Last month we were treated to a tour of The Refuge, a 10,000 square foot space inside the Palace Hotel curated by Volta’s Luke Cowdrey and Justin Crawford. Having been wowed by its opulence and sheer size, it was refreshing to hear that The Refuge would become a home for both the casual coffee drinker and those wanting a lavish and unforgettable dining experience.

Following the initial preview, attention turned to the appointment of three ex-Lowry Hotel chefs: Steven Wilson as executive chef, Paul Speakman as banqueting head chef and Alex Worrall as Refuge head chef.

Sneak preview: The Refuge dining room poised to bring something very special to Oxford Road I Love Manchester

On first inspection of the tasting menu, it was refreshing to see Volta classics like the lamb shawarma make it to The Refuge – after all, the West Didsbury eatery is renowned for its excellent small plates. At Luke’s request, tonight everyone is stood around a table, diving into each plate as it’s brought through – a deliberate move to keep things informal and sociable.

Sneak preview: The Refuge dining room poised to bring something very special to Oxford Road I Love Manchester

It’s a diverse and generous menu that hits the spot time after time – my personal highlights are the salt cod croquettes, lamb shawarma, Gloucester Old Spot pork belly, stone bass and the delicious ox cheek, hen’s egg and Sriracha.

Sneak preview: The Refuge dining room poised to bring something very special to Oxford Road I Love Manchester

There’s also a mix of small plates and larger sharing dishes, like the slow cooked leg of lamb and the extravagant chocolate fondue, complete with macaroons and an array of pastries.

Sneak preview: The Refuge dining room poised to bring something very special to Oxford Road I Love Manchester

The food is both wholesome and accomplished, the portions generous and the accompanying wine a delight, all of which is an absolute must when trying to live up to surrounding like this. Despite looking ready to open, The Refuge is still waiting for a few decor and furniture changes to give it a touch more of the Unabomber duo’s personality.

With the spotlight being on the kitchen for the best part of the evening, we forget that we’re stood in a plush, city centre hotel – and that’s where the Volta duo have truly succeeded. By creating an atmosphere that doesn’t feel too formal or stiff, The Refuge shows real potential in becoming a destination for all occasions, whether it’s  brunch, after work drinks or a celebratory meal.

Sneak preview: The Refuge dining room poised to bring something very special to Oxford Road I Love Manchester

“We love the fact that you can relax in inclusive hotel hang outs like The Hoxton in London or places in Amsterdam for a coffee and just stay all day on your computer, have a little bite to eat, then maybe have a cocktail, and meet people in the restaurant later on.” says Luke, keen to establish as sense of community and instil their mantra of ‘come as you are.’

Following a number of soft openings, The Refuge will open as a public bar and dining room on September 14 with several events in the pipeline to kick proceedings off in style. At a time of multiple restaurant opening and closings, The Refuge is poised to bring something very special indeed to Oxford Road.

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