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REVIEW: Christie's Bistro | University

Jonathan Schofield loves the space but not the institutional food

Written by . Published on November 20th 2014.


REVIEW: Christie's Bistro | University
 

EATING alone for a reviewer can be liberating. It removes an awkward element of reviews, the way the writer refers to their dining partner.

They say things like 'dining partner'.

I've eaten a couple of times at Christies in the last year and the upmarket school dinner feel doesn't go away.

AA Gill in the Sunday Times excruciatingly refers to 'The Blonde' which is presumably his wife or his partner, unless he goes for lunch and dinner with lots of different blondes and the description comes in handy because he can't remember any of their names.

Other reviewers refer to their fellow munchers as an initial, 'Mrs K', or as 'Him Indoors' or give them mad names such as 'Miss Frou-Frou Bronte'. One female reviewer I read once referred to 'The Man', which was gloriously brutal. "Man, what are you eating?" "Steak. And you Woman?" "Offal. And the Child?" 

Others go direct with 'the wife' or 'my friend' or fall into being cutsy with 'hubby'. Often these phrases are followed by other commonplaces such as 'My wife, over the table' which sounds proper soft porn until you reach the inevitable words 'plumped for' - a phrase never used outside the prissy, bourgeois, majority of the food writing fraternity.

Mr S over the table was stoney facedMr S over the table was stoney faced

The problem is none of the expressions writers use ever sound anything but smug. Going on about doing something pleasurable and reporting upon it has that effect, so solo dining at Christies Bistro, at the University of Manchester, was refreshing. 

And grand.

This place is up there with Room, Jamie's Italian, Rosso, Gaucho and Browns as one of the grandest historical halls in Manchester in which to dine. Like them it didn't begin life as a restaurant at all, in this case it began as the Christie Library in 1898. It's lofty, lovely, and all that generous space makes the visitor feel instantly calm. It's got Zen.

The architectural books call the style of Christies 'free non-historicist Gothic' which is how I'm going to refer to future dining companions. 'Over the table the free non-historicist Goth plumped for...'

Free historicist British menuFree historicist British menu

I better get on to the food or one of our ranters, probably Polloloco or someone, will start fretting as they want food reviews to read like furniture assembly instructions.

There are two parts to Christies, the larger area for snacks and soups and then the more formal restaurant. I hadn't booked but the smiling staff found a small table for me in the latter - another advantage of going solo. I looked at the menu and decided the food was free historicist British.

It's also institutionalised. It makes a Christies visit all about the venue. The crepes with (£5.25) goats cheese and mushrooms were decent, light crepe flesh, over bold grab-your-by-the-throat earthy mushrooms combining well with that dusty bite of the goats cheese. Nice tarragon edge. I could have eaten two or three more easily.

I wish I had.

Fine crepesFine crepes

The slow braised beef with Dijon and parsley mash and seasonal veg was drab. The picture gives the dish away. The seasonal veg were broccoli, a word which translated from the Italian means literally and shoutily, 'IF YOU DON'T EAT YOUR GREENS YOU WON'T GET ANY PUDDING?'

The meat was good, filling, but the dish was something I could have cooked easily at home. At £12.50 it was on the expensive side. It was institutional. Given I was dining at the University of Manchester this was perhaps appropriate but dull. 

Institutionalised food

Institutionalised food

This time I didn't have any pudding because I didn't eat my greens but I've eaten a couple of other times at Christies in the last year. The upmarket canteen feel of the food doesn't go away. It's the type that could have been served in 1931 to intellectuals in flannels when an over anxiety about food was considered flim-flam, Frenchy. Food was fuel nothing else. Times have moved on and Christies could be so much better with just a little effort. I bet the chef would love to show some flair. 

Christies should also open in the evenings too and the weekends, it's a lovely place to pass time, if only for chatting over a beer or a wine. The managers could maybe get some guest chefs in, slide in some pop-ups, make the space zing with good food. 

I said this to my free non-historicist Goth dining partner over the table who wasn't there and they nodded in agreement and said absolutely nothing because they weren't there.

Ah, the virtues of dining alone. 

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

ALL OUR SCORED FOOD REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL AND PAID FOR BY MANCHESTER CONFIDENTIAL. REVIEW VISITS ARE UNANNOUNCED AND COMPLETELY INDEPENDENT OF ANY COMMERICAL RELATIONSHIP.

Christies Bistro, Oxford Rd, Manchester, Lancashire, M13 9PL. 0161 275 7702. Open 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday.

Rating: 12/20

Food: 5/10 
Service: 3/5
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, 18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20, we get carried away

Wine and bread and good architecture

Wine and bread and good architecture

Inside the BistroInside the Bistro

View into the quadView into the quad

Academic contemplating a menuAcademic contemplating a menu

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

AnonymousNovember 20th 2014.

Great surroundings and atmosphere and a decent ManCon score for [what is] a University eaterie. Sure it would be great to have guest or up and coming chefs, but the same can be said for most of the places ManCon reviews. What next, Schofield...local school dinners?

3 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousNovember 20th 2014.

Maybe 'Small World Cafe' at the International Society just across the street? (next to Kro) I thought they are open to public. ka.

mancadamNovember 21st 2014.

£13 for beef stew and mash slopped on a plate is not "university eatery" prices, though. quite shocked at that price looking at the picture to be honest.

AnonymousNovember 21st 2014.

The Uni could be loads more creative with this and I doubt it would be difficult to do either.

AnonymousNovember 20th 2014.

Mr Christie is one of those in the stained glass. This library used to have a rare book of Shakespeare. You may find a path to Whitworth Hall where you can also appreciate Waterhouse's (son) work. Guest chefs is a really good idea. The University might agree if a charity event could be organised with students.

David OlliverNovember 20th 2014.

The Christie was the University Science Library.The Shakespeare "Book" was housed in a glass case in the Main Arts Library,as it then was,before the extension.It was stolen from there some years ago,when security was not considered necessary in a University environment.

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