Set in the same space as the restuarant that gained a Michelin star in the guide’s inaugural edition of 1974, The French has history on its side. Although the current incarnation is yet to be bestowed with that particular honour, there have been rave reviews and it’s part of a revival in Manchester’s restaurant scene that’s putting the city firmly back on the culinary map.
The room itself has changed a fair bit through the years, and now sports some striking features such as wood patterned carpet and a pair of mesmorising chandliers like fantastic, marionette discoballs. It has a sort of modern grandeur to it whilst still being evocative of dinners and diners past.
Sometimes photographing food for a review can be a bit of a bore when you just want to dig in, but with the intricacies of what was on on offer in our 6 course taster menu it was hard not to be quite facinated by the whole experience to the extent that capturing everything seemed like the only way to go.
To begin then was glazed venison, red cabbage and rosemary, kale with westcombe and garlic. The meat was formed into a ball and squewered with a sprig of rosemary and all in a lovely rich sauce, served in a clay ramekin. I’d opted for a cocktail to get things underway, the South of the Border, a signature cocktail based on a margherita but with black lava salt on the glass. Having been impressed by the drinks at Mr Cooper’s House and Garden, clearly The French is cut from the same cloth in that respect. Maybe there could be a taster menu with matched cocktails rather than wines, although if that was the case I doubt I’d remember any of it well enough to report back.
The 5 matched wines we enjoyed took in France, Hungary and Lebanon, all were perfectly suited and the service from our sommelier, as from all the waiting staff, was really above and beyond. Up next was yellow turnip dumplings, marrow and horseradish with a beef and onion broth. Sort of like a posh Bovril, in the nicest possible way, and served with a selection of tasty local breads. Not for the last time the course was definitely reminiscent of meals I’ve had in the past, as if the layers of concentrated flavours fire off little half memories as you taste them.
I have to admit to being in the dark when it came to a couple of the ingredients we were served, one of them being crow garlic, which topped butter braised cabbage with crab and pig skin in the next dish. I now know it’s wild garlic, it looked like chives to me, either way it was another brilliant concoction.
Pollock, barbecued brocolli, shrimp and watercress followed, and the brocolli was really a new experience. I’m not advising taking a stalk of the stuff to the next bbq you’re invited to but it definitely added something special, super smoky and holding the plate together in a really interesting way.
The main course was herdwick hogget with blewits, turnip and potatoes cooked in dripping. It was meaty, rich, well balanced and ornately presented. Matched with the Syrah du Liban from the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon it was a fitting finale to the savoury element of the meal.
That said, we opted for a little cheese taster course which included something that took our breath away. Definitely the smallest thing we were served all night, a tiny goats cheese cornetto, wrapped in paper-thin beetroot with pear and topped with carrot shavings. It was amazing, and the sort of theatre that makes places like The French worth the bill at the end.
For dessert was caramel custard, barley malt biscuit, sorrel and baked squash, another interesting, nicely balanced combination of flavours, although not quite the show stopper I had been expecting in fairness. Maybe that cheese just blew it out of the water.
And finally, digestifs were accompanied with a couple of dainty chocolate treats, with mint choc ice inside, pretty much my ideal dessert as a child, maybe without the whisky and coffee on the side.
For all the pretense and bluster of Michelin stars and what not, there was food throughout the menu that left me wanting to shout about it. Genuinely exciting and memorable dishes that deserve to be talked of, and that’s what really matters isn’t it?