I arrived at The French at 12:30, and was the only customer in the lovely room. At around 1PM, another couple of people arrived, so it seemed for the whole lunch service there were only two tables in use. Awkward! The waiter actually apologised at the beginning about how quiet it was and assured me that it wasn’t anything like this empty in the evenings.
Apologies in advance for memory gaps. I didn’t take any notes and menus aren’t online.
First up, a little amuse bouche, followed by a bread roll and butter. Both were pleasant.
Next my entree, which was (from memory ox-cheek) tartare in charcoal oil. Anyone who has been to l’Enclume will likely be familiar with this technique. It really is quite wonderful, a plate of raw meat that tastes like it has been barbecued. The seeds provided a nice contrasting texture, along with the creamy mouthfeel of the spheres of sauce. This is a lovely dish.
The sommelier paired a biodynamic white (sorry can’t remember details). It was generally pleasant and had a pretty complex profile, with all kinds of different flavours bursting through. Interestingly, it did have a fairly strong “barnyard” scent and apple-peel taste that shouted brettanomyces. I thought this was a no-no, but I’ve recently been served bretted wines in other places, so I’m guessing this must be a recent trend - maybe they’re picking it up from the beer makers? I did ask the sommelier about it, but I’m not sure he understood me.
Over to mains, I chose the fish. It had an unusually constant, almost slightly jellyish texture. I assume it must have been cooked sous vide? There was a “sourdough crust” on top of the fish, which gave a nice crunch. The pickled mussels and seaweed gave it a clever seaside twist. The green sauce was a very intense and clear flavour. If I remember right it was parsley? Maybe the wine clouded my memory slightly at this point!
The wine pairing for mains was a dry Hungarian white. It was very spot-on and precise in flavour, less varied and hazy than the earlier glass. This really was an excellent pairing with the fish.
To finish off I opted for the squash dessert. The waiter explained to me that it was the least sweet of the desserts, which sold me on it. The squash was done three ways, as an ice cream, as a paste (closest thing I can describe is quince paste) and finally a ball somewhat reminiscent of Japanese mochi. Some wafers on top provided a counterpart to the rich flavours. An excellent end to the meal.
The service was generally pretty spot on. I was a bit surprised that the chef (not Simon, of course) came out to speak to the other table during our meal, but made no acknowledgement of me. As there were only two customers, and I imagine the kitchen couldn’t have been that frantic, it did feel a little bit rude even if the other table were regulars and I wasn’t.
A little later, for a snack I really didn’t need, I popped into Ho’s Bakery in Chinatown. I got the pineapple BBQ pork bun, and the honey bun. The BBQ pork filling was a bit drier than I get in London (I don’t mean that in a bad way, it’s just a different style) and was quite flavourful. The top was a little crispy and on the sweeter end of the pineapple spectrum.
The honey bun was filled with a smooth paste, flavoured with honey and desiccated coconut.
To complete the epic eating, I popped into Middle Kingdom for dinner. I arrived at the same time as a party of about 60, so I made sure to get my order in fast!
I ordered home style aubergine, pigs ear in chilli and steamed rice.
First off, the flavouring was spot on. I got a nice dose of ma-la from the pigs-ear.
If I was being really picky, I’d only comment on textures – the aubergine was ever so slightly softer than I’d have it, the pigs ear didn’t have quite the full pleasing spring when you bite into it and the rice was ever so slightly under. But that’s being really picky and may just be personal taste. It was a good meal.
I left Manchester happy and very full. Thanks Harters for some good recommendations!