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Dukes Grill

Jonathan Schofield takes a trip to the burgeoning Dukes 92 and its latest addition

Written by . Published on February 14th 2008.

Dukes Grill

Soon you’ll be able to see the Dukes 92 complex from the moon. It’s swelling faster than a Chinese city, doubling in size every few years. I bet, the proprietor James Ramsbottom, has even got an eye on the site of the demolished Quay Bar across the canal, so he can put a ‘Son of Dukes’ over there.

Proprietor James Ramsbottom was in on one of the visits and he said, “the ambition is to provide straightforward food, uncomplicated, at reasonable prices in good portions."

The latest addition is Dukes Grill. When the design looks as good as this you don’t mind that expansion rate. The Grill is an extension to the original bar area. It’s by OMI architects, one of Manchester's best practices and is superb. It combines the very modern – glass and steel – with a rich classic feel –deep red feature wall, dark woods and black iron.

The Grill lies adjacent to the bar area and catches the buzz and activity of the other. In many places this results in dining distraction, here it adds to the experience. Perhaps this is down to the sheer scale involved or the low ceiling of the Grill leading into the double-height space of the other.

The question is can the food match the architecture? This was my second visit. On my first a few weeks back I’d felt the place had potential but wasn’t reaching it. The big problem was the rib steak (£16.95) which I’d asked for medium rare. It had arrived traumatised, almost crisp.

This was my fault of course, ask a British chef for medium rare and the rare tends to get forgotten. You have to ask for it to be rare and emphasise it three times, sign a contract in blood affirming ‘yes I mean like the French have it’, and then wait nervously for the result. It’s like you’re talking to a painter and decorator and you can see he’s listening but there’s no-one home. At least in this case you can stand next to him and say, ‘no, I didn't say that’. A chef probably doesn’t want his kitchen invaded in the same way.

Things were much better on the second visit. The main of harrissa spiced sea bass (£10.95) with chilli baked sweet potatoes (the chef has a bit of a thing for these) was very good for the price. The fish was excellent, the spicing subtle enough to add to the occasion not annoy. The sweet potatoes matched the fish and were an interesting choice of accompaniment. Could have done with a bit more greenery on the plate but that wouldn’t be too difficult to correct.

The Cajun chicken burgers (£7.50) with a little bucket of fries delighted two of my kids - and the other one I'd stolen. The fries, if you’re a fan of these spindly cousins of chips, were very moreish, you wanted to keep dipping your hand back in and grabbing.

Burgers, you cry? Yep, and pizzas and pasta. It’s essentially good pub grub and that’s reflected in the price. Proprietor James Ramsbottom was in on one of the visits and he said, “the ambition is to provide straightforward food, uncomplicated, at reasonable prices in good portions. We’re not aiming at fine-dining. “

A couple of stars, the starter of black pudding hash (£4.50), on mash with a soft poached egg, and a pudding of light, intensely sweet sticky toffee pudding (£4.50) had already confirmed these values. The kids’ menu reinforces that as well. A pristine, silky smooth Sancerre (£27.95) had rescued the first meal.

Couple of pointers to the management though. When they re-write the menu make the starters and puddings lighter, easier. Unless you like heavy dishes such as the black pudding and sticky toffee pudding then you might be stuck. Also mains seem to be accompanied by pointless pots of add-ons. The mint yoghurt did nothing for my sea bass, the salsa for the burgers offered little.

Jim (or James) should be able to fix it though. And given the evening crowd in summer in these parts then Dukes Grill is pitched correctly at a food level lower than the brother venture, Albert’s Shed, and John Grieves’ Choice over the canal.

It was a beautiful evening as we left. On full stomachs, replete and contented, the boys and I spent half an hour in the gloaming, climbing over the Roman fort walls.

It reminded me of how good Castlefield is. Confidential has recently led campaigns to make sure that the area now preserves the best of what it’s got and moves on to the next level in terms of the amenity it provides. Dukes 92, and the Ramsbottom estate in this area, have remained one of the quality constants since the turn-around happened in the 1980s and the Grill, with a few tweakings will reinforce that.

To find out more about Dukes and enjoy 50% off click here.

Rating: 14/20
Breakdown: 6.5/10 Food
3/5 Service
4.5/5 Ambience
Address: Dukes Grill
18 Castle Street Castlefield
M3 4LZ

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

GordoFebruary 14th 2008.

Blimey Dave, where have you been?

The ManagmentFebruary 14th 2008.


ShaFebruary 14th 2008.

Went to Dukes Grill to see if I agreed with the review. Generally yes, the service was a bit incompetent because there weren't enough people serving on the day. Food fine for the price. But the point about the little pots of sauce on the side of plate was so true. Get rid of them.

RobFebruary 14th 2008.

Do they now take the Tesco Meal Deal Voucherss ;o)

Dave AthertonFebruary 14th 2008.

I haven't eaten out in town for ages, daughter Susan recommended recently done-up Dukes 92. Steak & chips - perfect. Susan had a half lobster thermidor - perfect. Normal prices. Easy parking. Great!

AnonymousFebruary 14th 2008.

had a brilliant evening here. really smart, friendly atmosphere. the food was perfect, service was great, always been a fan of Dukes 92 and this has just improved it more

ArabellaFebruary 14th 2008.

I worked at Castlefield for Jim when I first moved to the NW from London, nearly 20 years ago. In those days Albert was overall-clad and hard at work, and the whole site was just potential in Jim's head. Fantastic to see the potential realised and the 1980s critics confounded.

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