Chef patron Adam Reid has been confidently putting his own stamp on The French restaurant in Manchester’s historic Midland Hotel since the departure of Simon Rogan in late 2016.
Over the past year, the changes – in terms of the menus and a new, more relaxed look and feel for the restaurant – started to show.
Now, it feels like The French is really hitting its stride. Last year it was the only Manchester restaurant to make the Good Food Guide top 50 UK restaurants list, ranking an impressive number 13 for “cooking that has reached a pinnacle of achievement.”
The restaurant was awarded four AA Rosettes for culinary excellence, described as “a creative city kitchen firing on all cylinders.” And then last October it was named Restaurant of the Year at the Manchester Food & Drink Awards – though it missed out once again with Michelin despite hype that this might be the year for an elusive star.
Menus offer a choice of four, six or nine courses, starting from £45, with optional matched wines. Dishes flow to create a full tasting experience. Some may be small in stature but they punch well above their weight.
Salty whipped cods roe is served on crisp squid ink crackers, while a savoury Tunworth cheese and broccoli custard comes with heady truffle and offal. A homemade crumpet is topped with Baron Bigod – a Suffolk made, unpasteurised cows milk cheese similar to Brie – plus boozy Armagnac prunes and walnuts.
It’s unapologetically bold stuff.
Tater ‘ash has become a signature dish for the northern chef, and it’s a refined, elegant take on the regional favourite. Adam’s version is made with diced tartare of beef dressed with smoked salt, mixed with confit vegetables, diced potatoes and croutons cooked in dripping, and finished with mushroom catsup.
The tater ‘ash is served with Manchester ale bread and an intensely savoury onion and beef butter. It’s the best butter I’ve ever tasted.
“It’s something that has been growing over a long period of time,” says Adam about the dish.
“It’s like a linchpin for the rest of the menu. I feel like that just personifies my food. It just tastes really good. There’s simplicity but complexity.”
Adam is also proud of the dish’s north west heritage.
“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.”
Seasonal larger plates include almond poached cod with smoked roe sauce and leeks, and Cumbrian red deer with pickled quince and bilberries.
“We focus on a quality product and just making sure it’s really good,” says Adam, and the focus pays off. There’s nothing overly fussy about these dishes, but there’s clearly a lot of work gone into getting them to this level.
It’s confident, accomplished cooking, and a lot of it is about rounded flavours, explains Adam.
“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 the diner it’s a trifle.
“I know it sounds cliched, but I do cook from my heart. I cook with what I feel is the right way to do it. I cook what I’d like to eat, first and foremost. It’s like a really refined, high-end home-cooked meal.”
Desserts include a delicious treacle tart with ginger biscuit and clotted cream ice cream, but don’t miss Reid’s ‘Golden Empire’ dessert – an award-winner from TV’s Great British Menu 2016, consisting of a golden candy apple with hazelnut crumble and meadowsweet custard.
An ‘easy peeler’ version sees the sugar shell filled with sea buckthorn sorbet and white chocolate. It’s the perfect pudding – light, fresh, and just the right amount of sweetness.
The spot-on service throughout ensures a stunning gastronomic experience without any fine-dining stuffiness. It’s no surprise to see Kamila Plonska recently shortlisted in the best front of house category in GQ magazine’s Food & Drink Awards 2019.
The French is going from strength to strength. It’s a jewel in the city’s culinary crown, and looks to only get better.
Manchester should be proud of this gem. Restaurants don’t get much better.