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Inn The Park Review: Lessons For Manchester

Jonathan Schofield wants somewhere like this London place, here - but without the manager

Published on September 5th 2011.


Inn The Park Review: Lessons For Manchester

KOHLRABI sounds like a 4.15 runner at Sandown rather than a ugly brassica that’s top of the food fashion stakes.  

The vegetable's got a cracking description in Wikipedia, the lazy writer’s handbook: ‘German turnip - low, stout cultivar of the cabbage that will grow almost anywhere’.

The three or four ingredient dish with maybe the odd sauce, jus, gravy is a refreshing newish direction of good British cooking. All restaurants trying 'fancy' and getting it wrong should follow suit.

I reckon you can get at least three insults out of that sentence.

Sir, you’re a low, stout, cultivar; Madam you’re nothing but a cabbage that will grow almost anywhere; Mein Herr, I’m afraid you leave me with no choice but to call you a German turnip.

This was the second time in eight days I'd come across kohlrabi, the first was at St John Bread and Wine Restaurant in Spitalfields, the second was here at Inn the Park. 

This is an elegant wooden framed structure, surrounded, by flowers, lawns, water and roughly 473,728 tourists, morning, noon and night. It lies just off the Mall in St James' Park and does take-away and sit down meals.

Some of the 473,728 tourists outside Inn The ParkSome of the 473,728 tourists outside Inn The Park

It does this food well, although the experience was spoilt by the restaurant manager who is a German turnip although he may not actually be German.

On our parklife trip this man was a walking clenched fist, a rolled up ball of neck vein throbbing anxiety, snapping at his staff, and muttering and rolling his eyes as though he were working himself up for a role in King Lear.

The worst moment was when he had an argument with a waitress about a metre away from our table. Bad form. The only consolation was when we were skipping onto a train home, we realised he’d undercharged us on our bill of £97 by £27. Fortunately we’d left a cash tip for the pleasant if slow waiting-on team.

The kitchen of Amanda Wilson in the Oliver Peyton owned restaurant didn’t deserve this buffoon. Their work was quality.

The grilled mackerel, samphire, fennel and the aforementioned 4.15 runner at Sandown was a spiritedly simple dish at £16.50. The kohlrabi contributed with a textured, sweetish yet earthy punch, a good counterpoint to that essence of coast that is samphire and the brutish but welcome tones of the fennel. The fish was timed just right.

The Yorkshire lamb burger (£14.50) was almost as good, with anchovies and capers, that enhanced and entertained rather than ruined. A kids menu (main, ice cream, drink - £8.50) kept up the standard although the fruit infused lemonade would have been more appreciated as a straight-forward lemonade.

Burger, anchovies and successBurger, anchovies and success

Eleven-year-old Ralph even declared the pork sausage and mash the finest he’d ever had. I nearly presented the restaurant with an award for that comment, but also for not mucking about with the sausage and inserting apple, ginger, kohlrabi, toadstools, finger fluff and whatnot in the thing. A simple pork sausage is one of God’s gifts and should be just as described - with seasoning.

Award-winning burgersAward-winning burgers

The spelt, ewe’s milk Berkswell cheese and Bobby beans dish was over-priced at £13.50 but another absolute winner. Unless the ingredients are extremely rare and they’re not, then £9.99 would have been better, but for another stonking combination of simple flavours it was a delight. Spelt is a cereal related to wheat by the way, and bobby beans is a tedious way of saying green beans. Still, let the veggies of the world descend here and stick their faces in, they’ll love it.

Veggies of the world unite                                    Veggies of the world unite

A shared butterscotch and banana knickerblocker glory (£7) provided a gloriously lush final flourish. Glasses of 2007 Muscadet at £6 a pop had jollied along the occasion. They were presented in beakers, another food fashion although not as appealing as that for kohlrabi.

Sweet big thing                                         Sweet big thing

Inn The Park provided a good meal all round. The three or four ingredient dish with maybe the odd sauce, jus, gravy is a refreshing newish direction of good British cooking.

Restaurants trying 'fancy' and messing up should follow suit. Source the food well, cook artfully yet simply and everyone’s happy. Manchester restaurants could learn from this approach. Leave the molecular cooking to chefs with names beginning with B.

Readers may also be happy to learn that I've set up a kohlrabi farm in nearby allotments.

Expect Schofield’s Finest German Turnips on sale in Borough Market soon. However I have made it clear to the HR department that I don't want job applications from berserk Royal Park restaurant managers. 

Or Royal Park menu sub-editors.

Inn The Park had spelt kohlrabi wrongly on the menu - the daft low stout cultivars, the ridiculous grow anywhere cabbages.

N.B.

I confess this review made me jealous of London rather than appreciative.

Outside London, it's hard to find a decent restaurant, above grubby canteen standard, in UK parks and gardens. Some National Trust properties are well served, a recent visit to the restaurant at Hardwick Hall was rewarding, but municipal parks usually provide dingy catering. 

In Greater Manchester we have little to shout about in any of our parks in terms of catering.

Usually we're lucky to have an ice cream van.

Fletcher Moss Gardens has a sweet enough tea-shop affair in a pretty situation over the rockery, that provides good home-made cakes. It's limited though. Given the nature of the historic building it occupies it would be grand if we had instead an operator - manager aside - as good as Inn The Park's.

Maybe I'm occupying Cloud Cuckoo Land as my father used to say. But I don't think I'm too delusional. It could work.

The problem is money. If the park is poorly maintained it gets no visitors, thus no custom for the restaurant, and no reason for going. 

Also parks are often seen by councils as the place where cuts can be made. Not with the Royal Parks in London. These had in 2009/2010 £25m plus of subsidy. St James's Park alone is maintained by more than 20 staff.

No-one would want to see London's Royal Parks suffer any reduction in levels of maintenance, they are one of the nation's glories, but maybe money should be found to ensure that every major conurbation in the country has a major park close to its centre at least as colourful and beautiful as St James' Park. 

This seems only fair. Parks for cities should be a respite from the urban jungle. If they look like an un-cared for jungle, then they are as pointless as a derelict garden in an abandoned property.

Manchester City Council, in our region, has made big strides forward in improving its parks since the dark days of the nineties. But they cannot in the slightest compete with the Royal Parks....because there isn't the money.

And without that money perhaps the lovely summer restaurant in a Manchester park will never come. 

There is one chink of light. Whitworth Art Gallery's renovation plans include a park-facing eaterie (click here). Given the quality of their existing food, maybe Manchester may yet get a delicious dining experience inside its gardens.

London 012          Park view in the capital

 

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield

ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL. £1000 to the reader who can prove otherwise, and dismissal for the staff member who wrote a review scored out of twenty on a freebie from the restaurant.

Inn The Park
St James's Park, London, 0207 451 9999

Rating: 14/20
Food: 8/10
Service: 2/5
Ambience: 4/5

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

CBSeptember 6th 2011.

check out Astley Park in Chorley Johnathan. Cafe onsite is great quality and very popular as a stand alone venue. Walled garden is a delight and Astley Hall (free admission) is described by Simon Jenkins as "the most exhilarating house is Lancashire". 30 minutes from Manchester too.

AnonymousSeptember 6th 2011.

how skinny Ralph is! or how big the sausages are!

1 Response: Reply To This...
Jonathan SchofieldSeptember 7th 2011.

Sometimes we lose sight of him completely. Except when he's singing about sausages.

Jonathan SchofieldSeptember 7th 2011.

CB. I love Astley Hall, it's proto-Modernism in a centuries old mansion. Will try that cafe and judge.

tSeptember 7th 2011.

Is that all the mash on young Ralphs plate or did he eat most of it before you got the shot? Hard to believe that would fill a growing lad.

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