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Campbell's Menu At City Cafe Shines

Jonathan Schofield discovers a polished performance from a fine chef

Published on November 15th 2011.

Campbell's Menu At City Cafe Shines

I INTERVIEWED Michael Campbell three months ago. The executive chef at the City Cafe at Mint Hotel was calm, measured, occasionally witty, and talked a good food talk.

This is a very good a la carte menu, full of teasing flavours and little bursts of inspiration put together with heartiness and confidence

A recent visit to try out the autumn a la carte menu allowed me to judge his own words about his own cooking.

He'd said: "My style is lots of bold flavours, not complicated. The food should speak for itself, show the chef's skills and ideas, but not so much the chef forgets the basic function which is feeding people. Five different flavours on the plate is about maximum, with presentation that's smart but straightforward not overwhelming."

Mostly it seems he's living up to his own culinary description. 

We started with what would prove to be one of the star dishes. This was the caramelised chicken livers, onion risotto (£5.95). The combination of perfectly timed risotto (in otherwords, neither dry nor soft, but full yet moist) under, again, well-timed chicken livers that were silk to taste was a treat. The rings on top were a clever adornment.

Liver RisottoLiver Risotto

Another standout starter was the roast scallop and confit duck with madeira sauce (£8.50). This was spread along a big raft of a dish and while lacking colour in presentation packed a wallop with the flavours. The sauce was the magic ingredient here, boosting in particular the meaty character of the scallop.  

Scallops And DuckScallop And Duck

The crayfish cocktail and Virgin Mary salsa with tempura oyster (£7.50) was a bright little dish, more summer than autumn, that provided a degree of thrill with the tempura oyster. This is something you don't see frequently on Manchester menus and one of those identifying points by which Campbell is attempting to define his cooking. 

CrayfishCrayfish and oyster.

MonkfishMonkfishThe king of the mains we tried was a quite glorious roast monkfish with spiced lentils, baby squid and chilli dressing (£19.50). This had everything. It had the flavours and the colours. It looked and tasted exquisite, and was the main I'd tell people to try on a visit to City Cafe. The pleasantly rubbery texture of the squid played well with both the fish flesh and the lentils, which were not over-spiced but just sharp enough to draw out the gentler joys of the sea creatures. The same magic worked with the chilli dressing. The bok choy draped on the top give extra substance and cleaned the flavours.

Meanwhile an 8oz ribeye steak (£21) was cooked to order, medium rare and was lifted by not only good hand cut chips but a cracking collation of pancetta and mushrooms that were both finely executed and delivered. It was a huge leap away from the very poor steak I'd had at the Midland Hotel a few weeks ago. Simple dishes can be enhanced with care and thought. 

8Oz Ribeye8Oz Ribeye

A dessert on the menu was possibly one of the more extraordinary things I've tasted, puddings-wise, in a long while. This was peanut butter cheesecake banana with caramelised pineapple and ice cream (£6). Bloody hell that peanut butter came through like the four horsemen of the apocalypse, I don't even know whether I liked it but I goddam remembered it. If you run a Pudding Club get the membership down here and try this.

Slightly Terrifying Peanut Butter ThingySlightly Terrifying Peanut Butter Thingy

Safer but never bland was the cardamom creamed rice pudding with orange compote and pistachio biscotti (£6.25). Good work here. Again it shows how Campbell loves working with rice to make good things happen. 

Cardamon Rice PuddingCardamom Rice Pudding

Micheal Campbell has said: "I'm using a lot of classic European techniques then bringing my own ideas to bear. It's me cooking my food in my way, but in familiar ways to the customers as well."

Michael CampbellMichael CampbellHis way is beginning to make itself felt here. He also talked to me about African and Carribbean cooking. Maybe there's something of the tropical exotic in that peanut butter pudding and in other combinations, the lentils, the rice dishes. He should pursue that and also make sure he is freer with colour in his presentation.

But all in all this is a very good a la carte menu, full of teasing flavours and little bursts of inspiration put together with heartiness and confidence. I can't do a full rating for this over-view of the menu because the meal was hosted by City Cafe but I'd put the food in the 8/10 bracket easily. 

Finally a big big thanks to the Portuguese sommelier for his outstanding general service and also his introduction to some Brazilian (yes Brazilian) wines which displayed a real degree of sophistication. Confidential will come back and have a good look at that winelist at a later date, he knows his stuff this gent. 

City Cafe, Mint Hotel, is at 1 Auburn Street 1 Piccadilly Place, Manchester , M1 3DG.

Until 24 November you can 25% off the a la carte menu by clicking here.

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

pollolocoNovember 15th 2011.

roast scallops? shouldn't that be scallop? EDITORIAL COMMENT: Changed it

Mark GarnerNovember 16th 2011.

Blimey, like the sound of this, it really is good to see City Cafe getting a good chef. Good writing by the loony that is Schofield as well. Jealous.

RayNovember 17th 2011.

1. Were the scallops hand dived? If not, then we should know (so we can condemn the fact).

2. One paragraph on wine with no description of the range and pricing is unacceptable. The food is of course the main story, but can we get just a bit more on the accompanying drinks? Unless it's assumed we all have water with our food?

EditorialNovember 17th 2011.

Ray, we write: 'Confidential will come back and have a good look at that winelist at a later date, he knows his stuff this gent.' Keep your eyes peeled.

RayNovember 17th 2011.

Mea culpa - you are quite right (skulks off to corner, shoulda been to Specsavers, mutter mutter...)

Georgina Hague shared this on Facebook on November 18th 2011.
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