It was my next significant birthday this week. My lovely wife organised a great twenty four hours in Manchester City centre for all the family. It started with a visit to Breakout, Dinner at Mr Coopers and brunch at Refuge. Breakout is a brilliant idea, as you get locked in a room for an hour and then have to solve various clues to get out. Perfect for the notorious average weather we have in Manchester. I’ll talk about Mr Coopers another time.
Refuge is the next establishment from the team behind Volta in Didsbury. A pair of DJs, the Unabombers, have a great food philosophy to food. If they like it, you probably will too. They have taken the rent of a large section of The Palace Hotel.
I’m ashamed to say, that after living here for twelve years I’ve not set foot into The Palace Hotel. After todays experience I’ll be going back as soon as I can. Have you ever seen such an impressive reception? I thought I’d walked into Grand Central Station and someone had left a horse sculpture there. Absolutely incredible. I’m pleased to say the food had the same sort of astounding effect on me.
There is a new age of eating food. Gone are the days of three courses. Many places now offer sharing platters, or smaller tapas style dishes. These are called voltinis here, which is good, because I generally dread tapas. It’s just always done so badly. This, however, is the complete opposite. You are recommended to chose three voltinis, or a normal large plate. The menu for the voltinis is so enticing. It’s difficult to narrow it down to three!
The beetroot, smoked feta and hazelnuts tasted even better than it looks. The beetroot was perfectly smooth in texture and on the palate, almost creamy. Contrasted beautifully with the crunch from the hazelnuts and salty feta.
The sourdough isn’t advertised that its two huge pieces of fried bread. I think this is unnecessary and quite heavy to eat. The accompanying roasted head of garlic was great though.
I ordered a fatoush salad. Everyone, including my half Egyptian wife, asked what it was. My reply was that it is an Egyptian salad like a panzanella bread salad with loads of spicing. It turned out to be a panzanella. Lovely fresh ingredients, but it could just do with a bit more zing and sumac.
I have no idea what they did to this radicchio. Radicchio is part of the chicory family, and hence quite bitter. This certainly wasn’t and the orange dressing made this a taste sensation. Great dish.
The lamb in this was just perfect, crispy and soft. The homemade harissa always goes well with lamb, but this one had just the right balance of heat and smokiness.
Next, the salt cod croquettes, but not salty at all! I thought they were sublime until I nearly broke a tooth on a fish bone that was 3cm long. How does that get into a croquette?? Only black mark of the day really. Tut tut.
I love my prawns. I believe a big fat prawn is one of the best seafood experiences one can have after scallops. These were the softest prawns I’ve ever eaten. The lime has helped tenderise them, and boy they were good. Despite the name, there wasn’t any chilli on them, and they came with the head and tail on. I hate this. I know they leave them on for aesthetics, but I am not a caveman at a barbeque, please take them off. Luckily they were so tender they popped out of the the remaining shell.
A couple of the larger plates. Both were described as excellent by said eaters. The venue is spectacular. There is a chic bar bit, expansive dining room bit and a sophisticated afternoon tea bit. An enormous venue of shiny new glass and leather, all sympathetic to the building’s historic past and architecture, but not stuffy at all. A wonderful place to take anyone and enjoy some brilliant vibrant food in wonderful surroundings.