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All Bar One

Jonathan Schofield wants to bar himself from All Bar One and the incinerated fish cakes

Written by . Published on October 7th 2008.


All Bar One

Go to London and you trip over three things: tourists, black cabs and All Bar Ones (ABOs for the purpose of this review).

The first ABO I went in was close to St Paul’s Cathedral. It was 6pm and I felt a fool because I wasn’t garbed in a grey or blue suit. About ten minutes later I felt an even greater fool because I didn’t have ear-muffs. The hard surfaces of timber, glass, blackboards and plaster threw back the chatter and guffawing with the force of a depth-charge. It was if teams of acoustic experts were experimenting on living specimens.

A short while after an ABO opened on King Street in Manchester and the memory of that evening in London still terrified me. My ears would bleed if I passed close by. At times I had to cross the road just to keep sane. It took perhaps a year to venture in, not because, if truth be known, of ear fear, just that there didn’t seem any point.

From the outside those big windows gave a good view inside. It was all timber, glass, and plain plaster once again. It looked themed on a theme of what a theme pub in London would look like if designed by people with no feeling for history imagining a spit and sawdust bar from the time of Queen Victoria. There was a distinct air, across those big rustic tables, of expense account boozing: champagne and Stella being thrown around with frenzied abandon. It looked characterless in every way. For business district pubs, Sam’s, Tom’s and the City Arms all looked better bets.

So why review it now? Well, I’ve been sent deals and promotions from the company trying to tempt me in and a friend who works in the area has said the food is good. Also I’ve been back twice in two weeks for meetings – it all seemed like an excuse to see what ABO was about.

Unfortunately the experience has been drab. Not bad just drab, with the culprit being the food. On the first visit it was a couple of tapas from their unfeasibly large menu including organic Welsh goats cheese with red onion marmalade on brochettes (£5), which was a tad expensive but the best thing by far in my ABO experience. The cheese was rich and earthy.

The other tapas revealed the true nature of the kitchen. The hoi sin Spring duck quesadilla with spring onions and spicy Oriental dipping sauce (£5.50) was clumsy and crude. Then again I shouldn’t have chosen it, non-Oriental eateries always seem to make anything hoi sin badly.

Second time round it was mains, a chargrilled beef and coriander burger served with crispy fries and tomato salsa (£8.50) and hand-made salmon and smoked haddock fish cakes with mango relish, chives and rocket salad (£8) plus fries as a side (£2.50).

The fish cakes were wrecks. They had been cruelly tortured and lay across the big white plate like black eyes on a pale face after a recent beating. They were so dry, I swear, a very small camel walked across one as I was dining and expired half way along from thirst. Maybe that small ship of the desert was trying to make it to the mango relish which was moist and was the only element that worked with the dish. The promised chives were completely absent. Back to those fish cakes. Look at the picture here folks: would you have sent these fish cakes out as fit for purpose?

The burger was better, but lacked sufficient coriander to really give the meat zing. The salsa was declared the best part, but again it was horribly dry and the presentation was poor.

The most enjoyable drink was a Fiano white wine from Fontalta in Sicily (£3.60 a glass) and a zesty number. In fact the wine range is decent enough at ABO as is the beer range, with the exception of ale: why don’t they get in a good local micro?

A disturbing part of both visits was the weird obsession with security. There are signs everywhere warning us to be careful of our bags and informing would-be thieves that no money is stored on the premises. ABO obviously doesn't want us to feel comfortable.

These chain bars attempt to be classic London buzzy booze-bars with food. They're owned by Mitchells and Butlers of Birmingham. When the latter empire of two thousand bars and pubs comes up with themes they usually mess up. Their worst crime against catering is O'Neill's Irish bars, none of which are in Ireland.

When does a theme become a deception? Perhaps always: and we’re happy to play along with it if it’s heartfelt or we’re passing and there’s nowhere else. The O’Neill’s chain is just vile, the ABOs are slightly better, they seem to mesh well with the young professionals who’ve adopted them, despite their laughable ‘branding’ which states they’re aimed at ‘a new type of pub-goer and groups of women’. Groups of women? New ones?

I don’t mind if I never go in one again, especially with that drab food and those ear-drum blasting hard surfaces (which echo painfully when the place is empty). ABO is dead to me.

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: Gordo gets carried away

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

PaulOctober 7th 2008.

Steve makes some good points but I think he's just jumping on the bandwagon since mine and Gary's spat made the Sleuth editorial

SteveOctober 7th 2008.

heyes lane resident, Jem & I in Didsbury is a great restaurant.....Merlin and Gusto are corporate chains with dull unimaginative cooking...it might make a nice change from your microwave meal for one though.....Fosters chippy is the only decent place in AE.

Richard JohnstoneOctober 7th 2008.

after a great weekend out, getting piss we through in manchester city centre, i was just wandering if anyone could shed light on the rumours circulating Panacea and Ithaca. Is Panacea re-opining it's Alderley Edge site with an Ithaca restaurant? Or is this just cobswollock!! It was an exciting concept im sure would clean up. Best bar and best restaurant in manchester under one roof!! If anyone knows could you divulge further...”

AnonymousOctober 7th 2008.

Blimey Emma - you're a neg head today! You've ranted bad things on no less than 3 stories today. Does someone need a hug?

SteveOctober 7th 2008.

59 main dishes eh?? Says it all...must have big freezers eh??? You might be impressed with steak 6 ways and Italian Burger but it doesn't really float my boat. It's standard formula chain fare that's pretty much idiot proof. You might be surpised if you see the delivery vans arriving outside....I can see them from my office...sashimi grade tuna my arse!! This is cooking by numbers....I know lads who've got work there as chefs with no experience whatsoever.....as you said, we all have opinions....it's canteen food and it ain't that good really.

Heyes Lane ResidentOctober 7th 2008.

Thank god opinions vary, and we don't all decree a place simply because it is not independent. As for dull and unimaginative - have you been to Gusto? It may not rival for major awards, it may be a fairly cheap and cheerful place but its menus (main menu and healthy eating menu) are far from unimaginative and ideal for a local eatery. I've ended up going three times in the last 10 days and had the best Tuna (“seared Sashimi grade”) I've had since a holiday in the Maldives, a fillet steak that was cooked perfectly AND was actually a proper portion and a simple saffron seafood risotto that would rival my favourite restaurant in Tuscany. Funny you should mention Jem & I. I've eaten there twice this summer. First time they took three attempts to cook a blue steak, the second they served sea-bass that was as dry as Gandhi’s flipflop and missing half of its accompaniments. PS, the fact that you had to wait for 2 hours for a table would suggest it is rather popular. I was there on Saturday with friends (the same ones who took us to Jem & I), we'd booked the day before. PPS if you pay £20 for food in a pub then you clearly need your head read! Try proper pub food at more like £7 and you'll have an enjoyable pub scran. I will actually admit that The Merlin has gone downhill since the manager, Will, left a couple of months ago.

SteveOctober 7th 2008.

"Sear"...you mean put a piece of meat or fish on a very hot gridlle pan for a short period of time????? I reckon it must take at least 3 years at catering college to learn that particular skill...

SharonOctober 7th 2008.

Love the review! Personally, have never been inside an ABO and I dont really want to! Last thing I want on a Friday night is a bar full of suits having worked with a load during the week and the ABO on King St is literally spilling them out the door :( Those fishcakes looked devine though....ha!

Street Fightin' JohnOctober 7th 2008.

Don't stand for that, Gary. Let him 'ave it...

GaryOctober 7th 2008.

Weekday lunch/Weekday evening/Saturday afternoon/Anytime - ABO is nothing like Alderley Edge. On Saturday afternoon ABO is a shoppers haunt (and not a very good one). Alderley Edge doesn't really have any shops - thus to insinuate its similarity is farcical.

SteveOctober 7th 2008.

Gary , let's get thias straight....firstly, have you ever been to AE? If you had you will know that it's overrun by little balding ferrari drivers etc. Secondly most of the great restaurants in the North West (which I'm not divulging to a philistine like you!) are 1. Ethnic 2. Cheap and 3. not full of posing prats. Here's my list of shame for AE... Number 15 - Tuna pate & microwave fish pie, enough said, Alderley Rose - supermarket Chinese in 70's room, Mandarin- same only pricier, Konak - not a patch on Alladin/Petra! La Vina- Chain spanish crap also microwaved from vac packs (so say portuguese waiting staff), London Road- Paul Heathcote takes the piss out of Alderleys posing masses, I'm with Jay Rayner on this one! The Edge Hotel- warm sherry in whisky tumblers, need I say more? Balti House...Botulism house!!Trafford arms...boil in the bag, have I misse4d any Gary?

PaulOctober 7th 2008.

I hate you more

Blackpudding King of BuryOctober 7th 2008.

Sausage is that you?? Abe Froeman, Sausage King of Chicago???You tell them Sausage 11 out of 20 is a joke. quick beating about the bush ManCon and get these cowboys out of Manchester!

Heyes Lane ResidentOctober 7th 2008.

Steve, get over yourself, have you been to AE since the late 80s? I’ve lived in AE for 18 years, and am with Gary, it is years since I’ve seen the tired old stereotype balding man in Ferrari has populated the place. Astons/RR-Sports/Bentley GTs galore, but the area of the medallion man is long gone – most divorcees are women these days, the men have moved into ‘bachelor pads’ in Manchester. You are again sorely missing the point with restaurants too (and are simply quoting the ago old stalwart, 80s restaurants – London Rd excepted). If your idea of decent restaurants is ‘ethnic’ then you won’t get AE restaurants, nor will you get 90% of other great restaurants in the country. That’s no denigration, but compare like with like. For what its worth, for a quick Friday evening meal, Gusto and The Merlin are great. They’re not going to challenge for awards, but they are great little places and for £20/head are as good as you are likely to get. Hang on, YOU are the Balding man in a Ferrari, and you can’t get a decent Ruby. NOW it all makes sense. Move in the new millennium Steve.

NikOctober 7th 2008.

Nothing like a catfight between two blokes to keep us amused on a Friday afternoon..

PaulOctober 7th 2008.

It's always struck me as a bit of Alderley Edge in the city centre; all fur coat and no knickers. On a saturday afternoon check out all the Trendy Wendy's sipping chardonnay after a hard day at it hitting the Mastercard on King Street

SteveOctober 7th 2008.

Took the wife to AE Hotel for dinner 18 months ago and yes John, we asked for Tio Pepe and were served it at room temperature in whisky tumblers..this from a supposedly classy hotel...mind, if you pay peanuts you get monkeys. Out with some mates on Saturday we waited over 2 hours to get a table at Gusto that bever arrived...went back to mine and made a great pasta. Heyes lane resident.....from your comments you obviously don't know how to cook...I do and that's why I won't go and pay £20 at Merlin for something I could knock up better in my own home. This is the same Merlin that said, "yes you van have a table at 7 but we need it back by 9....only if you managed to serve us by then idiots!! Anyone who was in Alderley yesterday (Sunday) afternoon between 2 and 5 couldn't miss the bright yellow ferrari outside Bar & Grill......I rest my case m'lud.

PaulOctober 7th 2008.

Gary why are you always so aggressive in your responses? Have you NOTHING better to do than nit pick everyone's opinions on this site - jeez! I have been to both and if you read my response I'm talking about ABO on a Saturday afternoon. Personally I think the place is full of tosspots which is probably explains a lot about what you say. But that's just my opinion of course.

SteveOctober 7th 2008.

Gary, get off your high horse mate, you are so defensive about Alderley Edge...why?? The village has no decent restaurants and is populated by balding middle aged yellow ferrari drivers who circulate the village waiting for a space outside the bar & grill or London Road. They then sit there with their peroxide partners breathing in fumes and sipping warm Chardonnay whilst picking at the overpriced ****e! Check out any decent restaurant guide mate...you won't see anything local in them. We travel to Manchester, Lancashire and Derbyshire regularly to eat and drink because of the piss poor alternatives on offer in the area. ps there are 1 or 2 decent places withing 15 minutes of AE but I'm not going to tell you about them Gary as I don't reckon you'd know good food if it came up behind you and bit you on the arse!

Street Fightin' JohnOctober 7th 2008.

Go on, Paul. Biff him.

FloOctober 7th 2008.

Avoid like the you have never avoided anywhere in your life on a Friday after work. It's full of recruitment consultant being five minute millionaires!! I am allowed to say it I am one myself! ;0)

GaryOctober 7th 2008.

I hate you Paul

SausagesOctober 7th 2008.

Really, truly dreadful - but it still gets 11/20. What's the lowest you've marked a place JS? Employ me for the odd review and I will happily trash the nuts off a place and give it a good old Norwegian nil points. Send me to the Fat Duck - "prissy food and the portions were too small 0/10". St Johns - "its just pig's sh!tters 0/10". The Market - "nothing like a bloody market 0/10!"

SteveOctober 7th 2008.

so maybe I went off at the deep end and I shouldn't have. Most AE people are OK it's just the dickheads that stick in the mind. I just get frustrated at the lack of decent places locally. However being positive, these are THE places to visit in Alderley....Horsehoe Farm, Percy Granthams, Weinholts and Fosters. Don't go to Alan Jacksons butchers though...he's a robbing bastard!!

SteveOctober 7th 2008.

Jen, where have I missed La Vina and Konak in my review? I visit Spain regularly and the food I have tried in La Vina bears no resemblance in any way to that which I have eaten there.I wouldn't feed it to my dog! re Konak....please try Aladdin in Withington or Petra on Upper Brook Street and tell me they are in the same league. By the way I have heard good things about the food at the Drum and Monkey recently so might be tempted to a visit. Al......I'll take yer all on!!!

SteveOctober 7th 2008.

yes I have! Bar & Grill.....just about average.... wish they would change the menue more than once in every 5 years, there is such a thing as seasonal cooking!!

Street Fightin' JohnOctober 7th 2008.

Wow, Steve's such an expert. He's obvoiusly ASKED for warm sherry in whisky tumblers at The Alderley Edge Hotel. Either that, or he's not even been to eat or drink there, having just relied on that reliable old rumour mill...

Mr PorterOctober 7th 2008.

ABO is dead to me? Crikey, Mr Schofield, don't sit on the fence...

SteveOctober 7th 2008.

I agree with you I rarely ate chicken (except in curries) until I roasted one of Andy's birds...what a revelation. My wife loves the pigs, I love the streaky bacon and sausages.

Heyes Lane ResidentOctober 7th 2008.

As an aside, as my pal (who shared your ‘just a pizza place’ ignorance) highlighted on Saturday, while you were waiting for two hours to get a table at this cr*p restaurant, only 21 of the 59 main dishes contained any form of Pasta, Pizza or Risotto. Theres a whole new world out there....!

Heyes Lane ResidentOctober 7th 2008.

Makes you wonder how so many 'proper' chefs get it wrong then Steve - including your beloved Jem&I??

jonnymacOctober 7th 2008.

Those fish cakes are a joke! at least by the looks of things you got one of the nice waiters. 3 out of 5... good job you didn't get one of the usual miserable moose that call themselves waitresses, otherwise it would have been a BIG FAT ZERO! the food is the least of the worries in that place!

GaryOctober 7th 2008.

Paul - sometimes you just realise you are having an intellectual battle with an unarmed opponent. For what its worth, Gusto is a lovely local place for a relaxed cheap meal and whilst a 1000 levels away from rivalling Northcote/Samling/Sharrow Bay/Maison etc, is an equally far step away from its Est Est Est foundings.

mark mOctober 7th 2008.

I bet Gary looks fetching in a big dress and a pinnie

The rest of the worldOctober 7th 2008.

We don't give a crap, stop bickering like a pair of 7 year old idiots.

alOctober 7th 2008.

absolutely right Paul, I think you and Gary should join forces against Steve!

AnonymousOctober 7th 2008.

Hey Jenn - don't you start!

Heyes Lane ResidentOctober 7th 2008.

If that was all you'd said Steve, there wouldn't be an issue. You just got on your high horse and slammed anyone who actually liked eating in AE

joOctober 7th 2008.

This chain has never appealed to me...I would never choose to eat there no matter what!

flossieOctober 7th 2008.

La Vina is part of what used to be The Laurel Pub Group* (Slug & Lettuce, Hogshead, Ha Ha, La Tasca, La Vina and a few other small random brands) and it's supposed to be the upmarket La Tasca. They all have a centralised supply chain and its the same produce as La Tasca, just with added 'perceived value', ie, prettier menus, more 'authenic' decor and more emphasis on flogging wine.*Laurel 'went into administration' a few months ago, ie, dumped the unprofitable part of the property portfolio and then reset up under a different name but I can't for the life of me remember what that name is.

PaulOctober 7th 2008.

Alderley Edge is rubbish

AnonymousOctober 7th 2008.

The warning signs are up there as its a notorious bar for thieves!Girls, careful of your handbags.

SausagesOctober 7th 2008.

By the way - nice review. Like the camel.

PaulOctober 7th 2008.

Absolutely Heyes Lane Resident. I think Steve sounds a lot like Gary. Hang on, where is Gary - not heard from him for a while?? Oh wait, steve, is that you Gary?

Heyes Lane ResidentOctober 7th 2008.

I agree - but I can't help thinking that the bulk of the dickheads are visitors and not indigenous and are certainly in the minority. Please don’t advertise Horseshoe Farm though, it is still a relatively unknown gem and with more publicity it will undoubtedly lose its edge. It is currently our only regular Saturday morning commitment to buy the week’s meat. Their hormone free chicken is the find of the century – if you can stand the stench of ‘pig’ in the car park to get to it.

Heyes Lane ResidentOctober 7th 2008.

So thats "No" then. Ignorance is bliss eh Steve?

JennOctober 7th 2008.

Steve,There is some text missing from my post it should read '1 of them on London rd. then the La Vina and Konak points should have been in a seperate paragraph...ah well good point badly made!

SteveOctober 7th 2008.

This is getting really dull..the point is we all have different likes and dislikes/tastes....I just don't hink much of the standard of food on offer in Alderley Edge (or Wilmslow, Knutsford, Macclesfield etc.).....where is the crime in that?

JennOctober 7th 2008.

(and not just 'special' at spelling and grammar)

JennOctober 7th 2008.

I can name at least 3 you missed Steve, 1 of them LaVina is LaVina that is you know what to expext and get what you pay for. Perfectly pleasant in my opinnion (as far as I'm aware it's not going for a Michelin star. As for Konak if it was in city centre (where I live)I would be there quite regularly. But apart from that why are we comparing a village to the city? I somehow manage to go out and have decent food and good wine in BOTH Alderley and Manchester-I guess I must be special!

GaryOctober 7th 2008.

Steve, I believe the raw nerve is yours. I have not displayed any defensive nature about Alderley Edge. I merely said it was nothing like ABO. Thank god for free-choice. I eat where I want to eat, usually chosen from personal or human referral - not just reading the who's who of restaurant guides. Luckily I don't demand Haute Cuisine or a string of Michelin/Ronay/Fodor accolades every time I chose to eat out. You appear obsessed with Bar & Grill and London Road. I've never been tempted by either, nor have I ever seen a bald-middle aged man in a Ferrari anywhere near there. Enjoy your restaurant guide 'decent' restaurants – although I can recommend using your mouth to sample, rather than letting it ‘bite you on the arse’. PS, thank you to all the other Gary pretenders – imitation is the highest form of flattery

emma graceOctober 7th 2008.

haha you remind me of pauline and barbara from the Bounty kitchen roll advert

PaulOctober 7th 2008.

Oh does it bloody matter Gary? You obviously live in Alderley Edge and spend a lot of time in ABO with other like minded professionals, no doubt ranting about congestion charging and goodness knows what, so I won't wind you up about either any more.

JennOctober 7th 2008.

Now I,m in agreement on this one Emma!

Heyes Lane ResidentOctober 7th 2008.

So you won't be queueing for TWO hours to get in again then? If chefs with no experiance can cook a blue steak, or sear tuna perfectly on the first attempt then good luck to them. I know many 'names' that would struggle to do so. By the way, your sheer arrogance of assuming I know nothing about food merely because I like different things to you surely makes you fit all the bad stereotypes that Alderley Edge is infamous for. Well done. You're the balding fat guy that just can't afford a Ferrari??

SteveOctober 7th 2008.

Its a busy Pizza and pasta joint...same as when it was Est Est Est....It's got a decent bar and a little bit of a buzz....and serves food that soaks up a few pints...end of!

Heyes Lane ResidentOctober 7th 2008.

I think he sounds more like an embattled councillor of a rival conurbation desperately trying to slate Alderley Edge. Maybe once the housing market picks up he may leave the village he seems to hate so much and go somewhere *more desirable* and leave AE to those who DO like it.

ChickOctober 7th 2008.

Getting to love JS's reviews - laughed out loud at the thought of a camel hot-footing it over your fish cakes. I have to agree with you here; "When does a theme become a deception? Perhaps always: and we’re happy to play along with it if it’s heartfelt or we’re passing and there’s nowhere else." Thing is in Manchester it's not as if there is nowhere else is it? However, it seems the vast majority of Manchester eat in chains and branded theme bars. Why?

GaryOctober 7th 2008.

Alderley Edge is brilliant

cpingOctober 7th 2008.

I occassionally pop into AOB if I don't or the moment like the number one bus queue. All the notices are so you can't sue them when disaster happens and their insurance company has to pay. The only place there isn't a notice is the stairs to the gents. You wont get ant money of you fall down them! As for the rest it is just dullsville

PaulOctober 7th 2008.

Gary - if you think arguing the toss over the quality of restaurants in Alderley Edge is intellectual... well I rest my case.

GaryOctober 7th 2008.

How is All Bar One possibly a bit of Alderley Edge??? It is nothing like Alderley Edge. Neither are everyone's cup of tea, and neither is a particularly social metropolis - but the two are so wildly unalike - you can clearly never have been to both (or either). All Bar One is a 'professionals meeting place' that has certainly had its day, but is spacious and convenient. Alderley Edge, having lived there for six years, is totally different. It is a pure non-work biased, fairly quiet, social destination, with minimal generic 'life' but some nice restaurants and the odd nice bar. Do NOT believe what the ignoramuses say one here and on TV.

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