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Mar 25, 2014 03:39 PM

[Manchester, city centre] Mr Cooper's House & Garden

Yes, it's an oddly named restaurant. Now under the direction of Simon Rogan, it occupies the space which previously housed the Midland Hotel’s brasserie. I suppose you could say it plays to the “French” restaurant, in the same way that Rogan & Co plays to L’Enclume – a more straightforward cuisine for those who don’t want the bells and whistles for which Rogan’s food is usually known.

It’s an odd room. Of course, there’s nothing that can be practically done with the very high ceilings of this Edwardian railway hotel. Nor, one might argue, should anyone want to do anything about it – the building oozes the city’s early 20th century history. It was, after all, the place where Mr Rolls first met Mr Royce. The furnishings play to the name of the restaurant – tables and chairs are the sort that you’d see in upmarket garden centres, ready to furnish the patio or conservatory. And there’s loads of conservatory plants all round the round – unfortunately all seem to be plastic.

Now, as to food, it’s pretty good. It’s pretty good value as well, with mains all around the mid-teens and starters ranging from £4.50 to £8.50. As you might expect in this part of the world, there was a black pudding starter. Here it was four balls of brioche, enclosing the pud – like savoury mini jam doughnuts. There were a couple of dips – one apple, the other a bacon jam. The other starter sounded better than it proved to be. A couple of thin slices of grilled aubergine, topped with mozzarella, with a scattering of cherry tomatoes. It was perked up by a tamarind sauce.

For mains, the better of the choices went to a vegetarian lasagne, thin slices of root vegetables and courgette, interleaved with the pasta. Tasted fine, with a good béchamel. It was topped with a little salad and accompanied by a couple of thin slices of focaccia.

The other plate featured a couple of slices nicely pink lamb rump. They sat on what was described as a Malabar pilaff. Google had told me that Malabar is in the Kerala region of India, so I’d expected something poky – certainly something zinging with the advertised garlic, lemon and chilli. But it just didn’t, although it was pleasant enough . And, truth be told, there wasn’t that much of it, so I was glad we’d ordered a side dish of chips (overly salty) and another of minted chargrilled courgettes.

It’d been a nice enough evening. Service had been good – professional without being stuffy (something you would easily accuse the Midland of in years gone by).

By the by, cards were placed on the table urging customers to nominate the restaurant as the Good Food Guide’s “Readers Restaurant on the Year”. Nope, we certainly not doing that.

Oh, yes, that odd name. Well, back in the early 19th century, this area was on the outskirts of the city. And Mr Cooper had his home there– the nearby Cooper Street on the other side of the Town Hall is named after him.

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  1. But would you hurry back to eat here? It sounds pleasant enough but not great.

    Over 'there,' my only decent Indian restaurant was named Malabar Hill. It conjured up images of eating in a lovely, windswept palace. What's that old Shakespeare quote about names? :-)

    4 Replies
    1. re: zuriga1

      No, I'd be in no rush to return for dinner. Now, lunch might be a different matter - it sort of felt more a lunch place (although there's only a very short menu then).

      1. re: Harters

        I think what we feared has come to pass, in that Rogan's second/third tier places are suffering due to his expansion. He was interviewed in the Observer a few weeks ago, and when asked how he would cope with the fact he now has places in London/Cartmel/Manchester, said he was stepping back from Mr Coopers/Rogan&Co/Pig&Whistle and just concentrating on L'Enclume/Midland/Claridges.

        Even with that trio I don't see how he can manage it - that's a 550 mile triangle!

        1. re: helen b

          I fear youre right, Helen.

          Now, I'll be the first to accept that the "second restaurant" in a grand hotel is a tricky business. You want it to have a mark in its own right, particularly if you're a 2 star chef. But it has to cater to, say, the business customer staying at the hotel , who just wants steak and chips for dinner, then being able to get back upstairs to write the monthly sales report. And, in spite of my criticisms, it does what it says on the tin in that respect.

          1. re: Harters

            I think you are right John. I recall reading that one top chef gave up a flagship hotel restaurant because the deal meant he did all the food for the hotel including breakfast and room service. I would assume that takes a different sort of chef/ethos so the fine print of some of these deals maybe what is important i.e. whether it's a capsule restaurant in the hotel or the whole operation may be the difference.

    2. Jay Rayner significantly "does for" this place in today's Observer.

      Now, Jay has something of a reputation for not enjoying his meals in the Rainy City. Most times, I don't really agree with him. But he's spot-on this time.

      Nah, you really don't want to go.