Adam Reid took the reins at The French following Simon Rogan’s departure a couple of years ago, but it was last February that the changes – in terms of menu, and a new, more relaxed look for the restaurant – started to show. A few months later it feels like The French is hitting its stride.
“The cooking has always been really good,” says Adam. “We focus on a quality product and just making sure it’s really good. But in terms of the style and the way the menu is constructed, it’s not just an à la carte. It’s a set menu that needs to flow. It was midway through this year when we felt like we’d really hit the formula.”
Since then, the accolades have come thick and fast for Adam. It was the only Manchester restaurant to make the Good Food Guide top 50 UK restaurants list, ranking an impressive number 13 with a score of 8 for “cooking that has reached a pinnacle of achievement. A hugely memorable experience.”
Then the restaurant in the Midland Hotel was awarded four AA Rosettes for culinary excellence at the annual AA Awards. It was one of only seven restaurants to be awarded four AA Rosettes this year, and was described as “a creative city kitchen firing on all cylinders.”
And then The French was named Restaurant of the Year at the Manchester Food & Drink Awards.
“The Good Food Guide has been an amazing result,” says Adam. “AA have seen the progress that we’ve made. We’ve been rewarded for it. Obviously with Michelin, it’s a different story.”
Many people had tipped the restaurant to pick up a Michelin star – something Manchester hasn’t had for 44 years. But it wasn’t to be. Does Adam feel any pressure about the accolade and the hype it gets year after year?
“I spent three-and-a-half years working for Simon [Rogan],” he says. “And it’s all anybody ever went on about. And I was working under someone with their expectations, too. That was pressure.
“But then I feel like the local crowd forgot about us a bit after Simon left. It actually worked in our favour because it gave us that time for everything to fall into place, and we worked very hard that year. I have confidence in my own abilities and my own skills and those of my team. I did feel like it was just a case of getting pieces in the right order. I didn’t feel any pressure last year.
“This year, we were really gunning, we’ve worked so hard. It’s probably a fair result to get some of them but not all of them. Some people get a star overnight, but for some people it’s a long process.
“I’m not just concerned about October, though. There are 11 other months in the year. And often the people who are hyping it up are the people who haven’t eaten with you. Sometimes I just want to say, there is no such thing as Manchester getting a star. Cities don’t get stars. Restaurants get stars. And the only way for that to happen is to get people eating in them.”
A playlist of Adam’s favourite songs makes the grand space in the Midland feel less formal than under Simon – it’s all about the “buzzy, down-to-earth” atmosphere he’s after – and it’s constantly evolving. As is the menu.
“I live and breathe what we are trying to achieve here,” he says. “But like anything living, it takes a while to grow.”
A modern take on ‘tater ash’ is a signature dish for Adam and his kitchen team of eight.
“It’s something that has been growing over a long period of time,” he says. “It’s based on tater ash, so like corned beef hash, but made with proper meat. We do it with a little dice of raw beef, a tartare, dressed with smoked salt and a bit of Tabasco. Then we mix it with confit vegetables, diced potatoes and little croutons cooked in dripping, mixed together with mushroom catsup.
“Then on the side is beef butter, which I’ve always done, and malt bread which Pollen make to our recipe. I feel like that personifies my food. It just tastes really good. There’s simplicity but complexity.”
The tater ash dish is a signature of the north west, and it’s a dish Adam feels a personal connection to.
“It’s a big thing from my childhood, and it’s nice to have that. A southerner might come up and not know what the hell it is. I love that. It’s something that’s really close to me and probably the majority of people who will eat in this restaurant. And then when people do come from outside the region, it’s nice for them to eat our food.
“This is a Manchester restaurant. What we do in this restaurant is from me for the area. I cook for people who are going to eat in here, no one else. This is what we do.”
Adam says he is looking for rounded flavours.
“I like to eat the dish not just the elements. So because of that, I feel like my food is becoming more succinct. There may be 17 different elements that we have to build for that dish, but for you as a diner it’s a trifle.
“I know it sounds cliched, but I do cook from my heart. I cook what I’d like to eat, first and foremost. It’s like a really refined, high-end home-cooked meal.”
It may be his name above the door, but the restaurant functions as a team, says Adam, and he is pleased with the people he has assembled around him.
“It’s about creating a team around me who can fulfil my hopes,” he says. “To get a fully functioning nine-course menu that has a real identity with solid, stand-out dishes, served by a group of people who understand the ethos and the attitude that you want in the restaurant, and to serve it to 50 people, and then get it all washed up and put away in the right place without getting broken…
“That comes with time, but it comes from having a good team behind you. It’s all about perseverance, dedication and patience.”
Adam may complain about his home city, but he still feels a sense of pride in Manchester – and that is also partly because of the people.
“I moan about Manchester, like you do when you live somewhere. But you know what? I like the vibrancy. I like the way that we build itself and it grows and evolves. And I like the fact that it’s becoming a hub in the country.
“I like the sense of identity that Mancunians have. You feel like you’re part of something if you come from here. I think that’s really good. There’s a lot wrong with Manchester, but there’s a lot wrong with everywhere. I still feel proud to come from here.”