Long before all the new arrivals came along, Malmaison was one of Manchester’s fanciest hotels. A lot’s happened since it opened in 1998, but while the Mal’s grown up, it’s not grown old.
Occupying a six-storey red brick building opposite Piccadilly station, the elegant former warehouse built in 1904 is a striking venue.
Buzzy red leather-and-neon styled brasserie Chez Mal is at the heart of the hotel. Menus are created centrally for Malmaison by executive chef John Woodward, once of The Canteen restaurant at Chelsea Harbour when it was under Marco Pierre White.
Dishes are predominantly modern European with a slight Asian twist, but the grill plays a large part, too, including a popular gourmet burger.
Classic steaks, 28-day aged and sourced from the UK, include Aberdeen Black ribeye and Black Angus grain-fed fillet.
A Josper grill (a combination of oven and charcoal grill) offers some signature steaks, too: cotes de boeuf, T-bone, prime rib, or a huge porterhouse coming in at over a kilo and designed to share.
You can watch these being prepared in the open kitchen by opting for a ringside seat if you like seeing a bit of culinary action.
It’s not all about the meat, though. Fish and vegetable-based dishes aren’t overlooked in a summer menu which allows decent ingredients to shine, such as catch of the day served simply with spring greens and garlic butter.
Pan-fried sea scallops (£13.50) make an elegant starter. They’re plump and juicy, the flavour ramped up with the addition of smoky, salty BBQ baby chorizo, crunchy spring onion, a touch of fresh chilli, and creamy paprika mayonnaise.
Cutting into crisp, golden Scotch eggs (£7.50) reveals sunshine-yellow yolks just the right level of runniness.
The eggs are wrapped in a mixture made of peas and broad beans rather than the usual sausage meat which gives them a lighter, fresher, more seasonal feel. They’re served with earthy marinated and roasted beetroot.
Back to fish. A generous main of pan-fried sea trout (£15.50) is delicate and tender with an appealingly crisp skin.
It sits on a light, healthy-feeling velouté, the velvety sauce made with spring vegetables including leeks, peas, courgettes and beans and flecked with fresh green herbs.
Slow roast Gressingham duck breast Penang curry (£17.50) is rich and flavourful, and not afraid of packing a bit of chilli heat.
The aromatic curry is thick, rich, sweet and salty, adorned with still just-crunchy pak choi. It comes with an elegant grilled flatbread speckled with seeds, and a fragrant bowl of sticky coconut jasmine rice.
There’s a dedicated vegan menu available, too, offering dishes such as grilled garlic and lemon asparagus with green salad and balsamic, and squash and red onion tagine with rose coriander and apricot couscous.
Puddings strike just the right balance between indulgent and non-guilt inducing.
Vegan-friendly puddings include Valrhona chocolate fondue with a fruit skewer and mixed berries, or caramel roasted pineapple with salted caramel ice cream and almonds.
Fresh, tropical mango and passion fruit cheesecake is creamy but light, with a fragrant ginger and passion fruit coulis.
A sweet yet sharp rhubarb fool comes with intensely fruity poached Yorkshire rhubarb compote and crumbly shortbread on the side.
Eating at Chez Mal is good value. A weekday lunch will set you back £12, or £15 with a 175ml glass of house wine.
Speaking of wine, the list is clearly organised in sections by price, offering bottles of red, white and rose from £20 to £70.
There are also 22 options by the glass, so you can mix and match with each course or just try something new without breaking the bank.
For more booze, the weekend bottomless brunch offers unlimited prosecco or Aperol Spritz alongside dishes like baked eggs, breakfast stacks, steak frites or chicken kiev.
Sundays mean you can help yourself to unlimited hors d’oeuvres from the seasonal market table before choosing a main brunch or Sunday roast dish and dessert.
Service is slick, friendly and confident, much like Chez Mal itself. No wonder the place is still buzzing after 21 years.