It's been a long time coming, but Living Ventures' flagship restaurant and bar Manchester House has finally opened its doors. With North West super chef Aiden Byrne at the helm, this much anticipated fine dining emporium is being lauded as a serious contender for Manchester's first Michelin star - so with expectations as high as the venue's 12th floor lounge bar, we went along to see whether Manchester House lives up to the hype.
Hidden away inside an ordinary looking Spinningfields office block, Manchester House tempts and intrigues from the off. Drawing similarities to Berlin's Week End club, the split level venue is accessed via an ordinary office lift which transports visitors either to the second floor restaurant, or the 12th floor lounge bar. The penthouse Lounge Bar is expectedly sleek and elegant, with floor to ceiling windows offering panoramic views across Manchester's rooftops. A long bar runs the entire length of the room, fronted by spacious, comfortable booths. Around the edge of the floor you'll find glass fronted terraces with retractable roofs to let the sun in and - more importantly - keep the rain out. Taking the lift back down, visitors can disembark at the second floor where the all important restaurant is located. The jewel in Living Venture's Crown, Manchester House restaurant is a buzzy, open plan space with a large open kitchen dominating one end of the room and the remaining floor space given over to a variety of stylish tables arranged in booths and rows - with plenty of space between tables ensuring you don't end up listening in on your neighbouring diners' conversations. Lining one side of the restaurant is a large outdoor roof terrace with plenty of comfortable seating and tables for smokers, or indeed anyone looking for a breath of fresh air between courses.
Atmosphere and Clientele
Considering its Michelin aspirations and undeniably high price tags, Manchester House flaunts a relaxed, sassy vibe with no pretension or stuffiness. Friendly and welcoming staff move around freely in jeans and joke with diners, while the open kitchen lends a vibrancy and buzziness to the place. The quality of the furnishings is undeniably high with no expense seemingly spared (the simple cup and saucer sets come in at £80 each, for example) but the key here is understated style and a relaxed self confidence, rather than the intimidating opulence and formality all too easy associated with this sort of high end dining.
The Food and Drink
Once the first plates were brought out, it was clear that no matter how stylish the restaurant, how welcoming the staff or how impressive the views, all this all comes (rightfully) second to Aiden Byrne's culinary theatrics. We tried an eight course taster menu (normally around £95), with wine matched to each dish, which offered an exhilarating adventure through some of Manchester House's most impressive dishes. After a nibble of Ajwain cracker bread served with a delicious carrot butter, we were allowed our first glimpse into Aiden Byrne's creative mind when a box containing a turf of grass was set down before us. Laid out on the grass was a pot of oxtail consomme (served at the optimal 50 degrees dontyaknow), a deep pink oyster - so coloured due to being fed on beetroot - and an oxtail donut served with oyster and samphire mayonnaise. A jug of hot salt water poured over the grass released a cloud of scented dry ice, evoking the smell of the sea on a misty morning. An exciting and intriguing taste of what was to come, and a course which left us in no doubt of the restaurant's Michelin ambitions.
Other notable dishes included roast pigeon with cherries and pistachio - a colourful, multi-textured delight of a dish with a few surprise twists (be careful when you pop your cherry), and an imaginative twist on a prawn cocktail which sees tiger prawns served inside a centrifuged, passion fruit flavoured ice dome. The menu also includes the pre-historic themed beef dish create by Aiden for The Great British Menu, complete with clay potatoes, a horn of truffle gravy and hunting knives, served in a cage of what look like dinosaur bones. Each course was as fun and imaginative as the next, with plenty of surprises and unexpected twists along the way - making the entire experience feel more like an exciting culinary adventure than a meal.
With Manchester House, Living Ventures and Aiden Byrne have created more than just a restaurant. More than any other venue in the city, it offers a unique food and drink experience with a real sense of fun and excitement. With its relaxed, inclusive atmosphere, exceptional sense of quality and theatrical food and drink offering, Manchester House is something to be experienced, savoured and - above all - enjoyed. Welcome to Manchester.