There was something of a sense of history to tonight’s dinner. It was the centenary of my great uncle’s death during the First World War and we were at the Midland – then a new hotel which would have been known to him but in the restaurant that would have been financially and socially out of reach to him. Since we were last here, they’ve “done up” the previous “doing up” when Simon Rogan took over. The centre of the room is now occupied by banquettes. Yes, it gets more seats in, but it doesn’t half detract from the elegance of the oval shaped room. And it doesn’t half detract from the enormous modern chandeliers that were installed in the earlier doing up. It looks even less like a “grand restaurant in a grand hotel” and much more of a bistro effect (posh bistro, mind). Service remains quite formal like the L’Enclume of old but seemingly gone are the young local lads and lasses, to be replaced by older French (?) staff. Progress is not always progress.
The food is by way of tasting menu. Now, to paraphrase John Lewis, we’re never knowingly underfed but the ten courser just seemed too much effort on this visit, so we settled on the six courser.
The first course is described as a couple of snacks. In recent weeks, I’ve come to like the idea of “snacks” – so much more sensible a description than “amuse bouche”. One has the texture of a rice krispy cake the kids might make but there’s a good flavour of pork in amongst the crispiness. That’s followed by a piece of raw, but marinated pollock on a cracker.
The first of the proper courses was smoked eel mixed with a (horseradish ?) cream served alongside a beetroot mousse. There’s real smokiness in the eel but the other flavours are quite muted so the eel almost overpowers. I think my favourite dish was next – raw scallop served with peas and slivered almonds in a pea broth. It’s light, delicate and summery, tasting very much of the ingredients. A seemingly simple dish but one that almost certainly isn’t.
Hake was poached in oil - presumably meaning the oil was at too low a temperature to be called frying. There’s contrast from grilled spring onions and a well balanced watercress sauce. Hang on, I’ve changed my mind – this may have been my favourite dish. The meat course was an almost perfect bit of chicken breast. I say almost perfect because there had been no attempt to crisp the skin and flabby chicken skin is not a thing of joy. There’s a little chard and an unusual, but successful, turnip butter sauce.
Dessert was bang-on for seasonality. Cheshire strawberries had been macerated and served with a strawberry sorbet and a dab or two of a blackcurrant (?) jelly. Really rather good.
I don’t generally mention restaurant prices but the six courser is priced at a reasonable £65. However drinks, coffee and tip added 50% to that. It now seemed quite expensive for the experience and we came away wondering if we’d actually had a value for money meal. We also came away thinking the food seemed simpler than previous visits and wondered if Rogan had given up on a quest for a Michelin star here (which, with my lack of skill in predicting Michelins, probably means he’ll get one in the autumn).