Dakota Bar & Grill Manchester, 29 Ducie St, Manchester, M1 2JL – Visit Now
Part of the four-star Dakota Manchester hotel, The Grill restaurant and bar reopened in early July with an updated menu and a few necessary changes. It goes without saying that public safety is paramount but at Dakota it never feels intrusive. For example, seats and tables are spaced out to reduce risk but the layout means there’s still a buzz and a sense of excitement from hungry visitors thrilled to be back eating out.
And fear not, the staff are well-versed on how to deal with these new changes, keeping at a safe distance but not at the expense of a pleasant dining experience. They’re chatty and as happy to help as ever – it’s clear they’re as delighted to be back as we are – while subtly ensuring the safety of the diners.
More Mediterranean than Manchester
As for the venue, the new and improved terrace area is the most impressive change: a grand outside area with a retractable roof that can cater for all variations of weather. Tonight, inevitably, it’s drizzly, although you wouldn’t know it. A lofty ceiling, tasteful foliage and sky-high windows give the room a spacious, almost-tropical feel, helped out by invisible but effective temperature control and dashes of peaceful foliage dotted around. It creates a balmy feel, more Mediterranean than Manchester, elegant without ever seeming over the top.
The current menu has been pared back a notch, for obvious reasons, but it’ll be changed up again in August. It’s worth visiting for drinks on the terrace alone but the dishes on offer throughout July are well worth exploring. Expect that Ancoats-honed combination of high-end and accessible – promised by many but achieved by few. We begin our meal with an unannounced oven dish containing goats cheese and a tart tomato reduction, paired with a bread roll crisp and crunchy on the surface, soft and doughy inside. As far as first dishes after months of stay-at-home boredom go, it’s a winner.
From there, we work through all corners of this small but accomplished menu. First, a thick slab of gently-smoked Scottish salmon matched with elegant shavings of truffle and asparagus – it’s art on a plate but tastes a damn sight better than the average Jackson Pollock. The spiced lamb dish comes with a firm recommendation from our waiter – and well it should. A trio of lamb balls, minced, spiced and rolled in a thin but hotly effective layer of madras sauce, next to a deconstructed tzatziki dip and three little pastry pillows. Taken separately, each element is simple and delicious dish, but together it’s a superb plate that confidently shows off the skills of the kitchen.
The monkfish curry is another winner, arriving with a quartet of bowls containing relatively uncommon but always welcome dips (kachumba being the standout) and some delightfully dinky popadoms. But if I had to choose a favourite, it’d be the stonebass. Cooked to perfection is an ugly, overused phrase but this delicate fish was, well, cooked to perfection. A skin that’s firm and crisp, while managing to be delicate and flakey underneath. Add a slice of crisped ham, some moreish confit ratte potatoes, an amber-coloured sauce so good it has to be eaten with eyes closed, and a few dots of caviar and you’ve got one of Manchester’s essential summer dishes.
Desserts keep up the quality. My guest opts for the peppermint and milk chocolate cheesecake, which combines traditional British fare with an all-important 21st-century pizzazz. A triumph, on all counts. I go for the buttermilk panna cotta, which comes with rhubarb and shortbread – my guest shudders at the r-word, admitting a longstanding fear of the pink vegetable due to their resemblance to, ahem, triffids. Thankfully, no menacing, tongue-like plants arrive, merely one of the prettiest and most enjoyably laid-out desserts I’ve had all year. It’s all reds, whites and pinks: a berry slice here, a pink scoop there, tied together with a rich, creamy panna cotta and shards of biscuit. It’s astoundingly good – if you’re a dessert lover, come here for this alone.
The people behind Dakota haven’t wasted their months in the lockdown wilderness. The new terrace alone has transformed it into a must-visit destination, while the menu is high-end without being fusty and accessible without being dumbed-down. If you’re looking for a special post-quarantine evening out, the Dakota Bar & Grill can’t be recommended enough.