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Malmaison

Jonathan Schofield enjoys a bargain menu as the Malmaison keeps it Northern

Written by . Published on April 17th 2007.


Malmaison

Bloody hell that was a good starter. For three days now I’ve been boring everybody I’ve met about the smoked eel with beetroot mousse at the Malmaison Brasserie.

The eel is part of a cunning plan. This foxy and seductively decorated hotel mini-chain is creating little points of difference in an area of the city centre that will soon be chocker with rivals. In the next six months City Inn and MacDonalds Hotel will arrive, whilst the Rossetti opposite is metamorphosing into an Abode Hotel.

One of the main Mal differences is the regional spin on the food. The latter has resulted in the remarkable bargain that is the ‘Homegrown and Local’ menu. Every night you can get three courses for £15.50 or two courses for £13.50. Around the side of the menu are helpful boxes, describing the provenance of the various items. True, the definition local is stretched to eighty miles or more but technically most of the produce derives from the North West. Thus the eels come from the River Lune and the Port of Lancaster Smokehouse, which is probably in the top twenty of quality food producers in the UK right now.

This takes us back to the starter. The resistance of the flesh of the eel, its rugged fatty flavour and the delicate smoky tang was a revelation –as far removed from jellied eels as Shakespeare from Jeffrey Archer, Cristiano Ronaldo from Darren Fletcher. The key is the fat, which smoked, adds to the delight. The eel could have been served on its own and it would have shone, but the light, floaty, beetroot mousse it encased was a beauty, well crafted, unexpected and a good match for the fish.

The Gloucester Old Spot pork loin from Udale in the Lake District was next. I’m fond of that pig: his flesh gave me much pleasure. It was tender, complex, flowery and subtle. It proved that although a chef's techniques are paramount, they can do little without the right ingredients. The mustardy mash accompaniment was sturdy and solid and a touch of flair was added by the artfully arranged and sweetened prunes in a gentle sauce: the prunes lending texture and variety to the tastebuds.

Another main, the Butlers blue goats cheese and rocket risotto was the disappointment of the meal. Like daytime TV presenters – or perhaps food reviewers - it was pointless. I let Sharon, my dining partner, have one of my prunes and that perked things up but couldn’t conceal the fact that the risotto needed an extra ingredient. At least she’d enjoyed a fine starter of Cheshire air dried ham with potato and parsley salad.

The pudds, a rhubarb crumble and baked egg custard and vanilla tart, were lovely. Crumble is one of the great British contributions to cuisine. Rhubarb crumble done well is reason enough for extraterrestrials to invade. The Yorkshire rhubarb here was simply sumptuous and glorious – but the kitchen needs to take care not to give the crumble too much crunch.

On this menu, the Mal gets round the fact that the vineyards of Rivington or Rainow have yet to enjoy the fruits of global warming by sourcing wines from Manchester’s partner city of Cordoba. The El Muro blanco, La Mancha, (£16.95) did a competently crisp job.

The lady and I were staying over in the gorgeous Moulin Rouge suite, all reds, blacks, state-of-the-art gadgetry and a bath so deep it takes 26 minutes to fill. This meant we also had breakfast. Now, there are two types of these in British hotels: a lardy one, for people still in touch with reality, and a ‘Continental’ one only suitable for attenuated fashion models and sell-your-story sailors. The full English at the Mal costs £13.95 but since it’s just a couple of quid more expensive than the other it’d be silly to miss out. There are good variants to the bacon, eggs, black pudding theme too. The lemon and parsley buttered kippers are a treat. And sometimes it’s the little things that impress. The way in which the eggs were treated was exemplary. A perfect poached egg of the type we had here is beyond most establishments.

With endless supplies of coffee and tea we spent the best part of two hours at breakfast, reading the papers, people watching and chatting. It was a good end to a fine stay.

Of course being a foodie I was occasionally distracted by the appearance of other dishes. I’m shamed to admit I spent some minutes eyeing up the Eggs Benedict on the next table like an aging Lothario ogling a lap dancer. Sharon had to tell me to stop. By this time though it was clear that the quality of food, the innovative ideas and the levels of service meant the Mal should be well placed to face the challenge of the burgeoning hotel scene.

Rating: 16/20 (Food 7.5/10, Service 4/5, Ambience 4.5/5)

The Malmaison Brasserie (Piccadilly, City. 0161 278 1000 www.malmaison-manchester.com)
Breakfast: Mon- Fri 7-10am, weekends 7-11am. Lunch everyday noon-2.30pm. Dinner Mon-Sun 6pm-11pm.
Manchester Confidential paid for the food, the Malmaison hosted the room.

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AnonymousApril 17th 2007.

7.5/10 food; 4/10 service; 4.5/10 amience. All adds up to 16/25. Maths lesson anyone?

BertieApril 17th 2007.

Ate there today for lunch. Eel starter supoib, eggs b. not so. Haddock main just passable (I've had better in b7bs). But the dessert--Rhubarb Crumble (from those well know local suppliers 'Catering Connection'), far too sweet (like jam in fact), smattering of crumbs representing the crumble in a tiny dish. Woeful.Service was poor to okay; one lass not knowing about the eel dish--had to be repeated four times as an order. But it was busy, so they're doing something right.

JonathanApril 17th 2007.

Thanks for pointing out that error, we've changed it now. My excuse is that I'm writer not a mathematician, the same applies for Gordo. It's something to do with the left side of the brain, or is it the right? Or all three sides perhaps.

GordoApril 17th 2007.

Gordo was looking frward to taking the piss out of Mr. Schofield, but then checked the math. Are you dropping acid anonymous, or is Gordo being thick? It looks right to him.

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