I don’t know whether it’s my line of work within the interior design industry or just too many hours spent scrolling the 'Discover' page on Instagram but when I walk into a bar or restaurant these days, I want my eyes to leave as satisfied as my taste buds.
I don’t just want to eat great food and leave smacking my lips anymore; I want the entire immersive experience. I want the art of aroma, the craftsmanship of cuisine and the seduction of surroundings – all of which The Refuge by Volta has stuffed in its locker in complete and utter abundance.
The Refuge is an uptown bar and restaurant – not to do it justice at all – within the stunning Principal Hotel on Oxford Road. With multiple bars, multiple dining rooms and a subterranean ballroom, it comes as no surprise that a reservation at The Principal is one of the hottest tickets in town right now, with The Refuge restaurant being the main attraction. That ticket's gotten even hotter, as the slick spot has just celebrated its second birthday.
I was completely enamoured by the warm, intimate atmosphere of the space, despite its cavernous configuration and towering ceilings. Tiled walls create a retro Wes Anderson vibe, while glittering chandeliers, brass piping, ceramic pillars and botanical atrium ooze decadence. It’s a real dream.
In terms of the food and drink offering, it was every bit as lavish and luxurious as the surroundings. I’m not talking price tag extravagance (The Refuge is actually reasonably affordable for the quality and experience it offers), I’m talking rich, indulgent ingredients and inspired flavour combinations.
The menu is devised of ‘globally influenced small plates and sharing dishes’ which have a distinct Middle Eastern flare. We were advised to select 3-4 plates per person which we did so with much deliberation (and drooling) over a large glass of crisp Pinot Grigio and a sweet Sherry & Tonic.
It was clear that the food was going to be fantastic from the mouth-watering smells dancing through the air as plates passed by but it really did exceed expectations. Highlights for us were the smoky, sesame sake-cured salmon (£7.50), chargrilled picanha steak (£11) swimming in garlic butter and the lamb tagine meatballs (£8) which were tender, fragrant and the perfect match for the accompanying mango sauce and a subtle minted yoghurt.
We did also indulge in some banoffee doughnuts (£6) and the chocolate mousse with cherry and nut brittle (£6.50) but the bar had been set astronomically high by the savoury act and the show was stolen by the plate of sticky cinnamon and red wine chorizo (£5.50) that has been preoccupying my thoughts ever since.
The DesignMyNight Digest
If you’re looking for somewhere special that’s going to make you recline in your upholstered leather booth, under twinkling filament bulbs and lofty antique ceilings, and say ‘wow’ then I can wholeheartedly recommend The Refuge. It’s classy and cosy in equal measures and an absolute triumph for the Manchester hospitality scene.