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Etrop Grange Review

Gordo has high hopes for this technically gifted chef, flaws and all

Written by . Published on February 7th 2013.

Etrop Grange Review

MODERNIST Cuisine. It's the stuff that Heston Blumenthal cooks. Hugely complicated, very expensive to produce as well as being difficult. The point is to delight and surprise the diner, raise a wry smile every now and again. To tease and seduce, to make us remember a meal or a dish for the rest of our lives.

The first one Gordo didn't get. The second was intense beetroot. And the third was intense green. And smelled of fart. Bad fart. Gordo forced himself to bite it in half.

Very few are masters of this art. Gordo can report on no more than five who have, in his opinion, succeeded.

Blumenthal is one. Any chef worth his salt would study what he does, how he does it, along with how he presents it. The first thing Gordo noticed when reading his cook book on The Fat Duck menu, is how few dishes there are in the repertoire. He launched the infamous snail porridge in 2003; it has been part of the menu, on and off, for ten years. 

Little has changed; it is a supremely beautiful dish, which builds on the flavours layer by layer, totally catching the diner off guard with the simplicity that he shows with a complex construction. There are no less than 52 separate ingredients in that dish. And they are there for one thing; supporting the main chance flavours; fennel, the snails, parsley and ham. It tastes of pond. In a glorious way.

Etrop GrangeEtrop GrangeThe main point here is these menus change infrequently; dishes are worked on for months until it enters the dining room. This cuisine is near impossible to cook 'on the fly'. Some can make it appear that they are managing this, Noma, the worlds number one in Copenhagen makes it appear they are, but the reality is the chef has the same repertoires but changes the main ingredients regularly whilst keeping the same suit wrapped around them.

When this cooking works, it's a delight, even though Gordo would prefer, at the end of the day, a dish of pink lamb, chips with crispy fat, and Michel Guerard's dauphinoise. It's beautiful but also it’s something the diner can match with a good red burgundy. It's bloody impossible to match a decent wine to Modernist Cuisine.

When this cuisine goes wrong, it goes wrong spectacularly. And, dear reader, this is what happened last week to Gordo and his wingman, Ruth Allan, at a hotel called Etrop Grange, which is just near Manchester Airport. 

For ten days Gordo has been agonising about what to say about this meal. Mainly because he recognises in this chef someone who is a supreme technician, along with being a delightful person. His name is Ernst Van Zyl and he is the head chef, delivering two different menus. One is cooking a grill-style menu that, apparently, boxes well above its weight. On the evening Gordo watched the next table devour superb looking steaks with chips that really needed tying to the plates, like little helium balloons. They looked so light and crisp.

Gordo was here to try out Ernst's 'Chefs Dinner Menu'. Ernst has spent time in some serious kitchens, including Blumenthal’s, Simon Rogan's and the aforementioned Noma. He is serious about improving himself. Very.

Venison CarpaccioVenison Carpaccio

His 'Chefs Dinner Menu' looks the part. Gordo booked under an assumed name, having been asked several times by several people to come and try the food. He wanted to give Ernst no opportunity to change what he was doing for him. 

The room was warm, inviting and comfortable. Country house, anything but Media City. A bit kitsch, a bit like Gordo it could be said.

There is a vegetarian tasting menu at £40. Not for Gordo.  Looked good mind you. 

Bread arrived, sour dough. Stunning. Soft in the middle, crunchy casing with loads of testosterone about it. Great butter, sea salt on the side. Liking this folks.

For starters, Hay Smoked Venison Tartar with Capers, Douglas Fir and Shallot, (£9.50) and Ray Wing with Ox Tongue, Celery and Pomegranate (£8).

The presentation looked schizophrenic. The ray was cut into small strips, interleaved with ox tongue. Both ingredients hated each other, passionately.

Dotted around were small squeezes of stuff, most of which were at war with each other. The venison tartar tasted 'off'. It wasn't, it was just that Ernst had buggered around with it so much that at first taste Gordo could swear coffee granules and dark chocolate had been used in the mix. It probably hadn't, but whatever this dish was meant to be, it wasn't. Technically it was perfect. Apart from how it tasted.


Mallard, Roasted Breast, Wild Mushrooms, Parsnip and Blood orange (£17 - main picture) was good; the mallard had been roasted pink, it tasted as it should; the ingredients worked well with it, great wild mushrooms here. 

Mutton, BBQ Loin, Salsify, Carrot, Rekordelig (£18) was completely overpowered during a smoking procedure that enveloped the plate like a damp dog basket. 

Desserts were fine. But by this time both Ruth and Gordo were overtaken by the disaster that went before. There was one more to come. 

Coffee came with petit fours - four cubes of what looked like jelly. The head waiter told the intrepid duo they might find the broccoli one "a challenge". 

"Eh?" thought Gordo, "Broccoli"?

The first one Gordo didn't get. The second was intense beetroot. And the third was intense green. And smelled of fart. Bad fart. Gordo forced himself to bite it in half.

Challenging? Fucking Challenging? That Maitre'd had it all wrong. It was simply the most awful thing Gordo has ever had. It turned his stomach, making him gag. 

Now Ernst has this written on the back of his menu.

'In my cooking there is an obsession to harmonise; to excite; to balance; to perfect and not overdo.'

Lemon TartLemon Tart

Oh dear Lord, in this chef's cooking, on the evidence of this meal, there is a clash of flavours and textures; far from exciting either diners, it actually disturbed us. It was far away from perfect and compellingly overdone. 

Ernst, apart from being delightful, needs to take a step back and rethink what he is doing completely. Everything needs to be on the plate for a purpose. To support the main ingredient, as said before. Currently, he reminds Gordo of an autistic genius who needs to become calm. Because if you deconstructed the plates, you will see that genius. 

Ernst needs a little bit of self-deprecation. He needs to learn from the diners and not preach at them. Less is more. Ernst told Gordo he is on a mission to educate us, the public.

Petit FoursPetit Fours

That broccoli held no education. It was a stupid thing to serve, at the wrong time and the wrong place. It was simply horrible.

Gordo will return in the next three months. He sincerely hopes Ernst takes the criticism in the right way. False praise is harmful. Constructive criticism is good.

Gordo thinks you, dear reader, should go. Because sooner rather than later, Ernst will get it. You may bear witness to the birth of a great chef. But, in the meantime, stick to the steak and chips.

You can follow Gordo on Twitter @GordoManchester 


Etrop Grange Hotel, Manchester Airport, Thorley Lane, Manchester. 0161 499 0500.

Rating: 12/20 (Remember venues are rated against the best examples of their kind so check out the box below)

Food: 4.5/10 (sour dough bread 10/10, ray wing 3/10, venison 1/10, mutton 2/10, mallard 7/10, lemon curd 8/10, pear poached 6/10, petit fours 0/10)

Service: 3.5/5

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, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20, we get carried away.

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

BLR_3February 7th 2013.

Seems to me that there has been a lot of technique learnt but little about the use of technique to enhance the dining experience! Think more time needs to be spent up at l'enclume!

bigearsFebruary 7th 2013.

Great review Gordo! Think the food is trying to be too complex. It's all well and good cooking "your" styles of food but Manchester doesn't want/need this

pollolocoFebruary 7th 2013.

it would have to be exceptional for me to go anywhere near Etrop Grange....dull airport hotel.

HultonFebruary 7th 2013.

Maybe you should go and try it yourself as Gordo suggests and not just believe a review in its entirety. I have been to Etrop and have been cooked for by Ernst, I have to say it was exceptional food and I couldn't fault it.
It was so well done I was convinced to eat foods and ingredients I would have normally never touched.
Try it yourself and then make up your minds.

Bacon OnthebeechFebruary 7th 2013.

I agree with Hulton above. Whilst Gordo's review was fair as it was his opinion on the food he had, our own experience was totally different. All four of us loved it, and whilst not every dish worked, the majority of the 12 courses we had were extremely good. We love this style of food - it's unique, but maybe it's not for everyone.

David BishopFebruary 7th 2013.

I'm not sure how likely I would be to pay £50 (£75 with wine) for a tasting menu for dishes where half of them scored under 3. Given a lot of the tweets I have read about this place it doesn't look like any of this is untrue.

Understand Gordo doesn't want to put the boot in entirely but can't think who would want to pay those prices for a chef who is obviously struggling to get things right.

I'll wait for another review in 6 months and see if things are looking any better.

ClaireFebruary 7th 2013.

I have also been for a taster menu here for a birthday treat and every meal was as artful and delicious as the next. I enjoyed the flavour combinations and would definitely go back again.

Go for yourself and try it; you can't base your opinion on just one review.

Mrs PetticoatFebruary 7th 2013.

I've eaten at Etrop Grange twice. Yes, the food is challenging, but it is delicious, fun and so memorable. Ernst is a truly passionate chef and lovely man. I'm sure when he said he wishes to 'educate' the public, he means he wants to bring a style of food to the area that is not at the moment available, rather than sounding pompous. I can't comment on Gordo's meal but I hope this review does not put people off as it is a wonderful experience that I assure you is well worth the money.

Tania HarveyFebruary 7th 2013.

It's no sercret I'm a big fan of Ernst's and the reason is that I admire creative people who push boundaries.

Just as modern artists push boundaries with unmade beds or pickled sheep I enjoy eating from the kitchens of chefs who strive to be different. Chefs who aren't satisfied to be like the classical painters but turn the world upside down as Van Gogh did in his time and our modern day artists do now.

Yes it does mean that sometimes things don't quite work, yes it does mean it's not going to be to everyone's taste.

But I would far rather be eating at the forefront of modern cuisine, excited by what's going to be put in front of me next. I admire the skill by which these chefs put these dishes together and can't get enough of my palate being blown away by flavour & texture combinations I could never have imagined in my wildest dreams.

The classics have their place but the world would be a very dull place if we all played it safe and didn't dare to risk.

bigearsFebruary 7th 2013.

Forefront of modern cuisine? I think not. Everything on a plate needs to be there for a reason, be it taste or texture, it needs to have a purpose and if it doesn't work or marry the flavours the whole dish is a pointless waste of time. If it was at the forefront of cuisine it would hold more than 2 rosettes. If you are going to do it, do it properly. God loves a try er but you don't get a busy place for poor food. imaginative = yes, done correctly = no.

AnonymousFebruary 7th 2013.

Sorry, but this review is awful. This is the same man who told twitter happy seasons was serving some of the best Cantonese in the country. Tried it. Awful. Australasia was worthy of a star. I went when the original chef was there and it was ok, nothing more. And San Carlo has the best italian dish in the country. I have eaten here and it is excellent. Only aumbry is as close to a star as this place but I don't go there anymore as they never change their menu. Ernst could be amazing and is what the area needs.

Tania HarveyFebruary 7th 2013.

At times like this I love to read the quote from Steve Jobs -

Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Thank God for chefs like Ernst who don't want to submit to the norm strait jacket and serve up crowd pleasing food. I for one prefer the much more individual approach he has.

He's still perfecting his style and by no means the finished article but I and others will be encouraging and supporting his creativity because we see the genius.

1 Response: Reply To This...
TarquinFebruary 14th 2013.

I thought you were talking about Gordo as the crazy one, not an upset chef

Bacon OnthebeechFebruary 7th 2013.

So agree with the above in every way. There are enough average chefs in our region who are stagnant - churning the same old food year after year. Here we have a totally unique talent. To all those who've made up their mind just on one review, I'd say try it for yourself you may just see what we see.

AnonymousFebruary 7th 2013.

Maybe Man con should stick to reviewing burgers and steaks.

AnonymousFebruary 7th 2013.

i really do hope people don't take this review too seriously Etrop Grange caterers to those looking for steak and chips (done very well btw) and those who aren't scared to try something different. As another reviewer mentioned this chap thought Australasia worthy of a star! Ha! Perhaps Gordo does need educating after all!

AnonymousFebruary 7th 2013.

i really do hope people don't take this review too seriously. Etrop Grange delivers 'something for everyone' those who are looking for a great steak/burger or those who want to be more daring....as another reviewer touched on this is the chap who thought Australasia was the best thing since sliced bread and worthy of a star.....perhaps its this Gordo that needs educating??

1 Response: Reply To This...
paulFebruary 7th 2013.

The Anonymous work force ????

food for thoughtFebruary 7th 2013.

Where is the gravy on the dishes?

Poodle PowerFebruary 7th 2013.

Sorry to hear that Gordo’s experience with Ernst was not the best. (Has anyone noticed, by the way, that he refers to himself in the 3rd person?)
My experience, by contrast, was a very enjoyable one. My friends and I had the taster menu. Admittedly a few of the dishes didn’t completely work, but these were greatly outweighed by the ones that did. In conclusion I can truly say that there were textures and flavours that blew me away. Ernst surely is a rare talent.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Bilbo BobbinsFebruary 7th 2013.

Poodle, he's been irritating us for eight years with his third person writing, have you only just noticed it?

AnonymousFebruary 7th 2013.

Food like this, in parts, is definitely "challenging" as Gordo says. When you eat this kind of food that falls under the (cringeworthy) "experimental" banner you are going to hit a few dishes that are not to your own palate. I have had dishes at the Fat Duck, Noma, El Cellar de can Roca and Brooklyn Fayre that tickled the old gag reflex. Fault of the chef? Of course not.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. It would however, be interesting to see what benchmark Gordo used to judge this meal as a critic

2 Responses: Reply To This...
GordoFebruary 7th 2013.

Anonymous, i haven't had any dishes at the places you name dropped that tickled my gag reflex. My current benchmark is Chef Eneko Atxa of Azurmendi in Bilboa; I started off, thirty three years ago, with Michel Guerard at Les Pres d'Eugenie in South West France. There should be no plates on a menu of this type that are not to your taste, or indeed simply bloody stupid.

GordoFebruary 7th 2013.

Sorry, I tell a lie, never been to Brooklyn Fayre.

BLR_3February 8th 2013.

Even if it's better than Gordo's review it's still enough to put me off.

I'll stick with Aumbry. With regard to it not changing it's menu, that's a little unfair for a place that prides itself on seasonal, sustainable, local produce.

4 Responses: Reply To This...
Bacon OnthebeechFebruary 9th 2013.

It's a shame for you, you're missing out on one of the most exciting and talented chefs in our area.

Bacon OnthebeechFebruary 9th 2013.

It's a shame for you, you're missing out on one of the most exciting and talented chefs in our area.

Bacon OnthebeechFebruary 9th 2013.

It'd a pity for you as you're missing out on one of our regions most exciting, talented & original chefs.

Bacon OnthebeechFebruary 10th 2013.

Sorry for the repetition, website's not working properly

AnonymousFebruary 8th 2013.

Don't you mean Gordo tells a lie?

1 Response: Reply To This...
GordoFebruary 9th 2013.


David AddisonFebruary 10th 2013.

No ones actually said it and I might be missing the point, you don't get much ! I thought all the minimalist days were gone now. Give me a decent portion for my money.

Jamie FaulknerFebruary 13th 2013.

For another perspective on Ernst's cooking, read our blog post 'In Defense of Ernst Van Zyl'. manchesterfoodies.blogspot.co.uk/…/van-zyl.html…

Jonathan SchofieldFebruary 13th 2013.

I think it should be 'defence' not defense as the latter makes it American, specifically it makes it sound like something from the Superbowl, with the stress on the first syllable.

And Jamie, by the way, there is no link to our story from your 'blog' so please return the courtesy of Confidential allowing you to advertise your own cleverness and keeping your link up.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Jamie FaulknerFebruary 14th 2013.

Thanks for the spelling correction Jonathan. The link is now up. We are only a 'blog' after all.

AnonymousFebruary 14th 2013.


IanFebruary 14th 2013.

Half of the comments above seem to be posted by the chef himself.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Bacon OnthebeechFebruary 14th 2013.

I doubt if he's got time. He'll be too busy working a stage at the 20th best rated restaurant in the world in Sweden.

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