The French, The Midland Hotel, Peter Street, Manchester, M20 2DS – Visit Now
Has The Midland finally made fine dining in Manchester a reality? You’d better speak to newly confirmed Roganite, Kate.
The reopening of The French this spring sent ripples of excitement around the city. A hard-boiled professional food critic I know was in girlish raptures. Another foodie told me the chestnut bread was “bangin’”. By the time I sat down to dinner, my expectations were higher than the cheap seats at Old Trafford. And still chef Simon Rogan and his talented team completely topped them.
Rogan has built up a devoted following at the Michelin-starred L’Enclume in Cartmel, where he’s put a British spin on the fiercely local hunter-gatherer cuisine practised by chefs such as René Redzepi at Noma in Copenhagen. In The Midland Hotel he’s got a perfectly central city location. The oval room has been reinvented with warm green walls, light wood table tops and woven placemats, the only glitz provided by two striking chandeliers. The overall effect is like green buds opening on a long-dormant tree. Very fitting for a meal that was close as you can get to eating springtime in England.
The French’s six-course tasting menu is an evening of food so interesting, so thoughtful and ultimately so satisfying that eating it probably raises your IQ and boosts your standard of living. Even after six courses, three amuse-bouches, bread, wine, coffee and chocolates, you don’t feel like you’ve overindulged, because the food is clean and wholesome. Rogan has sourced the best native produce, cooked each ingredient in a way that individually brings out its essence, and then masterfully combined them to create a surprising and inventive interplay of tastes and textures. Some of the produce is really local: a kitchen garden has been installed on the roof.
For as long as I’ve been here we haven’t had fine dining that could stand up to London. Now we do.
The standout was sole bathed in a rich onion broth with truffles, crisp brown little onion rings and delicate wild garlic, sweet and light and umami all at once. Or maybe it was briny crabmeat with crunchy sheets of chicken skin and caramelised cabbage in a pool of horseradish cream. But I’d hate to imply I found anything lacking in the pillowy hake with toasted buckwheat and pea shoots, or the wizardry of ox with coal oil; ruby morsels of raw beef bearing the smoky kiss of an imaginary grill. And that chestnut bread – chewy crust, nutty bittersweet insides – was completely bangin’.
My friend had the vegetarian tasting menu and it was a pleasure to see each dish put before her had been given just as much thought as mine, if not more. This is a kitchen that profoundly understands vegetables. Light-as-air truffle dumplings, complex vegetal broths, and salads of virginal freshness proceeded in a dreamlike procession. The few wines we sampled were unusual, favouring off dry whites, with a complex Saint-Émilion the notable exception. Service overall was frank, friendly and assured. By the time we had reached the pear poached in its own juices with meadowsweet and the sarsaparilla meringue ice cream sandwich, we were both dedicated Roganites.
Offering three, six and ten-course menus at relatively reasonable prices makes The French unusually accessible for a great restaurant – of course, you have to get a table (try lunch if you can’t wait). Rogan’s second restaurant at The Midland, the larger and more casual Mr. Cooper’s Garden, will open in September. Manchester is much the better for Rogan’s arrival. We have solid mid-rangers, a good mix of ethnic places and marvellous old pubs, but for as long as I’ve been here the city centre hasn’t had a fine dining restaurant that could stand up to anything in London or New York. Now things are different. This is a situation that Mancunians are much more comfortable with, and we can settle into doing what we do best: bragging about our city. Because let me tell you, we unequivocally have something worth bragging about.