Restaurant MCR, Tower 12, 18-22 Bridge St, Manchester, M3 3BZ – Visit Now
Look familiar? Well it should do. This venue was previously known as CT-fave Manchester House, which sadly closed down following Aiden Byrne’s short-lived move to a rival Spinningfields restaurant. But here it is, reborn, like a delicious phoenix from some artisan ashes.
Aiden Byrne, probably the best chef in Manchester, is back
Best of all? Byrne’s back. Probably the best chef in Manchester – during his fierce war with Simon Rogan, we were firmly on Team Byrne – his new venture has some some minor cosmetic changes (no more chef’s table) and a revamp of the menu (a choice of two tasting menus) but ultimately it’s Byrne’s vision, brought back to his original Manchester haunt, and one we always preferred to the glitzy but mildly disappointing 20 Stories.
It’s a tad quiet on a Friday evening, but it is a wet weekend in January after all, and the hip new craze of ‘Veganuary’ is sweeping the nation, as well as people trying and failing to live healthily (our tip? Don’t bother).
The staff are largely polite, and our hostess for the evening is charm itself. Her male understudy is a touch abrupt, but nothing too annoying. The chefs are all likeable and friendly, happily answering my banal questions without raising an eyebrow. Want to know how many crackers their big piece of pastry makes? It’s twenty. Twenty.
Byrne works wonders with both misdirection and the simple black cherry
We opt for the thirteen-course menu because anything less simply wouldn’t do. First up, an unusual mini sandwich, with richly flavoured and flattened-out crisped chicken skin as the outer layers, and a light crab and sorrel filling. This comes with a little glass of lightly-alcoholic gold rush apple juice which smells dank and dirty but tastes bright and breezy. It’s a peculiar way to kick things off, but not unpleasant, far from it.
Next, a polished rock bearing a bubbly squid ink tapioca cracker, with mussels, peppered pork lardo and teeny tiny leaves perched on top. It looks and tastes like some mystical creature from the bottom of the sea, and unless your tastes begin and end at egg and chips, you’ll adore it.
This is followed by a typically Byrne-ian dish – a strip of gingerbread featuring three deep purple blobs (possibly a veiled dig at middle-aged Smoke On The Water fans, possibly not): a sorbet, foie gras mousse and a black cherry, plus a thin sticky slice of prime ham. Fans of Byrne’s work know that he works wonders with both misdirection and the simple black cherry, and this is exactly that – the foie gras mousse, in particular, is an eye-popping experience when tasted with the other elements.
White chocolate and earthy venison aren’t a match made in heaven, they’re not even a match made in Hull
An ornate bowl holds a dark rich combination of mushrooms, and Jerusalem artichoke, including a long seashell-style artichoke crisp on the side. This is then coated with an umami-rich stock, poured from a glass teapot. It’s small but memorable, a delicate-looking dish with deep, deep flavours.
Then a break for bread. Bread’s bread, it’s never the standout dish, but this sourdough ball is as good as cooked dough gets, especially with the roasted chicken butter, resting on flecks of crisped-up chicken skin.
Think Dr Gunther von Hagens, of Body Worlds fame, let loose on an English country garden
Next, one of my favourite courses of the entire menu, and quite possibly of recent years. It’s a simple looking plate, very delicate, with a beautifully-cooked spring onion, a wafer thin segment of white onion (think Dr Gunther von Hagens, of Body Worlds fame, let loose on an English country garden), tied up with Ribblesdale goats’ cheese and Jabugo ham. The flavours are overpowering in exactly the right way. The previous dishes were all great in their own way, but this is the one that I’ll beg, steal or borrow to try again.
The venison makes for a truly bizarre course, and not in a good way, not initially at least. An odd paper-thin carpet of venison is draped over a creamy goo made up of white chocolate, blackcurrant and smoked cauliflower. First taste and it’s a nope from me. White chocolate and earthy venison aren’t a match made in heaven, they’re not even a match made in Hull. But I persist, and after the third or fourth bite I begin to get it. There’s a method in Byrne’s madness and while it’s far from the best dish on the menu, it’s a curiously moreish dish. I wouldn’t rush back for this, mind, but I’m glad I tried it.
Things are back to normal with the grilled Argentinian red prawn dish. Teamed with chunks of salty eel, pickled carrot and nasturtium, it looks beautiful, all vivid sea-like colours and orange speckles. Tastes great too.
Now for the big decision of the day. The choice of main: beef cheek or duck breast? Fear not, I had both.
The braised beef cheek is phenomenal. One of the classics of the Manchester House days, this is quite simply the most perfectly cooked beef you’ll ever eat, potent flakes of meat crumbling and tumbling across the tastebuds. Combine this with some choucroute (a type of sauerkraut, cooked in wine), secretto (the ultimate cut of meat for those who know) and little cubes of Txogitxi tartar. It’s fantastic, and rivals the Ribblesdale goat’s cheese dish for pole position on this lengthy menu.
The bad news? The salt-aged duck breast is just as good. Oh well, you’ll just have to enter into an agreement with your dining partner to go halves on each. A beautiful cut of duck breast, complete with a thick, artery-thickening layer of fat, plus a thick chunk of beetroot which isn’t essential but does add depth to the course, then, of course, some grilled blackberries (what is it with Byrne and berries? The man’s a berry-utilising legend) that work wonders with those duck flavours. Like I said, get both.
Now desserts. First, a fragile little apple mousse, topped with a wafer-style circle, a little blob of apple reduction and a goats curd sorbet, with the main filling a combination of lemon and fennel. If we were to be overly picky, the fennel adds some slightly unnecessary aniseed notes, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t delicious.
The chocolate brownie is a wonder, a thick hearty crumbly circle of brownie, with a host of cute mango and passionfruit blobs neatly arranged on top. But the Manchester Tart is the winner, for me. Springy sponge cake, topped with a double-thick dollop of shredded-up coconut and cream. This is how to end a meal.
Is Restaurant MCR worth a visit? Without doubt. Is it one of the city’s best tasting menus? On tonight’s showing it’s hard to think of anywhere else doing such complex but immediately delicious cooking. Byrne’s always been the city’s best, and now the ill-fated sojourn to 20 Stories has been shrugged off, he’s back to doing what he does best, and it’s hard to imagine anyone toppling him anytime soon.