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Cloud 23 food and thoughts

Jonathan Schofield ponders Manchester’s sky high bar and its future

Written by . Published on August 4th 2010.

Cloud 23 food and thoughts

On the twenty third level the view was best to the north, through the city buildings, and to the moors where rain showers were soaking the hills. The skies were exciting. Ted Hughes, late-Poet Laureate, once wrote, ‘Moors are a stage for the performance of heaven, any audience is incidental’. At sunset the sun lifted the clouds over Salford and Bolton. It looked like someone had nuked the Reebok.

An idea that seems in the offing is to make the breakfast and meeting bar area that faces the city centre into a fine dining restaurant with about sixty covers and then have the bar accommodate the remaining number of people allowed in the lifts.

“So why’s it appear so empty up here half the time?” I asked Hilton chef David Gale.

“Fire regs,” he said. “The place can fit in almost three hundred people but we’re only allowed 200. Hence people complain about queuing for ages but then find it quiet up here, as though we’ve made them wait for no reason. But, really, there’s nothing we can do.”

There have been other problems since opening at Cloud 23: the weird initial rule of not allowing people in before 5pm now relaxed to allow afternoon tea seekers in, the labyrinthine booking system that often seemed to ring out and most bizarrely of all the positioning of the bar.

The latter faces south to the southern Pennines on the east, Jodrell Bank straight ahead and the Welsh mountains to the west. This can be spectacular, it can be stirring, but cynics often scoff at the magnificent view of a floodlit ASDA Hulme in the evening – not the most gripping of descriptions. Surely the bar should have faced north into the city centre and the other tall buildings with the moors close in, framing the view?

That aside, problems have been largely ironed out and the service has radically improved so that on our visit every member of the staff was a charmer. The drinks came quickly too, no Brit likes to wait an age (or even seven and a half minutes) before they get to grip their beverage.

And there’s food now. Previously another failing of Cloud 23 was the lack of grub on high.

David Gale’s team provide an array of dim sum which is exquisitely produced: beef, pork, vegetable and seafood, gently spiced, full of flavour and looking a picture. Even more of a picture with the Town Hall behind them, as in these pictures. The food is available from 5pm to 12am and costs £6.50 a basket.

We had a great evening up there. Lazy. Relaxed.

An idea that seems in the offing is to make the breakfast and meeting bar area that faces the city centre, into a fine dining restaurant with about sixty covers and then have the bar accommodate the remaining number of people allowed up the lifts. That seems like a stroke of catering genius and an ideal way of maximising public use. Cloud 23 is on the up.


A bad move recently has been the occasional charge levied on punters trying to get in when there’s live music. This needs to be dropped as it points to a return to the type of disdain for customers that some of the old policies showed. The bar says all the entrance money goes to the musicians and constitutes their fee. Cloud 23 should just pay for the artists themselves, like so many venues do when they have musicians in – as Dimitris does directly under Beetham Tower and Cloud 23.

Yet for visitors and for locals who’ve never been and for many a returning regular, Cloud 23 provides a very special evening out – despite what the carpers say. It also remains unique in Manchester for its height and views: a characteristic it should always be noble enough to celebrate rather than exploit as it refines the business on the twenty-third floor.

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

John HarrisAugust 2nd 2010.

Cloud 23's always been a weird place, with inconsistent door policies, random closure of much of the bar area, and seriously variable service.

Generally, the quality of the cocktails are up there with the best the city can offer, but you really do have to wait for them (no change at the time of my last visit one month ago). Prices are on the high side but not out of kilter with similar venues.

Sticking a decent restaurant in part of the space does sound like an inspired idea, provided the quality matches the price and it doesn't descend into a piss-take like Ithaca did.

And I have to agree with Jonathan about the eccentric choice of view for the main bar area. I particularly like the bright sign for the Obsessions strip club - classy!

A friend of mine used to live on the 39th floor with a view down Deansgate and across the city - now that was a view you could lose yourself in for an hour. He made better cocktails than C23 as well...

mAugust 2nd 2010.

Do they have a kitchen up there though? As they didn't serve food before, I presume not. There could be issues with ventilation and wouldn´t they be cooking on electric hobs? If this is the case, would this mean shuttling food up 23 floors? That can't be good for keeping the food warm. It´d be a real challenge for fine dining.

I look forward to the day the bar gets a refurb. With the capacity limits it could be a lot more cosy than it is. I imagine it being particularly at odds with the afternoon tea crowd (I can't see my mum sat on those seats). The Lobby Lounge in New York does something similar in a more comfortable fashion and could be a look to work towards. If the bar and exec lounge/restaurant are totally split the decor could be entirely different and be a reason to visit both sides.

If anyone hasn't been to Cloud 23 I think it's best visited mid-week and when it's dark outside. There are no queues, less delays in the service and more opportunity to explore the place. The views and cocktails aren't just there at the weekend.

Despite its flaws it's a great asset for the city and should be on top 10 list for any visitor. If they can get the restaurant up there, all the better.

Leigh ScottAugust 2nd 2010.

This place should be reviewed as if it were on the ground with the rest of the competition.

It's crap - end of!

Smyth HarperAugust 2nd 2010.

Interesting... Last time I went there, they wanted to charge a fiver for us to go in. All we wanted was a pre-dinner cocktail, so they lost our business. Really, really short-sighted.

J E SibberingAugust 2nd 2010.

Me too Smitty, so our party of 12 went elsewhere.

AnonymousAugust 2nd 2010.

Terribly run and generally chaotic. I can't see why anyone other than tourists would bother.

Simon TAugust 2nd 2010.

If it was on the ground floor no-one would go, it's badly run, and expensive. Very few people go more than once after being messed about trying to get in and ripped off inside. The only thing it has going for it is the view, which is great. However, once you've seen it you're not going to keep needing to check that the Pennines are still there are you?

NortherngeezerAugust 2nd 2010.

Just one word, sh..........e

DibigoAugust 3rd 2010.

M...I think it's best visited mid-week and when it's dark outside. There are no queues, less delays in the service and more opportunity to explore the place... is spot on. Also agree with the people that say you wouldn't go in if it was on the ground. You wouldn't would you. It's a cool bar to go once in a while. Think I've been in twice, in midweek both times, when it's dark, and it is a unique place. Although like someone said, the immediate view is a 'gentlemans club' and a bit further on, Asda. It's an odd one really, just totally contradicted myself. Yeah it's shit, but I like it.

Simon BirdAugust 3rd 2010.

The service has been so slow in the past that we've left after getting bored of the views, yet still before our drinks orders were taken...(and i've never been in at a peak time)

AnonymousAugust 3rd 2010.

The bar doesn't have kitchen and the food comes from the ground floor. There is only one staff lift to 23rd floor - very slow one.

Cloud23 bar was inspected and the found shoes in the fridge. They were extremely lucky not to be closed.

DaisyDukeAugust 3rd 2010.

If the food is to be cooked via the restaurant on the Ground floor, then don't bother, we had to wait 3 hours for our main course. When the food eventually arrived, it was cold and was inedible, I have seriosuly eaten better micowave meals.

BurtonBabeAugust 3rd 2010.

The last time I went it was full of hen dos in sparkling tiaras and sashes... hardly exclusive given the prices, random door policy and snotty staff. Talk about an identity crisis. Won't be rushing back.

JohnAugust 3rd 2010.

Cloud 23 really is a missed opportunity, the views are amazing but the decor is 1970s Habitat, the whole place has a really shabby feel about it.
Some time ago I took a friend and her daughter, we were asked by the lift attendant if we minded that there was filming going on there, this turned out to be an episode of Coleen Rooney's "Real Women". As we left my friend's daughter exclaimed loudly "I don't know why they're filming, we're the only interesting people here and we're leaving". That just about summed up the whole experience

MarkAugust 3rd 2010.

John, by the sounds of it, your daughter's friend is EXACTLY the kind of person that would be on Coleen's Real Women! True class!

ColeenAugust 3rd 2010.

Ah john, yes I remember her she was very classy

paulAugust 3rd 2010.

Can you ever sit on the north side? iv only been once and had to sit looking at the strip club, but there was an artist on so i just guessed it was because of that

NickAugust 3rd 2010.

Cracking views but the clipboard c**ts guarding the lift will have ensured that most people won't give it another chance.

Why is it that when you give someone a clipboard and a tiny bit of power they lose the run of themselves?

hazyAugust 3rd 2010.

been in the cloud 23 many times each time it gets worse.we had to wait 1 hr then were told it was 2pound each to get in having waited that length of time we waited another 20min to be served order are drinks all the drinks came except the black Russian when we told the waitress she said the barman did not know what it was so ended up with a nasty glass of wine.asked for a bowl of kalamata olives with a blank expression she tuned away 10 min later she put some green olives on the table with nothing to pick them up with.very disappointing dont think i will be going again!!!!!!

DidsburyGirlAugust 3rd 2010.

Absolutely a waste of time and money this place. I have been once and to be honest, the service was the thing that put me off it the most. I don't mind paying a premium if it's something special and the service and ambiance reflects this, but the place is cold and tatty and the staff are slow and rude. It upsets me that tourists and visitors go here when there are other higher quality bar's in the city.

DibigoAugust 3rd 2010.

'The Dean' - top drink. like a mohito with vanilla. Shame it takes an hour to get one, then you pay £7 for it.

Daniel WildAugust 3rd 2010.

The fact that it is in the sky is the only 'wow' factor, just like a few other guys have said. I've been twice, and don't feel the need to spend any money there again. The last time I went it was full of botox blondes and mid-life-crisis sugar daddies, neither of which are crowds I'd want to be associated with!

best cocktails in Manchester - try Hula in the Northern Quarter. Their Mohito would bring Elvis back to life!

vertigoAugust 3rd 2010.

Always had crap service and shame that apart from once its always been the view out to Salford, not that i'm knocking it but the manchester city centre view is better.
Clip board nazis are a wind up too. Some friends were staying in hotel and even they had to queue.
Re. food, looks as though like a lot of other Manchester restaurants they are over stretching themselves with 'hot' food.
Why not do Sushi or gravadlax etc?
How come Beetham tower in liverpool's 'panoramic' restaurant is on 34th floor? Never been there but seems to get good things said about it.

LJAugust 3rd 2010.

Last time I went the service was slow and the whole place had an air of superiority, as if I should just be glad to be there no matter how crap the place is.

Much prefer the bar at the Modern for cocktails.

Ali McGowanAugust 4th 2010.

What a massively negative thread. I love the place. The cocktails. The views (esp. ASDA). The free nibbles (if you ask). The afternoon teas. The urinals with floor to ceiling windows right next to them. Not frosted. HOWEVER... The service is, sadly, shocking. The staff make ace drinks - but are let down by very slow service. The waiting staff are all, generally, lovely, but seem not have been trained in how to serve people. You wait far too long for ordering and bill paying... sort that out (easy!!!) and you're back onto a winner. Oh and not to arsed about the decor - it does its job and if it were much more, it would detract from the views. As for being Shabitat, it's more airport lounge, I feel.

Kate GAugust 4th 2010.

A year or so ago we had a friend over from New York and took her to Cloud 23 on a weekday evening for a pre-dinner cocktail. She ordered a Martini, with her personal preferences. The waitress's face as she ordered indicated she had no idea what my friend was talking about. My friend noticed this and explained, in more detail than should ever be necessary, how she would like her Martini. About half an hour later the drinks came. Needless to say the drink she received bore absolutely no resemblance to what she ordered. My friend commented that if a place with such poor service and quality opened in NYC it wouldn't last the week. We agreed with her and have not been back to Cloud 23 since.

J E SibberingAugust 4th 2010.

Maybe it's a massively negative thread Ali McGowan, because all the people who've commented have had massively negative experience of Cloud 23!

Hopefully, they'll read this and improve.

NortherngeezerAugust 4th 2010.

Given the negativity of the rants, maybe the Hilton family should take note and send Paris over to sort it out ;-)

AvoAugust 4th 2010.

£6.50 a basket?!?! Sorry but I'd rather pay £2 a basket at the New Hong Kong in Chinatown and then use the money that I've saved getting shedded in Keko.

GteethAugust 6th 2010.

City Inn rooftop bar in Leeds is miles better

J E SibberingAugust 7th 2010.

I called in the Hilton this week to enquire about Cloud 23 opening hours, and to book for a party of 8 early doors next Friday, after a 50th birthday lunch at Alberts Shed.

We're going to Opus One at the Radisson for our cocktails instead...

NarrabeamAugust 20th 2010.

Only tried to go in three times, first time it was a no because it was before 5pm, then it was a no because we hadn't booked. Both occassions staff were really arsy. Third time tried to book a table for some overseas visitors, again given the run around.
No intention of trying again. Who and what do they think they are? As a local, I have never been up there and now have no intention of ever doing so. Save your money & go to the Northern Quarter or almost anywhere else. they don't deserve any custom in my book.

Scott NeilAugust 23rd 2010.

presumably if they went all-out to do food there could be a full kitchen fitted in, right?

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