The new chef at The Alan is bringing his cult confit chips to the city centre

Aged dairy cow, beef tartare and a massive profiterole will also be on James Hulme’s new menu

By Kelly Bishop | Last updated 21 February 2023

Share this story

Acclaimed chef James Hulme, formerly of The Moor, has taken over the kitchen at The Alan’s ground floor restaurant. We caught up with the chef at the design-led city centre hotel as he set about overhauling the menu. 

Hulme has done his time in some seriously impressive places down in London. He worked at Gordon Ramsay’s prestigious Maze alongside star chef Jason Atherton from whom he says he learned the beauty of simplicity. More recently, he was at Quaglino’s, a restaurant that attracted celebrities and royals including the actual Queen in 1956 (before his time, of course). 

He also worked for the infamous Marco Pierre White for four years, who he says used his name twice in that time, the rest of the time it was ‘boy’. Nonetheless, he learned a lot working under the three-star chef and his team which included Matt Brown – now Executive Chef at Hawksmoor. 

Hulme then went on to work for Tom Aikens before moving back up to Manchester to help launch 20 Stories with Aiden Byrne. In 2021, he opened his own highly acclaimed restaurant The Moor in Heaton Moor which he ran for just under a year before reluctantly packing it in. 

A selection of dishes from thee menu at The Alan. Image: Manchester’s Finest

He explains that with bill increases threatening to decimate any existing profits, his small critically acclaimed bistro in Heaton Moor just couldn’t survive. While he was “devastated” at the time he now feels he made the right decision. But it should be noted that this is a worrying sign of the times that an indie restaurant cooking beautiful food from small suppliers that was busy and successful on the face of things still couldn’t be made to work in the current climate. 

Nonetheless, The Moor is where Hulme became famous for his cult confit chips and these will have pride of place on the menu at The Alan – so all is not lost. More on those later.

We discuss the post Rene Redzepi restaurant landscape. Are super complex dishes no longer what people (and kitchen crews) want? “Fine dining in that sense is definitely coming to an end,” he agrees, “But I think that’s more to do with the economic side of things. Which is why, for now, I’m sticking with small plates. At the moment people can come in and get four decent plates of food for £20 which I think is a bargain.” He’s keen to point out that “the chips” are not included in this offer. 

Those beef fat confit chips. Image: Manchester’s Finest

With The Alan’s restaurant already critically acclaimed as Hulme takes over the pans, there is a solid foundation to build on. He’s starting with simple additions before “ramping it up” as the year goes on. The existing ethos of quality local produce and sustainability put in place by previous chef Iain Thomas will remain. The techniques will get a bit more complicated, the plating more intricate. 

He hints at a possible concept change down the line, “I’m just not sure how long small plates are going to last seeing as the entirety of Manchester does it. You can’t get a decent starter, main, dessert barely anywhere any more. Don’t tell Gary Usher I said that.”

His menus have a big emphasis on meat, a bold USP in a world of vegans. Not that he’s leaving them out altogether. A roasted and poached salsify dish on the menu replaces honey with agave and comes with a red wine sauce made with mushroom stock and apple juice. We also try a beautifully smooth butterbean hummus with smoked salt and blood orange. The kind of food you want to eat regardless of its vegan credentials. 

James Hulme carves some house made focaccia in his new kitchen. Image: Manchester’s Finest

He says he does struggle a little to get enthused by vegan cooking as, like many chefs, he just loves to add butter to everything. 

“I work on salt, fat, acid, heat basis,” he says, “Fat’s really important as long as it’s tempered with acid. Whether that’s butter or beef or lamb fat. At least if I’m killing an animal I don’t waste any of it. The trimmings will go somewhere – which I think’s quite a nice philosophy to have.”

It’s an ethos that’s weaved into everything he does. Listen to him talk about his food and it crops up time and again. There’s a great hunk of aged, retired dairy cow on the menu which makes for the most beautiful flame grilled rib eye. He uses the fat from the beef cap, minced to cook croutons and make chips. The beef from the cap becomes his aged beef tartare, moistened by whipped bone marrow. He says he even uses the inedible cartilage to bring a touch more gelatine to his stock. 

Beef tartare, a must order dish at The Alan. Image: Manchester’s Finest

As well as the melting, intensely flavoured steak, I am lucky enough to taste the tartare on my visit. It’s incredible, the buttery softness of the crimson meat brightened by the presence of chopped gherkins with welcome crunch from beef fat crisped breadcrumbs. Cured egg yolk for the final flourish. Order this when you go.

He’s careful to ensure the meat he buys is from very specific small farms where he can be certain of the provenance. No vac packed generic cuts here. “My ribs come from a farm in Buxton. When I had the Moor I used to take three ewes at a time, drive them to the abattoir myself. I didn’t kill them myself but I think you should be able to kill stuff if you want to eat it.” 

But it’s not all meat. We try a stunning dish of cured chalk stream trout with Pomona Island stout, radishes and blood orange. Veg comes from the sustainably focused Cheshire farms Cinderwood and Field 28. They are also making some of their own bread – see the sourdough focaccia with virgin rapeseed oil and IPA vinegar – the rest comes from the fantastic Pollen. Hulme tells me he’s ordered “a load of Kilner jars” so he can start preserving and pickling and he plans to get some barrels to do their own vinegars.

What about “those chips” though? Much imitated, never bettered, he says. His recipe is inspired by the French classic Pommes Anna: broadsheet-thin slices of potato layered up with delicious beef fat instead of the usual butter. Hulme then deep fries slabs of the already rich dish to create ‘chips’. It’s a laborious process, but when you try one, you’ll see it’s worth the effort. 

Oysters are a popular choice at The Alan and they’re staying on the menu. Image: Manchester’s Finest

As for sweet stuff, there will be a cherry choux bun on the menu utilising cherries plucked from the chef’s own tree at home. He has preserved them in a jar with brandy to get him through the winter months when nothing grows but blood orange and rhubarb – an ingredient he thinks is “overhyped because it’s British. A bit like British football”. 

This “huge profiterole” will feature cherry compote, pistachio ice cream, chocolate ganache and a tahini caramel sauce on top. There will also be a chocolate mess with chocolate ganache, white chocolate bavarois, chocolate foam, brownie, salted caramel and “home made hundreds and thousands”. If that sounds like a step too far, let me explain that Hulme’s version involves smashed up homemade brandy snaps and honeycomb.

Instead of doing a cheeseboard selection he is hoping to do a cheese dessert. Posh cheese on toast, if you will. Caramelised brioche topped with Baronet, a washed rind soft cheese, and served with a caramelised rhubarb jam. Well, I’m sold.

The calming tones of the Alan’s restaurant. Image: Manchester’s Finest

The hotel and restaurant’s muted colour palette is an aesthete’s dream – all pebble grey, rattan and linen on a backdrop of painted industrial features and exposed brick. This style continues in the rooms and suites where natural tones meet pastel painted metalwork. It’s all very 2023 Manchester: classy, calming and curated, no wonder it’s so popular with visitors to the city looking to stay at the most stylish of hotels.

The Alan’s restaurant has already enjoyed high praise from critics like Jay Rayner and sits firmly on the radar of Manchester’s most switched foodies. With Hulme now stepping in to bring his flair and expertise in sourcing produce, menu design and elegant plating  to proceedings, things are about to get even more exciting. 

As I leave Hulme to his knife sharpening, I make a mental note to come back for that posh cheese on toast asap.

chefs hotels interviews Restaurants