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Neighbourhood Reviewed

Jonathan Schofield finds the right food time at glam Spinningfields venue

Written by . Published on May 12th 2014.

Neighbourhood Reviewed

THE LOBSTER tacos settled it for us. They were exquisite. Let's go all Noel Coward. They were divine. In Cheshire Life they'd be 'to die for'. 

Go at lunchtime and the waiters, the ambience and the food can be delightful, calming, not bedlam in the slightest.

There were so many flavours in them I imagine the kitchen to resemble a Frankenstein lab full of strange instruments brewing up strange potions and infusions. The menu description says 'beer battered lobster, soft floor tortilla and red cabbage slaw and sweet pepper ketchup' - but the picture at the top of the page represents them better. 

These tacos were colourful, floaty yet substantial, filled with bursting flavour, moist and simply delightful. To pick out individual flavours would be unfair. This was a complete ensemble.

I was in Neighbourhood in Spinningfields where the food style is 'Manhattan', not American, not even New York, but specifically 'Manhattan'. The owners might as well name the exact street they have in mind, probably somewhere round Fifth Avenue.

Truth is, with the way food genres are morphing and blending - like all miscegenations inevitable and ultimately good for the world -Neighbourhood's food could occupy any aspirational bar/restaurant space from Hamburg to Dubai via Shanghai and even back to Manhattan.

Neighbourhood in evening party mood

Neighbourhood in evening party mood with mirrors on tables

But let's get back to that later because for me Neighbourhood is all about the food and its price.

The tacos were part of a deal, two plates for £12 and three for £15. Of course we went for the latter. 

The General Tsao's oysters were on a par with the tacos. Panko breadcrumbs (made without the crust don't you know), another seemingly forty seven infusions and injections of sauce, wasabi coleslaw and a big chunk of the feature seafood. Normally I prefer my oysters fresh and naked in the shell but these cooked ones were little wonders. 

Lovely oysters

Lovely oysters

If you have that kind of mind you'll now want to know who General Tsao was. Well, he was a nineteenth century Chinese statesman and warleader. After extensive research lasting minutes I've discovered he had no involvement with the spicy sauce named after him and used with the oyster. Perhaps Chinese expats in the USA just missed his authoritarianism. 

The quality of the food continued in this holy trinity of three dishes with the roasted baby beets, which melded goats cheese, pistachio, basil and mint together in slightly too artful way, but added bounce and charm by preparing the dainty and soft beetroots in a raspberry reduction. Good again.

A slider selection was less distinctive, but then it was up against the previous three, and although fine enough, the mini-burgers of turkey, meatball and Wagyu, neither had the panache nor the subtlety of what had gone before. Still, they were skilfully imagined and realised in what clearly is a very talented kitchen. The Parmesan truffle fries were excellent. Fries and slider cost £12.

Slider power

Slider power

A deconstructed Pavlova for £8.50 looked the part but I can't really remember it very much. My notes say 'over complex'.  

Pavlova in deconstructed mode

Pavlova in deconstructed mode

We were there for a late lunch. Golden brown Neighbourhood with its multiplicity of shiny bits and bobs, its mirrored booths, the sparkly lights, and a weird garden patio section was busy and bubbly with a lazy soundtrack of music set at a good talking volume. 

Get a rich, saucy red, such as a Ribera del Duero, even if a little pricy at £39, and the afternoon is pleasant indeed, even when talking business. 

So why review this at lunch? Couple of reasons.

A few months ago I went early on a Saturday evening with family and by nine it was impossible to talk. All we could do was smile at our own reflections in the mirrored table surfaces and comb our hair. 

"Sometimes we can't hear the orders and get it wrong. It causes trouble," said a waiter.

Good truffle fries

Good truffle fries

It was expensive too. Food prices are steep in the evening.

Two of that excellent lunchtime trio for £15, the tacos and oysters, will set you back £24. Six oysters at Grill on the Alley are almost £3 less than the Neighbourhood price of £12. Desserts at £8.50 are at least £1 more expensive than those at Australasia and at 63 Degrees; £2 or £3 more than the average aspirant restaurant.

Going at lunchtime allows you, if you're lucky, to splash out on the wine and talk to each other.

When Tracey MacLeod of The Independent reviewed Neighbourhood a year ago she thought 'the food is much better than what it needs to be at a party place'. Very astute. She went in the evening, when Neighbourhood is all party.

The bar's the main feature on weekend nights

The bar's the main feature on weekend nights

Especially at weekends. My advice at those times for the sensitive diner is stay away, what with the racket, posturing gentlemen pushing out biceps bigger than their book collections, girls with their hands in the air and the keen doorstaff (don't get one of my writer's started on the times she's been refused entry - all of them - while sober and unthreatening). 

That picture I've painted above might be a caricature but there's truth there too. So go at lunchtime and the waiters (we had the very engaging and knowledgeable Ed Kirby on our visit), the ambience and the food can be delightful and calming and delivered with skill. Bedlam doesn't reign in the slightest.

I find it odd, given the talent in the kitchen, that the executive chef's name isn't in lights up on the website. With this degree of skill the words Damien Bell should be all over it.

By the way, the Sunday lunches are also apparently very good, the half-salt roasted chicken (£15) is beckoning me back to Neighbourhood. The lobster tacos I want right now. 


You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter @JonathSchofield or connect via Google+ 

Neighbourhood, The Avenue North, Spinningfields, City centre, M3 3BT
0161 832 6334 

Rating: 16/20
Food: 8/10 (tacos 8.5, oysters 8.5, beets 7.5, slider 7.5, Pavlova 7)
Service: 4/5
Ambience: 4/5 (but this was at lunch, it'd be 1 or 5 depending on your mood on weekend evenings)

PLEASE NOTE: Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing, 14-15 worth a trip, 16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20, we get carried away.

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23 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Poster BoyMay 12th 2014.

...and not a name check for a chef anywhere.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
SquirrelitoMay 12th 2014.

apart from Damien Bell

GordoMay 12th 2014.

Poster Boy, are you a frustrated subbie?

Georgina Hague shared this on Facebook on May 12th 2014.
AnonymousMay 12th 2014.

I was annoyed when I visited Neighbourhood on a weekday evening and had gratuity added to my bill (a two-top). We were GOING to tip anyway but having it automatically figured in (especially when it wasn't a large or party booking) left a bitter taste in my mouth. Am I being unreasonable?

1 Response: Reply To This...
GordoMay 12th 2014.

Oh dear, the old tipping conundrum. I expect it; if its not there i pay my tip in cash usually, probably more than 10% as I never have the correct change.

AnonymousMay 12th 2014.

You expect it on your bill? I expect to pay it (I usually tip 10% here in the UK and the recommended 15-20 in The States)...but not to have it built in by the establishment on to my check. It's a bit unusual here to have it figured in for you, isn't it?

1 Response: Reply To This...
GordoMay 13th 2014.

Probably 60% of restaurants put the tip on the bill, but you are always warned about it on the menu. It carries the word 'discretionary' so you can remove it if you think they don't deserve it.

AnonymousMay 12th 2014.

That damien bell is a real hit with the ladies too I hear.

TimbucMay 13th 2014.

Awful place. Not eaten there and I have no reason to doubt Jonathan's review of the food but I drank there (daytime as well) and the doorstaff and the bar staff can certainly go take a running jump. I'll spend my money elsewhere.

TimetoshineMay 13th 2014.

I went to neighbourhood for the first time last week for an anniversary celebration and have to say it was superb. We were in quite early (we were then off to watch North Side) and we were really looked after. I can heartily recommended the Flat Iron Steak.

JimMay 13th 2014.

Nice place, nice food. Although I did think the sliders were a bit rubbish. Rest of the food was very good. I like going there.

Jill BurdettMay 13th 2014.

Hey boss you forgot to mention the ladies tea-party and the bashing from the open window....

1 Response: Reply To This...
Jonathan SchofieldMay 14th 2014.

Sleuth decided to snaffle those Jill. You know what he's like.

TequilaMaxMay 13th 2014.

Agree with review of an evening visit - been a couple of times now and the music is just a tad too loud in the main restaurant area in m h o and the prices are steep - don't have a problem paying for quality but there are equally good venues serving as good a quality meal for less money - competition is still stiff out there with plenty of venue choices for diners... The lunchtime menu sounds much better value.

Dave TaylorMay 13th 2014.

Its probably THE best venue in town, although I do admit, it is a tad pricey. But they are used to footballers dining in there and we all know about their overpriced ego's. All in all tho its still a top choice with top music too ! Afternoon to early evening is my fav session.

M-Dog ManchesterMay 13th 2014.

I've been to Neighbourhood only a couple of times for lunch and compared prices against their sister restaurant S11 around the corner, couldn't see why I was paying more for basically the same, if not a lesser par burger and fries. Even so, it's a grrreat little place and the waiters are keen in their red converse and dicky bows. Jonathan's review makes me want another visit, I'll stay clear of burgers and head for the tacos and small dishes deal for sure. As for tipping, it's all discretionary so don't be afraid to underpay by removing some or all of the tip, if you must, and give them some constructive feedback as to why. I'm sure it will help. As for the evening, I would definitely not choose to dine there late on. I've never even gained entry, mainly cause I CBA with the door staff and rigmorale of the queue and the nonsense that ensues. Tried to take a keen bunch or advertising creatures in there in once, got turned away. Shame, they spend a fortune those buggers! But I guess Neighbourhood is doing just fine without them. More money in Living Ventures pocket then. And 15 quid for a roast din dins... Erm, I don't think so, again, more money for LV who get it spot on for much less. Grrrrrrr! :)

2 Responses: Reply To This...
DigsterMay 13th 2014.

I wasn't aware that it was anything to do with Living Ventures?

mike_aMay 13th 2014.

Digester, it's not a LV place, think M-Dog meant he'll spend his money at a LV place instead. Got to agree, prefer the food at Artisan than Neighbourhood.

rEddie_brekMay 13th 2014.

Pretty much spot on here - the food is great at lunchtime (love the tacos and the beets were a surprising delight) and the ambience is a million times more preferable than that of the evening when I think all that needs to be said has been said... Gordo & Anon: interested to hear your thoughts on tipping - here are some of mine following a couple of experiences earlier in the year: hardcorevaughan.blogspot.co.uk/…/service-charges.html… M-Dog: hello sir, this place isn't an LV, er, 'venture' as far as I'm aware? As you suggest, isn't it owned by the Southern 11 pair?

1 Response: Reply To This...
rEddie_brekMay 13th 2014.

Ah, just seen Mike_A's comments - yeah, I misunderstood the LV reference too.

AnonymousMay 14th 2014.

I thought it was the restaurant's job to pay the waiting staff, not the punters...

Kate Edwards-TullochMay 15th 2014.

Well done Ed great mention x

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