Just before Sir Rocco Forte opened The Lowry as Manchester’s only five-star hotel in 2001 – albeit on the Salford side of the Irwell – I interviewed him and his friend and erstwhile partner Marco Pierre White over lunch at the Mirabelle restaurant in Mayfair.
Ambitions, both for the hotel itself and for what became, relatively briefly, the Marco Pierre White River Room restaurant, were running sky high. Marco Pierre himself had, only two years before, hung up his whites and retired from the kitchen as Britain’s most celebrated chef; the first Briton and the youngest ever to be awarded three Michelin stars in 1994.
Since then, much water has flowed past the River Room’s expansive windows and beneath Santiago Calatrava’s elegant Trinity Bridge. And while The Lowry has constantly maintained its five-star status as the destination hotel for celebrities, the prestige of the restaurant has rather ebbed and flowed over time.
But when Dave Ashton was introduced as new executive chef earlier this year, it was obvious change was on the way. He said: “I hope to bring my new creative vision to the restaurant this year using the local and seasonal produce that the hotel is famous for and create classic British dishes to a high standard.”
And with his new menu launched amid stunning surroundings following a major makeover, he’s delivered – and how.
The dining area, featuring warm Tuscan hues of copper and burnt orange, has been cleverly divided with geometric partitions, providing a modern, chic look with an intimate feel.
The menu itself highlights a number of Dave Ashton’s signature dishes; we chose six of them over our three courses and were royally rewarded.
The artisan bread selection of sourdough and rosemary focaccia (£5.50) brought with it sublimely fruity Lancashire-produced rapeseed oil, butter whipped into a “custard” with Lancashire cheese and tomato butter encased in a cleverly-crafted cherry tomato shell. It’s excellent but be warned: don’t fill yourself before the main events.
To start I chose squab pigeon (£12), perfectly soft and juicy, artistically presented with crispy pastilla, kale and earthy yet subtle flavours of goat’s curd and celeriac that danced in delicious harmony on the palate. A great late autumn dish.
Mrs K meanwhile opted for Cornish crab (£11), another demonstration of skills in the kitchen given licence to innovate with delightful ingredients. A base of sweet corn mousseline was topped in turn by a flavourful layer of aspic then delicate white crab meat spiked by the well-judged piquancy of sea herbs and decorated with edible micro petals – all topped off with a quenelle of creamy horseradish sorbet. Exquisite.
Her signature main was another piscatorial delight. Her fillet of firm, meaty Dover sole (£32) came stuffed with sumptuous prawn and ginger mousse served with a curl of savoy and a show-stopping dashi cream. It didn’t look a huge portion, but my oh my, the rich flavours delivered big time.
I had Cheshire farm lamb rump (£25), thickly sliced and perfectly pink, partnered with a braised lamb rib, classic infusion of mint, intense roasted onion puree and sweetest lamb fat carrot. One minor note: both these tip-top dishes, needing time to savour, deserved serving on warmer plates.
Both desserts, again signatures of the River Restaurant kitchen, were outstanding. My “Lowry Gin” (£9), comprising cucumber ice made using liquid nitrogen and numerous layers of lemon and Lowry gin mousse, tonic gel and candied lemon peel, all encased in white chocolate sprayed with gold powder, was an unmissable triumph.
Mrs K’s hazelnut praline profiterole (£8) was a feast for the eyes and the taste buds, dripping with salted coffee caramel and served with malted milk ice cream.
We drank elegant Provence rose as an aperitif and the “by the glass” wine list also yielded fruit packed Languedoc marsanne-viognier to partner the Dover sole. And St Hallett’s rich, multi-layered stonker of a Barossa shiraz was a brilliant match with the lamb.
The destination hotel has a destination restaurant once again.