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Panacea

It was Panacea’s first birthday a while ago and the place treated itself to a menu and restaurant makeover...

Published on June 14th 2006.


Panacea

It was Panacea’s first birthday a while ago and the place treated itself to a menu and restaurant makeover.

The existing layout didn’t really work as a restaurant; along with the menu and small portions; Gordo didn’t fancy it at all. He well remembers the ex Everton striker Kevin Campbell eating with his wife, the beautiful Faye, staring at his dish. “Blimey Gordo, have you seen the size of this? Are they taking the piss? I need three of these…”

We all know now that Panacea is working well as a bar; it is arguably the best in town of its kind. But it’s quiet at lunch time, and starts fairly late. It is, however, a good, cool space to be in when it’s blinding hot outside. Joe Akker, the Gaffer, a nice lad who needs a dig every now and again, appears to have decided that his original layout was indeed wrong and the food menu too odd. It takes a man to admit that he was wrong in the first place. Gordo likes that.

Does he like the solution though?

First off, the layout. Booths for up to ten people have replaced the serried ranks of small round tables at the back of the room. A long tall ‘Mezzo’ table that seats up to twelve, an idea first seen at the sister restaurant, Piccolinos, sits where the no mans land used to be.

The menu has changed completely. Panacea is part of the Individual Restaurant Group and Gordo could spot their Chief Executive Chef, James Gingell knocking about in the planning. James and Gordo go back a long way, from Alderley Edge to Knutsford and on to Manchester. James used to give Gordo beer when he was wandering around in a daze, virtually penniless having been nearly kicked to death one night in Oxford road. It took Gordo a year to get over it and Gordo won’t forget James. But that doesn’t mean he is going to get an easy ride in Gordo’s restaurant reviews!

Starters and small plates include Mezze to share: Halloumi grilled in Pitta, Lamb Koftas, Fattoush salad, Falafel, Tzatziki, Feta and Chilli Tahina sauce. Looks good at £9.00. Salt ‘n’ Pepper Prawns with Thai salad and Roasted Chilli Dipping Sauce £6.00, Maryland Crab Cakes with Red Hot Salsa £6.00 Aromatic Duck Spring Roll with Plum and Ginger dipping sauce £6.00. Well, that gives you the flavour of what’s going on. This apparent mish-mash of flavours and influences is precisely what Gordon Ramsey rails against when he is beating restaurants up on his TV shows along with too many dishes. What about Panacea?

Panacea has 18 starters if you count six pasta and rice dishes. Gordo had Spaghetti with King Prawns, Chilli, Basil and Lemon £8.50 as a starter. It’s a test dish for him, the fact is this simple-ish dish is very easy to ruin by a disinterested chef, a few seconds late and the spaghetti is starchy; prawns can be rubbery through waiting to long underneath the lights and you have to get the seasoning, including the chilli bang in the middle. Too much oil and it’s, well, oily. So a good test. Our man in the kitchen delivered brilliantly, Gordo could have been eating this in Lucca. Vanessa Neal, aka ‘Boadicea’, was eating with Gordo. She took the soup, Garden Pea with a Goats Cheese Cream. £4.00. Great stuff.

Mister Gingell and his resident chef, Antony Shirley, frankly can’t be taught a lot by Gordon for this level of restaurant. The menu is broad, but very well thought out and worked through. There has been a lot of testing if I know these guys well enough. Delivery so far is hitting high notes for this instrument, albeit a Fender Stratocaster and not a Ramsey Stradivarius.

Main courses, Simply Grilled Sea Bass with Lemon Thyme and Sea Salt was terrific, Boadicea had that at £14.00. Gordo, the Crispy Lemon Pepper Duck with Spiced Apples and Cashews. The duck was leg confit, done to crispy perfection. You know the pedigree of the dish is Mr. Gingell, a very similar dish is on the Piccolinos menu. The seasoning, cooking and saucing is better mind you. But not the spicy apples. The same mistakes are made at Piccolino; the apples should be cooked in the oven till just al dente; finished later in a cast iron skillet, softened up so the knife slides through to contrast the crispy duck leg in ‘squishiness’ as well as the sweet and sour cutting through any hint of greasiness. Unfortunately everything was right except the apple; hard, you see. Get that one right please guys, it's too good to abuse, everything else was spot on.

Finally, a sharing plate of ‘our home made puddings’, £8.50, a picture of which you find in amongst this article. Every bit as good as it looks.

This was a fine meal by any standards. The wine list is somewhat short, but included a 2002 Meursault by Vallet Freres; it’s a cracker, even at £65 quid. A Viognier, by Brampton in South Africa, 2004, £28 quid, is a good feller as well.

You guys should get down there, lunch or dinner. It’s the kind of place that the girlies can ‘graze’ a few starters and big fat loonies like Gordo can stuff himself all afternoon. Business lunchers can be out fast. And, if you are entertaining it will fit the bill. Going in late in the evening? Use your noggin, dress up a bit. Scouse Tony, the doorman, was voted the best in town by us this year, but he will draw the line I am afraid at slovenliness.

14/20

An interesting Gordo Go. Half a point knocked off for that apple, and the fact that Joe Akka is too good looking for his own good. Harsh, but fair.

Gordo
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Panacea
14 John Dalton St
Manchester
M2 6JR

Tel: 0161 833 0000

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