The RefugeIan Jones, Food and Drink Editor
The Refuge is the in-house bar and restaurant of Kimpton Clocktower Hotel and one of the most notable venues on the ever-growing and increasingly impressive Oxford Road corridor. It takes its name from the original Victorian owners of the building, The Refuge Assurance Company Ltd, and the current space certainly matches that era’s no expense spared feel. Huge arches and marbled tiles feature heavily, with spectacular features everywhere, from the 30ft granite bar to glorious stained-glass windows and towering pillars.
One of the most notable venues on the ever-growing and increasingly impressive Oxford Road corridor
Despite the 10,000 square-foot space, it has an intimate feel. A private dining room is a few steps from the cocktail lounge, which borders 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 new spring menu and the room is packed even at the early timeslot of 530pm. Clearly, if you’re a theatre fan, here’s where to go for a pre-show meal both affordable and extraordinary.
To begin, try the sourdough, sourced from the revered Pollen Bakery. The bread is soft where it matters, with a nice chewy crust, and comes with a dollop of mushroom and black garlic butter to spread across the lot. The wonderful mushrooms used come from Polyspore, a low-waste urban farm in Altrincham.
You’ll find plenty of vegan dishes on the menu, pleasingly, including the colourful Hispi cabbage. It’s packed with soy and miso flavours, and slices apart with a satisfying crunch.
Not quite vegan, but arguably the standout dish on the menu is the chargrilled sweet potato, with shatta creme fraiche. Mistakenly expecting some wedges, it was a treat to be met with a whole large sweet potatoes, split down the middle with a gloriously tangy-yet-creamy sauce poured over the top. The ‘meat’ of the potato is astonishingly soft and full of flavour too – it’s a must-try dish.
Then there’s the octopus, a simple but accomplished dish that hits all the senses. It’s a plate bursting with colour, texture and flavour – combining transparent slices of radish with burnt red tomato and meaty, smoky octopus.
Meat-lovers will adore the Gochujang-glazed pork belly. It’s a little pot of thick juicy cubes of perfectly-cooked pork meat, coated in the precise amount of sauce – not too much, not too little, with a few thin slices of hot chili pepper for good measure.
The chocolate, harissa and rose torte is another winner – rich and dark where it matters, balanced out by a few light elements, including cream and raspberries.
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, and one of the shining lights of this busy Manchester area.