin bases. This is the pizza you lament you’ve only had in Italy. The luxurious salty cheese, nostril filling basil aromas, umami pumped tomatoes – this is what no frills Italian cooking is all about. However, toppings inelegantly slide from base to plate, like a collapsed drunk falling from a taxi and everything was very salty; but, with so much savoury deliciousness filling your mouth nobody cared.
Rudy’s interior was rather plain but the atmosphere carried a real buzz. Considering the characterful wine and reasonable price point – give me Rudy’s Neapolitan Pizza over High Street chains any day.
Atmosphere 8/10 Cost 10/10 Quality 9/10 Service 8/10
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 with the rain.
On paper, Malmaison Manchester ticked the boxes required for this 30th birthday. It appeared suitably ambient, dark and sophisticated, while the menu was diverse, interesting and not extortionate.
On arrival, Chez Mal was gently buzzing away. Men in jackets and ladies in denial of Manchester’s Baltic conditions filled the space. My parties interest didn’t register a flicker of emotion with the staff, and I slouched to the bar. Some bourbon based beverages were mixed together with too much sugar and not enough rapport.
We slipped to the large 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 suspicious 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 & 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 omnivore 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 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 was as good as any I can remember. I wasn’t advised what constituted it – unfortunate, as this was Malmaison’s highlight.
Atmosphere 7/10 Cost 5/10 Quality 8/10 Service 3/10
I loved Iberica Spinningfields. It pleasingly served dishes separately but rapidly, and in big enough portions to actually share. Iberica Manchester was social eating at its best, something that surprisingly few other Tapas restaurants deliver on.
Iberica Spinningfields didn’t just offer the same chorizo, gambas, calamari, patatas bravas lead menu found everywhere. I love these dishes, but Iberica Spinningfields made a refreshing change. I went weak at the knees laying eyes on their artisan cheese menu; being exclusively Spanish it provided the opportunity to discover new products and flavours.
The Red Berry Gazpacho was the finest cold soup I’d ever eaten. It was alive with vibrancy and just wonderfully summery. I’d never had a more flavoursome dish for £4. The humble Bread & Oil was as good as anywhere. The grilled Padron Peppers were pleasingly salty and made a classy beer accompaniment. The curious Spring Onion Tempura were bronzed crunchy phallic mouthfuls, served with decidedly delicious dips. The Classic Tortilla didn’t let its nation down, providing a perfectly respectable account of itself.
The meaty Sea Trout was lightly cooked and uniquely served with peanuts and Ajo Blanco sauce. The dish was certainly enjoyable, but quite expensive at £8. The Chorizo Lollipops were golden balls of fun, served with an intriguing pear aioli. In the wake of these quirky touches, came the poshest Ham, Egg & Chips in Manchester. The Sliced Cooked Beef was Spain’s answer to Bresaola and every bit as flavourful.
The Churros were piping hot, pleasingly crispy and sugary pieces of happiness. The small but perfectly formed cheese board paired marvellously with the amber-hued viscous sherry. I don’t know anything about sherry, other than that I need to drink more of it.
With the drinks menu heavily marked up and the additional 12.5% service charge, Iberica Spinningfields is at the pricier end of Manchester’s bustling restaurant scene. Given the exciting menu, quality ingredients, sophisticated atmosphere and charming staff, it is still certainly worth exploring.
Atmosphere 10/10 Cost 6/10 Quality 10/10 Service 9/10
Fazenda Spinningfields carnivorous cacophony left me shell-shocked: I’ve never experienced such quality, variety and quantity of mouth-watering meaty offerings, all wrapped up in an intimate, stylish environment.
Fazenda Spinningfields’ a Rodizio restaurant, a concept familiar to Bem Brasil fans; however, that’s where the comparison ends. As good a product as Bem Brasil offers, Fazenda’s classy ambience made their competitor feel like a Premier Inn. The smartly dressed, happy-go-lucky Gauchos flirted around the dining room. They will be offended if by the end of the evening you haven’t taken your pants off and shouted for the midwife to deliver the food baby you’ve named Sirloin.
I greatly appreciate value restaurants (more money for wine, obviously); likewise, I love quality steak. Unfortunately, the two never meet. Until now. I mentally awarded Fazenda Spinningfields two trophies: ‘The Classiest All-You-Can-Restaurant Ever’ and ‘The UK’s Best-Value-Quality Steak Restaurant’, two accolades not to be sniffed at. If the management is reading: please don’t increase your prices, turn your restaurant into Gauchos and price me out.
With such a carnivorous cacophony of Frango (Chicken Thighs), Fraldinha (Beef Skirt), Cordeiro (Lamb), before being seduced by the house speciality Picanha (Cap of Rump), I needed to be reminded of the main event – Filet Mignon. It arrived sensually caramelised, strikingly rare, and just beautifully boviney. Even though it looked and smelt delicious, I had the ultimate first world problem of having to fend off Bife de Presunto (Smoked Gammon) and Linguica (Brazilian Beef & Pork Sausage) for fear of exploding.
It wasn’t all just top drawer steaks, wonderfully prepared in delicious marinades – as if that would have been a problem. There was Morcela (Brazil’s answer to Bury’s Black Pudding), Barringa De Porco (Pork Belly) and who knows what else. It all became a blur. I could have forgiven Fazenda Spinningfields for not turning my pescetarian friend on, but far from being a fish out of water, the sumptuous hot and cold salad bars and lush seafood dishes left her equally satisfied.
Everyone, including the door staff, were in good spirits – I’ve rarely seen broader smiles – especially not from someone wielding skewers full of chicken hearts. Maybe it was the meat sweats, but Fazenda Spinningfields got my blood pumping in all the right areas. This was a rare example of a brilliant restaurant you want to shout about, but also keep for yourself…
…Please don’t tell anyone else.
Atmosphere 10/10 Cost 10/10 Quality 10/10 Service 10/10
First impressions of the bizarrely named Peachy Keens were positive: bright, clean, but juvenile. With over thirty starters, the variety on offer was quite astounding; yet, restaurants trying to be everything become nothing – Peachy Keens Manchester was no exception. I self-righteously tittered at the giant ‘ORIENTAL’ neon sign looming over the school canteenesque dining room, and queried the authenticity of ‘Fish Fingers’ listed under ‘Italian Starters’. This cacophony of branding strangled any potential atmosphere although may appeal to a younger demographic.
Peachy Keens Manchester’s food was disappointing; although, given the exceptionally frugal price, expectations should have been no higher than ‘edible’. The assortment of sushi all tasted the same e.g. of nothing. The Salad Bar was OK but punctuated by tasteless olives and unpleasant cheese. Peachy Keens Manchester’s hot wings were predictably far from hot, rendering themselves redundant. The “Grill Section” masqueraded as a legitimate piece of kitchen equipment – it warmed grey lumps up – rather than cooking steaks to order. My steak was impossible to cut, let alone digest by a human. The Lamb Rogan Josh was ungodly, smelling like Satan’s left over takeaway; after I was too terrified to return for hot food.
Peachy Keens Manchester’ desserts were either sickly or luminous – the pastry chef made Ronald McDonald look like Michel Roux. Things resembling Aftershock were avoided and ice creams were a psychedelic dripping mess; although, neatly formed miniature cheesecakes were surprisingly edible and in endless supply.
I was amicably greeted, seated and warmly bid farewell to; but, the Peachy Keens Manchester staff were impressively morose. However, the team were organised, with plates quickly materialising and disappearing when required.
Peachy Keens Manchester offered all-you-can-eat food for the price of a nearby swanky cocktail: nobody can ask for better value. Furthermore, Peachy Keens Manchester provided the ultimate in variety and convenience, perfect for young families or groups with differing dietary requirements. Unfortunately, the food ranged from acceptable to offensive.
Atmosphere 3/10 Cost 10/10 Quality 2/10 Service 4/10
Dogs N Dough hid down deep dank stairs, accessed via a nondescript seedy alleyway. Wow, this place was dark. I wondered if Frankie & Benny’s and Spearmint Rhino had formed the super-franchise I’d long dreamt of. The décor was pure Americana; the kind of interior design that doesn’t exist anywhere in America. Dogs N Dough was an adult Disneyland of a restaurant -a guilty pleasure of sorts.
One aspect of American culture that wasn’t imported was frighteningly zealous customer service. The Dogs N Dough staff were OK; things arrived when necessary but in a rather despondent manner. I didn’t need my ego massaging, but I did expect some enthusiasm, which wasn’t there. I ordered nearly all Dogs N Dough’s bourbons (not at once); some at £10 each might have sparked the tinder of rapport, but they may as well have been JD & cokes.
The Dogs N Dough food was gloriously unhealthy; an indulgence, something eaten with an embarrassed smile. The dogs were tasty but didn’t overwhelm. I wasn’t thinking: “I know this is killing me, but it’s sure as hell well worth it”. They were however impressively impractical to eat. I love chilli con Carne; forcibly inhaling it through my nostrils after every bite of dog pushed our friendships limits. Call me old fashioned, but a plate, knife and fork work well for me. The pizzas were fine, appropriately served in a cardboard box, as they were literally standard takeaway pizzas. Dogs N Dough kindly catered for the obese, insane underbelly of Manchester, by offering pizzas for main course and dessert.
Despite its city centre location, Dogs N Dough was priced keener than Manchester’s glut of gourmet fast-food eateries. It had a fun, kitsch, laid-back atmosphere that Manchester does so well. Dogs N Dough was a great man-cave to watch sports in, but those excited by the food need to get out more.
Atmosphere 7/10 Cost 7/10 Quality 5/10 Service 5/10