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Harvey Nichols review 2010

Gordo thinks Stuart Thomson’s cooking is leading the city

Written by . Published on May 27th 2010.


Harvey Nichols review 2010

Harvey Nichols is a store which needs no introduction from Gordo, a global brand with effortless English cool, sharing the top dog retail spot with Selfridges across the road.

Gordo’s Prune and Armagnac soufflé with vanilla ice cream took him to a place that may well have been not dissimilar to a near death experience, the one where the white light lifts the pain of life away leaving you in a state of utter ecstasy. Yes, it was that good.

Gordo definitely isn’t qualified to talk fashion; but what he can talk about is the food, and believe him, HN beats Selfridges into a cocked hat. The latter store, since the departure of David ‘mad man’ Gale as executive chef has slid laboriously down a dark hole; they don’t seem to be interested in food and drink, which is a great shame. What the hell is going on in that cellar?

Armagnac and Prune Souffle

HN is a very different story indeed; these guys set their stall out to win right from the off, seven years ago, and have kept up the quality all the way through. Gordo remembers a dinner where he was served the second best rack of lamb in his lifetime; like the first, one cooked in a salt pastry crust by the three star chef Gerard Boyer at Les Creyeres, Reims, twenty six years ago, Gordo can still taste it. Remarkably it hadn’t even been cooked by the head chef, Robert Crag, it was produced by a young lady called Alison Seagrave whom Gordo now considers one of the five best pastry chefs in the country; Alison became head chef, steered the ship well for a couple or more years, then opened her own cake shop in Rochdale, the excellent Macaroon.

Congratulations are due to Alison as she has recently produced her most important cup cake, Megan, her daughter.

Bread

Down the years Gordo has paid The Second Floor his ultimate compliment; eating there for fun.

Memorable lunches were with the aforementioned David Gale and the inimitable Andrew Nutter, chefs and fellow drunkards (we should give them their own column, click here), where the wine consumed included second growth claret. At an earlier Sunday lunch he fell in love with a woman, a bottle of Condrieu and the cheese board. Not necessarily in that order. The cheese and wine lasted. It was Gordo’s Nan, from Salford Six, who said “cookin’ lasts, lovin’ doesn’t” so Gordo was interested to see if this really was the case.

A few weeks ago he gladly accepted an invitation to taste the new menu with Michael Currie, the current HN gaffer, whose previous gigs included Paul Heathcote’s Longridge restaurant when it held two Michelin stars. Michael’s hobbies include cutlery arranging and driving huge distances to and from work. Gordo was invited as a guest so he can’t score the visit but thought it important enough to return and eat the same menu, uninvited and paying his own way, taking Sue Kilshaw with him for a second, knowledgeable, opinion.

Cheese Biccies

Stuart Thomson is now the head chef. A big, likeable bloke with a sense of humour, Stuart has now had his feet under the range for over a year so he warrants a scored review of his own. Has he been able to lift the standards, or is it on the beginning of that slippery slope that the opposition across the street have motored down? Michelin star or Gordo thumbs down?

The room remains the same, it’s all about light, with floor to ceiling windows that allow Manchester’s moods to roll into and across the room; Manchester, being Manchester and with a pair of balls bigger than any city in Europe, always has interesting moods and on this particular day it was alternating between greys and blues, fresh and airy.

Cheese Board

Gordo himself was in good form, looking forward to his lunch. The service here hovers on high level professional with only ever once making a major rick over the last couple of years, that being with a £300 bottle of claret (click here for that story). It took a long time to forgive but Gordo has got over it. On this occasion Sue and Gordo shared a bottle of the HN house champagne which is exceptional and good value; this reflects the quality across the wine list. Even amongst the £100 plus bottles, if you know what you are doing you will leave feeling value was had and that no one has taken the mickey. Below £30 and you simply can’t beat it.

Fillet Steak

White table cloths are crisply ironed and cutlery highly polished. The glassware is my beloved Nan’s Sunday best and you know the bread rolls are on their way because, like super models, you can smell them before they turn the corner. Stuart’s brigade bake their own every day. The best in the North West and yes, that includes the Barbican and pips Simon Radley’s brigade at the Grosvenor in Chester.

Vanilla Cheesecake

Michael has brought in an interesting menu and pricing system. Ranging from £30 to £60 a head, the system allows you to choose any combination off the master menu, from two courses to a tilt at the whole shebang. The shebang, whole or not, can be described as Handsome with a capital H.

Frogs LegsParadise Sometimes Turbot

Frogs legs, langoustines and watercress puree looked like a three star starter and Sue was clearly bowled over. Check the picture out. It really is a dandy. Gordo had the textures of cured fish, potato salad and dill. This consisted of cured mackerel, with soused slivers of shallots, caviar, smoked turbot and eel. This was a masterpiece of clean sharp flavours that acted like a spring clean of the palate, the balance achieved was extraordinary. Having had this twice, Gordo would happily walk out of the apartment right now and have it again. Tiny cubes of potato and carrots acted as the salad and the freshest of dill gave a feeling of eating on a Viking longship with the spray of the sea in your face.

Light Cheeses

Sue’s slow cooked Cheshire beef, truffle gnocchi and asparagus had fillet tender to the point of melting but, with good flavour, not easy with this cut. The gnocchi were nuggets of brilliance; most chefs would have stopped at spuds of some variety. They were perfect for mopping up a masterful sauce full of personality, derived from the truffle oil. Gordo mopped it up with a slice of perfect bread.

The Second Floor Restaurant

Onto the fat one’s choice, turbot, razor clams, chorizo. The chorizo was very much a background flavour, tickling the turbot; Gordo’s all time favourite fish. This sat on refreshing crunchy bok choi. To one side was a razor clam shell chock full of its previous occupant who had been introduced to a few bits and pieces for added texture and flavour. To the other side a small red pepper, in which was a concoction of gooey goats cheese topped off with crisply fried squid tentacles, an absolute dream of a dish. The first delivery of this dish when dining with Micheal scored at 10/10; the second at 8/10. The turbot had been left in the pan for 30 seconds too long.

Nuts

The cheese board reflects the benefit of having your own cheese counter manned by a team of knowledgeable individuals who are passionate about their materials and serve them at their peak. Lovely biscuits came with the selection. The only better choice, possibly, is at Damson in Heaton Moor.

Vanilla cheese cake, fig, hazelnuts looked good and tasted a deal better. But Gordo’s Prune and Armagnac soufflé with vanilla ice cream took him to a place that may well have been not dissimilar to a near death experience, the one where the white light lifts the pain of life away leaving you in a state of utter ecstasy. Yes, it was that good.

Smoked Fish

Stuart Thomson has managed to mature the offering into something that is reminiscent of Frédéric Anton’s cooking at Le Pre Catelin, a stunning three star in Paris. Could Stuart be looking at a Michelin star?

Strong Cheeses

The ingredients are there; Michael Currie knows what it takes; the wine list is first rate whilst the service has matured into cool efficiency with the odd sparkle of personality. The food? Well, there are mistakes, the mackerel in Gordo’s starter wasn’t quite as good as the first one delivered on the Monday whilst the turbot was a major mistake. Those aside, you could see that glimmer of greatness in Stuart’s food. He has stamped his authority by taking a chance. He can play with flavours but keeps them standing out on their own whilst textures are mixed cleverly. The whole occasion feels right as well.

Stuart and his brigade, in Gordo’s opinion, are becoming contenders and they are thin on the ground in the North West. Go, support them. Get a piece of that white light; and yes, cookin’ lasts and actually improves.

Sue, dreaming of immeasurable wealth


Follow Gordo on twitter GordoManchester


Rating: 18/20
Breakdown: 8.5/10 food
4.75/5 service
4.75/5 ambience
Address: Harvey Nichols 2nd Floor Restaurant
21 New Cathedral Street
Manchester M1 1AD
0161 828 8898

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

Valerie CastanMay 27th 2010.

Looks fantastic!

Betty Davis''s EyesMay 27th 2010.

Gordo on form, I want to go.

Stephen BestMay 27th 2010.

Looks great, hard life and tough at the top eh Gordo !

Craig SutheranMay 27th 2010.

Cant wait, I must make adjustments in my budget - oh sod it I shall go on my own to enjoy some very guilty pleasure and take the missus out next month!

wazzaMay 27th 2010.

The food looks great. Having met Michael and Stuart I know they are very passionate about what they do and will continue to deliver the goods.
I hope to dine there soon, if I can afford it.

FoodyMay 27th 2010.

It's all very well saying how spectacular the food is & of that there is no doubt, however HN restaurant is putting itself into an arena that is very much elite & skilled but Mancunian's just won't pay for. HN has always been at the top end of Manchester's budget & it is now pushing itself a little too far. Stuart has been a driving force behind the restaurants success for a few years now & his time at the helm is well deserved however if he & Michael continue along this route they may very well come unstuck, as people that have ranted already have all had the same line "if/when I can afford it".

Gordo you're quick to criticise Selfridges restaurant, which behind the scenes has had several Head Chefs before Paul Harries took over 2yrs ago & who has taken the decision to do affordable food cooked & served well which isnt easily available in our casual-dining-branded-chain restaurant city! Jonathan Schofield recently sang Selfridges praises so all you cash conscious Mancunians dont write it off on the back of this review!

Craig SutheranMay 27th 2010.

I like that fact that it stretches my budget as we need special places to go for the quiet celebrations. I can not afford the French as much as I once could but it still remains my favourite. Good luck boys.

NortherngeezerMay 27th 2010.

Whilst accepting we all eat out on a budget, price is all relative surely. Whilst the food is ok at say a tenner banquet, i'd expect a little more the higher up the budget scale i go.
Is any meal worth the £150 bloomin hestonthal charges at his lazy fowl establishment 'darn sarf'??. The Grosvenor Hotel in Chester has an 8 course taster menu for £80, i know folks who have been and rave about it. As i say, its all relative innit.

Smyth HarperMay 27th 2010.

Arg, I just put a devastatingly witty comment on which didn't publish. I can't remember what I said now, but it was something about wanting all of the above food now. And having a pop at foody for accusing us of not being willing to pay for quality (illustrated by the fact that I have a two grand 60" telly. Which I don't.)

FoodyMay 27th 2010.

Craig unfortunately quiet places go under because special occasion restaurants don't have the regular customers a business needs to sustain itself & its staff & as much as HN doesn't have to worry about this at the moment their time could come if they strive for Michelin or even 3 rosette status

Well DoneMay 27th 2010.

Excellent review Gordo I really enjoyed it. The food looks spectacular, I have eaten in the brasserie lots of times but this has given me the nudge to try the real deal. On another note, how about a review of Isinglass in Urmston? You gave it a shout out in your piece on the closure of That Cafe and its been on my to do list for a while. Would appreicate your thoughts! Keep up the good work.

ADMay 28th 2010.

Stars? maybe but the inconsitency lets them down its not just your Turbot thats hit and miss, I had a lovely meal there late last year but some things were overcooked. If they get the consistency right then the only other thing holding them back will be the awful lime green gents loos.

MouynMay 30th 2010.

Ok. Got you. Booked in for next week.

BowksJune 14th 2010.

Off the back of this review, me and the better half nipped down to Harvey Nics this friday for some supper. Whilst I agree entirely with the review in terms of the quality of food and service (in particular the cheese board which was right up there) I was disappointed to see that besides us, there was only 2 other tables in the restaurant. This was flippantly passed off by the waiter who cited the people wanting to sit outside as a reason for it not being busier. Pretty poor excuse in all honesty.
The cooking was wonderful but the feeling I got on leaving was how long this is actually going to last as no business can operate with only 6 covers on a friday evening.

Phillip10437June 17th 2010.

GORDO - Can you recommend a decent drop of red from the HN list? Nothing over pricey.

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