[Manchester, city centre] Quill

Quill hasn’t been open for too long and it didn’t take long for me to decide that I was prepared to despise it. Firstly, it’s PR describes it as “fine dining” – one of the most irritating, pointless bits of marketing-speak that you’re likely to come across. It is bad enough when you come across the phrase in its native America, but even worse to think someone has even considered it a good idea to import the phrase. To make matters worse, we sit down and the guy feels the need to explain Quill’s ethos. Nope, I’m not going to even give it the credit of repeating it. Except to say, that they are not really “fine dining”, more “refined dining”. His words, not mine. Yeah, right. At this point, the good thing is that the menu is written in that very brief modern style of a handful of words which leave you wondering what you might be about to eat. But we order some food and are told that there will be an amuse bouche. Actually it is explained to us what an amuse bouche is – explaining their food seems almost as important as explaining their ethos. And then we wait for thirty minutes until the amuse appears. More of that in a minute. There’s then another delay of thirty minutes before a proper starter appears and we can start to not feel hungry.

So, the amuse bouche is a well made chicken liver parfait. It’s served in an egg shell which makes it a bugger to get out without accidentally breaking the shell. Which is what I did. It’s a laugh really. The eggshell sits in a large box, full of hay, looking lonely. My partner, who hates chicken liver parfait, got a textures of beetroot thing which was very nice.

As for the starters, there’s trout. It’s been cooked sous vide and, as you’d expect is borderline mushy. There’s a cucumber “compression” which manages to taste of little other than watery cucumber. There’s some dabs of this, that and wasabi which are fine and work pretty well. There’s also what I think is known as “sea fennel” – it’s a lovely herb I’ve come across in Mallorca, where it often comes pickled. On the other plate, scallops have been given a brief sear in the pan and are served cold. There’s a decent cod brandade and, interestingly, a little bitter chocolate.

Needless to say, there’s another long delay before main courses arrive. And they both suffer from nothing on the plate being quite hot enough. Not cold enough that they have to go back and we have another interminable wait but it does spoil the enjoyment. That was a pity as both dishes were good in themselves – modern, interesting, creative and ambitious – just let down in the execution. There’s pork loin which had been sous vided – very moist but without the interest that traditional cooking methods give food. The slice of pork belly was much better, as was the chunk of homemade black pudding. There’s carrot and apple to perk things up. Duck featured on the other plate and was properly cooked – the skin much crisper than you often get in restaurants. There’s a textures of turnip which was a clever idea, it works so well with duck and, here, there’s puree, chunks and slices. And there’s hen of the woods – a mushroom I’ve heard of but not previously eaten. It’s enjoyable enough and, again, this is a well crafted plate of food.

We might have thought about dessert but time had considerably marched on, so we just had coffee. Petit fours – a macaroon, jelly and fudge – come in the same wooden boxes the amuse did, now filled with pebbles, rather than the hay. They were good, not quite as sweet as many such offerings – something that divided us (personally, I prefer the sweeter ones).

So, lots not to like about Quill. Lots of pretentious tosh. But we’re not over-endowed with this style of cooking in the city. So, in spite of all the tosh, we end up not despising Quill. Of course, there’s no love between us but we will remain on speaking terms.

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It was in Club Gascon c.2001 that I first found myself being reprimanded by a waiter for ordering in a way which didn’t properly reflect the restaurant’s “concept”. Up until then I had been unsophistcated to a level where I’d just figure out if something sounded tasty and then order it, without a proper appreciation of ethos, concept and vision. Lesson learnt; these days I ask to see the mission statement before I even look at the menu, just to be on the safe side.

Loved the review.

Sound advice, Gareth.

The ethos explanation was quite amusing, although not as much as the amuse explanation. And neither was as downright “nearly pissed myself” amusing as the coffee incident (over which I’ve been reprimanded by Mrs H for not including it in the review).

We’d ordered coffee. Eventually (you’ll have noted that there’s an inevitablity about the “eventually”), a guy appears from downstairs carrying a tray. He asks a waiter who its for. Waiter points at us. Guy goes the adjacent table - a party of three still with their main courses in front of them - and says “Two espressos?”. They shake their heads - “not us, mate” - and chummy now looks round looking completely lost. We wave at him and he comes over. I wanted to ask him what the fecking ethos was about serving coffee. but couldnt because Mrs H wouldnt stop giggling.