The Refuge, Oxford Street, Manchester, M60 7HA – Visit Now
Drinks review by Martin Kevill:
Remember Odd, Odder and Oddest? With a footprint spanning the Northern Quarter, Oxford Road and even Chorlton, these bars enjoyed a long and respected time in the city. Like many philanthropists, however, the bar’s owner, Cleo Farman, wanted to try something new and over the last few years, the ‘Triple Os’ slowly faded away as Cleo embarked on a new, exciting project.
Cleo wanted to create a killer rum straight out of her home village, Chorlton. She hopped over to the Caribbean and delved into its many distilleries, spending twelve months trying different rums to create the perfect blend from her Chorlton base. The result? Diablesse Rum.
With no added sugar, this is a dry, warming drop of authenticity
Currently, Cleo has nurtured two beautiful expressions: Caribbean Rum and Diablesse Clementine Spiced Caribbean Rum, the latter of which is a demerara rum, naturally flavoured with clementine, clove, cinnamon, vanilla pod and ginger. It’s well worth tracking down.
The ‘normal’ Caribbean Rum combines an eight-year-old Barbados rum with four-year-old Jamaican and two-year-old Demerara rums, aged in ex-Bourbon-whisky charred oak casks. With no added sugar, this is a dry, warming drop of authenticity.
Both rums are starting to find homes in some recommended places across Manchester. If you’re in the likes of Refuge, Volta or Electrik, sniff it out when you can. It’s a Mancunian piece of the Caribbean.
The Refuge is a bar and the latest culinary showcase for Electric Chair DJs Luke Cowdrey and Justin Crawford, who made their mark on the city’s food scene with the success of their Didsbury restaurant-cum-bar Volta. It’s the in-house restaurant of The Principal Manchester (formerly The Palace Hotel), following a multi-million pound redesign.
The Refuge takes its name from the original Victorian owners of the building, The Refuge Assurance Company Ltd, and matches the no expense spared feel of that era. Huge arches and marbled tiles feature heavily, with a vast exhibition wall facing the 139 cover restaurant. These spectacular features are everywhere, from the 30ft granite bar to glorious stained-glass windows and towering pillars.
Despite the 10,000 square foot space it has an intimate feel. A private dining room lies a few steps from the cocktail lounge, which borders on the casual and cosy den area. The winter garden is an instant showstopper, housed in a glass atrium and harking back to the breathtaking architecture of Victorian Manchester.
Today, we’re sampling the Refuge Introduction, a chef’s selection of six small plates (cutely titled ‘Voltini’), which changes daily, plus a 375ml carafe of wine. If you’re visiting the nearby Palace Theatre it’s a perfect pre-theatre meal if you fancy something both affordable and out-of-the-ordinary.
The food more than matches the setting. Inspiration for the dishes comes from Luke and Justin’s travels, so there’s a huge variety on offer, unrestricted by a specific theme.
Meat-lovers will adore the slow-cooked ox cheek, which comes smothered in a deceptively hot Massaman sauce and sprinkled with thin strips of crunchy potato. The spiced lamb chops come a close second, speckled with pomegranate seeds and with a side of harissa chickpea purée. Both chops boast hefty hunks of meat – no half-measures here.
The heritage tomato and red onion salad is a simple but accomplished dish that impresses all the senses. It’s a plate bursting with colour and texture, the ingredients combining with a light vinaigrette to produce a mix of salt and sweet.
The crispy artichokes are another noteworthy dish, featuring a subtle white wine, carrot and coriander sauce. They’re prepared perfectly, ditching all the woody, fibrous parts but cooked to deliver a satisfying crunch.
The tuna tartare is a pile of soft, fresh little cubes of tuna, mixed in with shelled edamame beans. A bubbly cracker juts out dramatically, adding crunch to the dish. The mackerel is another winner, with a large deboned mackerel fillet, slumped over paper-thin slices of fresh cucumber, finished off with a blob of aioli with a glorious garlic kick.
With its inclusive feel, The Refuge is a palatial but welcoming hang-out that manages to be elegant while never feeling stuffy. It’s a truly Mancunian take on quality dining, headed by two of the city’s most notable figures doing what they do best.
The Refuge Introduction runs from noon until 6.45pm Mon-Fri and clocks in at £45 for two.