If you haven't heard of Living Ventures before they are Manchester's uber restaurant group owning eight 'Grill' restaurants, Gusto, The Alchemist, Australasia, The Oast House, The Botanist, Artisan and now Manchester House as well as a few further afield. That's a pretty impressive chunk of restaurant real estate that they're sitting on but I've never felt compelled to visit any of their restaurants for the simple reason that I don't think they're for me. Why not? A lot of their 'brands' are located in Spinningfields which is quite an impersonal locale to me, they refer to their restaurants as 'brands' and even the name itself makes them sound like some sort of futuristic corpse reanimation service. They just feel too big for me, they've got too much going on, like a restaurant with 300 dishes on the menu how can they do it all right? They've strayed too far from the core of what I love about food which is an individual cooking food for somebody else in the hope that they will love it too. I can appreciate restaurants that cook great food even when they are far removed from that ideal of mine but I can never love them. I have visited LV's Grill On The Alley and really enjoyed it, some fantastic service and lovely food but it had that artificial sheen that meant it wasn't memorable to me, it still had that chain restaurant feel to it albeit a very high end chain restaurant. I actually only paid it a visit because Gordo told me to, it made his list of Manchester's best steaks and so had to be visited as part of our monthly pay day steak day adventures. All being said Living Ventures are incredibly successful so I have to assume there are some clever bods behind it all.
Taking that all in to account I was quite surprised when I heard the news that Aiden Byrne had decided to open a restaurant with Living Ventures. Here we have undoubtedly an incredibly talented chef everybody is familiar with due to several successful appearances on The Great British Menu showing off some fantastic looking dishes and as importantly (to me anyway) a visible passion for food teaming up with a faceless restaurant mega corporation in an obvious effort to attain Manchester's first Michelin star. I had mixed feelings to say the least but I was happy that Manchester was going to be the new home of an exciting chef and so it was quite an easy decision to make when I was invited to one of the launch events.
Arriving at the restaurant is harder than you might think, for starters the sign is very subdued and stencilled on to the wall at the base of Tower 12 (again a sinister sounding name, post apocalyptic prison run by killer robots?) but actually that's a good sign to me, the brashness of some of Living Ventures' other eateries is absent at this point. Entering the foyer of the snazzy office block we received a warm welcome (I went through the usual minor embarrassment of giving the name of our blog) and after a few moments wait for the lift the greeter attempted to usher us through the elevator sliding doors. Two people made it in before the door attempted to cut me in half as I hopped back out in to the safety of the foyer, I looked worryingly at the greeting gent. "Yeahhhh we do need to do something about that, it's very quick isn't it?". Seems like the killer robots might be in charge after all.
We managed to survive the perilous lift journey and arrived at the The Lounge on floor 12 which is Manchester House's bar where you will have a pre-fodder tipple and wait to be called to your table. This is not a bad place to wait. Not at all.
It's a classy but not over the top bar with inescapable views of Manchester on every side. On the day we visited, Manchester was a little bit overcast but I'm sure there will be opportunities for amazing views of our grand city at sunset or night time, I imagine watching the New Year fireworks from here would be a pretty special experience. We enjoyed a glass of wine and had a sit down in what must be one of Manchester's most pleasant smoking areas shown below. Canapés were passed round which were very nice with the highlight being the beetroot, foie gras and palm sugar macaroon which was outstanding. This was actually my first taste of foie gras as I normally pass on it due to the dubious ethics involved, the only reason I went for this was that I didn't hear what the waiter said when he described them. A delicious mistake.
It wasn't too long until we were summoned down stairs to the restaurant itself. Straight up this is one of my favourite looking restaurants I have ever visited. There was absolutely none of the LV excess that I feared. Again everything was really classy, earthy colours, loads of soft natural light and very inviting.
Now I'm not really going to spend as much time as usual talking about the food and this is because this was a launch event therefore some of the dishes were not quite the same dishes to appear in the menu and the kitchen had not been cooking these dishes for very long at all so in one or two places things were not quite right and this is absolutely to be expected until a kitchen finds it's feet a little further down the line. If you want to know how the food is getting on now the restaurant is up and running (the launch event was some months ago, sorry PR people!) just click here or here. I'll just give you a quick run down of my thoughts on what the Manchester House food is about.
|Ajwain cracker bread with carrot butter|
|Oyster, beetroot and oxtail|
|Roasted pigeon with black cherries and pistachio|
|Bacon and onion brioche with pea butter|
|Welsh black beef with grilled mushrooms and salsify|
So the food on the whole was great and where there were rough edges, as I said before, they can easily be forgiven as the kitchen had not had that essential settling in time. More importantly I really liked the types of dishes that are coming out of the kitchen with a good split between pushing simple elements (such as bread) to a higher level as well as taking calculated gambles on more challenging flavour combinations.
Great food with a bright future on top of a glorious dining room supported by a fancy bar with warm, relaxed service throughout? It's got it all but obviously I can't love this place because it's the spawn of Living Ventures, it must be so far removed from that intimate relationship (ooo errr) that I want to see between a chef or restaurateur and their food (and therefore their guests) that this can only win my respect but not my enamour. Well you would expect that but luckily despite being extraordinarily busy and looking like he hadn't slept for several days Aiden Byrne took the time to visit each table to say hello and have a quick chat. It only took a few minutes of Aiden's company to decide that his heart and soul is being poured in to this restaurant, that he want's this to succeed very much and most obviously he wants to take on a brand new challenge by completely reinventing his food and his techniques.
Without meeting the chef the only impression of the motivation behind Manchester House would have been Tim Bacon's speech given to the restaurant while we enjoyed a good strong coffee and sadly Tim sounded exactly as I had imagined the man behind LV would sound pontificating about his 'brands', how much money he's spent, how much money he makes, how much more money he wants to make and how nice his holidays are. Balk. But that didn't matter because I know there's a man behind Manchester House who cares and so I look forward to returning sooner rather than later to get the full experience. I don't love Manchester House just yet but I do know that there's room in my heart for this place.