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Feb 11, 2008 04:51 AM

Is Rayner right about Manc restaurants?

Wondering if anyone saw Jay Rayner's review of Grado in the Observer Sunday.

If not, here's how he starts out:

"What is it with Manchester? Why, when it comes to restaurants, is it always so nearly, but not quite? Why does every restaurant I visit fail to deliver? Is it me? Do they hate me so much that they decide to show me such a mediocre time I won't return? Or is it the city? It's a big buzzy place, Manchester, full of interesting-looking people, and there are lots of Mancunians with money - exactly what you need for a thriving restaurant scene. And yet almost every time I eat here, I return home wallowing in disappointment, as though a little bit of me has died."

What do people think of this? As someone who has eaten at a lot of the city's best restaurants, I have to agree that Manchester's dining scene leaves much to be desired. Is he too harsh, or right on?

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  1. He is right. Sort of.

    We have a goodly number of "middling" places in the area - Stock, Jem& I, Isinglass, Yang Sing, etc. Places where I enjoy eating and can afford to. But nothing really sparkling or exciting in its cooking - if you omit Juniper (which I'm hoping to visit again before Kitching leaves). Good to see an increasing number of places making a feature of using locally sourced ingredients and, generally, cooking them rather well

    I havent been to Grado and probably won't. Mrs H & I on a boycott of Heathcote places - having had a very indifferent meal at Simply Heathcotes and now having had appalling service twice at the Cheadle Hulme Olive Branch. In the latter, Mrs H wrote to the Company's HQ (which failed to reply, even with an acknowledgement) and the restaurant - whose general manager asked her to telephone so he could discuss but then failed to return her calls. I am now more than happy to diss them at any opportunity.

    I think Rayner comes to the correct conclusion in his article - that while the city attracts good chefs, they are not good enough to maintain consistency. I think he's said in a previous article that it only needs one good chef/patron to set up shop here to start to make the change. It's probably right.


    4 Replies
    1. re: Harters

      After eating in a few of them I have avoided Heathcotes places for exactly the same reason - indifferent to the point of boring, and what exactly are you paying for? And he's lauded as one of the best chefs in the region. I sometimes wonder if this failure of the city's restaurants is down to low expectations from city diners. Why do these 'middling' places get praised so incessantly? Even though I love eating out and try to go to places I hear good things about, it's gotten to the point where I'm not too excited at the prospect of a new place in manchester, especially on the more upscale end of things. Guess I've been burned too many times.

      1. re: Yankunian

        I think Heathcote's is suffering from "chain" mentality. Had a really good meal a year or so back at the Longridge Restaurant. "Simply" on Deansgate was also very good when it first opened (it's also in a building that I have a lot of personal affection for - it has figured significantly in aspects of my life). But, of late.......

        As for the praise of the "middlers", I'm happy to do so. The places such as I've mentioned above (and there are a fair few more) provide an enjoyable and, from time to time, interesting dinner. They are never likely to be Michelin starred but they will get reasonable Good Food Guide points (if you know what I mean).

        When I said earlier that Rayner "sort of " has it right, I mean it's an accurate description as you and I will agree, Where I sort of disagree is that you never see him make the same sort of remark about Birmingham ( a larger city ) - in fact you never see him make any remark about Birmingham because he never visits. Ditto Newcastle, Liverpool, Glasgow, Belfast, Cardiff, etc -yet there's fine "middling" cooking going on there as well.


        1. re: Harters

          Not true. He visits Birmingham and the West Midlands no less often than Manchester, and regular readers of his column will know that he holds the cuisine of the area in near-legendary contempt - or at least, used to; his recent reviews of places like Purnell's, Jessica's, etc. have been glowing.

          1. re: Bel Ludovic

            You'll have read Jay's contribution to the thread.


    2. i agree with Rayner, top end manchester dining is a disappointment

      the middle range is OK; you can have a nice dinner at the lime tree, rhubarb has its moments and palmiro gives chorlton something to shout about despite the east german design concrete block extension.

      there is decent pub grub, the ox tries, the victoria is altrincham is hit & miss and the bridge hopefully burned to the ground many years ago.

      there is even the extremely odd Nutters, some great plates of food come out of the kitchen, Juniper in a Beefeater environment. At least you can breathe and laugh without causing a scene as you would in Juniper where you can't even crack a smile.

      as for the top range, every bloody time i get worked up and giddy with excitement after a rave review, i visit the restaurant in question and leave believing i could have cooked better at home and pocketed the cash.

      although i did enjoy both my visits to City Cafe at the City Inn Piccadilly and i would recommend it (im going again on saturday) , the chef david gayle is ex-soho house New York and came back because of his unfortunate and many would say misguided love of Manchester City, the club not the place.

      and i do like the red chilli, the belly pork and cabbage, the eel.

      its a shame and i love manchester but mr rayner is right on the money

      1. I've been thinking about this. Which places would we regard as "top end"? Juniper- yes? Midland French - possibly? But where else does anyone have in mind?

        Now, let's spin it round. If we're disappointed with the "top end" on offer, what would we like to see? I'm actually not sure. Do I want somewhere really special, for the once a year aniversary meal with Mrs H, that's going to work out at £60 - £70 a head? Perhaps I do - the area should be able to support another Juniper level place. But I'm not sure how many more places at that pricing would get supported.

        Do I want more of the mid-range places - the Lime Tree, Palmiro, and Rhubarb as pecandanish mentions - and I'll add in That Cafe, Earle and the Market Restaurant to those I mentioned earlier. All places where I've eaten well and felt I'd had good value. Absolutely, I want more of these places.

        What do other folk reckon?

        8 Replies
        1. re: Harters

          its a good question and deserving of deep thought.

          and my opinion is that im not asking for a mancunian Charlotte St with its ROKA, Passione, Rasa Samudra et al but i would be elated to discover 1 decent exponent of (in no particular order);

          1. thai (havent tried vermillion but i remember the old lemongrass in withington)
          2. indian
          3. italian (stock ? ha ha ha my lovely wife visited last night and its pants)
          4. clasic french
          5. modern french
          6. modern british
          7. spanish
          8. tapas
          9. japanese
          10. etc.

          just love and care and respect for the best ingredients

          i would like to be able to walk into restaurants and order (amongst other things) veal sweetbreads (preferably the thymus gland), Iberico pork, ethical foie, properly dry matured british beef, otoro bluefin tuna, truffles in season, a decent cheeseboard (whers the bloody vacherin!!)

          by top end, i mean less the top end of the price per head and more the top end of gastronomic experience which can be found in local trattorias throughout Italy, Boqueria market in Barcelona, Asparagus season in Germany. these places and experiences do not cost the earth but they do enhance your life.

          and most of all dishes that i cant cook better myself at home. these people are supposedly professionals, i cannot think of another profession where amateurs can so easily outshine the supposed experts.

          1. re: pecandanish

            "and my opinion is that im not asking for a mancunian Charlotte St"

            Well, maybe Pied a Terre, surely? :)

            1. re: monkeytennis

              the tasting menu is a bit pricey, as is the menu du jour.

              we want 3 decent courses for £25; it is manchester and its grim ooop north.

              or we arent leaving the confines of the city cafe where we feel warm and comfy and are surrounded by drapes.

              1. re: pecandanish

                £25 including wine. yes i know im dreaming.

                1. re: pecandanish

                  Time to wake up, pecandanish. You are not going to get the various foreign delicacies that you mention for twenty five quid (ethical foie, heh heh). You might get northwestern ones though. And an Uncle Joe's Mintball for after your coffee.

                  1. re: Harters

                    would you like a sharper pin to better burst my bubble ?

                    to be honest i was dreaming (rather a lot) but it cant be hard to get a decent local cheese or a proper black pudding.

                    or make a decent job shin, belly, shank, shoulder, brisket

                    the belly pork at the red chilli is a case in pont (eat half, take half home)

                    mackerel costs pennies but if you cook it correctly it can be fit for a king. anjum anand ? the extremely annoying asian-style nigella (same tight cardis, coquettish looks to camera, lingering slobbery lip shots) has an excellent mackerel curry in her indian food made easy.

                    although i digress the fundamental point is that you can take good, honest, economical ingredients (preferably in season), treat them correctly and they will taste fantastic.

                    enough of this, im off to impreganate a hazel tree with truffle spores

                    PS. i can eat like a mexican bandit king at bar burrito for a £10.
                    PPS there is a type of etghical foie available from possibly Catalunya, the geese stuff themsleves silly before migrating. it doesnt taste as good or feel as bad as foie.

                    1. re: pecandanish

                      In terms of good local cheese and/or black pudding (or, for that matter, hotpot), see my recent "Choice" review. We've got a goodly number of places round the area majoring on regional products and cooking them well. Agreed we need more!

                      The ethical foie was featured on one of the irritating Gordon Ramsey programmes.

                      I'm off to cook me sausage casserole (Nigel Slater recipe - Wilmslow Porkies from the Cheshire Smokehouse for the bangers)


                      1. re: Harters

                        i'm not truly convinced by choice but planning a further trip following your review.

                        I would recommend Northernden Farmers market 1st saturday of each month, Farmer Jim (I think he is called Ribble Valley Food) has a herd of Gloucester Old Spots and the pork is tip top.

        2. I've been following this thread with some interest - not as a Scouser having a morbid interest in criticisms of Manchester (honest) - but as I think there are similar but different issues in Liverpool.

          Fine-dining-wise, there are probably only three places - the London Carriage Works, 60 Hope Street and the Ziba. These all serve great food, and generally do not disappoint. But there are plenty others who think they are fine dining, but are really just "all fur coat and no knickers".

          There are one or two new places I have yet to eat at, which may come under the category of fine dining or fancy mid-range, but I don't have high hopes, as we don't seem to sustain many special places. We do lack quality in the midrange places (Heathcotes can serve one stunning course, and then follow it with something apalling and many others are just inconsistent), and many of the good ones close down. But there have been some relatively recent improvements (Amber, The Side Door, il Forno, Mayur and others), and there are some very good cheapo options.

          Not sure what I think about Jay's comment - I think there is an element of truth in it, from what you Mancs are all saying, and from my experiences in Liverpool, as I often end up a bit disappointed and I get fed up with places which think they are better than they are (usually having menus liberally scattered with goats cheese and chunky chips).

          What people do seem to forget is that most northern cities are still in the process of dragging themselves off their knees after a long period of recession from the 70s to the 90s - it takes time for a decent restaurant scene to emerge - more than a decade - so sometimes it makes me feel a bit defensive when southerners make sweeping statements about the "provinces". Having said that I love Jay's writing and often laugh out loud at some of his observations - even his rants at us whingeing northerners.

          7 Replies
          1. re: Theresa

            Theresa - have you tried the Munro? That's another place that can be maddeningly inconsistent. The new Malmaison near the docks is pretty good though.

            Will have to try Ziba - the only one of the "big 3" I've not got around to visiting yet.

            Also have you ever been to that Teppenyaki place on Duke Street? Looks interesting from the outside but haven't had a chance to try it yet. I'm up there this weekend so need some inspiration!

            1. re: monkeytennis

              I have to say that I think the Munro is awful - I've been there three times, and always been disappointed. Maybe I dislike it so much because they are trying to punch above their weight. It's one of those places which makes me agree with Jay Rayner - they have an exciting looking menu and promote themselves as Liverpool's first gastro pub, but I think they need to eat at a few places on the edge of Liverpool (the Eagle and Child in Bispham Green is great) or in Lancashire (loads of good places) to see what a gastro pub can be.

              I was disppointed with the Malmaison, but I will give it another go (if only for their brilliant cocktails).

              I love the Ziba. When it was on Berry St, it was probably my favourite place, and it was quite resonable price-wise. It moved to the Racquet Club quite a while ago now, and at first it seemed to go down hill - but it's really upped its game over the last couple of years, and although pricier than before, you will have a lovely meal in a gorgeous dining room.

              Haven't been to Saporo, the Japanese place, but I hear it's good, and very theatrical.

              The Mayur, just down from it is good - it makes a change to have a restaurant serving Indian food which doesn't just use the same base sauce for all its dishes. Il Forno on that stretch is good too - but it doesn't really have much of an atmosphere - in fact all of those new ones are a bit corporate and clinical looking.

              Other ideas you could try are:

              The Side Door on Hope St - love the dining room and their food is a good mix of French, modern European and dishes influenced by ingredients from further afield.

              Chilli Chilli in China Town is relatively new, and, alongside its main menu, it has a Sechuan one, which is great. It's not gormet, by any stretch, but it feels more like home cooking and less like the same old anglicised fayre we're used to. They also have a completely different menu for Chinese people, and you can ask them to recommend dishes off that - their beef hotpot is delicious.

              I'm a bit out of touch as to what's going on in Allerton now, but there are loads of places. I hear good things about Amber, the Pod was always very reliable for great tapas, and I used to quite like the Arc. Don;t go anywhere near The Other Place - it was one of my favourites for years, but we went there recently to find that it had changed hands and was serving crappy food.

              Sorry if this is bit long - we don't get many Liverpool info requests, so I get all excited...

              1. re: Theresa

                Brilliant, thanks for all those suggestions. I actually went to the Side Door last year - - and I think 6/10 is a bit generous, looking back. Wasn't great.

                I used to like the Other Place but it's been about 10 years since I've been. Ziba sounds good though, I'll try and make the effort to go there.

                1. re: Theresa

                  Thanks for the post, Theresa. Saved me one. Even though it's only down the road, we've never really been to Liverpool "touristing" (Albert Dock aside) and we've been thinking of having a weekend fairly soon. A couple of good meals were just what we would be looking for.


                  1. re: Harters

                    Oh and I have one more to add - Vinea in the Albert Dock is a wine merchant and deli that serves many tapas style dishes in their restaurant/shop and is pretty good. The wine (some fairly pricey bottles) can be drunk in at only £5 corkage(!!) and they have Mrs Kirkham's, Stinking Bishop etc. for cheese and the usual Iberico ham. Worth a look-in. It's always empty and will probably close very soon (far too reasonably priced and sensible for the tourist trap that is the Albert Dock) so try it while you can.

                    1. re: Harters

                      No problem - I can suggest more places if/when you decide on the type of meal you'll be after.

                      1. re: Theresa

                        The above was directed at you, John, by the way ...

              2. He's right about Red Chilli - love that place and try to go whenever I'm in Manchester.

                21 Replies
                1. re: greedygirl

                  Thanks for that, Theresa. For the past couple of years I have been eating out in Liverpool weekly and am amazed at some of the crap that gets shoved at us in places purporting to serve good food (and God, the Munro is an unbelievable fraud; if that's a gastropub I'm Nigella bloody Lawson.)

                  BUT... things are getting better in Merseyside. I have been really pleasantly surprised at the standard of food in many places I've been lately (The Gallery, Blake's, Ceylon Spice Co., Elif) and have heard good things about others such as Il Bucino and Ziba. All are relative newcomers, and we'll see a load of new places opening throughout this year as construction (finally) winds up.

                  I don't want truffle foam and crumb sweepers everywhere, but I'd say what we need in the NW is a better all-around dining experience at every price point. We need variety...a break from the endless parade of mod brit. We need consistency. We need chefs and cooks who are exciting and innovative and care passionately what comes out the kitchen. And we could use a good artisan bakery to sell them all bread so they stop serving us that tasteless part-baked delices de france stuff. Please!

                  1. re: Yankunian

                    That looks like an interesting list - with many I haven't heard of. Ziba's probably been around for 10 years though - not that recent. Where are The Gallery, Ceylon Spice Co., Elif and Il Bucino?

                    1. re: Yankunian

                      Artisan bakery? Look no further than the Barbakan in Chorlton. Not too bad a deli either.

                      And just across the road from the Unicorn Grocery which has to have the best and cheapest supply of veggie/wholefood products (and a good range of organic veg).

                      Cheshire Smokehouse does good bread as well.

                      1. re: Harters

                        Harters, the Barbakan is terrific, of course. The problem is that they won't deliver very far out of Manc. Not to to Merseyside, and not to Lancs., according to a Liverpool restaurant owner I talked to yesterday who despairs of ever finding good bread to sell. The lancs-merseyside area could really use something like the Village Bakery in Melmerby or the Manx Bakery up in t'lakes.

                        Theresa, Ziba accidentally got lumped in with the others, who all are newish as far as I know. The Gallery is on Allerton Road in Mossley Hill, decent nabe bistro with a bar downstairs, good when I visited. Ceylon Spice Co. is a Sri Lankan next to a laundromat in Waterloo, not sure what road. Elif is a new turkish BBQ on lark lane - excellent grilled meat and fish, nice down to earth vibe. Il Bacino - I spelled it wrong the first time - is a deli and bistro at Brunswick Dock which I mean to check out soon.

                        1. re: Yankunian

                          Aah - thanks for that. I'd spotted the Elif a little while ago, but didn't know its name. It's bery near me, so I'll have to try it. I'll google the others and see what comes up - it's always good to hear about new places. Was the food in Blakes good? It's a great building, but I'm afraid of disappointment Rayner-style, as it looks so much like every other modern trendy place.

                          1. re: Theresa

                            I'd say the food at Blakes was much better than I'd expected. Of course, being the restaurant attached to a slightly naff-sounding beatles-themed hotel expectations were low. But the space is lovely - v.understated and airy, and the whole beatles theme thing is handled in such a low-key way you don't really notice it (apart from the music, which could have used some more, ah, variety.)

                            The menu was the usual suspects of mod brit meat and fish grills, but well exceuted and with interesting accompaniments. I had steak with foie gras, bubble and squeak and mushrooms which was very good and cooked just the way I had asked - husband had pork with applesauce and tasty mash, also v. good. My favourite thing though was a crab salad starter that I could have eaten three of quite happily - tons of crabmeat very fresh. Interesting wine list too. Not going to knock anyone's socks off, mind, but may be a reliable sort of place at the upper end of the city's resataurants. Will have to see...

                            1. re: Yankunian

                              Beatles themed hotel? Mrs H will be wanting to stay!

                              Whilst I'm of sufficient years to have seen them at the Apollo (or the ABC Ardwick as it was then known), I never really warmed to them.

                              1. re: Harters

                                I'm delighted to hear that Blake's is decent. I shall go on my return visit - didn't get a chance this time.

                                I will do a full report on my blog, but just brief feedback from this weekend's foodie trip to Liverpool:

                                Liverpool Cheese Company in Woolton is friendly, comprehensive and a lovely spot. We bought Barkham blue (bit disappointing), Baltic (great), some Epoisses (always good) and some Mrs. Kirkham's (ditto).

                                The Malmaison on Saturday night was somewhat of a Curate's Egg. I actually had a very nice meal, only let down by some preserved cardboardy truffle with the starter (would have been nice with real truffle, leave the stuff from Tesco's alone, ffs). My lamb main was actually gorgeous, no complaints from me, though the standard around the table was variable.

                                Finally on Sunday we visited the Hope Street farmer's market where we bumped into the Liverpool Cheese Company people again, and the other stalls were generally of a very high quality. Bought some lovely cumberland sausage and middle bacon (a new experience for me) and some very good quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

                                Edit: Oh, and Harters - speaking as someone who would have given both legs and arms to have seen the Beatles live... you bastard. :)

                            2. re: Yankunian

                              the Unicorn in Chorlton stocks Village Bakery Bread.

                              and cafe rebel de zapatista, the best coffee in the known world.Viva la Zapatista !!

                            3. re: Harters

                              i live on the road opposite the barbakan, victor is the main man and round the corner from the unicorn, we moved in June as previously i lived 200 yards away.

                              wild at heart which is past the sports centre has good organic milk and eggs but is otherwise extremely expebsive

                              the fishmonger opposite Somerfield in Chorlton, Out of the Blue has some superb products including excellent game, bottarga and really really good fish if you know what to look for and ask.

                              the butcher is a disgrace, W H Frost should be run out of town.

                              1. re: pecandanish

                                Surprised at your comment about Frost's as they always seem to get a good write-up. Member of Q Guild of butchers, I think.

                                It's a good while since I was in there so they might have gone downhill but the City Life Guide mentions that they are suppliers to Juniper, Obsidian and Jem&I. Have you had specific problems with them?

                                The Guide also reports favourably, as you do, on Wild at Heart, mentioning their meat comes from Mansergh Hall. Now then, in my book, Mansergh are the rock gods of meat in the north west. I buy most of my stuff direct from them over the internet. It is fab, properly hung and organic from their own farm. Promise I'm not on their payroll - but here's the link to their website -


                                1. re: Harters

                                  Forgive me. Couldn't resist chipping in. I do visit Birmingham and have said pretty much the same thing here, by pointing out that the only good meals I have eaten in the city have been cooked for me by the same person:


                                  1. re: jayrayner

                                    Apologies, Jay. I was in the States in early September and must have missed your article. Welcome (back?) to the board, by the way.

                                    Do I correctly quote you in my first post on the thread - where I suggest you've previously said that Manc needs a good chef/patron to set up shop?


                                    1. re: Harters

                                      if i could just bang the drum for the city cafe once again.

                                      the market menu is 3 courses £16.50 which is a fantastic deal.

                                      the service is clean, crisp and inoffensive

                                      the wine list is well blanced if bizarrely arranged (by wine style ather than country)

                                      the food was again delicious on saturday.

                                      for me; foie gras parfait with prune & armagnac rchutney and toasted brioche. simple and lovely (the leaves should have been dressed)

                                      a superb, melt in the mouth smoked pork belly with lavendar glaze (not crispy skin. tsk tsk), parsnips & caramelised apples.

                                      a maple pannacotta with cranberry soup (and a pecan tuille i think, possibly a bit squiffy by the end)

                                      lovely wife enjoyed truly delicious morecambe bay potted shrimps with baked cherry toms, preserved lemon sauce, sourdough & microleaves.

                                      a superb loin of tatton hall venison, red cabbage and something else (i really struggled to get anywhere near it)

                                      a trio of desserts - great apple crumble, moorish chocolate ganache tart and a sticky toffee pudding which should have been slightly warmer.

                                      an OK Pouilly fume, a bulldozer of a large glass of aussie shiraz, coffees & lots of water.

                                      £110 smackers well spent. it is a lot of money, but what price happiness.

                                      they also have a garden menu if you have the misfortune to be or be with a vegetarian.

                                      parking is a pain if you drive in but 3 courses for £16.50 !

                                      1. re: pecandanish

                                        Just to clarify - I assume that as the meal cost £110, you weren't eating the £16.50 menu? Or is booze very, very, expensive?

                                        And a thought for future readers....might it be better if you copied this into a new thread titled "[Manchester] City Cafe - Review" ?

                                        1. re: Harters

                                          yes the a la carte with wine and 'all the trimmings' came to £110. 10% service is already added.

                                          will do

                                  2. re: Harters

                                    i can confirm that Frost is total rubbish. they dont dry mature, they dont have any provenence, they dont care about welfare.

                                    Frost sell pink flabby rubbish and their meat tastes like damp tea towels. it is uniformly intensively produced and they should hang their heads in shame.

                                    i beluiev the brother concerned with quality left and set up on his own in stockport su[pplying reastaurants.

                                    mansergh hall is pretty good meat, try ashton farmers market for best beef; K&J meats from yorkshire, a funny chap with a beard and outdoor reared on RSPB land angus, great flavour, sometimes a little sinew.

                                    there is also a couple from the high pennines "oop nerth" who rear dexters and if you were to be cooked dinner by god, he would use this meat.

                                    1. re: pecandanish

                                      Ta for the "nod & wink" about Frost

                                      The Dexter man is very good (they had BOGOF the other month). The other beef guy I find OK, but nothing more. Folks from Anglesey are also good (they also do Altrincham farmers market). And excellent lamb from the young couple from a Lancashire farm.

                                      However, I wouldnt go anywhere near the stall that does the free-range polutry (Willasay?). Not once, but twice, I have bought something from them only to find that it was "off". On the second occasion the smell was so bad that I contacted Tameside Market's and Environmental Health Deaprtment. Why they are still allowed to trade beats me!


                                      1. re: Harters

                                        rhug farm organics do pretty good DUROC X pork and excellent lamb.

                                        there is northenden farmers market saturday 1st, worth having a look at savin hill for their middle white pork and british white beef.

                                        ate farmer jims sausages last night, they were not as good as i remember and i withdraw my recommendation and replace it with the guy at ashton market who sells ring sausages for £5 per imperial yard. stick to the traditional classic pork and dont muck around with cambridge blue and all that fancy stuff.

                                        i just cannot get my head around mail order meat or mail order anything really as i prefer to rabbit on about stuff with the producer and do lots of product poking and squeezing.