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The Left Bank Cafe Bar review

Jonathan Schofield loves his food at the People's History Museum's new cafe bar

Written by . Published on March 29th 2010.

The Left Bank Cafe Bar review

Given that Left Bank is the People's History Museum's cafe and partly financed by the Trades Union Congress, it's good that the name of the place wears its allegiance on its sleeve.

(There were some convoluted sentences as intro here arguing that the name should be Right Bank, not Left Bank, because of the flow of the river. I was wrong, my foolishness pointed out by our good readers as shown in the rants below. JS)

It was Potteries' novelist and writer Arnold Bennett who declared his love for the smoked haddock and omelette mix back in the Savoy Hotel in the early part of the twentieth century. By doing so he secured a title which may well last longer in public consciousness than his classic 1908 novel Old Wives Tales. As far as I'm aware there is no statue of Arnold Bennett: but there is an omelette. Fame is a funny thing. Maybe one day there will be a Spotted Dick Peter Andre, or Toad in the Hole John Terry.

Yet most of what is going here is right with a small r. For a chunky lunch or solid evening meal it's a winner. The people who run the place are from Couture, a relatively young, Cheshire-based company, which provides museums and galleries with fresh cooking. What they produce is a world away from the dull rubbish churned out by the usual museum specialists, Millburns.

A vast Sandwich

This food is honest, direct, filling and has personality as well. It costs less than most of the nearby Pret a Manger grub too, and the food has the advantage over the latter of not being produced in Basildon or some such, with 95 per cent of the budget being spent on packaging.

On the three occasions I've visited I've enjoyed good food. The first was Omelette Arnold Bennett (£4.95). As I wrote in a previous Food and Drink round-up, it was a perfectly timed eggy wonder with its inner folds all moist; opening to reveal a flamboyant array of flavoursome flesh, namely the smoked haddock which gives the dish its name. A real cracker for £4.95, with or without the food porn.

It was Potteries' novelist and writer Arnold Bennett who declared his love for this smoked haddock and omelette mix back in the Savoy Hotel in the early part of the twentieth century. By doing so he secured a title which may well last longer in public consciousness than his classic 1908 novel Old Wives Tales. As far as I'm aware there is no statue of Arnold Bennett: but there is an omelette. Fame is a funny thing. Maybe one day there will be a Spotted Dick Peter Andre, or Toad in the Hole John Terry.

The sides were a sideshow with the main problem being the chips. They were cooked in their skins which makes them wedge-like and therefore food for children. I simply don't get wedges, unless you need to light a candle and don't have a matchbox; then you can strike a match off the backs of them. Can't chefs be bothered peeling potatoes? Give me a smooth, fat, juicy chip any day.

The seafood chowder was a lovely thing for £6.95. Nice mussels, big chunks of fish, celery, sweet corn, the utterly essential bite and edge of streaky bacon and a really lovely – where's the spoon, mama? – stock. Yum, bloody, yum.

The club sandwich (£6.95) was the size of Belgium and excellent. It had juicy chicken breast meat, dry cured bacon, lettuce, plum tomatoes, a rich, and, for once, a not unwelcome mayonnaise, on big thick toast. Chips came along for the party too. Again massive value for money using that Pret a Manger comparison. Indeed my dining companion couldn't finish it so gave me half to take home for my nine-year-old as a step up to the trampoline.

Seafood Chowder

The cakes from a Chorlton supplier will have to be re-sampled, not sure I chose well: for afternoon tea snack the scones looked cracking. I had a crème brulee cheesecake (£1.95) which ended up being neither. There was a hint of crème brulee but I want my cheesecake lighter and sweeter.

The space is split into three: a comfortable seating area on one side for coffees and cakes, a counter area fronting the kitchen, and on the west, a sunset facing, main dining area. Livened up with archive pictures from the attendant museum and with fruit on the counter it's an interesting enough space. But it can be harsh. It feels as though the architects have had too much say – they tend to like things stark – when an interior designer's softening hand is needed.

Omelette Arnold Bennett and that Chicken Sandwich

The décor on a dull day in particular needs brightening in the dining area. The black and white of the pictures on the walls are fine, the black/grey concrete floor is harsh under cloud. Still the terrace which will take the late sun full blast in the summer should be good for the alfresco thing, especially as it sits over the river.

I like Left Bank. It needs to tweak its décor and its cheesecake but if you're in the area and need to get yourself a goodly lunch then this might be just the place. In terms of value it knocks all the established chain sandwich shops into the Irwell. It also opens late as a proper bar until 11pm most nights. If they get a cask of local real ale in, they'd be set up. Although they do bottle beers from Marble Arch. They need to up the choice of wines from two as well.

But definitely have a go if you're passing.

Finally, I was asking a doctor the other day about how long it normally takes for Confidential readers to spot and point out when we have reviewed an advertiser, even when we've been totally honest.

He said: “In some extreme cases identification takes no more than three minutes. Most remain unaware until alerted by what are known as 'ranters'. Care must therefore be taken in the administration of review/advertiser dosage.”

“Er..right,” I asked. “Is there any cure?”

“Only God,” came the reply.

Cake Spread
Rating: 13.5/20
Breakdown: 7/10 food
3.5/5 service
3/5 ambience
Address: Left Bank
People's History Museum
M3 3ER
0161 838 9190

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

CheesemanMarch 30th 2010.

Ah so you've positively reviewed an advertiser. Is that less than the three minutes stated? Do I win a prize? Sounds good actually.

AgricolaMarch 30th 2010.

Yep great food, but they need to warm the place up. I had that sandwich too. It's massive

JJMarch 30th 2010.

Agricola. How did you get in there? Thought you'd left before 'The People' really started making History here.

MagzMarch 30th 2010.

Looks good. May have to take a trip down there. As long as you guys aren't going to send me a thousand f*cking emails about it like you have for Beluga.

Harvey PMarch 30th 2010.

I think Confidential send less emails than all the viagra ones. I just delete emails I don't want.

Adrian WrenchMarch 30th 2010.

As this is a review the cake supplier should be named. I also don't understand why they are hetting a second chance.

AvoMarch 30th 2010.

Does anyone know where I could get 3 courses off an a la carte menu and unlimited wine from a mid range restaurant at £19.99?

Leigh ScottMarch 30th 2010.

Anyone been to the Wong Wong bakery on princess street?I had dirty man food for my lunch of a chinese pork cake which is like a medium size light and fluffy doughnut with chinese pork inside...£1.20 oh and i also had a ham and spring onion twistwith sesame seeds on top which was equally as nice.The cakes look pretty cool too.

rosieMarch 30th 2010.

I love the sausage and egg buns from there. So skanky it's untrue but well tasty. Also got my kid's b-day cake from there. Was lovely and half the price of anywhere else I'd looked and looked spectacular.

isabella16070March 30th 2010.

Please release me, let me go. Please, please, please can you fix your bloody 'unsubscribe' links. Ta

AvoMarch 30th 2010.

Can't you just amend the settings on your email account to send any ManCon mails straight to the bin?

isabella16070March 30th 2010.

No. I want to unsubscribe and have been trying to do for weeks....

AnonymousMarch 30th 2010.

It's a requirement of sending out emails that unsubscribe buttons work. You can get into trouble ManCon if someone reports this so get it fixed asap. That's if it's not been done on purpose.

CASMarch 30th 2010.

That butty just looks too thick. I hate it when they go on bread overload to seem all rustic.

Scott NeilMarch 30th 2010.


i know Avo can speak for themselves but i seem to remember Wong Wong's bubble tea (i know there aren't many places in town for it) being lauded by Avo. i was certainly grateful to Avo for the hat tip. that chowder looks pretty fine.

@Cas, some London-based independent sandwich shop man was telling me once of his distaste for massive American-style thick butties. this was just after i had been bigging them up. oh dear. the one in these photos looks gorgeous to me, i must say.

Tom HMarch 30th 2010.

I hate to be a pedant (actually that's a lie, I fucking love it) but unless I'm losing my marbles the Irwell flows east-west from Spinningfields towards the quays, no? So the People's History Museum is definitely on the LEFT bank (obviously left and right depends which way you're facing, but the geographic 'standard' is left and right as you face the direction of the river flow) the geography is the same as the River Seine and it's own left bank... the street the PHM is on is even seems to be called 'Left Bank' ... there's a clue! Sorry to pick apart the otherwise nice intro Jonathon!

AnonymousMarch 30th 2010.

ooops<br><br>The descriptive terms, 'right bank' and 'left bank', always apply from the perspective of looking downstream, in the direction the current is going.<br><br>
So both Paris and Manchester have it correct.

Jonathan Schofield - editorMarch 31st 2010.

I'm wrong folks, you're right. The Seine flows from the south east to the north west. The Irwell flows the other way from the north east to the south west. If the left bank is that on the western side of the two rivers then my notion would be correct. But if we're talking the direction in which the rivers flow - which is the usual way of describing these things - then the Left Bank is correctly titled. Apologies all round.

NortherngeezerMarch 31st 2010.

Has this anything to do with the 'angle of dangle'??.

Left Bank Cafe BarMarch 31st 2010.

Bloody hell Jonathan, we've just ordered new signs all round and now you tell us you were wrong all along.

Jonathan Schofield - editorMarch 31st 2010.

Sorry Left Bank you were right all along, I was lost in a wilderness of my own self-indulgence: I will be throwing myself off the bridge next to you at the Duck Race on Friday. When I re-surface may I have one of those lovely seafood chowders ready to warm me up.

Left Bank Cafe BarMarch 31st 2010.

Ermmm, it's not really people from the Cafe Bar. 'Twas but a joke.

Right Bank Cafe BarMarch 31st 2010.

I wanna see JS swim for his chowder

AvoMarch 31st 2010.

I wanna see JS skinny dipping in a vat of chowder.

AnonymousMarch 31st 2010.

So now you have corrected your geography faux pas, any chance of sorting the unsubscribing issue - it really is getting a tad annoying

Charlie ButterworthMarch 31st 2010.

I researched it for you. Please look at the bottom of the page and click the unsubscribe buttom and then follow the instructions. Jeez and do it quick you are so boring. And then maybe get onto the MEN's website.

EditorialMarch 31st 2010.

Harsh Charlie, but essentially true. People must be mad to unsubscribe. Or maybe they live in Aberdeen in which case we understand.

AnonymousMarch 31st 2010.

Many thanks both for your unecessary and patronising replies. Yes, I've tried both 'unsubscibe' and the 'privacy' page. Neither work, just get page not available or page invalid messages. Nothing boring nor mad about not wanting to receive umpteen e-mails on a daily basis - your replies only go to show what little respect 'editorial' and the Man Con football 'writer' have for their readers. Nice.

spoonMarch 31st 2010.

Patronising? a bit hypocritical that statement if you ask me...coming on to the site to make your own patronising statements of your own deserves a tongue in cheek reprimanding.

Lacking a sense of humour? MEN is thatta way!--------->

Scott NeilMarch 31st 2010.

you can see why they have the South Bank in London, Right Bank doesn't really work, does it?

Steven MarshallApril 1st 2010.

Ive eaten here once and 1st impressions are not good. Eggs Benedict on a toasted english muffin came out on the cheapest value white sliced bread, with no hollandaise sauce & Porridge with blackcurrant compote came out with no compote and covered in honey.
I also suggest Joanthan re-looks at his comments regarding the usual museum caterers. I have visited Manchester Art Gallery's new restaurant and The Imperial War Museum recently and have been pleasently surprised by both.

AgricolaApril 1st 2010.

MCR Foodie do you work for Millburns?

Jo NApril 2nd 2010.

I can vouch for the cakes Jonathan, just had a lovely blueberry frangipan and the world's largest coffee (probably NOT the best in Mcr, though).

Simone13024April 2nd 2010.

ROB is on a fast track to hell. Hog roast on Good Friday = burning fires of hell. Sorry Rob but you've made your bed, or spit roast.

EditorialApril 14th 2010.

Folks from 12 April the Left Bank will close at 7pm on Mondays, Tuesdays and Sundays (on all other nights they’ll be open till 9pm).

Kevin TilleyJune 26th 2010.

I'm afraid this place is on the slippery slope. Opening hours now depend on how many customers they've had throughout the day. We were in on Saturday afternoon & they closed at 5 pm. When we queried this we were told that they had to turnover a certain amount to justify opening longer. They no longer serve main meals at weekends. There are tacky printed A4 signs on the windows to indicate the cafe bar entrance. Why don't they put proper signs on the Bridge street and Irwell sides of the building showing its presence?

Judging by the number of visitors we see to the museum itself, this must be losing the Council / TUC a load of money. I wish Urbis could haves urvived instead of having cash wasted on this white elephant.

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