Carnival at Freight Island, Ticket Hall, Freight Island, 11 Baring St, Manchester, M1 2PZ – Visit Now
Something special has arrived at Escape To Freight Island, the sprawling food and drink metropolis found behind Piccadilly Train Station and next door to the mighty Star & Garter. It’s called Carnival and it’s a project done in collaboration with Hawksmoor big-brain, Richard Turner, based at the open kitchen formerly held by Baratxuri.
As far as tasting menus go, this is up there with Manchester’s very best
Much like Freight Island itself, it’s worth pinning down exactly what it is. There are two ways of dining at Carnival, one is a tasting menu up at the chef’s table where you get a ringside view of the dishes being cooked on the blazing open-fired grill; the other is as a diner in the rest of Freight Island’s ticket hall, where you can order individual dishes to your table.
Tonight, we’re trying out the tasting menu and calling it a must-try is an understatement. Despite Turner’s pedigree, it’s not all meat, meat, meat, though it does feature heavily. Tallied up, you can expect to sample around a dozen dishes, ranging from sides to mains, and plenty of other bits in between.
The opening course, the cheese churros, are the point where you’ll sit up and take notice. Piping hot, full of tangy hot cheese, with yet more grated over the lot. They’re superb. As are the crispy scampi. Nothing fancy or mould-breaking, just very, very good crispy fried scampi with a big dollop of rich, thick, belt-busting mayonnaise.
The charcoal-grilled asparagus makes for a pleasing and light diversion. The spears are fresh and cooked well, naturally, but the drizzle of gently fiery horseradish and hazelnut and garlic sauce lifts them to new heights.
Sticking with seafood and vegetables, the chargrilled squid is a wirey tangle of deep-fried squid, resting on a thick cylinder of seared squid, accompanied by some rocket and set on a puddle of kosho, a Japanese condiment made from chilis. Again, it’s excellent and looks gloriously dramatic on the plate.
The braised pig’s head and crumpet is the first meat course and meaty it is. Two circles, one dark and rich, the other both fluffy and pleasingly stodgy, topped off with some slices of pickle – it’s a superb combination of texture and taste.
For the next section, a piece of mackerel, beautifully cooked with a hard but slender crisped-up skin, with a blob of apple and tamarind on the side, plus some crunchy coleslaw. This arrives with a hefty plate of fresh vegetables, taking in romaine lettuce, beef tomato and potatoes.
It’s all leading up to the platter of steak, showcasing the finest-quality cuts of rump, prime rib, bone-in sirloin and t-bone steak. They’re all fantastic but then again, you wouldn’t expect anything less from someone who helped Hawksmoor become the household name it is today.
This comes with probably the most memorable dish on the menu, a plate consisting of sweet grilled carrots, baked potatoes coated with an intoxicating glossy gravy and chunks of braised ox cheek, and best of all, half an onion with the innards replaced with powerfully flavoured sausage meat. I don’t quite understand why this incredible onion and sausage mash-up hasn’t become a staple dish across the North over the years, but it’s here and it’s delicious. If you like your food decadent with a traditional flair, don’t pass on this.
Finally, a well-crafted sticky toffee pudding. Every element is perfection, from the creamy blob on top, melting into the lot, to the gloopy, sticky toffee and the soft square of pudding.
When asked what his favourite course was, Richard took a moment before declaring the steak his personal winner: “It’s something about meat and fire, it’s been going on since caveman times.” Me? It’s the ox cheek and potatoes and the sausage and onion, but hey, a particularly skilled caveman could have put those together back in the day, I’m sure.
Escape To Freight Island has so much to offer, it’s almost overwhelming deciding where to start. Thankfully, Carnival has made that decision for all you hungry meat-eaters out there. As far as tasting menus go, this is up there with Manchester’s very best.