Bistrotheque, a new restaurant within the Cultureplex development at Ducie Street Warehouse, is one of the most eagerly-awaited openings of the year for Manchester.
Its story began in London. David Waddington studied fashion at Central Saint Martins at the same time as the designers Giles Deacon and Luella Bartley. He met Pablo Flack in Shoreditch during the mid 1990s, where David followed Pablo as general manager of the Bricklayers Arms, a pub often credited as helping to establish the East End social scene.
By 2004 they had opened Bistrotheque, which quickly became a favourite of the creative crowd, famous for its afterparties, starry launches and London fashion week dinners.
Will the Ducie Street space prove a similar hit? It certainly looks promising.
The Bistrotheque dining room is an elegant space for dinner with comfortable grey banquette seating, low enough for a bit of people-watching. It’s effortlessly cool, but not at all intimidating.
The menu includes steak tartare, fish and chips, and a deeply comforting potato and Comté cheese pie with green mustard sauce – all Bistrotheque staples from their London menu. But there are some dishes unique to Manchester, too: cured duck breast salad; goats cheese with truffle and honey; and tender sea trout with savoury miso and confit tomatoes.
It’s all about bistro classics, but given clever little upgrades. The modern, confident wine list has plenty of options by the glass or carafe as well as bottle.
And the cocktails list is fun, too. Who can resist a sparkling Joan Collins (£8.50), made with gin, cherry liqueur, apple, lemon and soda? A Jackie version is made with vodka, says our server.
When it comes to food, the cheese and potato pie is hands-down a winning vegetarian dish, but so are our two veggie starters.
A dish of leeks vinaigrette (£7) is a love letter to the vegetable, tender, subtle and sophisticated topped with crunchy toasted hazelnuts.
And a beautiful starter of courgette, olives and basil (£8) is a colourful plate of late summer sunshine that could convert even the most courgette-phobic diner.
Ordering chicken for a main course can sometimes feel like a cop-out, but Bistrotheque’s version (£17.50) is anything but.
I steal large chunks from my partner’s plate. It’s juicy and succulent with burnished bronze skin and deft seasoning, dressed simply with peppery rocket leaves and sweet, spreadable confit garlic cloves.
We grin wildly until he retaliates by swooping in for a bite of my rump steak (£22). Fair play, though, as it’s a cracker.
The beef is from Swaledale butchers in Skipton, North Yorkshire, where native breed cattle are reared on local farms in a totally free range environment, feeding on grass, hay and silage.
It’s full of robust beefy flavour having been dry-aged with Himalayan salt, and presented in thick slabs to show off the perfect pinkness within.
The gravy is rich and glossy and intensely savoury, dotted with girolles and the punchy flavour of smoked beef fat. It just begs to be soaked up with crisp golden chips (£4).
And side dishes are no afterthought, either. A sweet, summery tomato salad (£5) is enlivened with a classic shallot dressing and mildly aniseedy chervil, while charred hispi cabbage (£4) has been doused liberally with butter and parsley.
Well played, Bistrotheque; this is the way to get people to eat their greens.
We’re already feeling giddy from a great meal by the time we order pudding, and then a pana cotta (£7) with such a wonderful wobble arrives that I can’t help but take a video (“Michael Bay would be proud of that,” someone replies on Twitter).
— Louise Rhind-Tutt (@lrtpublicity) September 28, 2019
It’s smooth and creamy, with huge plump blackberries and shards of tooth-decayingly-sweet-but-worth-it crunchy honeycomb.
A sticky toffee pudding (£7) is pure filth in the best possible way, given a grown-up make-over with a powerful smoked butterscotch sauce.
And it’s good value, too – especially the early-bird after-work offer of three courses for £25 on weekdays before 6.30pm.
Bistrotheque’s weekend brunch menu already seems to be winning over locals. And there will also be an outside terrace from early next year with umbrellas and heating.
It’s an impressive start for this newcomer, which looks to become a staple on the city’s dining scene. Ducie Street is on the up.