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Brill on the alley

So long Est Est Est, hello The Grill on the Alley. Manchester Confidential goes down for a look…

Published on August 25th 2006.

Brill on the alley

It had turned into a balmy night. We decided to walk from Castlefield, spurred on by a desire to try a new menu after months revisiting favourite restaurants around town. We headed for the Grill on the Alley.

We entered to be greeted by the hubbub of a busy establishment, and two welcoming barstools. The refurbishment has sympathetically restored features that Est Est Est had discarded, including exposing some brickwork and a fantastic Victorian tiled wall. These features are elegantly complemented by modern feature lighting and furniture. Its decor is very 'Chicago' and doesn't try too hard. It's far from pretentious, and although comfortable doesn't feel too 'down home'.

A barman quickly proffered an extensive and well-categorised cocktail menu. I prefer a more personal approach (like James at the Cotton House) but Hannah likes a menu. This one is impressive with variations on Margaritas, 'Old Fashioned’s', Martinis, and even an extensive non-alcoholic selection. It's more personal than the Living Room, less ridiculous than Panacea, cosier than Obsidian, more straightforward than Socio, less flowery than Harvey Nicks and smaller than the Cotton House.

The barman was friendly and efficient but while pleasant, both cocktails were 'by the book' and the 'Old Fashioned' needed more stirring to soften some of its bite (difficult in a busy bar). Hopefully over time the individual flair of the bartender will be allowed to shine through the corporate strictures.

And so, to dinner. We sat in the centre of the restaurant, rather than in a booth (good - I hate slipping down). The restaurant was two thirds full and the staff seemed chatty. However, as the maitre'd left us she said (bear in mind it's just after half 8) "we allow two hours per table and after that time we will have to ask you to leave" (or words to that effect). No doubt this is an efficient script but it lacks common sense (I can’t imagine them seating someone at quarter to 11) and we felt less welcome as a result More common sense needed by the management.

Unlike the Bar & Grill et al. The Grill on the Alley favours American influences over Italian. The emphasis is seafood and high-end steak complemented by specials. I went for half dozen Kilkenny oysters and half a lobster. Hannah opted for the Skewered Chicken and the Ostrich steak cooked pink (following the waitress' excellent advice). They assumed we wanted olives, warm almonds and DIY garlic bread, which (at £2.50 a dish) would have been a problem had they not been excellent.

The Oysters, dressed in Worcestershire sauce with bacon, were obviously fresh and succulent. Hannah's Skewered Chicken was "fantastic", a fat chicken breast on a corn on the cob skewer served with a delicious sweet chilli and ginger sauce.

To accompany our meal, we ordered the excellent Argentinean Malbec, because if we order non-South American wine, a friend kicks our arse.

The service was efficient and the staff remained chatty throughout. They gave the impression that it's a nice place to work. Even the gents was full of chatter, with a businessman celebrating with his sales team eager to say how impressed he was with the kobe beef. The comfortable atmosphere obviously made both staff and customers feel relaxed.

The lobster, accompanied by fat chips and a piquant butter sauce wasn't as fresh as the Oysters - maybe a little dry - but still good. Hannah's Ostrich steak was thick and juicy and the chef hadn't grilled it to death - to her delight. For desert we chose espresso & ice-cream and grilled bananas in toffee sauce (particularly good), and two more cocktails. The bill was reasonable at a round £100 and we walked home sated.

The Grill on the Alley is subtly different from other Manchester eateries with its comfortable yet refined atmosphere. Many customers (including me) will become regulars.

Mark Unwin

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