Whatever the big foodie trends of 2018 eventually turn out to be, one aspect of dining out that’s been evident for some time is accelerating: informality.
The rise of this casual approach to the whole eating out experience has perhaps been most marked in the grand dining rooms of the city centre’s big hotels where, given the scale of the competition around town, the new watchword is accessibility – and a big part of that involves price.
Prime examples of the new informal are Chez Mal at the Malmaison, Store Street Exchange at the Doubletree by Hilton, Mr Cooper’s – and even to some extent The French – at the Midland and Refuge by Volta at the Principal.
And, with its recently-launched £15.95 three courser, which is running through January and February at lunchtimes and in the evening in the two-rosette River Restaurant, The Lowry Hotel is well and truly on board.
The River Restaurant is a room with a view and it’s one of the best from a dining room in the twin cities. The floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the Irwell and Santiago Calatrava’s elegant Trinity Bridge from the Salford bank.
The dining room is convivial and stylishly appointed as befits a five-star hotel. Given the combination of setting and modestly-priced menu, I was reminded of Marco Pierre White’s catchphrase at the opening of the Lowry back in 2001 – ‘affordable luxury’.
The special menu must be booked in advance and cannot be chosen on the day. It offers three courses, each with four highly appealing options and the opportunity to upgrade one or two items.
I started with salt and pepper calamari served with a pot of garlic aioli. It’s a dish that’s frequently indifferent at best, but this was spot on. The squid was thick, soft and fleshy in its perfectly seasoned, crisp coating and the aioli subtly favoured and unctuously smooth.
By contrast, Mrs K’s beetroot buckwheat risotto, smoked feta and sun choke (Jerusalem artichoke) crisps turned out to be a little less than the sum of its parts and a touch bland given such a cast list of interesting ingredients. A bit more beetroot and smoky cheese please.
No such timid flavours in my main course – one of the best steak frites I’ve had for some time and bang on the money.
The steak was onglet, aka hanger steak (the ‘butcher’s cut’, said to have been kept by butchers for themselves), grilled to just rare of medium rare.
The coarse texture belies its tenderness, and the exceptional beefy flavour made the piquant garlic, coriander, parsley and oregano rich chimichurri sauce from Argentina – where they know a thing or two about steak – the ideal condiment. The side of parmesan and truffle chips (£3.95) was essential and top notch.
Mrs K’s Josper-grilled breast of chicken was as plump and moist as you like, thickly sliced on top of a mound of silky parsnip mash and creamed leeks and the deep bittersweet flavour of amarena cherry jus provided an inventive take on the traditional cranberry sauce.
The puddings were a joy. Sticky Medjool date and toffee pudding was an indulgent fruity delight served with vanilla ice cream for herself and banana parfait with peanut butter and chocolate ticked all the boxes for me.
The menu invites you to ‘go large for £4.50’. Next time I definitely will.
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