Monday, February 11, 2008

Rayner: Manchester restaurants "not quite"


"What is it with Manchester? Why, when it comes to restaurants, is it always so nearly, but not quite? Why does every restaurant I visit fail to deliver? Is it me? Do they hate me so much that they decide to show me such a mediocre time I won't return? Or is it the city? It's a big buzzy place, Manchester, full of interesting-looking people, and there are lots of Mancunians with money - exactly what you need for a thriving restaurant scene. And yet almost every time I eat here, I return home wallowing in disappointment, as though a little bit of me has died."

That's the lede of Jay Rayner's review of Grado, Paul Heathcote's new Spanish place on New York Street, in yesterday's Observer.

Rayner is one of the few national restaurant critics I have much time for. He's down to earth and clearly loves food, but never takes it too seriously. He seems like the kind of guy you wouldn't mind sitting down to eat with yourself, unlike most of the pretentious, self-worshipping windbags sharpening their steak knives on restaurants these days. And most of all, he's fun to read. ("It's all very well to source Iberico ham, but to then machine-cut it is an insult to the pig. To cut it thick and serve it fridge-cold is to jump on the pig's grave while howling at the moon.") I've always wondered why he doesn't review more Mancunian eateries, and I guess now I know why.

To be fair, Rayner goes on to praise my beloved Red Chilli to the skies. But his indictment of the city's dining scene is pretty damning. And in a way, I think he's got a point. Not neccessarily about Grado (I haven't been there yet, mostly because Heathcotes places are, in my experience, kinda boring) but about the standard of eating here.

I don't have a huge eating out budget; I love food and seek out good restaurants when I can. But in the five years I've lived here, I've found that lots of places the local press made much of (The Bridge, The Ox, Yang Sing, Obsidian) didn't live up to the hype, while others (Le Mont, Establishment) never appealed enough to try. I haven't been to the Michelin-starred Juniper yet, but am dutifully trotting over there before Paul Kitching leaves. Like most people, I'm happy to stick to my less-exalted favourites in the city: This n' That, Red Chilli, or the wonderful Market if I have some extra cash. Still, for a rock-solid special occasion meal, I'll usually be heading into the surrounding bits of Lancs and Yorks, which isn't what I would have expected before moving here.

Rayner speculates that Manchester's culinary shortcomings are down to the calibre of cooks in the city's kitchens, which could well be. For my part, I think too much time and money goes into creating a restaurant that looks flash, while less attention is paid to what comes out of the kitchen - and with an increasingly savvy dining public up here this tendency is starting to seem out of place.

16 comments:

Flat Out said...

I went to Juniper before leaving town and it was great. I left hungry, but full. If you know what I mean. Erm...

yankunian said...

Yes, I am hoping we can get a table... even though I am allergic to Cheshire. If not, am going to try Isinglass in Urmston.

Mark Hanson said...

West Didsbury is great for independently owned restaurants with good food and good service. Try Rhubarb.

Manc is a bit guilty of thinking chrome and a cool name is the key to a good restaurant, although have to add caveat that I've only just moved here!

foodieSarah said...

Definately worth giving Juniper a whirl. Had an anniversary meal there two years ago of which I can still recall every detail.

yankunian said...

Mark, I've been meaning to get to Rhubarb for ages... thanks for the reminder. Have heard it's ace. I also quite like the Lime Tree over there.

Frank Morgan said...

There's nothing wrong with the Spud-u-like or Greggs at The Arndale centre!!

FM

GiacomoL said...

I'm italian, lived here for 5 years now, and I find the local scene quite depressing for "the second city in Britain". Even "ethnic" establishments are far from brilliant: the curry mile is just a big bowel-killer, and chinatown is barely average. I had better pizza in bloody Preston, which is really something.

I'm not saying it has to be like London or NYC, but it can certainly be much better. I guess that Gordon Ramsay twat could film an entire series around here...

yankunian said...

Ooh, where in Preston did you have good pizza? Just curious.

I agree about chinatown and the curry mile, for the most part - I always expect those places to be better than they end up being.

ciara said...

That Cafe in Levenshulme is amazing if you want to spend a bit more without going all fine-dining.
The Great Kathmandu and Gurkha Grill in West Didsbury do the best curries - waaaaaay better than any of the slop you get served in Rusholme.
Alladin in Withington is brilliant for mezze style Middle Eastern food and yummy Syrian stews.
And if you want a very cheap, healthy and delicious eat-in kebab/falafel/hummus etc, check out Jaffa, a Lebanese cafe in Rusholme...the chicken and lamb kebabs are out of this world, as is the baklava.
It's taken me 10 years of dedicated research to come up with this list, hope you enjoy ;o)

yankunian said...

Thanks Ciara! I just bought some of That Cafe's tarts and pies from a farmer's market and they were so good that I vowed to go soon. I am also a big fan of the cheap and lovely Jaffa. I haven't tried the other three but I will remember them...

Stephen Newton said...

Sadly Rayner's generally correct. But Manchester is good for value eateries offering simple grub; had a great three curries and rice at the Little Aladin on High Street yesterday. Maybe we're a lunchtime city?

Ade said...

Tried Juniper a while ago and have to say very disappointed. I'd like to think I'm fairly on the ball as to what makes a good restaurant/food but maybe I'm in the minority on this one. Generally agreed though. Went to The Lime Tree in West Didsbury recently and think that's worthy of it's good reputation. Have been to Yang Sing about three times in the last year and on occasions it was really very poor. They've lost the plot to my reckoning. My pennies worth anyways ...

Ade

Stef said...

Isinglass all the way, in two years of very extensive eating out I still haven't found somewhere that compares.
If I can add anything to that, avoid Sunday evenings, the only occasion when we were able to find fault.

yankunian said...

That's funny Stef, I just went to Isinglass for the first time last night - had been meaning to get there for ages. It was just as good as I'd been led to expect.

Urbis said...

Isinglass is great. And the Inn at Whitewell if you're out and about. Prefer Hunter's to THis and That. Love the Market, massively under-rated. And just a mention for our new place...go on, try it...

yankunian said...

Yeah, The Inn at Whitewell is one of the places in Lancs. I was talking about when I said I usually head out of the city for a special meal. I adore the Market but I heard someone just bought it - will ask about it when I go there for lunch on Fri.

Hunters BBQ is my top pick for kebabs but their curries are far inferior to those at Tn'T IMHO. Haven't been to the Modern yet, but sure I will sometime...