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Vanessa Lees finds that Castlefield has not disappeared and that Choice makes for a wonderful meal

Published on April 19th 2007.


Global warming is public enemy numero uno. Manchester’s fashionistas are all having a ‘handbag’ moment due to the pressing ‘coat or no coat’ conundrum and the pesky Queen wasp has even more of a sting in her tail having been prematurely awoken from hibernation. This topsy turvy climate is throwing restaurants into a bit of a quandary. Chefs are chucking spatulas in the air over whether they should introduce their spring menu or remain warm and snug in the comfort of winter dishes.

Choice Restaurant, probably like the entire restaurant trade, was caught out on a day which blazed like an Indian Summer by producing a menu of hearty loveliness. We can hardly be so mean as to dock them points for that. Instead, we’ll pretend that the cruel north wind did blow so, that I was strangled by my Easter bonnet and found refuge in comfort food

Choice is a cocky name for a restaurant. It arrogantly assumes even before you arrive that you’ve made the right one (choice that is). But arrogance pays dividends in this case, as it is truly an excellent restaurant, reviving that flicker of passion you used to have for Castlefield in the late nineties.

I’ve grown weary recently of eating in the centre of town, stressing in Deansgate traffic, fighting in an undignified manner for parking spaces, only to be greeted by a clock watching waitress, dictating a time to vacate the table even before I’ve parked my backside. With Choice, the indigestion is kindly removed from the equation.

This venue looks as if it missed the turning for the Cheshire countryside and decided by default to stay in Castlefield. I’m glad it did. It offers impeccable manners from the waiting staff and that old worldly charm and character, indigenous to country establishments. And as if right on queue, a barge chugs past the window along the canal to illustrate my point.

There’s a slightly more mature clientele, the sort who produce lovely, interesting chitter chatter that you’re instantly drawn to, who appreciate fine wine and dining and would stay at a restaurant like this for the duration as opposed to using it as a stomach lining before a heavy session.

But before we’re in danger of slipping into the past, the contemporary and modern comes out to play with the ivory seating, the open kitchen and Head Chef’s Mark Urry’s delightful food presentation.

Take the Tempura battered cod on sweet potato chips and wasabi peas (£5.95). It’s a thoroughly kooky dish. Fun and feisty, with the racy addition of the wasabi really bringing the dish to life. That’s what dining out is all about, it’s creating excitement, escapism even.

So too with the black pudding, Cumberland sausage and bacon terrine with honey mustard dressing (£5.75). Forget mars bar in batter, this apparently Glaswegian delicacy had my husband doing the Highland fling under the table. The richness and intensity of the meat was given a spanking by the sharpness of the honey and mustard dressing.

Another well executed dish was the chargrilled breast of Derbyshire free range chicken on a bed of buttered Welsh baby leeks, baby new potatoes with smoked Cumberland sausage finished with sage oil for £16.95. A blinding dish. The chicken moist, the vegetables crisp, the Cumberland sausage so finely sliced, it didn’t even attempt to muscle in on the starring role of the chicken, just supported it graciously. All seamlessly blended with the right amount of sage oil.

This dish went particularly well with the South Bank Estate, Sauvignon Blanc £22, which is a delicious white wine, plenty of high notes but real depth and maturity of flavour when it slides down the throat.

So could Choice do no wrong, would they remain high up on their pedestal or was it a case of the fallen angel? Well unfortunately the halo did slump slightly when it came to the crumble part of the butternut squash, red onion, sunblushed tomatoes, spinach, goats cheese with herb crumble crust and tomato and tarragon sauce (£12.95). A flavoursome and nourishing dish tainted by cement mix crumble. You needed a gallon of water just to produce enough saliva to swallow.

Redemption was clearly required and triumphantly found in the Eton Mess (£5.50) which came as fresh strawberries with crunch meringue and vanilla cream. Considering Eton’s most famous pupil has made the headlines this week, it was the must-have dish, although the Eton Mess offered something far more juicy, decadent and saucy then anything our future king will probably offer.

Perhaps it was the clear night sky or my pot belly, but as we left the restaurant, there was a serene feeling of contentedness. And if a restaurant can have that effect then it certainly was an excellent choice.

Rating:16/20 (Food 8/10, Service 4/5, Ambience 4/5)

Choice (Castle Quay, Castlefield, City. 0161 833 3400 www.choicebarandrestaurant.co.uk)
Mon-Sun noon-11pm

As always, Manchester Confidential paid for this meal

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

i sayApril 19th 2007.

'delightful food'....shouldn't that say dreadful fool!!

RGWApril 19th 2007.

I have to say I loved my meal at Choice, spoilt only by the work experience waiting staff. If they could sort that, then I think it would start filling up again.

laydeeApril 19th 2007.

once eaten ..sometimes beaten ......

AnonymousApril 19th 2007.

Hmmm.... if Choice represents modern British food at its best, then no wonder the rest of the world thinks that British food sucks.Food in Britain can be great, but there is an awful lot of half-competent muck out there. Choice is not the worst, but I'd hate anyone to think that it's as good as it gets.

jenApril 19th 2007.

My Partner and I have been going to Choice for the past couple of years - every now and then, each and every time we can not fault it, enjoyable modern British food at its best! We regularly go out and dine in and around Manchester and some of the newer restuartant around the city for service & quality don't actually compare !

big testacled blokeApril 19th 2007.

jeez, who took these pictures? it's like the old breakfast shots in Mayfair. ugh

BocaApril 19th 2007.

I used to go to Choice about once a week until a one day last summer.We went there for a meal and were fortunate to get a table outside in the sunshine. I went inside and ordered a bottle of wine and asked for two menus. I was asked where we were sitting and told them where we were. I was then told that if we were sat outside that we would have to eat food from the barbecue that was out there (a tiny thing it was too). There wasn't anything that we fancied from the barbecue so I ordered from the main menu. I was told that we would have to eat inside if we ordered from the main menu! The indoor menu was far more expensive so you think that they would have preffered us to have this. I have eaten outside from the main menu many times before without any problem. We decided not to eat there but had to polish off the wine as it had already been served. On the table next to us (outside) two ladies were given 'indoor menus' and ordered from them and were served the food outside!On asking the staff why they could do this and we couldn't, it was pointed out to us that they had special dispensation from the manager!What a pathetic episode.Needless to say they have lost me as a customer. Choice? I walked.

lconApril 19th 2007.

This restaurant (based on our first and only visit 20/04/2007) was a huge disappointment.We wandered in at 8:30 on a Friday evening and were surprised at the emptiness of the dining room (about one third full). We should have taken that as a warning sign.My starter of goat's cheese was beautifully creamy, but I can't comment on its flavour as it was overwhelmed by an unpalatable melange of strawberry jam and balsamic vinegar. The cheese was much improved by scraping the sweet globs of sugar to the side of the plate, but the cheese alone was also curiously homogeneous in texture. Perhaps some variety in the form of a crunchy melba toast may have helped. My partner's terrine of bacon, black pudding and Cumberland sausage was pleasant overall, but spoiled by a honey and mustard dressing that was hot enough to sear the back of the throat. Now, I like mustard, but I do not appreciate it setting fire to my sinuses as it did in this dish. Once the offensive dressing had been removed, the terrine itself was rather nice, but couldn't make up for the initially poor taste.Unfortunately, the mains were not much better. My partner's vegetable crumble was topped with an unpleasantly greasy mess, and its tomato sauce tasted most of Campbell's soup than the promised tarragon. My belly of pork was worse, as a nicely presented dish was ruined by a sickly honey and cider sauce. It was so sweet it made my teeth hurt, and I had to return it to the kitchen. To the credit of our waiter, he was immediately apologetic and promised to take it off the bill.I didn't request a replacement main course, but instead ordered the cheese plate to finish. Three cheeses (or possibly two, as I couldn't taste the difference between two of them) came with plain biscuit and a delicious walnut relish. The relish was the high point of the evening, and I would certainly enjoy it again. Alas, my partner's Eton Mess tasted less of fresh strawberries than the same strawberry jam that had been foisted upon my starter, and he did not finish it.The service was adequate. Our waiter meant well, but several delays - we were waiting a long time for water, it took a while to get attention to return my inedible main course, and I had to ask twice for port to accompany my cheeseplate - rather ruined the evening,In summary, we won't be back until they hire a chef that can exercise some quality control before plates leave the kitchen. Sweeter is not necessarily better, and even someone with the palate of a sugar-fixated ten-year-old would have issues with the current menu at Choice.

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