The French is situated inside The Midland which is arguably Manchester’s finest hotel – I don’t think there’s much competition though! The building itself boasts a rather grand exterior – I can see why Hitler wanted to make it his base if he invaded (true fact!).
Originally a rather stuffy traditional French restaurant complete with white tablecloths, the dining room had been given the Rogan makeover and blended glamour and opulence with a casual and relaxed atmosphere. This was helped by the staff who exuded charm and enthusiasm – what a lovely team.
For lunch three, six or ten course tasting menus were available and seeing as we made the journey from London to Manchester especially – we opted for the latter (£79).
Four delightful snacks kicked things off brilliantly. Crispy kale and truffle was like a pimped up version of crispy seaweed you get at your local Chinese – utterly heavenly and seriously light and delicate. Little black pudding balls topped with a Cumberland sauce (Port and orange) and shredded sage were rich and moreish; I could have eaten hundreds of the things.
White and brown crab meat nestled in little seaweed crackers which were placed atop a mound of pebbles, looked lovely – and they tasted bloomin’ lovely too. A hint of horseradish provided some heat and some crispy chicken skin added texture. The chickpea crackers topped with ox-eye daisy leaves and a strong garlic aioli were utterly stunning and had a great variety of textures.
Next was our first course; beetroot, goat’s cheese, salted walnuts and apple marigold. One thing that’s great about Simon’s food is the unusual but delicious flavour combinations – here sweet beetroot, tangy goat’s cheese, salty walnuts and an almost minty apple marigold were a delightful blend of flavours.
Ham, grilled radish, leek and watercress with a ham and mustard seed broth was a hearty bowl of food. Although the broth was filled to the brim with mustard seeds it had only a subtle mustardy flavouring which was most delightful.
Bread was a course by itself and featured a wedge of chestnut bread, a Manchester ale roll and a mini French baguette. The butter had been whipped making it ever so light and moreish – enough to be replenished. The ale roll was our firm favourite as the flavour really came through.
A real highlight for us was the Westcombe dumplings with duck sweetbreads and sweetcorn broth. Cheesy dumplings? Yes please, that’s right up my street! Match that with a sweet and velvety sweetcorn sauce and crisp fatty sweetbreads and you’ve got yourself a dish of pure indulgent heaven!
Another strong contender for dish of the day was the ox tartare in coal oil (homemade coal oil that is), pumpkin seeds and purée, kohlrabi and sunflower shoots. We had a similar tartare at L’enclume (Simon’s two star restaurant in Cumbria) which featured venison and candied fennel which blew my mind – and this was no different. Tender chunks of raw beef were refreshed by the tiny kohlrabi balls and enhanced by the earthy pumpkin seed purée making every mouthful a delicious one. Wowzer. (Is that a word?)
Caramelised cabbage, scallops, coastal herbs and smoked roe was next. Who knew caramelised cabbage could excite me so much but it really did – all cabbage should undergo this treatment, it makes it taste so much better and almost nutty! As good as it was it didn’t overpower the tender juicy scallops one bit.
Next was a salad unlike any salad I’ve ever eaten before. Maybe it’s because of the lovage salt, or the endless amounts of herbs and flowers that featured, or the broccoli oil – all I did know was it was ruddy lovely. With all the ingredients being grown on the L’enclume farm, it really didn’t come much fresher tasting than this.
The fillet of plaice with sugar coated carrots, crispy deep fried bone marrow and nasturtium leaves was a pleasure to munch on. It had been drizzled with a sweet and sticky bone marrow jus too, making it all the more flavourful.
Our final savoury course was middle white pork, blewits, new potato and three types of bean (green, yellow and runner) drizzled with a mugwort sauce. The pork was particularly fatty meaning it had oodles of flavour – and most importantly the fat was cooked perfectly making it delicious. The mugwort in the gravy (a rather unique flavour) didn’t overpower the other ingredients at all – a great combination of ingredients.
Both desserts were tasty and very pleasant but weren’t quite as wow-wee in terms of flavours. The spiced plums with sweet cheese ice cream, hazelnut crumbs and oxalis had a nice balance between sweet and savoury; the tangy cheesy ice cream was cracking.
The macerated berries with yoghurt ice cream, toasted oats and anise hyssop snow was simply presented and possibly the most simple in terms of flavour combinations (possibly too simple?) – but lovely never the less. The anise hyssop provided some aniseed flavour which went really well with the raspberries.
So there we have it, a totally brilliant lunch and well worth the journey to Manchester to enjoy it. The dining room was gorgeous, the staff were as friendly as humanly possible and the food was really rather delicious. The enthusiasm from both front of house and the kitchen was rather contagious and we wandered off into the haze of Manchester city centre, with massive smiles on our faces.
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