Mr Cooper’s House and Garden, The Midland Hotel, Peter Street, Manchester, M60 2DS – Visit Now
Buoyed by the success of The French, Simon Rogan’s latest restaurant venture offers a more accessible – but no less innovative – dining experience.
In 1819, coach manufacturer Thomas Cooper had one of the largest private gardens in Manchester, attached to his grand house which stood on the present-day site of the Midland Hotel. So when the people behind Simon Rogan’s new restaurant at the hotel were looking around for a concept, they didn’t have far to go. Mr Cooper’s House and Garden opened a few weeks ago, and we can report it’s a more accessible affair than Rogan’s first, more highfalutin’ Midland restaurant, The French. These two restaurants are doing very different – but equally important – things.
The enormous, 150-cover dining space is split into house (bookshelves and antique maps) and garden (plants, trees, outdoor furniture) themed sections. It’s an adorable concept but I wish it were executed a bit less faithfully. Garden furniture isn’t really that comfortable. My friend and I were sat at a vast round outdoor table, under an umbrella, with a gigantic blue-white glowing ovoid on the table, casting a weird light on proceedings and taking up more than its fair share of space. But hey, points for creativity.
This menu is full of stuff you want to eat, at prices you don’t mind paying. Not a single main is over £20, and many are closer to £10. (Okaaay, I know, but from a Michelin-starred chef, in this hotel, in this town; food at those prices might as well be the black bread of the revolution). In the age of thrift, we’re constantly being urged to clip coupons or explore 12 Surprising Ways with Mince. It’s fitting then, that the meatballs were surprisingly good. I have much love for this humble food anytime, but these were a revelation: juicy and lolling around in a sweet, tzatziki-spiked sauce that I would quite happily have drunk by the tureen. My rather exciting starter of smoked eel torte with lovage and pork belly was a kind of savoury cream slice full of strong flavours that elegantly accommodated each other.
Turkish delight, syllabub and flapjacks sounded daft. So I ordered it
Likewise, my lamb rump with lentils and courgettes was solidly good eating. But after tasting one bite, I spent the meal casting greedy glances at my friend’s plate, where delicate haddock fillet and shellfish were wrapped tenderly in a buttery cabbage leaf and ensconced in mash and broad beans. Good though they were, both plates could have done with a lighter hand on the salt. A side dish of kale and spinach with cream and bacon was the meal’s only real dud, ponderously rich and even saltier than the mains. But oh, that side of deep fried pickles. Bewilderingly moreish, and a good candidate for the best bar snack in town. The spirit of invention carries through to the puddings. Turkish delight, syllabub and flapjacks sounded daft. So I ordered it, and loved the way the different textures grooved along together in the mouth. Meanwhile, my friend’s apple and butterscotch pie was a thing of beauty, studded with fat, boozy raisins.
Service, from the sweet Maria, was warm and welcoming throughout. This early in the life cycle of a restaurant there are bound to be a few teething problems (the salt issue, and menus written in microscopic type which were due to be replaced). But what this so clearly isn’t is yet another boring hotel restaurant, the natural habitat of soul-sapping business lunches and despair-inducing Continental breakfast buffets. There’s already a warmth and life here, and a creative approach in the kitchen aimed at reinventing the basics. It ought to become a reliable standby of mid-table dining, a place you can go for a good meal and eat quietly well without paying danger money for the privilege. Good. We need more places like that around here.