Although a Michelin star inexplicably continues to elude Adam Reid, he and his team must take some considerable satisfaction that the Good Food Guide ranks the restaurant as 13th in its Top 50 places across the whole country. We’ve eaten at a number of other places on that list and wouldn’t argue with the rating for one minute. It really is that good. There’s much to like about the restaurant. An iconic room in an iconic Manchester building. A style of service that, whilst entirely “proper”, maintains a level of warmth – I like the idea that its chefs who bring you the various dishes and explain them, including on a couple of occasions, Reid himself. It was also impressive that the young woman attending to other matters with our table was only working her first day and did not have a “fine dining” background – you’d never have known. And the sommelier was excellent – there’s an excellent choice of bottles for the wine flight and these were all explained fully. And so to the food which is by way of tasting menu – small, medium or large. That’ll be large, of course, which runs to nine courses.
First up was a little cup of winter vegetable broth. Delicious but overly salty. Salt was also an issue on the next course – a single bite (assuming you’ve a big enough gob) of a squid ink cracker topped with whipped cods roe. By now, we were starting to worry the heavy hand with the salt was going to affect the rest of the meal but, no, it must have been entirely deliberate as everything subsequent was pretty much perfect seasoning.
Next was a bowl of finely diced squid, potato and mushroom dressed in a sauce that merely hinted at a curry flavour. A bit of crunch came from a topping of crisped breadcrumbs. We thought this was really good.
I had their take on tater ‘ash on our last visit. It’s another fine dice affair – raw steak, carrot, onion and potato – taking all the elements of this Cheshire and Lancashire dish but turning it into refined food in a light mushroom sauce. It’s accompanied by a slice of beer bread which was delicious. My partner has an aversion to raw meat so for hers, pearl barley replaced the meat. Both versions were entirely successful.
A fish course featured nothing more than a perfectly cooked piece of halibut. This was farmed fish from Gigha – a small island between the Scottish mainland and the island of Islay, where they also lightly smoke it. It’s dressed with a seaweed butter sauce, that has “pings” of acidity from tiny capers. It’s an inspired piece of cooking and, I think, my favourite dish of the evening.
For the “main course”, there’s thin slices of rare duck breast. They sit on a mix of long cooked duck leg, lentils and beetroot. There’s an interesting sweetness in there, that I forgot to ask what from, that balances the earthiness of the lentils and beet. And there’s crunch from pumpkin (?) seeds. Another really well conceived and well executed plate of food.
Until it arrived in front of us, we didn’t know what Baron Bigod might be. Turns out it’s a Brie type cheese, made in Sussex from the farms own raw milk. It’s served in perfect condition – just short of runny - and is paired with prunes marinated in Armagnac, a scattering of candied walnuts and a light as a feather walnut crisp. You may never eat a better put together cheese course.
We’d had the first dessert last time but it was no hardship to have a repeat. “Easy peeler” looks like a tangerine but everything is edible – a chocolate leaf and stem, a crisp sugary coating and, inside, a white chocolate cream. White chocolate can be a bit sickly but, here, it’s tempered with a heavy citrus hit from sea buckthorn – the sort of flavour you would easily get if you were eating a real tangerine.
The final offering was bang on for seasonality. In the bottom of the bowl, there’s an outstanding custard. That’s topped with a very thin biscuit on which are perched a couple of chunks of new seasons forced rhubarb – cooked through but still fashionably crisp. And, topping that , a rhubarb sorbet. Just fab.
We finished with good coffee and really good chocolate truffles.
I know it’s only February and this was only our seventh meal out of the year, but I have a feeling it’s going to be one of the best we eat (in spite of those other places we’ll go which have their Michelin stars).