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REVIEW: The French By Simon Rogan

Jonathan Schofield tucks into the £50 lunch

Written by . Published on February 12th 2015.

REVIEW: The French By Simon Rogan

THE FRENCH by Simon Rogan still has that certain je ne sais quoi. It opened to fanfares, flotillas, floats and fandango in Spring 2013, the annus mirabilis* of recent food and drink in the city.

I just don't see why aspirational food has to be delivered in such a hushed, library-like environment. 

The excitement in the city was captured a year later by the BBC in the patronising and asinine three-part series Restaurant Wars, featuring as the other combatant Manchester House. This fantasy media war was fought over which would get a Michelin gong first.

Of course, we all know how the story ended.

Both went on to win a Michelin star, followed by a second, the music welled, the credits rolled and life was good. People danced in the streets from Openshaw to Urmston.

Except, of course, neither won Michelin stars and somehow the buzz faded as the relentless Manchester food and drink story marched on. Bookings are still strong, we hear, at both The French and Manchester House but flexibility has been introduced to the standard tasting menus. 

The French, for instance, now offers a four course taster menu with matching wines thrown in for £50. Gordo keeps on saying this is similar to Le Gavroche's menu in someplace called London that I believe lies to the south, but frankly I have no idea what he's talking about.

Midland Hotel

Midland Hotel

The menu starts with bread and butter that doesn't appear on the menu. The buttermilk bread and beer bread are outstanding and the butter - the light almost whipped cream of a butter - so blissful that a really cheeky person could snaffle these then make their apologies and leave saving the £50. Touchy tastebuds would already have been flattered into submission. 

If you do hang around then the first listed item is the Westcombe cheese, a very nutty canape-sized morsel on a bed of kale that tasted remarkably similar to Chinese sea weed. There were three people dining and we had one each. This seemed a little mean. Two would have been been better. Good this course but not massively interesting, more of a really upmarket pub snack.

Kale and able

Kale and able

The artifice and craft in the venison course in kohlrabi parcels with broth, herbs and cresses was very apparent. It must have taken yonks to make, but sadly the venison was unidentifiable and the flavours blurred. Only a good spooning of the broth came up trumps. 

A bit grey

A bit grey

The next course was a beauty; hake, spiced chicken wings, roasted cauliflower, 'chicken cream' and buckwheat. It was almost a species of Coronation Chicken but with added fish.

As our dining companion Thom Hetherington said, "The ultimate TV luxury would be a bowl of these chicken wings watching the footy." I think he said the footy. It could have been a reference to some dark Scandi murder yarn - darkness and terror is all the rage in Glossop, Hetherington's home town, click here. He was right though, the spiced chicken wings are moreish in the extreme. The whole thing was pure genius.

Wings of joy

Wings of joy

As was the poached pear and quince with biscuity flavours thrown in and a wonderful slap of butterscotch (see main picture). The latter had me wandering down cheerful cul-de-sacs of childhood memory when summers were warm and the only thing to worry about was whether I had enough glue to make my new Airfix Mosquito light bomber.

Opinion was divided on the Uncle Joe's Mintballs chocolates we had as an extra. Again, exquisite craft in their production, but for me there's something very 19th-century soap factory about the classic Uncle Joe's mintball flavour. This beat up the delicacy of the chocolate. Gordo and Hetherington loved them though. Weirdos. 

Mintball glory

Mintball glory

So yes, The French by Simon Rogan retains je ne said quoi, the food from Adam Reid's kitchen always looks beautiful and the professionalism of the staff can be of the highest standard. 

Meanwhile Kamila, the manager, is charm and grace personified. Felipe the sommelier was service-perfection too, matching the food to the wine, as part of the £50 deal, with skill and smiles.

But one young chap delivered the bread when the three of us were in full conversation and said, "Could I interrupt and tell you about these?" We nodded like typically polite Brits (I don't think Gordo was feeling well) but we should have said, "No, bugger off and wait for us to have a natural break in the conversation and then come back."

That problem can be addressed in a moment but where The French has more serious issues is in the hushed, library-like environment. This is something the sister-restaurant in The Midland, Mr Cooper's House and Garden, avoids.

Sshh it's The FrenchSshh it's The French

I just don't see why aspirational food has to be delivered in such an environment. Michelin aspirations seem to suck any sense of theatre out of restaurants, aside from the drama found in the food and drink. Restaurant dining, as we've stated before on these pages, is a complete experience; food, drink, service and atmosphere - it is more than just food and drink. 

I have felt this same quietude on every visit to Michelin-starred places in the country house hotels of Great Britain, if not in London-based Michelin restaurants. Perhaps most customers are suffering toxic shock from the prices (although not with this £50 menu) and have lost the power of speech, but what is clear is it can all seem forced, artificial. I want fine dining to learn joy not carry an atmosphere of reverance. I'm just here for a meal with good company, not a religious experience. 

*I realise in the first two sentences I used a French and a Latin expression. I apologise. No more foreignisms pour moi, finito, caput. 

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

All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commerical relationship.

The French, Midland Hotel, 16 Peter Street, City Centre, M60 2DS. 0161 881 4871

Rating: 15/20

Food: 8/10 (bread 10, kale 7, venison 6, chicken and hake 9, pear and quince 8, mintball chocolates 7)
Service: 4.5/5 (half a point deducted for the intrusive waiter in a restaurant that craves a star)
Ambience: 2.5/5

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, 18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20, we get carried away

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

pollolocoFebruary 11th 2015.

Had the 10 courses in the evening and wouldn't hurry back. Nice, but it just didn't grab me.

pollolocoFebruary 11th 2015.

Don't see the point of the belly flop ad though....it's still very average.

AnonymousFebruary 11th 2015.


Manci DoodleFebruary 11th 2015.

Only a Mancunian food writer could fail to see why aspirational food needs a quiet setting. A more pertinent question would be why most restaurants in Mcr are so noisy? Most people who appreciate good food do not want to hear pop music. As far as I can see that is universal everwhere but Mcr. The only soundtrack for any serious restaurant is silence and the music of of cutlery on crockery. This place is one of the very few well run restaurants in this town. Don't knock it.

4 Responses: Reply To This...
Clink clinkFebruary 13th 2015.

'The only soundtrack for any serious restaurant is silence and the music of of cutlery on crockery.' Seriously. Do you dine alone?

SmittyFebruary 13th 2015.

Nah, I'm with Jonathan on this one. Manchester is a boisterous city - it runs through our collective DNA and the thought of eating in a restaurant where you have to whisper is very unMancunian. Don't get me wrong, I don't think we should all be getting our foie gras served on a bed of quinoa beans whilst getting off our tits to the Happy Mondays, but there's got to be some balance. A silent restaurant to my mind is illustrative of a place where people aren't really enjoying themselves.

rinkydinkFebruary 13th 2015.

Well put, Smitty

Manci DoodleFebruary 13th 2015.

Aya Mate Yawright there? Yes the hum of conversation is important too. No need to whisper - just turn the music off. The inability to do this is a real problem for most Mcr restaurants and one of the reasons why the best eating experiences in this region are generally found outside of this city....The French have got it right as have several country pubs in Lancashire and Cheshire.

NickyFebruary 11th 2015.

I visited The French not so long back. It was faultless, including the service. The waiters/waitresses were very friendly and chatted with us, without overstaying their welcome and I thought the atmosphere was very relaxed without being too loud. Maybe it just felt quieter because there were fewer people dining at the time..??

JimtoFebruary 12th 2015.

He does noisier dining around the corner at Mr Coopers. And I think Manchester House is inferior because of the scale, noise, openness of the experience. I left MH stinking of everything that had been cooked in the kitchen. You get the same thing at Linda's pantry. The French is sublime. It is a treat to be with so few diners, in such a lovely setting, eating such glorious food.

AnonymousFebruary 12th 2015.

why is the avg mark for the majority of reviews 14 or 15?

1 Response: Reply To This...
Mark Garner, The PublisherFebruary 17th 2015.

A very good point that. Manchester has become the capital of very good, but stuck below great, restaurants. We are very middle ground. This is why we want to see more champions coming through the scene.

Larry OgdenFebruary 12th 2015.

A few months after it first opened, I visited the French and thought the food was good, not great, the waiting staff oppressive and the atmosphere joyless. Two weeks ago I returned and had one of the most amazing meals ever, the service was helpful (possibly a bit over attentive, but that's not uncommon in 'high class' restaurants) and the wine service excellent. So, has it changed, or have I?

ScoteeeFebruary 12th 2015.

I did the ten course 2 weeks ago was nice but not as good as my experience in a Abode a couple of years ago. I did however take a trip to L'enclume in a Cartmel this Tuesday evening and the team food and atmosphere was head and shoulders above the French and inlet them know it

ScoteeeFebruary 12th 2015.

Scuse typos

The CooktwitFebruary 12th 2015.

I found the hushed tones complimented the wonderful food and service when I had the 10 courser a few weeks back. Would love to try L'Enclume wp.me/p42COc-fg…

Mark LittleFebruary 12th 2015.

I have to agree regarding L'enclume, visited recently and thought the whole experience was outstanding. I will definitely give The French a try based on that.

GastronautFebruary 13th 2015.

I have visited both L'Enclume and Rogan's latest restaurant Fera at Claridges. The food was excellent at both but I feel that L'Enclume showcases his ethos and food better. Having been to The Waterside at Bray and Le Gavroche in that there London, both have stunning service/food but people are relaxed and chat away, there is none of the hushed, reverential silence that you get in a lot of top end restaurants.

AnonymousFebruary 13th 2015.

L'Enclume is incredibly good. Any Manchester foodies should count themselves lucky its only a 90 minute drive away.

Joanna JonesFebruary 14th 2015.

Really want to try l'enclume now. Editor - You've misused the word "artifice" I hope! In describing the venison dish....unless you mean that it's something else masquerading as venison?!!

Daniel WilliamsMarch 13th 2015.

I visited the French a few months ago and was completely underwhelmed by the poor food and rude manager. When we explained that none of the party were enjoying the food, we were told that it was Simons menu and if we didn’t care for it… We had booked the 10 course menu but left after 4, all of which were over seasoned and tasted the same. Having been disappointed with the food we were shocked to be asked for full payment on the grounds that we had occupied a table. After pointing out that over half of the tables were empty at 9.30pm on a Saturday evening (do not be fooled by the claims of a long wait list), the manager reluctantly asked us to pay for what we had been served, not listening to the fact that we had not eaten or enjoyed any of it. I cannot speak for Simons other restaurants having heard great things about L'Enclume but definitely give the French a miss.

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