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All Bar One Reviewed

Jonathan Schofield finds it just as he suspected

Written by . Published on December 11th 2013.

All Bar One Reviewed

ALL BAR ONE has a name that Trading Standards should investigate. Despite its singularity of title there are forty of them across the country. Each venue in the chain should really be called All Bar The Other Thirty Nine Of Them.

Mild in character, it fills an atavistic British urge for being 'ok', 'all right', 'not bad', 'decent', 'fine'. All Bar One is a canteen with elevated prices and champers in buckets and people pack it out.

Visually, of course, they're the same, lots of wood, high ceilings and clackety-clack laminate flooring. The 'theme' chosen is quite deliberately the look and feel of one of those London bars where braying stockbrokers in suits neck £10,000 bottles of bubbly between slipping off to the bogs for some of Nigella's pick-me-up powder. 

Given Manchester's financial and professional sector there's still an element of that here - although of course I'm not implying cocaine is de rigueur up the stairs in All Bar One, King Street. I'm sure, as the lawyers have just reminded me, that has never happened. Never. Ever. Happened.

All Bar OneAll Bar One

Manchester, Leeds, London (which has twenty All Bar Ones, lucky devils) seem a fit for the theme. You wonder whether the 'concept' works in other outlets in rough-house Guildford, or sprawling Milton Keynes. (For the record I've been out in Guildford on a Friday night and it makes Rochdale look like a trip to the Innsbruck Mozart Festival.)

Presumably catering supergiant Mitchell and Webb, I mean Lambert and Butler, no, sorry, Mitchell and Butler, did a heap of market research before they opened in those places.  

The Manchester branch was spruced up this year, hence the review. It's still all clackety-clack and wooden, but the seating arrangements have changed.

There's a booth thing that can accommodate about twenty people in uncomfortable proximity, there are high tables with high stools and low tables for four. There are long trestle tables with bench seating as if a medieval banquet might break out. One curved seating arrangement looks as though it got dumped and then people forgot to move it.

A million styles of seatingA million styles of seating

The menu is by numbers, a little bit of this and a little bit of that, a little bit of the Far East, a little bit of homely Brit stuff and lots of Mediterranean nosh between. Burgers, prawns, halloumi, fish and chips, rib eye steak, calamari, tagine, club sandwich - it's a package holiday of a menu. I could close my eyes and write it, but bless 'em, at least there's no effing pizzas. 

The halloumi skewers (£5) were, as it happens, delightful; chunky, impressive, like cheesy campfire marshmallows. Salt and pepper calamari (£5) were lacking in seasoning despite the title. Bland.

Halloumi and calamariHalloumi and calamari

A chicken quesadilla (£6.50) was poor, the tortilla was singed and cracked. It broke at its edges like a cream cracker. The filling was spineless.

Harrissa lamb cutlets (£13) were a mess, the lamb overcooked, the cous cous hard, the 'cooling' mint yoghurt deep, thick, overwhelming, not light enough, heavy like a thick double cream.

Messy lambMessy lamb

The dessert was even poorer.

A trio of mousses for £6, pot au chocolate, lemon posset and tiramisu, was shocking. Angel Delight in consistency and tasting of plastic. Yack. 

Service was all over the show.

Drinks sat on the bar in tantalising range but didn't get out to diners anywhere near quickly enough (this happened on both my visits). On one occasion a waiter, maybe the manager, fiddled with a light fitting which came to life and became a fit-inducing strobe. Then he claimed he couldn't change the bulb as it was a health and safety issue. As a gesture of expiation he tried to shift it. The light hit a wall and became a more violent strobe.  

Poor puddingsPoor puddings

Yet All Bar One is clearly popular, despite my experiences. It's been busy on all my trips. 

So what's the bloody secret? 

I suppose, what it does do well is deliver a consistently average experience - or it appears to do so. Mild in character and slickly marketed, All Bar One fills an atavistic British urge for being 'ok', 'all right', 'not bad', 'decent'.

Nothing wrong with that of course. Our mildness of character can be beguiling despite what the firebrands think. Nor can everybody be in love with sparky indies doing it differently, some people want a predictable, safe option.

What I fail to understand, is when the experience in terms of food and service is consistently poor, why don't customers vote with their feet and move on to the next safe, middling chain? Browns, for example, round the corner, delivers this sort of thing much better. 

If All Bar One became all bar none would anybody really miss it? Does anybody say, "Let's make a night of it, treat ourselves to a meal in All Bar One."

Surely not?

Unless they're assessing the many varieties of chair design open to catering establishments.   

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter @JonathSchofield or connect via Google+


All Bar One, 73-79 King Street, M2 4NG. 0161 830 1811

Rating: 11/20 (remember venues are rated against the best examples of their type - see yellow box below)

Food: 5/10 (halloumi 7, calamari 5, quesadillas 4, lamb 6, desserts 3.5)
Service: 2.5/5 
Ambience: 3.5/5

PLEASE NOTE: 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, we get carried away.

When's the medieval banquet start

When's the medieval banquet start?


All Bar OneAll Bar One

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

StephenDecember 11th 2013.

I called in on Sunday, but no sooner had my wife taken a pew at one of the zinc tables, I had to tell her to stand up again as we were leaving. Pretty much 80% of the beers had the tell tale glass over the tap that indicates non availability. I just wasn't in the mood out up with a tasteless Amstel. You can refurb all you like, but ultimately if you can't deliver the goods we'll deliver ourselves elsewhere.

3 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousDecember 11th 2013.

Have you heard of the Suffragettes?

paulsouthernDecember 12th 2013.

Anonymous :-) Spot on

StephenDecember 12th 2013.

Ha Ha! Yes, the mug of tea I'm drinking has the Manchester Suffragettes on it (and I brewed it all by myself). It wasn't quite like that, I promise. Be assured, my wife has done the same to me on many occassions.

StephenDecember 11th 2013.

That should read "in the mood to put up with" iPads eh!

AnonymousDecember 12th 2013.

so you're saying Michael Caine's Abode is only marginally better than All Bar One?!

Benjamin MaxfieldDecember 12th 2013.

Anonymous please read above "(remember venues are rated against the best examples of their type - see yellow box below)" Michael Caines is not in the same catergory! Dummy.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousDecember 13th 2013.

stupid system.

Paul CarterDecember 12th 2013.

Yeah, dum dum

Jonathan MoranDecember 13th 2013.

It's a chain bar essentially. Was always a good atmosphere and busy fro an after work drink when I worked on King Street. I think it probably see's food as a bit of an after thought as most bars do....

Axel LariatDecember 18th 2013.

As the review states, ABO is what the word 'meh' was invented for. Has anyone ever had a 'great night out' in an ABO? Not bad (but not great) for an after work pint or meeting up before you go somewhere else, but you'd never plan your night around being there would you?

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