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Mr Cooper's House & Garden Reviewed

Jonathan Schofield finds Simon Rogan's second Midland Hotel restaurant another winner

Written by . Published on September 19th 2013.

Mr Cooper's House & Garden Reviewed

FOOD and drink can re-invent places. A sprinkle of tasty fairy dust and a place that was off the radar is transformed into a triple A must-visit. 

The good thing is that I have no idea how it was made or dreamt up. That's the point of dining out, eating things you couldn't remotely cook at home without undergoing a chef's apprenticeship first. 

Take The Midland Hotel.

It sits on its island site between Manchester's convention area and administrative centre like some Downton Abbey dowager. It even looks like one, festooned in elaborate terracotta, shiny granite and gold instead of brocade, pearl necklaces and ruby broaches.

For many a Mancunian - for many a North Westerner -  The Midland's felt a bit dowager-ess for several years. As the grand old lady of Manchester hotels it's always had charm, but maybe, its best days were behind it. Debutantes such as the Radisson, the Lowry and the Hilton have been scrapping over the old lady's inheritance for more than a decade. 

Then wham-bam along comes a Rogan. And a review from Giles Coren.  

The Midland - Mr Cooper's is on the ground floor on the corner facing the camera


The Midland - Mr Cooper's is on the ground floor on the corner facing the camera

And hey presto, the cunning general manager Michael Magrane's plan works out, and everybody is talking about the Midland again. Suddenly the faded French - the prestigious restaurant of the hotel - is booking out effortlessly despite an eyestrain of a carpet - read Gordo's review here. Before the dust has settled, the French becomes The Good Food Guide's twelfth best restaurant in the UK. 

Wow, slow down fellas.

Not a bit of it.

Now part two of the plan has kicked in with Rogan's Mr Cooper's House and Garden - the regular chef is Gareth Jones. The idea is for this place to be more approachable, more mid-market. 

The prices indicate this.

The steak is £19 but that's £3.50 more than any other dish. It has starters for £4 and no pudd is over £7.50.

But this is the thing.

For these relatively humble prices you get extraordinary quality. Given the nuanced food, the flood of flavours, the range of textures, the aroma and the theatre, the prices are a real steal.

The starter of smoked eel torte, lovage and pork belly (£7.50) - or the eel and pig cheesecake as we called it - wouldn't have looked or felt out of place in the fine dining French across the hotel. 

Eel and pig cheesecake


Eel and pig cheesecake

Lovage is a singularly plant, 'the sole species in the genus Levisticum in the family Appiaceae, subfamily Apioideae, tribe (plants have tribes?) Apieae' - or so Wikipedia says. Yep. Right. Good. 

But reduced and liquified into a splodge of green and forked up with the 'cheesecake', it's a marvel that tastes not only utterly beautiful but almost uplifting. Even worthy. I could have this dish every day for a month and not grow tired.

The good thing is that I have no idea how it was made or dreamt up. That's the point of dining out, eating things you couldn't remotely cook at home without undergoing a long chef's apprenticeship first. 

131809 Whisky Shop 099

One of the Parmesan patties - you get two

The same could be said for the Parmesan patties with mushroom ketchup and baby leaves in brioche buns for £4, which combined rigour of flavour and finesse. 

The exquisite medium rare rib steak on the mains for £19 was timed perfectly, gained interest from latkes - potato pancake affairs - and was enriched by a stunning slab of truffle pudding. The halibut with broad beans and vin blanc (£16) carried the same blend of sophistication and flavours. The lamb rumps, spiced lentils, and minted chargrilled courgettes (£16) was hearty and dainty at the same moment.

The astonishing colours of the smoked salmon main (£14 - main picture above) almost bordered on the offensive. This was a remarkable dish where all the elements sang together, offering variety of texture and a lively but distinctive bunching of flavours amongst the parsley coulis, broad beans (an absolute favourite of mine) and polenta spiced with chilli.

Lamb and lentilsLamb and lentils

There are sides which sound lovely but honestly if you're having a couple of courses and you don't require Moose-like proportions then forget them. 

None of the desserts failed, all were way beyond average.

The sesame wafer on the rhubarb with meadowsweet custard (£6) was a work of art. The white chocolate cake with pineapple-cardomom compote was straight out of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory (£6.50), the apple butterscotch pie (£6.50) was strong and a proper dessert pie while the Turkish delight syllabub and honey flapjacks (6) again painted a picture of a kitchen and a team right on top of its game. 

Desserts that don't let you down

Desserts that don't let you down

The winelist will please people - as will the cocktail list. Certainly a Rioja Blanco, Dinastia Vivanco, 2012, £29, pleased me. Very fresh, Very clear. Just like the cooking which of course uses all the seasonal inflections of flavour Rogan and his team can extract from their Cumbrian farm and kitchen garden. 

Which brings us to the name of the restaurant and the decor. Mr Cooper was a Manchester carriage manufacturer who at the beginning of the nineteenth century had a large house and a famous walled garden occupying the whole of the present Midland site. Given Rogan's love of growing his own produce you can see how the name must have seemed fitting. 

The room

The room

The decor reflects this garden conceit - inconsistently.

I suppose the idea of the room was to create different plantings of furniture and features. If so the formal knot garden of the boothed area works, the spread of - let's call it - the lawn of the main room is fine, the tree is very jolly, but the pergola at the end of the room is terrible.

This even has an illuminated egg-shaped stone in the centre like something you might find in a sale in B&Q because nobody in their right mind would buy it at full price.

The 'egg' is the same size as one of those pods in Alien movies from which the critters leap onto your face. Oh dear. Ditch the pergola dear Mr Cooper, and everybody will be happier. 

The Alien pod in the pointless pergola

The Alien pod in the pointless pergola

That said, a great virtue of the room is its grand hotel height. There's no fear of claustrophobia here, but there could be a problem with heating the space. With food this good the correct temperature is important both with the grub and with the environment. It will always have to be summer in Mr Cooper's garden. 

The primary virtue though is the food not the room. This Downton Abbey dowager has shaken herself down, brought herself up-to-date, and is ready, once more, to receive guests.

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter @JonathSchofield or connect via Google+


Mr Cooper's House and Garden, The Midland Hotel, Peter Street, City centre, M60 2DS. 0161 236 3333

Rating: 17.5/20 (remember venues are rated against the best examples of their type - see yellow box below)

Food: 9/10 (eel and pig 9.5, parmesan patties 8.5, rib steak 9, lamb 9, salmon 9, halibut 9, rhubarb 8, butterscotch pie 8.5, turkish delight 9, white chocolate 8.5)
Service: 4.5/5 (The service was excellent. Even though staff were learning their dishes, they'd find out anything required and return with the facts and a big smile. The Spanish waitress from Galicia was a treasure.)
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

Pots of things in nice jarsPots of things in nice jars

Across the restaurantAcross the restaurant

Cute boothsStately boothed area - the knot garden or maybe a study looking out on to the garden?

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

IanSeptember 19th 2013.

not sure about the parasol though

AnonymousSeptember 19th 2013.

Ate here last weekend. Very possibly the best a la carte place in Manchester - 'outstanding' is the only word for the food. Excellent service too.

AnonymousSeptember 19th 2013.

Bloody marvellous. Get Rogan a medal.

StrangemanSeptember 19th 2013.

Lovely, lovely, lovely. There's lovely.

Dawn HoldingSeptember 19th 2013.

Brilliant can't wait to dine there

Roger GoodmanSeptember 19th 2013.

Anonymous, you're right. It's superb.

Tracey NewellSeptember 19th 2013.

Totally agree with all above food, service, outstanding and the waitress from Gallicia charming

Cathy WilcockSeptember 19th 2013.

Just booked a table. V. excited about trying the eel cheesecake!

Axel LariatSeptember 20th 2013.

Going on Saturday, really looking forward to it. After next week, it's closed for a week because the bleedin' Conservative Party are taking the whole hotel, apparently.

AnonymousSeptember 23rd 2013.

Sounds like this is the restaurant manchester has been crying out for. We have too many mid range overpriced places turning out avarage food. This should put the preasure on them and help improve restaurants across the city.

Poster BoySeptember 25th 2013.

Bar food next please.

Charles EastwoodSeptember 26th 2013.

Hugely enjoyable meal here last night. Great value for the food and service quality you get. This is the restaurant Manchester has needed for a long time. "Garden" décor less impressive, though. Parts of it look like a John Lewis outdoor furniture display, and the lighting is too harsh. Please soften it up a bit. The bar and "home" area look far more intimate. Having said all that, I'd have gladly eaten this delicious food inside a transport caff environment, and the service was splendid.

John EdwardsOctober 4th 2013.

Ate there last week. All the food was excellent, service was a cut above and the decor was not as weird as it looks on line - I quite liked it... One thing - and admittedly I had fish followed by fish and no pud - I was still hungry at the end of the meal and I am far from being a chunky monkey...

5 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousOctober 4th 2013.

The prices are cheap enough to order a few starters and sides though

John EdwardsOctober 4th 2013.

Agreed - would do this next time or get some meat! Or they could offer some interesting breads and good butter at the start...

AnonymousOctober 4th 2013.

8 starters, 1 main, 3 desserts for under £100.... then you'll be full!

John EdwardsOctober 4th 2013.

Anon 2 - have you eaten there? Anon 1 has a point, it is cheap for the quality, location, service etc so why not have a side? Problem solved no?

JeffOctober 4th 2013.

It's not cheap! It may be good value, but it's certainly not cheap.

David AddisonOctober 6th 2013.

Iwent Saturday night ,most dissapointing ,i walked out after a luke warm starter with amateurish rushed service this is another example of hype over substance ,typical of the current rush to cash in on Manchester . I went to cicchetti its excellent and no i dont work there.

1 Response: Reply To This...
PaulNovember 17th 2013.

A walk in at Cicchetti on a Saturday night Well done that man

AnonymousNovember 10th 2013.

Went back for lunch the other day. It's as good as ever. Mr Addison is talking bobbins.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Harry BirleyNovember 10th 2013.

Agreed Mr Cooper's is superb

MeNovember 22nd 2013.

I expected great things but everything was average, I am giving it a 2nd chance this weekend so hopefully it was just a blip, but service was hit and miss, and the food was overly salty, that salty I couldnt finish it. Was £60 for 2 courses, no booze and lots of salt, hoping this weekend trumps my last experience as the menu looks great, the interior is beautiful... fingers crossed.

NorthernGeezerDecember 30th 2013.

Visited Saturday, service poor, food average, if i didn't know the eel torte contained eel, i wouldn't have known from the flavour. I wont be going back for a 2

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