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.