I popped down on a quiet Wednesday night for a casual nine courses and plenty of delicious wine.
Walking into the breath-taking space, the first thing you are met with at Restaurant MCR is an impressive open kitchen kitted out with busy chefs doing their thing. That is exactly the kind of theatre I like, and it certainly made me hungry.
The meal began with a Roasted Scallop with apple and ginger puree and a sweet apple disc. Sweet, sharp and perfectly cooked with a beautiful taste of the sea. I couldn’t fault it, but I can’t help but wish the meal began with something a little more compelling, although something light to begin a flight of eight other courses was perhaps not such a bad idea.
Next was one of the highlights of the evening – the Pigs Head Croquettes. These were appetizing little cylinders with a crisp and perfectly golden outer shell filled with a super-finely pulled pork. Fatty and juicy in equal measure, the succulent pigs head middle held its own with a strong hint of Dijon mustard running through.
The croquettes sat on a little puddle of smoked apple puree which brought a welcome sweetness to contrast with the savoury pork. I only wish there were more.
Palm Sugar Foie Gras Mousse followed which was a dish which I had mixed feelings towards. Although I don’t always admit it, I adore foie gras and I consider it one of life’s greatest delicacies along with oysters, chilled Riesling and peanut butter. I was glad to see it on the menu because it is often a controversial choice for chefs to make.
It was an attractive dish to say the very least. An arterial blood-red quenelle of the mousse sat on one end of a thin slither of gingerbread with a larger quenelle of cherry sorbet at the other and finished with micro herbs and a solitary black cherry.
However, I did think there was a flaw in the design of the dish. The two main elements looked suspiciously similar which resulted in me eating all the foie gras first and leaving me with, which was in essence, a dessert. But I got it – foie gras is most at home with sweet flavours, but I feel it could have benefitted from another savoury element to remind ourselves we were only on the third course.
Swiftly moving on, we sampled the Mushroom and Jerusalem Artichoke dish which was a revelation and a great example of the power in vegetables done properly. I always look forward to artichoke season and this dish was an excellent example of why. Combined with miscellaneous mushrooms, a full-bodied mushroom stock (poured over in a cute little teapot) and crispy shards of artichoke crisps, this created a dish which was simply delightful.
Second only to the pigs head croquettes was the round of Freshly Baked Sourdough bread that came next. To put it bluntly, it was outstanding with a hefty, crunchy crust (which didn’t break your teeth), a soft middle and a genuine sour taste which is more often than not non-existent in much of the sourdough bread you are definitely paying too much for.
With this was a chicken butter and a pastel green herb butter which certainly did the job of adding much more to the already delicious bread.
Ribblesdale Goats’ Cheese Flan was course five which marked us over the halfway point. Served with Japugo ham which was so aged it looked like something Howard Carter pulled out of King Tut’s tomb, and a burnt onion puree- this was in essence, a beautifully presented and colourful plate of food.
Ask anyone – the combination of cheese, ham and onion is a match made in heaven which made this one of the dishes I looked forward to the most. I have got to say that the flavours were all pretty strong, which might not be to everyone’s taste, but it certainly tickled my taste buds.
Smoked Eel followed next which was probably my least favourite dish on the menu. It came in a rich sauce with morel mushrooms and a golden turnip puree which I felt were accompaniments more suited to fowl over fish. Perhaps my overall aversion to eel was to blame, but I felt this plate was rather confused although I couldn’t fault the technique in any way.
On to the mains we had a choice of beef or duck of which we ordered one of each. Salt Aged Duck, which was my kind of dish in a nutshell, was paired with new season broad beans and black truffle.
The skin was lovely and crisp, but I was disappointed in the cooking of the duck. Rather than a pink middle as desired by all, the bottom third was almost raw which rendered it tough, which was disheartening as the dish was presented beautifully and full of flavour.
The Braised Beef Short Rib of Beef was a little better in terms of flavour although I didn’t really know what it was. The beef was paired with three things which I had never heard of including Eryngii (which I later learned was a fancy word for Trumpet mushrooms) and ‘secretto and Txogitxu tartar’. The latter I am still struggling to get to the bottom of, but all I know is it is something to do with beef. Perhaps it is referring to the crisp cured meat on top of the beef? Who knows?
I have to say, the look of the dish was something only a mother could love, and even then I reckon she would question herself once in a while.
On to dessert, we sampled a Rhubarb Parfait with cardamom, orange and varying shards of meringue and what I can only describe as rhubarb flavoured glass. I liked it. I liked it a lot, and even though I was getting rather full (understandably) I gobbled the whole thing up.
The parfait was light, creamy and delicately spiced and the stewed rhubarb was a touch I was hoping would feature on the plate. My only complaint was there might have been a little too much meringue which, although made the dessert look extremely avant-garde and modern, it may have thrown off the balance a tad.
If anything was to make up for the eel dish, and in fact anything I haven’t fully enjoyed EVER, it would be the Manchester Tart. It was sublime and it has quickly made it top of the list of things I want to eat if I ever find myself on death row.
This petit fours was a spin on the school dinner classic which took light frangipane and topped it with a silky-smooth and sweet coconut crème patisserie, freeze-dried raspberries and toasted coconut. It was utterly perfect and one of the best desserts I have ever had the pleasure of tasting.
Ending with coffee and handmade chocolates and a feeling of being sufficiently stuffed, I decided to wait until my delirium cleared before I would think long and hard about the 9-courses I had somehow managed to snuffle down.
I am not going to pretend that a few dishes on the menu need some serious work, or replacing entirely. However, there were certainly other dishes which made up for it (croquettes, sourdough and Manchester Tart – I’m looking at you) as well as phenomenal service by the lovely Isabelle and delicious, and I mean really delicious, wine at every turn.
Tasting menus are a funny concept, and even the most relaxed and easy-to-please eater would find something they weren’t sure of when faced with a gargantuan 9 courses.
On the other hand, it is also refreshing to learn that the menu was completely seasonal and made in response to what the bounty of the land can offer, which may not always be to everyone’s tastes – perhaps I have more of a winter palate?
However, I think for the price (£75 per head) Restaurant MCR is an offering which definitely has room in the restaurant scene in Manchester, and I certainly intend to go back once a fresh crop of produce hits its peak as I cannot wait to see what Byrne can do with it.
restaurant MCR, Tower 12, 18-22 Bridge St, M3 3BZ
0161 835 2557