How important is comfort when dining out? We know it should be all about the food. But balancing precariously on a high stool or starting to lose the feeling in your legs on a hard, school-style chair doesn’t encourage you to linger in a restaurant.
Masons Restaurant Bar sits within Manchester Hall, the former Freemasons Hall on Bridge Street. A neighbour to equally attractive Dishoom, it’s a glamorous space with a touch of art deco, all oak panelled walls, gleaming marble bar, ornate plasterwork and polished parquet floors.
It’s also one of the most comfortable restaurants in town. Settle into one of the plush, velvety green booths or supportive, luxuriously upholstered, just-the-right-side-of-squishy chairs and you won’t want to leave.
Adding to both the glamour and the feeling of not wanting to leave is the martini trolley – a beautiful vintage style trolley with a selection of gins and vodkas, vermouths, garnishes and jiggers so you can choose your perfect pre-prandial aperitif (£12).
The charming bartender asks whether we like our martinis wet or dry (referring to the amount of vermouth added), garnished with olive or citrus, and then proceeds to mix a bespoke drink.
Starting a meal with a strong, ice cold martini is a wonderful thing, harking back to the glamorous era of Mad Men or James Bond.
And speaking of Bond, our Vesper martini – a mixture of gin, vodka and Lillet Blanc, shaken not stirred – is a triumph. Every meal should start like this. Well, maybe not breakfast, or we’d never get anything done.
And what about the food?
The Masons menu is simple and unfussy, familiar favourites given playful little upgrades. Ingredients are sourced from across the British Isles, including Connemara organic salmon from Ireland, Goosnargh chicken from Norfolk, and Dukesmoor steaks from Cumbria.
A new menu for spring sees some lighter dishes make an appearance, too.
Plump hand-dived scallops come with roasted artichoke cream and Black Forest ham (£11), while tender strips of salmon, a fetching pink colour from the beetroot and orange marinade, are served with a fresh, crunchy celeriac, apple and fragrant pomegranate slaw (£9.50).
A prawn cocktail is a modern deconstruction with avocado, Bloody Mary jelly and artisanal bread (£9).
Mains, priced between £16 and £28, offer the best of the season with dishes such as rump of Cheshire lamb with mint polenta, wild peas and seasonal greens or spring chicken with Jerusalem artichokes, peas and ham.
Fish options include monkfish Veronique with a vermouth and cream sauce, crisp grapes and charred leeks, or there’s a vegan summer ravioli with consommé, baby vegetables and artichoke purée.
For two, a serious treat is the Dukesmoor chateaubriand (£58).
The full-favoured, buttery-tender 16oz fillet is served steak-lover pink, with garlicky aioli fondant potatoes, seasonal greens, glossy red wine gravy and rich, tarragon-flecked bearnaise sauce.
The steak is serious stuff, but desserts show a playful side.
A cute individual bramley apple and calvados tart (£8) is served flaming with salted caramel ice-cream. A chocolate and hazelnut marquise with punchy coffee ice cream (£9) is a pudding version of an espresso martini, and a very pretty one at that.
The wine list is equally appealing, featuring predominantly European bottles starting from £20 as well as a handful of choices by the glass.
They also offer a port flight (£15), and Louis XIII cognac composed of up to 1200 individual eaux-de-vie from Grande Champagne vineyards, ranging from 40 to 100 years in age. A 10ml glass will set you back £40, or 50ml an eye-watering £190.
At the opposite end of the price spectrum, the lunch menu offers a selection of dishes such as a sirloin steak sandwich or salmon salad with baby potatoes, watercress and poached egg for under a tenner, including a glass of wine or a beer.
And that’s the clever thing. The space and the service is just as warm and welcoming whether you’re in for breakfast, a lunch meeting, a romantic date or a long, boozy dinner.
Masons gets everything right. It feels elegantly old fashioned, but the menu is alluringly modern.
And it’s just so comfortable. It’s the kind of place you want to keep coming back to. And once you’re there, you want to stay.
It feels like a private members club but everyone is welcome. How Manchester is that?
View Masons Restaurant a la carte menu here.