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Barbirolli review

Emma Unsworth sings along in a hit and miss newcomer in the city centre

Published on January 25th 2010.

Barbirolli review

Well, that’s the last time I dress up for dinner. There I was, kitted out in my most cosmic attire – blonde wig, ray gun, titanium t-shirt – when I realised that I’d made an embarrassing mistake. I'd misread the editor's email, the name of the restaurant was Barbirolli not Barbarella. Should have gone to X-Ray Specsavers.

Sir John Barbirolli, classical fans and learned Mancophiles among you will know, is a more earthly character entirely. He rebuilt a struggling Hallé in the mid-20th century and stayed on as chief conductor for 25 years, leading the orchestra to international acclaim. Barbirolli Square next to the Bridgewater Hall was named in honour of his lasting musical legacy, and it is down from here that a new restaurant also bearing his meandering moniker recently opened, in the space formerly occupied by the Pitcher and Piano.

At first glance, Barbirolli looks like almost any other smart metropolitan eatery. There’s sufficient chrome, squeaky-clean glass and geometric upholstery to convince you that you’re in the hands of a restaurateur who understands the basic expectations of chain-heavy, mid-range, modern British dining.

However, flashes of individuality are also evident – in the numerous smooth-fingered fluted chandeliers suspended from the ceiling, for example, and in the open living flame fire warming the centre of the room. These idiosyncrasies might be due to Barbirolli’s independent ownership, namely a pair of gentlemen from Macclesfield, who according to our waiter Luka (more of whom later) had firm ideas about the kind of place they wanted to create.

As we settled down by the chic little furnace, the devil – or at least a gremlin or two – began to appear in the details.

My friend Beckie pointed out that the restaurant’s design wasn’t totally consistent – the flock wallpaper didn’t quite sit right with the mathematical look of the square-covered chairs and the thickly striped carpet.

I also spotted an unfortunate typo at the bottom of the menu: ‘All our fresh produce is locally sourced unless it comprises quality.’ Hee! Hee! The sad little pedant inside me squirmed with pleasure.

A worthier criticism related to the napkins, which were paper not fabric – thick paper, but still paper. Not only are these not as green as fabric napkins, they feel rotten on your lips after a few wipes. Then there was the wine list. Which looked good, until we were informed that there was actually only one white in stock, a lonely Sauvignon Blanc (£15.95), which arrived in a Veuve Cliquot champagne bucket with, yes, a paper napkin draped damply across its neck. It looked so very incongruous. Fur coat and no napkins. Were they trying to be ironic? Was it Art?

From the ‘Hors d’Oeuvres’, I chose Chicken and Duck Liver Parfait (£5.25) with red onion marmalade and warm toast. The parfait had a good gamey flavour, but the texture wasn’t to my taste – it was more like a pate. I wanted it to be lighter.

Veggie Beckie went for, to quote, 'Mediterranean Vegetable & Goat’s Cheese (£6.25)...' but that’s where the description ended. It seemed as though Barbirolli had forgotten to finish the name of the dish on the menu, and so we were left to speculate. ‘Mediterranean Vegetable & Goat’s Cheese… For A Bloody Change’ was a possibility, although ‘Mediterranean Vegetable and Goat’s Cheese… Sculpture of Johnny Depp’ (who’s not dead – hurrah!) was probably the most appetising of our ideas.

What actually arrived was a thin layer of pastry topped with barely plural vegetables (aubergine and pepper) and tangy cheese, dotted with blobs of spicy tomato salsa and pesto and scattered with alfalfa sprouts. Despite the uncertainty in the title, this dish was beautifully made and beautifully presented.

Barbirolli has a busy live music programme at weekends but, dining as we were on a Thursday, the soundtrack to our meal was a mix of 80s music. At this particular point, it was the song ‘Electric Dreams’. I thought I’d add a link to the video in case you fancied sharing the moment check it out, it’s the kind of ridiculous shit that instantly improves your day, and the singer looks a bit like Colin Farrell with a mullet.

To suit this vibe, I’d clocked a suitably kitsch main dish, Reef and Beef (is this the 21st-century name for Surf and Turf?), but after some deliberation I selected an old faithful, Slow Roasted Belly of Pork (£12.95), with bubble and squeak, savoy cabbage and sour apple puree. The plate was cold, which was a bad start, but things rapidly got worse. The apple puree was topped with whole (cold) raspberries – I’m not convinced about the whole pork-with-raspberry thing, the fruit’s just that bit too sharp. But then the real killer: burnt crackling. Luckily, fate stepped in to lighten the mood. As I was hacking away at the unyielding crackling, what should come over the speakers (and I promise I’m not making this up) but ‘Sledgehammer’ by Peter Gabriel. I could have really done with one.

From two vegetarian options, Beckie picked Vegetable Lancashire Hot Pot (£10.50) with homemade red cabbage and crusty bread. Again, the veggie option was better, with crispy slices of potato on top and a separate pot of nice jammy cabbage, although there was a lot of tomato going on in the sauce base – so much that Beckie’s ulcers were threatening to play up. The accompanying bread didn’t really qualify as crusty either – it was a ciabatta roll that shared 95% of its DNA with a stress ball desk toy.

Onto puds. We shared a Manchester Tart (insert joke here) and a Vanilla Pannacotta (£5.95), which were both skilfully made and satisfyingly glutenous. Our waiter Luka, whose service had been faultless, then asked us if we’d be willing to tell him what we thought of some new cocktails he was working on. He didn’t know that we were reviewing, so this wasn’t unethical, was it? It would have been pretty miserable of us to say no. So we agreed to be of assistance, and Luka brought us four twisted and delicious cocktails of his own creation – a Mojito made with ginger (great stomach settler), a Mango Ladykiller, a Pink Butterfly something, and finally a bright blue one. ‘Let’s Hear It For the Boy’ came on the sound system, which summed up our sentiments exactly. As we staggered out into the rain, our attentive waiter was there once more, this time to loan us two umbrellas for the walk home.

Barbirolli, I owe you a brolly.

Rating: 13.5/20
Breakdown: 6.5/10 food
4/5 service
3/5 ambience


31-33 Lower Mosley Street
M2 3BD

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

electric fingernailsJanuary 25th 2010.

thats an odd bit of adding up is it not?

Blaster BatesJanuary 25th 2010.

no it isn't it's right that is

AgricolaJanuary 25th 2010.

The readers on this site are mad sometimes. That review cracked me up and all you're concerned about is the adding up. Great writing.

Jonathan Schofield - editorJanuary 25th 2010.

If you read this then click on the YouTube link on the right hand column and listen to 'Electric Dreams': it puts you right into the review. I think we've just pioneered something - or Emma has: the audio-sensory review.

John HarrisJanuary 25th 2010.

Hasn't Blumenthal been there already with his iPod accompaniments?<br><br>Great review by the way. This place is pretty much in the basement of our office so I'll certainly be trying it out before long

MaggsJanuary 26th 2010.

Must give the place a try if only for the waiter!! Just a tiny niggle regarding your new layout - the review wording doesn't fit into its space unless you scroll over - a bit annoying as it didn't happen with the old 'free' site.

TomJanuary 26th 2010.

This is right below the building I work in too, and I'd been wondering when something was going to happen to the vacant lot left by P&P. Great review Emma, think I'll be trying this out soon!

Paul MastersJanuary 29th 2010.

Why cant the chef make some effort instead of shoving some bread in the toaster for the pate why not put a little effort in and make Melba toast lazy git

AnonymousJanuary 29th 2010.

'Cos, like an awful lot of chefs, he probably doesn't know how to make Melba toast, let alone bake his own bread

NortherngeezerJanuary 30th 2010.

Wots that Emma's sucking??.

Zin ZangFebruary 1st 2010.

Excellent review, a pleasure to read. Great writer this Confidential.

Mr. DottFebruary 6th 2010.

Burnt crackling ?? looks perfectly fine to me on the picture, i ate here last week and i had the med veg and goats cheese and the thing on top is some kind of cheese tuile not pastry ! If your going to write reviews please can you get these things right. I must add i had a fantasic night there and cant wait till next time !!!

NortherngeezerFebruary 6th 2010.

Tuile??....................aint that summat a ballerina wears??

AnonymousSeptember 30th 2010.

So, what's happened to this place then? 'Tis shut

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