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Northern Quarter Restaurant and Bar

Susan Hall finds TNQ provides a charming destination for food and drink

Published on April 3rd 2008.

Northern Quarter Restaurant and Bar

The Northern Quarter spends a lot of its time pretending to be somewhere else: for example doubling as Manhattan for the Jude Law remake of Alfie. The Northern Quarter Restaurant and Bar (TNQ) on the other hand, comes over as remarkably unpretentious. In daylight, its huge windows and corner position give it an exposed, goldfish-bowl quality, but it comes into itself as dusk falls. Manchester can seem dominated by ear-splitting bars but this proves the opposite: five minutes walk from Piccadilly and you can sink into TNQ's unfussy warmth as though into a hot bath.

Ratatouille is one of those things which I persist in ordering despite a twenty-year record of disappointments. Nine times out of ten what you get is a slimy mush. Not this time.

It bills itself as a bar as well as a restaurant and has the cocktail menu to prove it. There seem to be two schools of thought about cocktails. The first school treats them as drinks designed for people who can't stand alcohol, who must be distracted from realising that they're consuming it in large quantities by sugary gunk, fruit on sticks and, in extreme cases, random plastic sea-horses. Then there’s the second approach which TNQ opts for. Its cocktail menu divides into three categories: champagne, martini and classic. No concoctions. Like Madame Arcati, I have learned by experience to be wary of concoctions. I chose a caipirinha (£6): an astringent blend of lime juice, brown sugar and raw Brazilian rum.

As for the food, strong, clean flavours seem to be chef Jason Wass's keynote. My starter, lemon and garlic prawns with ratatouille and black olive tapenade (£7.25) looked sexy enough to be downright prawnographic: quite in keeping with this district's ambiguous reputation. Although the prawns were wonderful it was the ratatouille and tapenade combination which made it memorable. Ratatouille is one of those things which I persist in ordering despite a twenty-year record of disappointments. Nine times out of ten what you get is a slimy mush. Not this time. All the vegetable flavours were sharp; distinguishable yet blended, and they all had bite, particularly the aubergine. The tapenade added intense flashes of saltiness. A glass of Pinot Grigio was the perfect accompaniment.

Russ had beetroot soup with pickled cucumber and the (optional) duck wontons (£4.25 without duck, £5.25 with duck). He seemed unconvinced by the wontons, but the soup vanished in fairly short order.

The main course menu is strong on fish; quite appropriately, given the restaurant's position opposite the old Fish Market, overlooked by those terracotta friezes of trawler men and fishwives. Nevertheless, we both opted for meat. I chose the braised lamb shank with root vegetable Dauphinoise and purple sprouting broccoli (£14.95) while Russ opted for the day's special, pork chop with crackling on a bed of sage-roasted potatoes(£14.50).

I think he did better than me on the (locally sourced) meat itself. My lamb shank, while full of flavour, had been cooked slightly past the ideal point and had started to dry up. Once again, though, the vegetables made the dish. ‘Dauphinoise’ like ‘ratatouille’ is one of those words I've learned to treat with suspicion. Spectacularly unjustified suspicion, in this particular case.

Actually, TNQ seems to work hard at vegetables and the effort pays off, even for someone like me who has what the Americans would call ‘issues’ with vegetables. The sixties was a traumatising decade for someone with an inherent sensitivity to brassicas: and a mother with a pressure-cooker.

Still, Dinastia Vivanco Rioja Crianza is, at £21 the bottle, much cheaper than therapy. To say nothing of going an awful lot better with lamb. TNQ's wine-list as a whole is short but well chosen. Wines by the glass are good but pricey: an incentive to avoid false economies and just get a bottle to begin with.

The dessert menu was short and to the point; a choice of crème brulée, Eton mess and chocolate tart, each at £5.50. Tough decision. I'm still not sure my Eton mess would have been the best of the three. It looked more Milan than English public school by the way, arriving in a cocktail glass, decorated with a spun-sugar decoration which could have gone down a catwalk in some supermodel's hair and not raised an eyebrow. Still it was certainly the best version of this classic dish which I've had for a very long time. Even in the midst of the cream and meringue the berry flavours sang through, clear and sharp. The chocolate tart was even better, though, set off by its passion fruit glaze and creamy cheese accompaniment.

The total bill, inclusive of 10% service charge, one cocktail and three large glasses of wine came to £98.73 for two. But we left purring.

Rating: 16.5/20
Breakdown: 7.5/10 Food
4.5/5 Service
4.5/5 Ambience
Address: Northern Quarter Restaurant and Bar
High Street
M4 1HQ
0161 832 7115
Mon–Sat noon– 10.30pmSunday noon –7pm

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

jomovApril 3rd 2008.

I have been here once and seem to remember being very satisfied with the place. You have to expect 'some' unsatisfied customers...some people are just hard to please....

Anthony McCaulApril 3rd 2008.

Surprised noone has commmented on this already. TNQ is a great place - good food and they do good deals too! nice in the summer when they put the tables out. Just the kind of place that makes the northern quarter special.

Lisa ShortApril 3rd 2008.

Have eaten here a few times. Jobe and the staff are great as is the food!

mashApril 3rd 2008.

How do you know she'd never say fiscally difficult? I'd never say yours sincerely or warmest regards but it's polite to put it at the end of a letter. And I don't really think we all have to go to McDonalds to get good value tasty food!

ancoats girlApril 3rd 2008.

We had the express menu last night (12-7 pm, £11.95 for 2 courses) and it was very good. I was glad it was 5:30 PM - as my boyfriend really wanted their fish and chips and they only feature on that menu at the moment. Like any restaurant the tendency is to rush you through a bit. This is not unique to NQR - I find if you're firm and say you want 15 minutes before ordering pudding, and coffees brought afterwards rather than the same time, there's usually no problem in doing so.

Miss MApril 3rd 2008.

Nick you must have the wrong place! TNQ is fantastic, been there a couple of times and the food is sensational. I often recommend it to friends too. I'd have to say it's one of my favourite Manchester Restaurants.

JamesApril 3rd 2008.

I meant close by St Ann's Church

HannahApril 3rd 2008.

I have been to this restaurant twice now to take advantage of the offer advertised on Manchester Confidential. After our first visit we left very disappointed, my food was ok the vegetarian tomato and swede casserole, but I was cold and the food came so fast, even though we had bread and olives for starters we were in and out in 40 minutes! As for the ambiance I felt the place was just an empty box with no distuinguishing features or character, not at all cosy and for a Friday evening dead both in terms of customers and atmosphere. The second visit was a slight improvement, we sat near a radiator and the trio of raviolo was an interesting and tasty dish. On the whole though I found the experience overpriced and was glad we had the vouchers to compensate - come on nearly £100 for a meal for 2!! I recommend trying out the Rice Bowl on Cross Street, the best restaurant in town!

GordoApril 3rd 2008.

Now James, don't be naughty, the Rice Bowl is good, they have turned a basement into a little bit of contemporary chinese heaven and the family who run it are a delight. It completely knocks the socks off that completely over PR'd Sweet Mandarin opposite TNQ- God those three girls should close the place and open a PR company. In fact, I am going to review the Rice Bowl!

RachelApril 3rd 2008.

Had a fabulous meal last summer for a friends birthday, keep meaning to go back and the new additions to the menu seem a good enough reason to :o)

ktfairyApril 3rd 2008.

I've been for the Sunday lunch - yummy

LucyApril 3rd 2008.

It's very good this place. Whenever I'm back in Manchester I try and book in. Good to see a review up here and so many positive comments.

CountryboyApril 3rd 2008.

I have to declare an interest. TNQ is just round the corner from this Countryboy's urban retreat, and has fed, watered and generally entertained him from day one.The food can be excellent, the ambiencelikewise; it's a great place for people watching, the goldfish bowl metaphor works both ways. Isn't it fun watching cars, illegally parked in the disabled spots outside, being picked up and taken away? Or maybe that's just me. I keep returning to TNQ because it is unpretentious and the service is always spot on and friendly.Long may they put up with me.

KateApril 3rd 2008.

I have not been and would be very tempted to go, but the prices really put me off. Manchester has a wealth of great restaurants, that serve amazing food and they don't require a bank loan. I find the Northern Quarter quite 'fiscally difficult' to access, to put it politely, but there are some hidden gems (such as SK). I think I will skip it for now and go when I make more money. I am not as fussed about ambience as I am about good value for tasty food.

Gloria1504April 3rd 2008.

At Last....recognition for TNQ.....the food in here is heaven on a plate and its high time it was recognised

Kevin in M4April 3rd 2008.

We had a Birthday Party of 14 people go on Easter Saturday, and apart from trying to get everyones pre-order to be compared with herding cats it was delicious. Service remained as good as always. Have been back twice though for a lazy Sunday Lunch, which is G O R G E O U S ! Why are you still reading this? GO AND BOOK A TABLE NOW!

danny boyApril 3rd 2008.

I have to agree with Nick and Hannah. The food was over priced and underwhelming. The interior is cold and reminds you of eating a butty at your desk at work. The menu was limited and unexciting. I had an oily fish with salty chorizo sausage with which left an after taste that no lack lustre cocktail could kill. The service was prompt and friendly but then so is my bank and I wouldn't eat there either.

Dave from the LakesApril 3rd 2008.

First choice on every visit to Manchester. Terrific food, brilliant staff. Can't wait until next time.

MulgieApril 3rd 2008.

TNQ used to be my favourite restaurant a while back and although a tad pricey my girlfriend and I used to go regularly to enjoy the good atmosphere, great food and friendly staff. The last time we went though there appeared to have been a change of staff and the floor staff were quite abrupt and we were also left waiting over half an hour before we even got our bread and olives never mind choosing our orders so even contemplated leaving. As a result I haven't been back in over 6 months but I may give it another change now, thanks.

yummy tummyApril 3rd 2008.

Friends and I regularly go to the NQR for Sunday lunch - not too expensive, great sitting outside in the summer months and the staff are friendly and attentive. If you like quiet, it doesn't really get going until mid-afternoon on a Sunday, which suits us 'early-birds'...

JamesApril 3rd 2008.

Hannah, you've got to be joking. The Rice Bowl isn't even the best restaurant on Cross Street. TNQ is good, very good, especially for watching the world go by in summer. In fact the seating area over the road near the fish market is joint best with Thomas's Chop House close by. TNQ does great steaks.

sausageApril 3rd 2008.

You'd never say 'fiscally difficult' so don't write it!If you want good value for tasty food go to MacDonalds.

NickApril 3rd 2008.

I ate there recently and ordered the specials, there was nothing special about them at all.... When making a decision on what to eat, I generally order something that the establishment (I hope) would do better than I personally can (I'm no Jamie Oliver)... I really did not enjoy the food, I could have cooked better myself and there was rather a large bill for the privilege at the end. Not a happy customer.

JohnApril 3rd 2008.

I have to agree with Nick. For a place that seems to generally get great reviews, I was very disappointed. Portions were very small and my starter arrived cold. Not the best when you're spending close to £50 per person with wine.

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