A final snub from Michelin at the start of this year saw the early exit of Simon Rogan from one of Manchester’s finest restaurants, The French in The Midland Hotel (he had originally signed up for a five year stint commencing 2013).
Head chef Adam Reid had been in residence since the start of his reign, silently running the kitchen and producing some fantastic results. As the natural choice to take over, it was therefore refreshing to hear that he finally got his chance.
So what’s it like? More relaxed is the simple answer, from the minute you walk in the door. There’s music for a start. Having got used to eating in silence, too scared to drop a fork in The French of old, we now find ourselves singing along to Noel Gallagher, The Beatles, and other tracks from Adam’s very own playlist. Nice touch.
Staff are really friendly, just as knowledgable as before, but much more informal and approachable. They take us past the first major change, the chef’s counter, where Adam himself was prepping cold food with another chef from his team.
With a casual ‘hi’ we were seated nearby in one of the comfortable booths.
Decor-wise it’s darker, the dark grey colour scheme enveloping you and actually giving you more privacy. The tables are a lighter wood, more modern and fresh. The settings are simpler and less formal with glimpses of its former grandeur (it is The French after all) like those fantastic globe-like chandeliers. But I’m afraid to say those faux wooden floor carpets still remain. Why?
Food-wise, Adam Reid has designed all the new menus but kept the tasting menus he established under Simon Rogan, with both six course and nine course options available. He has also introduced a new lunch menu, which is what we had come to try.
The dishes are more accessible. Individually priced plates from the tasting menus mean you can cater your lunch from a few small quick bites to a longer more relaxing exploration of what’s on offer. We opted for the latter.
These are a great way to get your taste buds going at the start of the meal. Order as many as you can. One thing Adam continues to do is source his own and grow his own produce, with his own allotment on the roof of the hotel. This is evident in every dish that arrives at our table with their little touches of forage.
Cod’s roe dip, squid ink wafers (£3) is a triumphant fishy dip, creamy with a smoky paprika finish, perfection with the light as air black prawn-crackeresque wafers.
Crispy trotter and belly, pickled onion (£4) was the heartiest of our snacks. Lightly battered meaty balls with a real northern edge from the almost brown-sauce like middle. This one definitely had Adam’s stamp on, with a bit of humour and regional influence. We would love to see more like this.
Fried broccoli, cheese and truffle (£5) is one of those one’s most meat eaters wouldn’t usually order, opting for the meat and fish options first – me included. But our server insisted we try it and I’m glad she did. It was one of the tastiest things I ate. Cheesy, rich truffle-y, truly indulgent and dreamy.
Prawn cracker, spicy tomato (£4) was a small tangy little mouthful, not easily divisible so pop it down in one. It was good but we all preferred the other three snacks, and I think this one was too small for the price tag. At least put two on there so you can share.
These starters have much more depth than the snacks, with multiple elements on the plate and layers of flavour. Saffron pasta, turnip butter, chicken skin (£8) was like a miniature creamy broth with noodles, beautiful flavours, lots of saffron and salty crisp chicken skin. What’s not to like?
Smoked eel, cannelloni, wild garlic, artichoke (£9) might not sound like everyone’s cup of tea – my partner is weary of trying ‘slimy eel’ as he put it – this was like the best mackerel you’ve ever tasted with some excellent pairings, the wild garlic especially.
For our main courses we tried Cornish cod, brown shrimp butter sauce, asparagus (£12), an elegant and very accomplished plate. A beautifully cooked succulent piece of cod, about the size of a nice plump scallop so I wanted more. And salt aged duck, beetroot, acidic cherry sauce (£14) was a sweet and intense tasting, colourful creation that looked like a work of art. It tasted like one too.
With a near 5/5 for the savoury dishes, we were curious to see if the desserts would live up to that standard. Unfortunately, not all of them did. Pink rhubarb, ginger and malt ice cream (£6) just didn’t work on every level you would hope for. It tasted of wonderfully sweet rhubarb, but the whole bowl a sloppy consistency with no texture and little contrast.
Barbecued clementine and white chocolate (£6) was much better, burnt, tangy and refreshing. But it wasn’t until the Golden Empire (£15) – Great British Menu dessert winner 2016 – that we returned to the standard of the savouries. It was lovely to be sat at the bar of the chef’s counter as this dish was prepared, and it was there we ate it too. Clever, extravagant, and truly remarkable. What a way to go.
We drank some fantastic wines, all recommended by sommelier Filippo, with most available by the glass from £6 for 125ml (including some unusual specials not listed on the lunch menu so do ask for his suggestions). Just brilliant, friendly, and relaxed service all round today.
What a fantastic lunch. Not as expensive as dinner, although you might find you still spend a fair whack as you can’t help but keep ordering as you want to try everything on the menu. The quality is more than worth it though, giving us a great idea of what’s to come with Adam Reid at the helm. More approachable, accessible, local, and fun. But still a bit posh. Which is exactly what it should be.