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Alto, Radisson Edwardian, review

Jonathan Schofield finds the meat a treat and the veg dreary

Written by . Published on January 26th 2011.


Alto, Radisson Edwardian, review

The best known bar and restaurant in the Radisson Edwardian Hotel on Peter Street is Opus One. It's an interesting place with interesting decor, that might be a chamber from the Prince’s castle in Edgar Allan Poe’s Masque of the Red Death. The red and black low-lit fixtures and fittings make the bar, in particular, feel a bit naughty, a bit ooh-la-la and nudge nudge. All hotel bars should feel naughty.

No doubt, this is why it appeals to the movers and shakers of Manchester’s cultural industries. Twilight, it appears, works well for the arts: leaps of imagination can blossom (or fester) in Opus One across the lacquered surfaces and in the deflected twinkle of the table candles.

The only thing we lacked in this scenario was the motivation behind delivering the almost inedible veg. It was all a mystery, especially how it could be even thought good enough to bring to the table.

Alto restaurant and bar is seven metres away and very different. There is none of that decadent opulence, just gentle yet strong illumination played out over pale walls, emanating from light fittings looking like plants from James Cameron’s yawn-fest 'Avatar'. The place seems aimed at busy conference types nipping over the road from Manchester Central for a lunch, a brunch or a meal in less assignation-like surroundings than Opus One.

This is emphasised by the presence of TV screens which were showing football during our visit. Dinner should never be accompanied by TV in five star hotels, certainly not sport. Fortunately there are certain parts of Alto in which you can mostly hide from images flickering in the corner of your eye and distracting you from your dining partner.

The menu covers an A3 card in three columns with the wines marching down one side. There are no starters, but there are snacks, mains, soups, sandwiches, sides, desserts and ‘hand-rolled pizzas’. It’s a very busy document as though Alto wants people to rush the choice, rush the food and be out in forty-five minutes of football on the TV. Given the midweek emptiness of the place they should put starters on the menu and slow things down, especially in the evening.

My main was the lamb shank (£14.15) which came with blackcurrant and barley jus and with rooftop herbs. It was lovely. I confess I was as hungry as a young puppy but the yielding slow-cooked flesh was just what the doctor ordered. The whole thing was lifted and enhanced by the blackcurrant, the barley, and the herbs.

The barley was memorable, bringing extra wholesomeness to the dish. In fact I adored its inclusion so much I’m going to bore my family by using it in Sunday dinner for a month.

The herbs by the way, are literally ‘rooftop’, having been grown on the roof of the Radisson Edwardian. I’ve been up there and seen the garden and it’s a great idea, cost effective and charming.

Lamb shank and veggie 'panache'

The doctor who had ordered for me, went for meat as well, winter succulence in flesh being the order of the day.

This time it was the pressed belly of pork, sage mash and apple tart (£13.60). This was excellent in the meat and mash but the apple tart was described as ‘Mr Kipling-esque’ and tongue-scorching. The hyper-sweetness and Sellafield-nuclear reaction heat tainted the whole experience. Shame because the pork belly was a winner, both lush and fatty.

There was worse to follow than Sellafield tart.

We shared a panache of vegetables (£3.10) as a side. ‘Panache’ should, we thought, have denoted a certain degree of flamboyance – not here. A ‘stodge’ would have been better.

It fired our imaginations though.

We reckoned our waiter had walked into the hotel kitchen, out the other side, down the road, out of the city centre and to a lady called perhaps Ethel in the suburbs. He’d then forced this notional dinner lady back to the school she’d worked in for several decades, and made her overcook some carrots, beans and cauliflower just as she had done in 1973. Then the waiter had brought them back.

The only thing we lacked in this scenario was the motivation behind delivering the almost inedible veg. It was all a mystery, especially how it could be even thought good enough to bring to the table. The fact that the service failed here wasn't surprising, nobody seemed capable of raising a smile and English appeared very much a foreign language.

A dessert of treacle tart, pouring cream and berries was a food writer’s typographical error of a dish. It was a desert. The tart itself would have made my old mother shiver and speak of betrayal, there was nothing moist and tooth-rottingly cloying about it. It was all wrong, like eating dust with a light treacle flavour.

A bottle of Don Jacobo Rioja (£25.20) at least lived up to billing, delivering cultured cherry elegance. We finished it off in the bar of Opus One eavesdropping on other people, hoping that Edgar Allan Poe’s Masque of the Red Death wouldn’t be played out that evening. The TV-less entertainment in the bar came in the form of festival directors, design consultants and delegates from a legal meeting. It was all the entertainment we needed.

The Alto experience still highlights a foodie problem at the Radisson. Opus One as a bar is fabulous, as a restaurant the dim but heavy decor is too much. So overwhelming in fact, that the designer of Alto has chosen to dive in the opposite direction, which results, as with its vegetables, in a lack of panache, and TVs in the bar - why not just create a separate TV and bar area in one of the many meeting rooms for lonesome guests? The food quality is uneven too, high quality at one moment dipping into mediocrity the next. The hotel needs to iron out these issues.


Rating:12/20
Breakdown:6.5/10 food
2.5/ 5 service
3/5 ambience
Address:Alto
Radisson Edwardian Hotel
Free Trade Hall
Peter Street
City
M2 5GP
0161 835 8904

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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AtalantaJanuary 24th 2011.

'It was a desert.'

Genius of a dry gem, that. Ethel, too. Brilliant.

MaggsJanuary 25th 2011.

My mum was called Ethel and I have always been very grateful that she didn't choose to saddle me with the same dreadful name. Despite the recent craze for old fashioned names I have NEVER heard of a baby Ethel!!

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