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Grill on the Alley

Jonathan Schofield keeps going back to a model of successful dining

Written by . Published on November 4th 2008.


Grill on the Alley

The Grill on the Alley is a clever operation.

From the welcome on arrival, through to service at the table there’s rarely a bum note with the food often hitting the highs. In terms of consistency it gets it right nine and a half times out of ten.

This hasn’t always been the case.

I first reviewed Grill for the Manchester Evening News shortly after it opened. This was when we (Confidential and the MEN) were friends, linking arms and skipping through clover together. In other words, before Confidential was deemed dangerous competition.

I didn’t think Grill was too clever on that first visit.

I thought it was stilted, inconsistent in food quality, and trying too hard to be slick. I felt like a cog in a well-oiled machine that cared too much about appearances and too little about content.

I could sniff the theme, feel the focus groups. I imagined myself as one of those little figures in architectural models of new developments. Hey, I thought, I don’t want to be a marketing ideal, a profile of a professional customer with a certain sort of car, a specific type of aspiration and a house in a particular kind of street.

A few years down the line and that’s changed. Now the content seems to have caught up with the appearance. Grill has settled into its role, matured, it feels comfortable, but given its popularity, exciting and full of people watching potential. It feels successful and that’s always appealing.

I’ve been three times recently.

These are some the dishes I've sampled: Irish rock oysters (£8.95 for six), beef carpaccio with rocket and lemon (£7.50), garlic roasted Portobello mushrooms with tomato and pesto (£5.25), ribeye steak (£17.25 for an 11oz), fajitas with onions, peppers, guacamole, sour cream, tomato salsa and tortillas (£13.50), yellow fish curry with garlic rice (£13) and smoked haddock rarebit with babyleeks and tomatoes (£13.50). Sides have included home cut chips (£2.75), plain mash (£ 2.75), roasted beetroot (£2.95) and so forth.

The standout dish of these was the ribeye. It was a beautiful, succulent cut of flesh, bursting with flavour and cooked exactly as requested which was medium rare. The contrast with a recent experience at Restaurant Bar and Grill (click here) was notable. Grill’s version was a carefully cooked gem, RBG’s a burnt mess.

The yellow fish curry was another babe at Grill, a subtle blend of sharp flavours set off by an exquisite garlic rice, both main elements a model of restraint and strength. The fajitas were a hit too, the carefully cooked steak working well with a riot of other elements.

As for the starters my favourites were the oysters (although it’s hard to go wrong as long as the choice of mollusc is right and Grill gets that right) and the lovely sweet and sharp beef carpaccio accompanied by the bitter earthy tang of rocket.

Throughout these experiences the service has been exceptional: compliments to the frizzy haired Johnny Borrell lookalike on the last visit. He was professional and pleasant even when he’d mucked up and given me the wrong soup of the day - a very good carrot and coriander as it happens. His apology was so well-delivered that it didn’t matter.

If I had to be churlish (and I have to be) there are some areas of concern. It’s just plain wrong, even though it is standard restaurant practice, to charge extra for the sauces to accompany the meat dishes (£1.95 for a peppercorn sauce), and while the winelist is decent (the full Sauvignon blanc reserve: the Boshendal Paarl from South Africa, 2006, was exceptional) the beers include nothing British – in a city region with 21 family and micro-brewers.

The most annoying feature though is the copy on the homepage of the website.

Get this: ‘All of our beasty-based foods are sourced only from farmers whose wellies are splattered in honest, hormone-free muck, and are in possession of a healthy, ruddy-glow, a clear indicator of time spent chasing livestock around the pasture. Similarly, our sea-produce, while not exactly required to be still jumping up and down on the plate or intoning 'ahoy there matey' as proof of provenance is as fresh as the proverbial daisy. The quality of the meal is in the base produce - the chefs will lightly threaten the produce with a little heat and then arrange it - simply.’

You effing what? Fish as fresh as a daisy? Slow down Grill, this reads like our April’s Fool parody of Gordon Ramsay opening in Manchester – click here. Get rid of it Grill, it gives the wrong impression.

These trifles aside Grill on the Alley is quality. If you’ve not been for a while give it whirl: it’s got good looks, great food and superb atmosphere.

In short it’s a proper night or lunch out, with all the right components in trim working order: overseen by an equally trim, good-looking and fiercely driven under-manager in her twenties. I expect her to be running the whole company in about three years. Maybe going for PM.

Finally, if you’ve got kids there’s a good children’s menu at £7.95. There’s also regular live music and the Christmas menu is out starting at £21 per person.

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: Gordo gets carried away

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

powergirlNovember 4th 2008.

I cant believe that anyone would give this restaurant a poor review. I eat there 2-3 times a month and have yet to be dissapointed - We have just booked our christmas lunch there too!

AvoNovember 4th 2008.

Carla, how can you call Grill on the Alley overpriced when you advocate going to the Gaucho Grill whose prices are much higher than those at the Alley??

ClareNovember 4th 2008.

I love that you gave my favourite restaurant such a great review. Try the apple martini!

johnthebriefNovember 4th 2008.

There's nothing wrong with wanting your meat medium-well, if that's how you like it. Silly to spend the money on a steak in those circumstances though, may as well get a burger as you won't taste the difference

GezzabelleNovember 4th 2008.

I love Grill on the Alley. Always have an amazing meal whenever I go.

AvoNovember 4th 2008.

mark, I reckon Rosie is just your alter ego and you went and ate a full Chataubriand on your own.

AnonymousNovember 4th 2008.

I agree with Gezzabelle. Consistently good.

beccaNovember 4th 2008.

What's really being reviewed here? The restaurant or the manager? Get a room!

mark mNovember 4th 2008.

My gluttony has been discovered. I have no shame though

Phil TaylorNovember 4th 2008.

Surely this isn't the same place where Mr Schofield was once served a turbot that he described as looking like a mouse mat run over by a 4X4, and a portion of French beans so small, that they could be counted one by one?Next turnaround will be Pesto?

mark mNovember 4th 2008.

Are you real Scoteeeee? Gaucho is more expensive for normal steaks. If you choose the Kobi beef at 50quid then obviously it is going to be more than a normal fillet at Gaucho. Idiot

x employeeNovember 4th 2008.

wooohooo! I made that soup.and not that i'm biased or owt, but the food is great and i was a regular visitor long before i worked there. Really busy place. Lovely peeps

mark mNovember 4th 2008.

absolutely Avo. where else can you get a flambeed disco daquiri? mental, absolutely mental

mark mNovember 4th 2008.

HC, You should not eat in here if you can't eat steaks properly. medium-well i thought was for Americans and plebs

AvoNovember 4th 2008.

Just noticed that this cheeky little place scored a respectful 17/20 which coquettishly straddles the classification of being very good and exceptional. So Mr Schofield, which is it to be?

SteveoNovember 4th 2008.

I went in April - it was distinctly average. Went to The Modern on Saturday - fabulous.

scoteeeNovember 4th 2008.

I have eaten in Goucho's on plenty of occasions and i really like the food.Equally the grill on the Alley was good but I had the Wagyu beef and at £50 a steak i was torn from leaving my favourite steak haunt Gaucho's.To be honest lovely as it is i can't really afford £50 for a steak every time a fancy a steak so Goucho's has my custome evry time as i dont want to risk paying a small fortune for a bad experience somewhere else....

SteveoNovember 4th 2008.

Best cocktails in manchester are at the modern bar - 6th floor of Urbis.Everyone must go - better than socio and generally a nicer experience. i made a Manhatton last about 45 minutes - i couldnt let it end!!!

CarlaNovember 4th 2008.

Great service but completely overpriced. Have none of you people discovered Gaucho Grill just round the corner next to Kendals? Now that is amazing!

AnonymousNovember 4th 2008.

I am so pleased that my favourite restaurant has got a good review! Hopefully we will see some fab offers with Manchester Confidential soon!

HCNovember 4th 2008.

Good service but don't ask for your steak cooked medium-well as they can't cope with it - there's less blood in a blood bank!

GordoNovember 4th 2008.

Eh, Gordo quite likes that piece about muddy wellies. But there again, Gordo sometimes likes the odd goat sacrifice and smell of warm, fresh sticky blood in his nostrils...

AnonymousNovember 4th 2008.

ate there a while ago, service very slow, served a rare steak as medium - thought as it was a grill it would at least get that bit rightoverpriced and underwhelming

lauNovember 4th 2008.

You should try it again Steveo I went in a couple of Saturdays ago and it was absolutley crammed - still enjoyed great service and food!

sanNovember 4th 2008.

Grill on the Alley is a great place to eat.

emma graceNovember 4th 2008.

The prawn starter is amazing.......

LauNovember 4th 2008.

I think that maybe the competition are posting comments such as " went to the modern" "has anyone tried Gaucho" etc etc This place is different it has a fantastic atmosphere

mark mNovember 4th 2008.

Rosie and I had a great meal here the other week. The Chataubriand was to die for, and the service impeccable. Tim sets high standards for his restaurants, and visits them all on a regular basis. To say that these are tarted up estestests is unkind to say the least. They may be in the same places as he bought them all, but that is the only real connection.

AnonymousNovember 4th 2008.

last time I went they sat us on a table on the corridor near the toilets, out of the general hub of the main room and a constant stream of customers walking past. The did move us when asked but not what you expect when you are paying a decent amount for a meal- they really need to loose that table, it looks greedy trying to pack people in and not what you expect from a quality restaurant. Food was great but first impression left sour taste in my mouth. Notice some other poor couple were sat there later on, on my way to the loo...

SalNovember 4th 2008.

I agree with Steveo, I think this place is average too. Wonder if the trim, good-looking manager has anything to do with it???

Mutton Dressed as Lamb?November 4th 2008.

Careful Schoffers.....remember that this is *merely* a tarted up Est Est Est...and according to the old-guard here, such a place could never been seen as a decent restaurant. But away from such dismissive, stuck-up attitudes, Grill on the Alley, along with the Gusto's in Knutsford and Alderley Edge, are cracking venues and put most *proper* restaurants to shame.

mark mNovember 4th 2008.

I was taking the piss, however, you put it so much better than me, thanks JTB.

RayNovember 4th 2008.

I went on Oct 20. The service and attention is very good, but the wine list is appalling for a restaurant that aspires to sell waygu beef. Our white wine was cryogenically frozen (if the glass frosts, it's too cold) and the red was so warm it took two ice cubes to bring it back to the right temperature. The wine list is lazy on vintages, despite the massive variation in quality (just try a 2006 burgundy vs 2005 to see my point). The food was okay. That's it. Okay. Hardly a recco. Shame, as the girl at the bar tried so hard to accommodate. It's fine for those who are easily satisfied, but why did I choose this place over Abode that night? I must have been mad!

IanNovember 4th 2008.

I love this place! Great cocktails!!

arnie s hiraNovember 4th 2008.

try the chicken pot pie, its really nice! In general,great food, affordable pricing, hats off to Tim Bacon and his team!

GaryNovember 4th 2008.

GOTA is good - but Gaucho's steak (Filetto de Lomo) is awesome. Still at £25 for the steak alone it should be.

SteveoNovember 4th 2008.

Point taken Avo - i did both places on Saturday and a great time in both. Socio is great for a night on the town with mates (mine's bourbon in a jam jar) - Modern for the girlfriend or a quiet drink (to impress).

AnonymousNovember 4th 2008.

My partner I visited Grill on the Alley about a month ago. The food was terrific and the service excellent. However my partner paid for the meal twice! This was only noted by us about a week later. It was only after 3 days of chasing GOTA staff that we received a refund for the duplicate transaction! Apparently they were aware of the situation as this occurred to other diners. Why, in that case did they not contact us to inform us of their error, given the fact that we left a telephone number upon booking a table? No offer of compensation was made and we only received what we felt to be a half hearted apology.We won't therefore be dining there again!!!

SteveoNovember 4th 2008.

Just a punter Lau, just a punter. Personally I'm gutted I didnt enjoy it - now that the Restaurant Bar and Grill has taken a dive (my fav place ever) I was hoping it would win out. I seem to be in the minority here - perhaps I ordered badly...

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