Have you ever heard of Manchester’s ‘Square Half Mile’? Like physical cash it has slipped from everyday usage, but it’s the historical name for the central professional and financial district in the city centre – a quadrilateral loosely bounded by Cross Street, Princess Street, Mosely and Market Street. A typically irreverent bit of Mancunian nose-thumbing to London’s Square Mile.
The Square Half Mile was the beating heart of the city from Victorian times right through to the turn of the 21st century. But then the city elders begat Spinningfields, a shiny new purpose-built business district with glitzy buildings and expansive floorplates, and many of the professional services companies relocated there en masse.
But Manchester’s renaissance has left no stone unturned, and the resurgent Square Half Mile (even if only I now call it that), has become the city’s premium hotel district with Gotham, The Stock Exchange, King St Townhouse, and a new Malmaison. It’s also home to a roster of restaurants including Gary Usher’s Kala and Gordon Ramsay’s Lucky Cat, plus some of Manchester’s finest wine merchants, craft ale bars and real ale pubs.
But what if you wanted to work like an auditor but eat like Ancoats?
Thank goodness then for 10 Tib Lane, set up by Ben Gretton, Sophie Robson and Joe White (also Exec Chef) which brings small plates and low intervention wines to a local audience.
It seemed the perfect place to meet Tim Heatley, property developer and man of both culture and commerce. He is the co-founder of Capital and Centric, and sometime TV star, famed for building apartments for Mancunians and carving an entire new residential district out of the arse-end of Piccadilly station. Clearly, he is possessed of a keen sense of adventure.
Set in a neat three-story Georgian townhouse, 10 Tib Lane’s ground floor bar is a peach and has become a hospitality industry favourite. The look is artfully organic – exposed brick, rough-hewn plaster and strategic planting amongst a palette of lichen tones.
The wine list is small but thoughtful and leans towards small producers, and their perky Chin-chin Vinho Verde is from Keeling Andrew, the wine geeks’ wine merchant behind London’s fabled Noble Rot. Tim and I snagged an airy table in the window of the first-floor restaurant and a bottle of Arthur Metz Riesling, bright with mandarin and minerality.
I’d sensed a man responsible for a good chunk of Manchester’s skyline was happy to delegate the big food calls to somebody else, so reeled off a list of dishes to our waitress. “Good grief, how have you chosen already?!” exclaimed Tim. I’ve read a lot of menus in my job – you learn to pick up their rhythms and patterns with a subtle squint.
Also, I’d already skimmed it whilst Tim had popped to the gents.
This particular sheet of paper offered a tight list of dishes, sectioned by pricing which implied sizing, and read as a heart-warming distillation of modern British cooking. Produce-led, pared back, and nodding to St. John – arguably the mothership of such things – not to mention Northern pioneers like Erst.
We started small, with excellent beignets with Templegall cheese from The Crafty Cheeseman, and the obligatory Cantabrian anchovies lurking beneath Simpson’s-yellow olive oil.
Pear tarte tartin with Blue Cloud cheese, sticky, salty and sweet, came next and went straight into a list of most noteworthy upside-down things, alongside Salford’s Chimney Pot Park.
A steak tartare was bound with a creamy mushroom mayo, cleverly layering meatiness on meatiness. A tsunami of umami, if you will. (You won’t? Fine.) Ratte potatoes were good, albeit I like a brisker roast, though my principles melted away like the smoked butter which ran and dripped seductively from their edges.
And then the larger plates, where the kitchen hit its capable stride and I got carried away, ordering sea bass with a dill and champagne beurre blanc, duck breast with root purée and a port sauce, and ex-dairy sirloin with a Fanny Fougerat Petite Cigue Cognac and peppercorn sauce.
Read those back – this is the hippest of Modern British Cooking X Classical Gastronomy. Where the presentation couldn’t be more 2020’s, but where those rich, lustrous sauces, each spiked with booze redolent of muttonchop whiskers and wingback chairs, are pure Escoffier.
The duck, cooked to rose pink, luxuriated upon a slick of silky puree in a pool of coat-the-spoon liquor. The beef was glorious, yellowed fat nicely rendered, its sea of sauce liberally dotted with a mass of bright red peppercorns, like a long shot of the swimming stage in a triathlon. It was sliced and elegantly fanned – the sort of thing Lady Gaga might coquettishly peer over – which appears to be the norm post-Hawksmoor.
Then the sea bass, the wildest of Cornish specimens, arched as if roast whilst in the throes of ecstasy and generously over-flowing the plate at either end. The skin had blistered slightly in the oven, and the accompanying sauce was split with a luminous dill oil.
And here permit me a plea to all restaurants. Whilst watching a professional skilfully fillet a fish tableside with expertise and aplomb brings an TikTok-able sense of theatre into the dining room, leaving it to the diners can descend into pantomime. Come and present the whole cooked fish, yes, but then give it to the experts, please.
So pretty it was not, at least not once I’d portioned it up, but mon dieu it was good. So good in fact that I returned and ordered it again the very next week. I’d say it was one of the best fish dishes I’ve eaten in Manchester in recent times, up there with the similarly oven-roast megrim sole from Edinburgh Castle and the plaice from Higher Ground.
And at that point, tailoring creaking slightly like a galleon under full sail, we called for the bill. The recklessness of ordering three mains had removed both the time and anatomical capacity for puds – but goodness what a high to end on.
When it comes to property ‘location, location, location’ is the adage, but Tim’s company has taken its experience with contemporary city centre living to more peripheral sites of untapped potential – in Stoke, Stockport, and Farnworth recently. It’s amazing how people respond when something wonderful and unexpected is delivered right in their midst.
Such as here, where 10 Tib Lane smuggles a welcome burst of sparky independence into the traditional heart of corporate Manchester. It’s warm and intimate and deeply personal, so when you walk through their door, you’ll feel like more than just a number.
- It’s awards season! Wow is it ever… Firstly the Top 50 Gastropubs took place on the 22nd January at the superlative Parker’s Arms in the Ribble Valley, and although the North lost top spot it still dominated the list, with a first ever Mancunian entry for Edinburgh Castle. And earlier this week the city’s finest descended on New Century Hall for the Manchester Food and Drink Festival awards, happening as a standalone event in January for the first time. It was a fantastic celebration, with an upbeat party atmosphere despite hospitality’s current travails, strong shortlists and a brilliant set of winners. I also attended the Good Food Guide awards in London, where Higher Ground were flying the Mancunian flag and Myse in North Yorkshire and The Cedar Tree at Farlam Hall in the Lakes gained ‘Exceptional’ ratings. And finally, Michelin rolls into Manchester next week, which is the first time the ceremony has ever taken place outside London and the South. I’m hoping for at least one if not two additional stars for Manchester, and I’m going to stick my neck out now and say that in three years we could have four or even five. I’ll be there live on the night, so do follow along on Instagram.
- All my recent travel seems to have been to London, which at least gave me the opportunity to tick two more hot new-ish openings off my list. With my partners in crime Gary and Bapi I put The Devonshire to the test – surely the key opening of 2023 and a roaring success from the off. It features the best Guinness in London in the downstairs bar, and a multi-Michelin star chef, Ashley Palmer Watts, knocking out top class British chophouse fayre from a flame-belching oven upstairs. Also, a lunch this week with JMW, sponsors of Manchester Art Fair, took me to 64 Goodge St – clearly I’m drawn to restaurants with addresses as names. It was another effortlessly classy operation from a team including Will Lander, founder of The Quality Chophouse and more. He has pedigree, as he is the son of wine matriarch Jancis Robinson and expat Mancunian and global restaurant authority Nick Lander.
- Coincidentally, London critics seemed to have made the reverse journey in January, with Jay Rayner raving over Fenix and William Sitwell enamoured with Sexy Fish. Of course, as an inveterate food geek I love The Sparrows or Flawd, or indeed Café Marhaba, but you’ll find no reverse snobbery here. I revel in the thrill and people-watching of a big glossy restaurant too. It’s right that a city as large and diverse as Manchester can, just like London or New York, sustain successful and enjoyable venues at both ends of the spectrum, from humble authenticity or theatrical bling.
- And finally, two notable hospitality charity stories: firstly, Dishoom has worked with three charities to serve a staggering 20 million meals to people in poverty across the UK and India. It’s a quite spectacular achievement, and one they wear lightly. One of those charities, Manchester’s own Eat Well, is also running its traditional Eat Well X NRB Charity industry dinner on Monday 11th March. The line-up of guest chefs is awesome this year, with Farida Hamad from Erst, Stosie Madi from The Parker’s Arms and Tom Barnes from the incoming Skof. There are some great London names too, including Joké Bakare from Chisuru, and Mursal Saiq from Cue Point. Let’s not forget though, even as hospitality strives to help others it is simultaneously taking a financial kicking itself. Manchester’s Finest has leant its weight to demand what could be a life-changing cut in VAT levels for hospitality, bringing us into line with our major European neighbours. Do sign the petition and spread the word.