20 Stories, No. 1 Spinningfields, 1 Hardman Square, Manchester, M3 3EB – Visit Now
20 Stories exploded onto the Manchester dining scene with a host of celebrity launch parties and rumours that this could be the restaurant that finally brings a Michelin star back to Manchester. The reason for these rumours? That’ll be its head chef, the Kirkby-born chef Aiden Byrne who was the youngest chef to win a Michelin star when he was just 22.
The whole experience screams luxury
Byrne made his name in the city at the acclaimed Manchester House, establishing himself as one of the finest chefs in the North. Now he’s been poached by the powers-that-be behind 20 Stories, a glorious restaurant and bar in the city centre on the top floor of the new No.1 Spinningfields tower.
First impressions are good. The whole experience screams luxury. You step into a lift without any buttons, and zoom effortlessly up to the nineteenth floor – not the twentieth, bafflingly. The place is bustling, it’s clearly the place to be, loved by everyone from hard-to-please broadsheet food critics to actors from Hollyoaks.
Some dishes have made their way over from Manchester House, including the peerless pigeon and cherries, although in a slightly more gruesome form, with a small roast pigeon breast accompanied by a long spindly leg that ends with a razor-sharp hooked claw. Of course, provenance is a hot topic these days, and we’re constantly challenged to only eat food we’d kill ourselves, so it’s fair to assume this claw is a nod to that. But in truth, I’d rather have a meal that doesn’t a) encourage the contemplation of death, and b) risk causing a nasty cut.
Sissy metropolitan concerns aside, the flavours are delicious and almost Christmassy – the deep meaty flavours of the pigeon pairing marvellously with the tangy, spicy cherries.
The steak tartare is equally impressive, dark red ground up beef, soft and silky, topped with an egg yolk. It’s a simple dish that relies heavily on the quality of the ingredients, which don’t disappoint. It does, however, come with half a dozen or so ‘traditional garnishes’ dotted around the outside of the plate, but we never get to find out what these are, as our plate is passed out with barely a word from the waiting staff.
As anyone who’s been to Forest Side, Moor Hall or Simon Rogan’s restaurant knows, a big part of the experience is stagecraft, the staff proudly explaining each element and its origins, so this smash-and-dash approach comes as a let-down. It might be twenty (or nineteen) storeys up, but there are zero stories about the food.
Back to the food, the lamb main is an exceptional dish, if a little teeny – perhaps more something you’d expect on a tasting menu than a main course. A few wonderfully-cooked pieces of lamb, combined with a couple of beautiful, bouncy spheres of gnocchi, and topped off with chanterelle mushrooms. It’s an earthy, meaty dish and you’ll want to eat it thrice over.
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Who cares, so long as they don’t arrive on the same plate
The poached chicken proves somewhat more divisive. It’s a perfectly poached chicken breast, incredibly soft and supple, covered in a truffle-led sauce, matched with crunchy thick asparagus and a poached egg. However, mixing this ultra-moist chicken with egg yolk proves a touch too macabre for my dining partner. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Who cares, so long as they don’t arrive on the same plate.
Along with the lamb, the desserts prove to be the highlights of the meal. The chocolate dish, consisting of peanut praline and caramel mousse, banana ice cream is truly fantastic – particularly the gold-speckled chocolate orb containing teeth-destroyingly-rich caramel that marries brilliantly to the blobs of soft ice cream.
The yoghurt parfait dish is another success, infused with subtle hints of raspberry, rose & lemon – plus a glorious scattering of candied salted pistachios around the outside.
It was always going to be difficult for 20 Stories to live up to all the hype. And while the food is superb, there are flaws that take away from the entire experience, not least the lack of description of each dish – many of which come with fascinating flourishes that aren’t described on the menu. It’s certainly worth a visit, but it could be worth waiting a month or two for these teething problems to be fixed.