Nurturing Food, Nurturing Talent: The Bull & Bear

Finest talks to Connor Black, protege of revered chef Tom Kerridge, about the feels and flavours coming out of The Stock Exchange Hotel’s rightly celebrated restaurant.

By Martin Guttridge Hewitt | July 12th '22

With its huge arched period windows, imposingly high ceiling, ornate architrave, and bronze statuette set among luxurious booths, the main dining room at Manchester’s Stock Exchange Hotel makes a serious first impression. More than a nod to the history of the iconic Grade II-listed building, where shares were traded from 1906 to 2000, with a refined 21st Century finish.

This opulent ground floor space is home to the Bull & Bear, the accommodation’s only eatery and one of the latest ventures by acclaimed English chef Tom Kerridge. It’s also his most northerly opening to date, although in many ways that’s been a long time coming considering his lifelong love of Manchester United. An ideal meeting of minds, then, given who owns the address.

Renowned for culinary excellence, among other things Kerridge is known for marrying an informal atmosphere with exceptionally curated and realised menus. And you don’t need to take our word for the warm welcome awaiting guests at this particular city centre location. Head Chef, Connor Black, has worked for Kerridge since he was 15, and has a resume boasting stints at the main man’s two-time Michelin-starred spot The Hand and Flowers, Claridge’s in London, and a Hospitality Guild Apprentice of the Year award from his formative years. Bringing us up to date, he eagerly explains The Bull & Bear ethos.

“Tom always said to me that when he opened The Hand and Flowers he wanted a restaurant that he and his wife could go to on any day and wear whatever they wanted. He wasn’t just after the shirt and ties, so it could be much less dressy. You could turn up in shorts, or a suit. I feel The Bull & bear is definitely like that,” he tells us. “There’s this beautiful formal room. But then we supply that informal, calm, relaxed atmosphere. So it’s a winner for all people, essentially.”

No time of the week does this ring truer than on Sundays. While Tuesday and Wednesday the establishment is open for dinner only, and a generous three course lunch for £30 is available Thursday to Saturday, the sabbath is dedicated to the definitive British pub offering: a roast dinner. Only with epicureans in the kitchen, and live band and singer creating a vibe that’s Manchester through and through out front.

“I’m quite young. So I’m only 25. And the team is around a similar age as well. I think the youngest I’ve got is 20 or 21 years old. So it’s a really young, really keen team and obviously I can relate to them quite a lot. Some of them are fresh into cooking, some have cooked for a few years. We have a nice working environment, we can all relate on some level as we’re all interested in similar things,” Black continues. “I mean, they all want to cook nice food. Tom’s a man who doesn’t do anything by any small means and everything we do has Tom’s ethos, which is — or this is the way I see it, and why I started woking for him — buying the best ingredients and treating them, and staff, with respect.”

Emphasising an approach to business that is as much about customer satisfaction as it is nurturing new talent, and bringing young hopefuls through, one look at the menu reinforces this. These are the kind of dishes designed to please the eye without pretence, and make sure you won’t leave wondering if you missed a course. Comforting plates, prepared and served by staff who have a familial relationship with one another, and the boss.

“Tom’s food, for me, it’s all very hearty. I mean it’s not food for the faint-hearted. It’s big, bold flavours. Like I said earlier, we try to use the best ingredients and treat them properly,” Black tells us, before citing current options which include plenty of local favourites, and sophisticated twists. “We do tomato soup using Isle of Wight tomatoes. I’m from there, and these are probably the nicest tomatoes you can find at this time of year. Tom’s all about seasonal ingredients, and it’s quite nice to bring what would be a taste of home to Manchester.

“In the mains we have fish and chips at the moment, with three sauces. You have the Matson, which is a spiced curry sauce designed on Tom’s local fish and chip shop. He grew up on that stuff, basically. Then a tartare, and a pease pudding. There’s a lamb pie with courgette and mint puree, and mint gravy. And risotto that doesn’t actually contain rice. It’s diced potato, and we use the skin to make a stock. So it’s this big, earthy, creamy, cheesy risotto, finished with wild garlic pesto,” he continues. “At the moment, for dessert you’ve got a lemon and raspberry fool with Viennese whirl at the bottom and refreshing raspberry sorbet. Créme Caramel with rum-soaked raisins. And cheeses with plum and chilli chutney.”

Accessibly sophisticated, it’s the attention to detail that sets Kerridge, Black, sous chef Tom Ball and the rest of the team apart. Until recently, a scallop dish saw the kitchen only use the biggest Orkney has to offer, with a minimum weight per scallop of 100g. For practical reasons, this is no longer available, but you get the gist. “We’d maybe get 40 scallops each week that were good enough, so if you were here and could get it you were lucky. That’s been replaced by crab, with horseradish emulsion, tomato consommé and fresh tomatoes. It’s the taste of summer — light, fresh, basically amazing.”

The Bull & Bear, 4 Norfolk Street, Manchester, M2 1DW