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Artisan, Spinningfields, Reviewed

Jonathan Schofield loses his way with meandering menu

Written by . Published on August 22nd 2013.


Artisan, Spinningfields, Reviewed
 

EXTREMES make you think about opposites.

Movies with too many special effects can begin to grate, it's the same with menus. 

On an Italian holiday in Naples last week the best meal was so simple and purist it was almost ascetic. Everything at 28 cover La Locanda dei Borboni was about Naples and its region Campania, the food, the wine, the service. We were offered the four dishes the chef was cooking and we were told, with a radiant smile, there was no beer only local vinos such as the Falanghina – a marvellous Falanghina it must be said.

Neapolitan delightNeapolitan delightThe result could have been a parochial horror show with limited choice and no room for manoeuvre. Instead the whole experience was wonderful, the paccheri pasta (like fat macaroni) with clams and mussels being a marvel.

The diametrically opposite approach is taken at Artisan, the huge restaurant in Spinningfields from the prolific Living Ventures (LV). This is about taking 'rustic' influences from everywhere, experimenting with them and creating a spectacle.

In terms of design this works.

And Artisan is very big. The 290 cover first floor venue is so large if you walk all the way aound it you pass through Yorkshire. It stretches across three sides of a former 1960s’ office block, then takes a leap over an arcade to an entrance area and the toilets which – ho, ho – include a ‘Bitching Room’ for the ladies.

The bric-a-brac decoration is clever across the concrete space, softening the square-cut floorplan while adding interest. There’s a lovely stretch of herbs growing in mini-hothouses, and fresh art and cunning fittings. The private dining area looks like an apothecary’s lab from a Harry Potter movie.

Stirking decor

Stirking decor

The bar is a series of handsome tables offering a range of LV’s hallmark cocktails, plus a good range of bottled beers.

A boss of Living Ventures, Tim Bacon, told me he defined the design as ‘industrial romantic’. Fair enough.

There’s nothing industrial about the LV staff in Artisan.

As usual for this company they resemble the cast of 90210 taking a break in Manchester to get some catering experience. They’re so youthful and good-looking you keep twisting your neck looking for the cameras – surely these boys and girls are straight out of drama school, acting out the role of happy smiling waiters and waitresses? They're so full of positive mental attitude you suspect were they to grip a light bulb it would illuminate automatically.

Part of their joy might be down to LV's award-winning training programmes, chocker with incentives for staff and with career progression routes. LV is to be congratulated on their training.

But maybe not on their menu. Not here.

There’s excellent stuff to be eaten but the range is bewildering in its complexity - although on the first few visits it intrigues you with its curiously titled dishes. Here are a few of the oddities: whole mackerel baked on pine (£12.95); smoked salmon in a can (£12.95); artichoke petals with garlic and herb vinegar dressing (£4.50); baked bread mussels with curry and spinach (£7.50); chorizo and potato pizza (£10).

These are set alongside steadier types including all day breakfasts (£8.95) and gammon, egg and chips (£12.95).

Big big menu

Big big menu

There are stars.

The artichoke is fiddly but a great sharing food. The baked camembert with spiced sugar nuts and beetroot and red onion chutney (£6.50) is a real winner, the salt and pepper pork crackling with apple sauce (£3.50) is a piggy symphony.

Artichoke star

Artichoke star

But the mussels is a dish too far (main picture at the top of the page). Yea, it’s fun to put the seafood under a crust but doing so doesn’t do much for the mussels and becomes annoying as you fish for the molluscs. Similarly with the mackerel nailed on its piece of pine, the visual effect might be ‘rustic’ as Artisan requires, but the fandango needed to get at the fish and eat it, makes you wonder why the kitchen bothered (and also how they wash all their rough hewn timber).

Hay baked chicken with lemon, garlic and thyme (£14.95) reveals other problems. If the hay is supposed to add aroma, flavour and help deliver lovely moist flesh then on a couple of recent visits it hasn’t delivered. Instead it’s been dry and bland.

Mostly bland

Mostly bland

Indeed, the kitchen at Artisan as a general rule needs to be far more careful across its range of dishes with the seasoning – too much salt is being used – and its timings.

For example they shouldn’t be getting the all day breakfast wrong. On the last visit the dish was saturated with fat with the mushrooms especially greasy and unwelcome. The black pudding had been ruined and the skimpy bacon was as brittle as uncooked spaghetti. The vast pile of bread seemed intended to pad the dish out, make it look value for money.

All day fatfest

All day fatfest

That said, other staples such as the steaks, the salads, the desserts are, so far, very good - a baked banana dessert is excellent. The gammon, pineapple, egg and chips is another correctly executed dish. 

The underlying problem is that the crazy menu is not necessary and should be pared down. The mackerel should climb off its pine coffin and lay itself on the plate. Seasoning, timing and attention to detail in the kitchen - maybe even the correct use of vast fiery furnaces - should be the priority. 

Fine gammon

Fine gammon

You can see LV's problem here.

They want the menu to stand apart from its other mid-range dining experiences such as the Grills (Grill on the Alley, Grill on New York Street) so they've gone a bit 'crazy guy'. Tried to do too much, when the design of the place already makes it feel very individual.

Food points of distinction could be achieved more subtlely. Maybe Artisan should concentrate on fish, maybe pursue the comfort food gammon and breakfast line.

Certainly ditch the pizzas - the chorizo and potato effort was a dry and dead thing and should have been called chorizo and crisps. Pizzas on restaurant menus usually denote a panicky attempt to please everybody rather than a focussed restaurant approach. 

Chorizo and potato pizza - maybe find some other work for those raging fiery ovens in the kitchen to do

Chorizo and potato pizza - maybe find some other work for those raging fiery ovens in the kitchen to do

In the end as stated above, given the service levels and design the menu doesn't need to try so hard. Movies with too many special effects can begin to grate, it's the same with menus.

Artisan is intriguing at present rather than appealing. It remains good for groups of friends wanting wide open spaces for spreading out and chatting.

As for the 'industrial romantic' concept it may have helped turn a 1960s' office block into a destination but the menu has yet to complement the look.

La Locanda dei Borboni knows exactly what it wants to be, Artisan is clearly trying to find itself.

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

ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL AND PAID FOR BY THE MAGAZINE.  

Artisan, Tower 12, Bridge Street, Spinningfields, City. M3 3AB. 0161 832 4181

Rating: 14/20

Food: 6/10 (crackling 7.5, artichoke 7.5, gammon 7.5, camembert 8, pizza 4, breakfast 5, mackerel 6, chicken 6, mussels 6, banana 7.5)
Service: 4/5 
Ambience: 4/5

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

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

JimAugust 22nd 2013.

I went last week and was disappointed. Are the chips frozen McCain crinkle cut chips? They looked and tasted like it.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
IanAugust 22nd 2013.

Gordo claimed "the joy in this menu is that LV are brave enough to put retro on with innovation. To test the chef, I ordered gammon, egg and chips. Its oh-so-easy for a chef to put on a great dish like chicken in hay, but whats he going to do with Gammon, egg and chips? What he did was to bring me home made crinkle-cut chips wonderfully seasoned; as a kid, these were the only ones I would accept to dip in my runny eggs. By the way, the eggs were wonderfully runny. Now that gammon; off an interesting piggy that my friend, cooked to the point of cooked, if you know what I mean; juicy, salty, piggy, fat crispy. I will be eating this at 12:15 for the next ten Saturdays probably. The point here is that if a chef can cook an egg properly, he can cook anything properly." ....not even sure they can cook an egg properly!

GordoAugust 23rd 2013.

I am really pissed off to report that the chips are indeed frozen now. The first time i ate this dish it was perfect, the chips home made. Now they are poor, greasy affairs. Bloody annoying as I have had email after text after tweet asking me if I have lost it. I have asked for comment but not received any. Please accept my sincere apologies for this. I shall be paying very close attention to, and shall be holding back on, my future comments regarding the group.

AnonymousAugust 22nd 2013.

The chips are McCain crinkle cut, I asked the waitress and she confirmed it herself...!

1 Response: Reply To This...
JimAugust 22nd 2013.

Cheers. I thought they were. It's very lazy

AnonymousAugust 22nd 2013.

Hush your mouth - the kebab pizza is amazing!

Lorraine ByrneAugust 22nd 2013.

I love the decor and think the staff do an amazing job. But the food really lets this place down - I've eaten there three times now and the best meal I had was a burger!!!! Pizzas are dreadful, and they really over-cook their breads (they call it double cooking - I call it teeth-breaking). Hire better chefs and check the taste - then it will be fantastic.

Hero
AnjellikAugust 22nd 2013.

Totally agree about the menu, needs to be pared down. Rustic dishes should be simpler. Staff are wonderful though as is the building. Cocktails are fantastic it has to be said and the atmosphere particularly on a Saturday night is really good.

AnonymousAugust 22nd 2013.

I have been in and the place looks great, I didn't try the food. The pics on here are absolutely shocking though. Sure it can't be as bad as they make it look.

Sarah JacobsAugust 22nd 2013.

The chicken liver salad and the New York deli pizza were great. I like the variety - great food for sharing - it isnt trying to be starter + main type of place. A refreshing addition to Spinningfields.

Emma DonaldAugust 22nd 2013.

We went in the warm weather after an email stated that air con had been fitted.... Not in the bar area though. We waited a while to be served at the bar, only one bar staff on busy making cocktails. This put me off... Although the wine was delicious.....

AnonymousAugust 22nd 2013.

Any chance that LV could pave the way and have bar staff who do not make cocktails so the rest us don't have to wait 20 mins for 2 bottles of beer? Simple, you have 4 barr staff on, 2 doing cocktails, 2 doing everything else.

Lesley ChowAugust 22nd 2013.

I find that this place is certainly all smoke screens!The decor and presentation is fantastic but the food itself is quite poor

Matthew RuthAugust 22nd 2013.

I really enjoyed my visit to Artisan - the review is right about the staff - they are fun, cute, and im not gonna lie - very flirty - just what you want - I agree with some of the points about the food - I wondered why the Mackeral was swinging from a wooden brick too - but I had the Duck Pizza and loved it - the crackling as said above was awesome - i also had a taste of what my mates had ordered and it was mostly good - tbh the point of the place is the buzz, the venue, the bar and the sheer theatre of it all - the food is good enough not to spoil the effect

Jay CahillAugust 22nd 2013.

Completely agree: the place looks great but the food isn't. I went for Sunday dinner last week and was told there was no vegetarian option and the potatoes were cooked in dripping. We were about to leave when the manager told us they had salt baked new potatoes and could prepare anything they had the ingredients for. I suggested a simple goats cheese tart (dull, I know) as I had seen that they had goats cheese on the menu. My family ordered the beef joint. When the food came, the joint looked spectacular and was served on a carving board with potatoes and veg in shallow baking dishes. Unfortunately, the beef was apparently tasteless and chewy and didn't appear to have been slow cooked, although the manager assured us later that it had. Much of it was left. Mine was less than average with Yorkshire puddings as I imagine Aunt Bessy produces, new potatoes that had seen an oven for 2 min and cold veg. I also had 5 discs of luke warm goats cheese plonked on the side of the plate. Perhaps they didn't have any frozen pastry in. As has already been said, the service was great and the manager was very attentive, it's a shame that they are not putting the same level of training into the kitchen staff. I won't be going back unless there is a serious menu overhaul.

AnonymousAugust 22nd 2013.

Completely agree with comments about the bar, ridiculuous wait times for a drink, not enough staff when so many are making cocktails, we were waiting longer than it takes to finish a drink so we moved on elsewhere

AnonymousAugust 22nd 2013.

I mean, these guys have a real wood hoven and could not think of having a real Neapolitan pizzaiolo? CRAZY!

AnonymousAugust 22nd 2013.

Staff and place itself are all good but I have been twice for food and both times was average. Donna Pizza was very average...

AnonymousAugust 22nd 2013.

I went in its second week and I have to say everything was fantastic! There were 6 of us and the food was great for everyone as was the service. We really loved it! I've had friends that have gone since and gave it rave reviews too! Don't be put off, give it a whirl!

AnonymousAugust 22nd 2013.

Disgusting food. Bad concept restaurant. Always busy. Sums up Manchester I'm afraid. The sheep hear the shepherd calling & floak in their thousands. Open your eyes Manchester...

5 Responses: Reply To This...
IanAugust 23rd 2013.

Well said

AnonymousAugust 23rd 2013.

How does it sum up the whole of Manchester? How is any other City so different? "Open your eyes Manchster" - What a complete toss bag.

Jonathan SchofieldAugust 23rd 2013.

I agree with the last anonymous here not the original. That first anonymous person clearly knows nothing about the Manchester dining scene. As I put in the article the Neapolitan restaurant scene can be wonderful. I never had a bad meal there but I rarely in a week of eating out lunch and evening had a spectacular meal. It was all fresh, easy-going regional food. Joyous for that - especially in La Locanda dei Borboni. But I feel that after a month in Naples I would have missed the variety and range of the British city dining scene. I can choose from more than thirty cuisines in one city in Manchester and from every kind of takeaway. Every standard of cooking is represented too. In that case your 'sums up Manchester' comment is hugely wide of the mark. Thick. Idiotic.

MikeAugust 23rd 2013.

Floak?

Hero
Manc GuyAugust 27th 2013.

Yes...Shepherd Calling & Floak. It's an old folk band that played in rural parts of England. Thousands of sheep used to listen to them back in the day. All they've got to listen to now are boy bands and over-hyped rap artists. It's sad really.

Ron TowerAugust 23rd 2013.

The chicken was very disappointing and came in at nearly £18 with the McCain chips or whatever they were. £2.95 for frozen chips, doesn't exactly sit with Artisan's 'handmade, rustic food' philosophy. A great looking place but definitely style over substance...

AnonymousAugust 23rd 2013.

how depressing that perfectly capable people might be missing out on employment becuase their not good looking enough. I stopped reading at that point, I have no interest in supporting a business with those sorts of ethics.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Hero
Manc GuyAugust 27th 2013.

'Hooters' thrives on it. I'm sure attractive women have an easier life than those that are less attractive.

EltonAugust 23rd 2013.

Tried it for drinks, it was OK. Tried it for food, it was bad. I won't be going back, I feel this is more a place to "be seen" rather than to eat. I do wish them well and will continue to dine at Australasia, another of their ventures where I think the food is fantatsic !

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Hero
Manc GuyAugust 27th 2013.

"I feel this is more a place to "be seen" rather than to eat."? And Australasia isn't? I'm sure United's night out there recently added to that.

EltonSeptember 13th 2013.

Is there an echo in this room.....? I agree, United's night out will perpetuate the fact that Artisan is a venue and not a restaurant. However Australasia is a restaurant and not a venue Manc guy.....x

AnonymousAugust 23rd 2013.

Very much a case of style over substance so far from this place. There are some great dishes from the Little Plates menu (pork rib springs to mind, if a little on the pricy side) but far too many of the Big Plates are utterly mediocre. The pizzas really need to go for a start - I can see the whole trying to do something different angle, but unfortunately they can't seem to actually cook a pizza very well. I like the space, and the service is excellent, but the kitchen really needs to get back to basics, drop the gimmicks and focus on producing good food.

AnonymousAugust 23rd 2013.

Style over substance like SO MUCH in this city????

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousAugust 27th 2013.

“Manchester is rubbish, blah blah blah”... Artisan isn't personally my kind of place, but I do not spend my days negging about it on line. If you have been and have an opinion then please do share it. Add some value, not negativity for the sake of negativity.

Peter SlackAugust 23rd 2013.

The problem with ALL LV places is that they are all, without fail, "concepts". That is, an idea of a restuarant, based on design and profitable cocktail bar operation where the food is merely an after thought. Unfortunately they continue to be packed full of morons whilst places with genuine talent in the kitchen (in a restuarant? Crazy I know) go to the wall. Eg Sole in the NQ - best meal I've eaten in Manchester ever, now selling burgers and mac and cheese...

Andrew JonesAugust 23rd 2013.

Agree with most of the comments. Nice space, crap food. Had a dry overcooked lamb steak there this week that was supposed to be pink. The crazy amount of salt they put on cant hide the bland tastes. Think the review score is a little generous. Like the cocktails, shame no draught beer, and yeah no enough staff on the bar bit.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Hero
Manc GuyAugust 27th 2013.

"no draught beer". Just like Mojos across the road. Count me out.

LesleyAugust 25th 2013.

Hate, hate that there is a "bitching room". So discriminatory. 1950s stuff and feeds into negative stereotypes about women. I've been twice. For drinks and it was good. For food and it was really disappointing, particularly as we took guests who were visiting the area. The rest of the LV empire is much better than this.

AnonymousAugust 25th 2013.

Yes, agree your scores were too high. !

2 Responses: Reply To This...
CheesemanAugust 26th 2013.

Food score was right at 6/10.

Hero
Manc GuyAugust 27th 2013.

Sounds like the staff get an 11/10 though.

AnonymousAugust 28th 2013.

Popped in a few saturday's ago for Lunch, had the Kebab Pizza, my wife had the Scallops. Lovely food, excellent service, friendly helpful staff, no complaints. Didnt have chips though.

Simon TurnerSeptember 21st 2013.

Perfect review in the Guardian. www.theguardian.com/…/artisan-manchester-restaurant-review-spinningfields…

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