Chop house wars are set to break out in Manchester next month. There may be uppercuts ahead.
In the blue corner are the city’s three historic Victorian Chop Houses. Mr Thomas’s, Sam’s and Albert Square that have served hungry and thirsty Mancunians for more than 150 years.
In the red corner, due to open in April in the heart of the Gay Village, is the newcomer. Mr White’s English Chophouse – the latest themed restaurant to bear the name of chef and chain restaurateur Marco Pierre White – will be located in the Velvet Hotel, Canal Street.
Marco – youngest ever chef to achieve three Michelin stars – hung up his whites almost 20 years ago and is now best known to anyone under the age of 35 for advertising Knorr stock cubes on television and appearing in reality TV programmes like Hell’s Kitchen.
His first connection with Manchester came when the Lowry Hotel was opened by his friend and business associate Sir Rocco Forte in 2001. The flagship restaurant was called the MPW River Room, but the brand was short lived.
Since then, Marco has lent his name to a succession of branded restaurant groups including 24 MPW Steak Bar and Grill outlets nationwide and 12 branches of Marco’s New York Italian, specialising in burgers, pizza and American-styled pasta dishes. The operations have received mixed reviews.
What else can I show you to distract you from the far left knob jockery? Oh I know. Me in the lift of the Holiday Inn, media city being stalked by some weirdo stock cube botherer. pic.twitter.com/XfRT6ko0yF
— Jay Rayner (@jayrayner1) March 26, 2018
There’s a Mr White’s English Chophouse in London’s Whitechapel. Respected local food blogger Paul Fulford wrote about the one in Birmingham: “Given the choice between hitting myself repeatedly over the head with a large frozen haddock and returning to eat at the ludicrously named Mr White’s English Chophouse, I think the fish would win.” It closed last year.
The boutique Velvet Hotel grew out of Velvet Restaurant, one of the pioneering hospitality venues of the Gay Village and was the brainchild of co-owner Mark Cain. It was put on the market last January for almost £5 million, two years after Mr Cain, a well-known figure in the area, was found hanged.
The hotel is now in the portfolio of KRO Hospitality, the Manchester-based specialists in “elegant hospitality management solutions”, which also operates Holiday Inn Express properties in Wigan and Leigh, Once Canal Street and the Light Aparthotel in the city’s Northern Quarter.
Kim Eivind Krohn, owner of KRO Hospitality said: “Having taken over the Velvet Hotel, Restaurant & Bar, we’re now investing a significant amount of time and capital to open this fantastic new restaurant in what is one of Manchester’s most vibrant and exciting places to go out.
“To bring someone as iconic and important as Marco Pierre White to the centre of Manchester is something that will provide the area a huge boost in terms of attracting people looking for somewhere to eat and enjoy their leisure time.”
Manchester’s long-established Victorian Chop Houses are prepared for the challenge having recently launched executive chef Lee Ferguson’s new menus – ten in all to greet the spring and summer seasons.
His celebration of the best of British gastronomy featuring bar snacks, fixed-price lunch specials and spring/summer à la carte demonstrate Lee’s passion for traditional northern delicacies, robust flavours and the best ingredients – some of which have been all but forgotten in recent times – re-invented to meet the modern Mancunian palate.
Mr Thomas’s Chop House, the iconic Grade II listed tavern in Cross Street and backing on to St Ann’s churchyard, was first opened as a public house and restaurant by Thomas Studd in 1867. The landlord from the opening day until his death in 1881, he gave his name to the chop house – as did his brother Samuel James Studd when he opened Sam’s Chop House in 1872.
After lying derelict for more than 10 years, the historic Grade II listed Memorial Hall, built by the Unitarians as a college under the direction of Cross Street Chapel minister William Gaskell (his wife Elizabeth was one of the 19th Century’s most famous novelists), was converted into the Albert Square Chop House by owner Roger Ward for £3.5 million in 2012.