The view from the corner suite is nothing short of classic Manchester. One of those nameless buildings that has stood in place for a century or so with the imposition of a monument. Roman numerals etched into the exterior brickwork a hair’s breadth from the roof.
Construction fences prevent any ground level access, suggesting someone, somewhere, has noticed how beautiful the structure is. Unsurprising, considering the restless, ever-changing facade of our city. To the left, a street into Chinatown, so close you might well smell the dumplings cooking in some bakery or other. To the right, Manchester Art Gallery, its understated but stunning edifice entirely in-keeping with the unnamed, unoccupied address next door. And the building we’re standing in doesn’t let the side down, either.
The Alan is a prime life-watching spot, a place where no matter which window you’re leaning out of, or into, something is happening. Turning away from the view, it’s easy to understand how guests might not notice. After all, our spacious room is presented in fine form, an island wash basin and sliding cupboard unit cast in natural wood contrasting exposed pipework overhead: entering through the door is a real look-at-me-moment. Then there’s the bed, close to criminal in terms of scale, finishing you off with comfort. A walk-in rainforest shower and ‘let’s stay in tonight’ robes add to the reasons we don’t really want to leave.
We could continue, by talking about the generous selection of Bohea Teas placed in beautifully rendered opaque pots, paper-encased water packs, and in-built Google Assist putting us directly in touch with the hosts downstairs. “Whatever you want, whatever time,” is a borderline-worrying offer, but speaks volumes about the attitude here. Simply put, staff want everything to be as seamless as possible, which is essential in this city’s booming and increasingly competitive hotel scene, but not necessarily always a given.
Positive impressions began on arrival. Walking into the open house ground floor and the first thing that strikes us is just how white and polished everything feels. A (relatively) new opening, it’s incongruous with the aged (but obviously recently steam-washed) external stonework. Open-plan dining and drinking areas leak into the reception, which on a Friday evening in almost-peak-season creates both a prime opportunity for the team to show off how much custom they have, and a scene that’s hard not to feel taken by. A central Manchester hotel that seems to understand what a city centre hotel should feel like at the start of a weekend.
Not everyone is lucky enough to be staying the night, of course, but thankfully they all get to enjoy the stunning view from ground floor up through the central atrium. Ascending six floors, the aesthetics nod to Art Deco, individual floors jutting out in a way that suggests but never tells what might be happening in the private residences, the look pared-back but still confident. A difficult trick to pull off.
Moving to the dining area proper, there’s a good helping of people right, left, and on the well-appointed bar stools overlooking the open kitchen. We’re shown to a booth that sums up the overall vibe. Exactly the kind of pre-night-out atmosphere brands like W Hotel have mastered, whilst also ideal for a slow, relaxed and indulgent evening at the plates. Simply put, there’s a buzz about the place that goes further than merely being slap bang in the centre of Cottonopolis. Suffice to say, we’re intent on making the most.
First comes the Pea & Fettle Salsa, billed as “Yorkshire’s Feta”, it’s a tangy yet deep combination that somehow punches and nurtures the tongue in one fell swoop. It certainly deserves to stay on the table long after the starters are done, offering an ideal dipping alternative for pretty much everything else coming our way. Similarly impressive, although definitely less malleable, is the Cauliflower Tikka, cumin accentuating spice while pomegranate, a definite favourite of these taste buds, offers an instant refreshment hit.
Throw in some barbecue mushrooms from Altrincham’s low waste urban farm Polyspore, good enough to rival the meat courses we’re yet to describe, and it’s easy to understand why we’ve not managed to mention the Lebanese wine, a rich yet fresh and fruity Musar Jeune red, which is going down a treat. A strong nod to the classically presented Cumbrae oysters is also essential: proof, if it were needed, that all you ever want with a mollusc is shallots and chilli. Elsewhere, Cheshire Beef is another highlight, although those looking for something on the medium-rare side need not apply. This is tartare in the truest sense— real raw, real eggy, and soft enough to dissipate the moment it touches your tongue.
Polar opposition is found in the Ox Cheek, surprising as that may sound. Here, we’re given what should be subtitled The Greatest Little Hot Dog of All Time; chewy meaty goodness, encased in a crispy crackling sandwich. French’s Mustard is a kitsch but welcome addition, setting this off as the kind of more-ish morsel anyone — vegans and veggies aside — will bond with.
Next, Sirloin Steak comes as promised, wonderfully presented in slices pink enough to make you think it might jump from the plate, tender doesn’t come close. Matched with charred asparagus, broccoli and cabbage, it’s a hearty, winning combination.
Despairingly, after such a feed it’s all we can muster to share a dessert. Opting for Nanna Betty’s Rhubarb & Custard, it comes in three chapters, one resembling the eponymous sweets, set custard elsewhere, delicate nutmeg seasoning offsetting the tartness, ensuring a well-balanced dish we savour to the last.
At which point all eyes start looking towards the lift, and that bed, although not before indulging in at least one of the best whisky sours we’ve had this close to home, rounding off a fantastic stay in contemporary chic reflecting both the past and present of Manchester, industry marrying luxury with excellent attention to detail. Then you clock the price point and wonder how they’re pulling this off.