This was our sixth meal at the French. There were two visits to the ”old French” and three during the short time Simon Rogan was in charge of the restaurant. We were particularly interested to go back now that Adam Reid has taken over, as he was head chef at the restaurant throughout the Rogan period. Would there be changes? Would it be better or worse than when under the Michelin 2* chef. Or different or just the same.
Well, there’s been some physical changes to the restaurant. New decoration, for instance. And the tables now have cloths, so it looks less like an IKEA café. And they’ve introduced a “chef’s counter” at one end, where kitchen staff prepare some of the “assembly job” dishes and, for at least one course, you’re invited to perch on a stool while the chef explains what he’s doing and you get to eat that dish there. It all adds to the theatre of the experience. And as for the food? Well, it’s not as intricate as in the Rogan period and, frankly, we regard this as an improvement. There was something of a sense that, before, the food was a bit “Oooh, look at me. Aren’t I clever.” Now, it’s still interesting and imaginative food but food you really just want to eat.
The first dish, which was at the chef’s counter, was a series of three seafood snacks. A one bite taco filled with marinated raw prawn and, I think, a little chilli. A single barely cooked dressed scallop served on a spoon. And an oyster served on its shell. All three a delightful start to any meal.
Back at our table, the finger food continued for the next couple of courses. Long cooked pigs trotter had been formed into a single mouthful cube and then given a crisp coating. And there’s a pickled onion puree to dunk it in. A stalk of purple sprouting broccoli had been given the lightest of tempura coatings and fried. There’s a cheese and truffle sauce to dunk that it.
Next up, a replacement for Rogan’s “ox in coal oil” dish. The one folk raved over but we never enjoyed. This is much better. Yes, there’s still the chopped raw steak but there’s a crunch from celeriac and a peppery kick from nasturtium leaves. Altogether a more butch dish and one that was bang on for me. My partner is not keen on raw steak so asked for a substitution at the beginning of the meal. No problem for the kitchen. What comes is a confit egg yolk in a parsnip (?) soup.
There’s then a clever little dish. A slice of smoked eel is presented with a mini cannelloni filled with chicken mousse. Also on the plate, some wild garlic leaves and artichoke. It works. At this point, bread is served – a slice each of sourdough and a very dark brown one containing Manchester Ale. There’s an ordinary whipped butter and another incorporating ox tongue. Oh, and a lovely little cup of the most flavoursome beef tea. Think posh Bovril. Really delicious.
A fish dish seems simplicity itself. But, of course, in that lies the skill. There’s some butter poached Cornish cod. It’s cooked perfectly to the flaking stage. There’s a brown shrimp butter sauce and a spear each of white and green asparagus – the former adding sweetness, whilst the latter adds that distinctive bitterness. A minute later, the chef from the counter brings over a little bit of cod belly that’s been prepared with peppercorns. It’s fiery hot and the flavour lingers for some minutes. At first, it seemed too much of a contrast with the mild flavour of the fish but it grew on us.
And, for the final savoury course, duck. A small slice of breast, perfectly cooked to pink but the flabby skin added nothing. There’s crisp kale and a sweet & sour bilberry sauce. But perhaps the best bit was the small saucepan of long cooked duck leg. I could have eaten a bucket load of that.
The first of two desserts is called “kalamansi”. It’s a type of lime native to the Philipppines and the plate looks as though that’s exactly what you’re being served. But, no, this a citrus flavoured mousse enclosed in a crisp sugar coating, decorated to look like the fruit. It comes with white chocolate leaves and a sorbet. And the final dish is a perfectly made custard tart. Thin, crisp pastry, excellent flavoured custard, topped with thin strands of rhubarb and served with an apple sorbet. It is a rare occurance that we rave over any restaurant desserts. Both of these merit a rave.
We’d had a lovely evening. The food was delightful. The only snag with tasting menu meals is that you can’t come back too quickly or you’ll be eating exactly the same food again but we’ll be back as soon as it seems right. Service was really good – the sometime stiffness of the Rogan years replaced with a younger, friendly crew who are at the absolute top of their game. They want you to enjoy your time with them.