Restaurant review

BULL & BEAR MANCHESTER – Utter Bullocks

Bull & Bear is Tom Kerridge’s Northern outpost in the brand new Stock Exchange Hotel, which sits proudly in the financial district in Manchester City Centre. Co-owners Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs are responsible for funding the project, and the restoration has taken a lengthy seven years to complete before it opened its doors in November 2019.

I had been inside for 10 minutes and I had already said: “what the fuck” under my breath around 20 times, making that two very sharp inhalations of breath per minute – which is no way to embark on a relaxing dinner.

As I strode into the restaurant I stood there momentarily slack-jawed as I tried to get my head around what they have done in the dining room. An architecturally stunning space, but why have 12 giant television screens, is this a restaurant or a PC World? Confounding this bad decision is the material they choose to screen; which is a variety of world sport from NBA Basketball, to Premier League Football. Such an elegant space that isn’t noticed by half of the room as they are too busy gawping at the sport.

Perhaps the TV’s are there to detract you from the sculpture in the middle of the room, which is a haunting headless figure performing a victory salute. Truly one of the most bizarre pieces of art ever to be given pride of place in a restaurant.

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Cocktails were ordered as swift libation was needed. This was a promising pre-cursor as my barrel-aged Boulevardier was decent. Other samplings included some rather good none alcoholic offerings as well as a peanut butter Old Fashioned. Perhaps we should have stayed at the bar?

Taking our seat in the restaurant and we had to endure the usual spiel of; ‘have you been here before’, and ‘let me explain the menu’ (cue my next sharp inhalation of breath) ‘It’s a sharing menu, dishes come in the middle and are served when they are ready.’ It is a very curious decision to have chosen this style of service, as the dishes on the menu are completely at odds with the small plate revolution that they are seemingly trying to embrace. Dishes on this ‘sharing menu’ included a pumpkin soup, a beef burger, a whole rotisserie quail and a steak pie. All dishes which are very well suited to a single diner rather than a group.

 

Kerridge’s food is the one element I could not fault. After eating at the Hand & Flowers in Marlow several years ago I have been a fan ever since. He’s such a nice guy and a wonderful ambassador for the industry. His voice is perhaps a touch too quiet amongst all of the noise in this concept.

Highlights included the rotisserie beetroot which was accompanied with a deliciously salty feta. Crispy pigs head with a celeriac remoulade – good, but better if you omitted the spiced date sauce which was overpoweringly sweet. The chicken kiev was wonderfully nostalgic, and just the kind of comfort you want on a cold January evening. The B&B chips were ace, and even better when you dunked them in the gherkin ketchup.

The service must also receive praise here, as our sommelier was a delight, and was able to swiftly resolve an issue with our wine. When pressed on the abundance of TV’s he said he doesn’t even notice them anymore – I wish I could say the same. Further excuses were made by saying; ‘it’s a hotel restaurant’ and as such is a guest expectation. I’m quite sure Jason Atherton has never considered transforming Berners Tavern at the London Edition Hotel into a sports lounge.

In summary; a vanity project for some ex pro-footballers, who have roped in one of England’s most eminent chefs to provide the menu but apparently not much else. B&B tries to score but hits the post for me.

Dinner for 3 with a cocktail each and a bottle of wine and service £280. thebullandbearmcr.com

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London restaurant, Restaurant review, Uncategorized

Experiential Dining – The New Normal?

The most ridiculous place I have ever been out for dinner was a mobile dining room attached to a crane dangling 150 feet in the air above Londons South Bank. Ridiculous in the main part because it was 5 degrees, blowing a gale and my inability to shake off the preoccupation of needing to pee was somewhat distracting.

Dinner in the sky

In the landscape of modern dining, I’m sure that dinner in the sky sounds quite modest in comparison to some of the more outlandish offerings available in the City. You can have food thrown at you by Basil Fawlty in an immersive dining performance or be quaffing moonshine while locked in a prison in the Alcotraz’ experience, where they encourage full-on Guantanamo attire and an obligatory orange jumpsuit. Staged and forced fun still seems to be more palatable than dining on the high street which continues to see a steady decline in patrons.

Seemingly the more obscure is the most popular and lets not forget ‘The Shed’ at Dulwich created primarily to expose the ease of forging TripAdvisor reviews, by creating a fake restaurant. The bi-product of the stunt was the unexpected demand for the non-existent venue which had consumers desperately scrambling to get a table at what they thought was London’s latest hot ticket. The simple truth being; it was a Shed in someones back garden, and all of the staged food photographs were a mixture of ready meals, bathroom sponges and Gillette shaving foam.

The prank had everyone fooled including The Guardians Jay Rayner who was rebuffed for a table. Nevertheless, the consumers desired to seek out something extraordinary that promoted its success. Had they have knocked out some food they might just have made a go of it, but having good food in your dining space is only one part of the essential components required for success.

Other contributing factors, include the ability to brag about it on social, and having an environment so unique that it distracts you long enough to keep off your iPhone (until you get it out to photograph your dry ice amuse-bouche). Does this mean food has become the least important factor of eating out?

This week I found myself dining on the Victoria line. This wasn’t the daily face-full of commuter armpit, but thankfully something far more palatable, in the form of a Supper Club organised by ‘Eatwith’. Supper Clubs are not a new trend and have been in existence as long as we have been hosting dinner parties. In the last few decades pop-ups such as this have been a springboard for some of the capitals favourite restaurants, such as The Clove Club which had humble beginnings in a first floor flat above a pub in Shoreditch, but seemingly what has changed over time is the way these dining concepts are being presented.

Our Victoria line dining car featured a delicate tasting menu of Andean origins curated by Head Chef Beatriz Maldonado Carreño (Bea) who originally hails from Bogotá Colombia. Bea was part of the team at Corazón Soho, which demonstrates a degree of proficiency.

Upon being presented with the menu, I struggled to link Columbian cuisine to the setting. I’m not suggesting it had to be pie and mash with jellied eels, but this menu was about as un-British as you can get. Tenuously we soldiered on with the opinion that Peruvian cuisine is trendy, Lima is the soon to be the most Michelin star rich territory in the world and London is a city on the gastronomic pulse, make sense?

The food was utterly charming, and each dish was presented by the Chef herself, which immediately has guests emotionally connected with the creator – heaven forbid you don’t like it as she’s just over there with really sharp knives.

Dishes were well balanced and colourful but after four Negronis fairly unmemorable. Although I do remember a purple potato that tasted of hay, which isn’t a criticism.

In terms of an immersive experience, there was a real feeling of discomfort due to the proportion of seating, the hot then cold ambient temperature and the tuneless din of a full tube train, all very akin to the morning rush hour – TFL would have been impressed with the re-enactment.

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However it is all of these imperfections that ladder up to making it perfect as the modern-day foodie doesn’t just want to eat fabulous food, they need it to look good and most importantly they want it to be instagrammable.

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I just wish that this particular restaurant had been hurtling back towards central London at 60mph instead of being stationary and leaving me slightly squiffy in the arse-end of London. Cocktails in an Uber anyone?

Dinner for two £49 per head for set menu, excluding alcohol and service. http://www.eatwith.com

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London restaurant, Restaurant review

MISSION Bethnal Green – Mission accomplished or mission impossible?

From the brains behind Hackney Road’s hippest wine bar Sager & Wilde comes the latest in a swathe of new establishments cropping up in East London. Billed as a ‘Californian wine bar and kitchen’ I felt the depths of winter the most appropriate time to indulge in some sunny SoCal delights.

During the Summer I did spend a few weeks traveling through California with a slight sojourn into the Nevada desert, and the food and drink was a mixed bag. The week spent in the desert eating beef jerky and and drinking neat gin doesn’t count, and besides a few incredible meals in LA it was all rather unremarkable.

So being fully aware of California’s culinary potential I was intrigued to see what Mission had to offer and was hoping to be transported to a hot spot in Silverlake as opposed to a dead end in Venice Beach.

A huge palm tree greeted us on arrival, which was a warming sight as the connotations of this tropical specimen were rather welcome on a Baltic Winters evening. Sadly the theme of cold was going to be a recurring motif during our time spent here, beginning with our table placed directly next to the door which ensured that neither us or the food remained at a temperature akin to California.

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Being a rabble of six friends who hadn’t seen each other for a while, high on our agenda was a raucous catch up, however this wonderful human interaction was clearly not what our rather cold server had in mind for our evening. Getting the order in was her only priority, which was proving difficult as menus were only sparingly provided. Eventually we submitted our orders, which did cheer her up – marginally.

To start I had the ox cheek parpadelle (£12.00) which was dry and bland. I had to request parmesan cheese to liven it up which took the waitress by surprise, and thus took an age to arrive. This style of dish is a default choice for me, and I have ordered it twice memorably. Once in a restaurant in LA called Osteria Mozza (osteriamozza.com) and another on home turf in a cicchetti style eatery named TOZI (tozirestaurant.co.uk) both of which offered a rich and velvety ragu which left you threatening the server with a blunt spoon if they approached too early to remove the plate. On this occasion however it was gladly returned.

On to the main event, and I was very pleased with my duck (£15.50). It was rudely pink, and cooked  to perfection, plump and juicy with just the right amount of caramelisation of the fatty layer encasing the meat. It was however served in what I can only describe as a cereal bowl.

Sadly further down our table there was trouble brewing with the beef chop (£60.00 for 2 people). The main issue being it was overcooked. Naturally I offered my input and suggested it could be an aged meat which would suggest why it wasn’t ‘pink’ as requested, but after masticating with a piece for longer than comfortable I also joined the school of thought that it had been basking under the grill for far too long.

By way of apology for the over done steak the management offered the whole table an apple crumble to share. A smart move, as correcting a cocked up steak is one of the biggest challenges in a restaurant, due to cooking and resting time  – especially a £60 cut. The gesture certainly redeemed some of the service failings throughout the night.

As you would imagine wine is high on the agenda here, which is what piqued my disappointment above anything else. You simply can not get a decent bottle of wine here for anything below £32. The ‘Mission House White’ (£26.50) was vile, acidic tart and unpalatable. The Pecorino Tiberio (£32.50) was better, but still extremely thin. We eventually bought a few bottles of the Foxglove Zinfandel (£41.50) which was bold and beautiful, but I still had a gripe with the grape, as it was freezing cold. I questioned our waitress and she informed me it had come from the cellar, as if this was supposed to fix the fact it was served sub-zero. If you are charging over the odds for your wine why don’t you show it some love, and keep it in a temperature regulated area like other restaurants charging the same would do?

In terms of wine pricing the same can be said of their original venue Sager & Wilde, as the last time I went I remember stumbling out £80 lighter after splitting a couple of bottles of red. However the cost felt justifiable as the service was excellent, the glassware reeked of expense and it’s a cosy venue. They need to look to what made them successful in their first venture and emulate in Mission where possible.

My lasting impression of Mission will unfortunately be the price. There has been a trend lately of narcissistic foodies launching restaurants in East London and strapping on a Mayfair price tag. Whereas I wouldn’t necessarily put Mission in this category they need to seriously consider what value they are actually offering their customers, as there was far too much wrong with it to justify the cost.

Table for 6 £458 including wine and service. 250 Paradise Row, Bethnal Green. (020 7613 0478. missione2.com) Open
Monday 6pm-12am, Tuesday-Friday 12pm-12am, Saturday-Sunday 11am-12am.

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