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REVIEW: TNQ | Northern Quarter

Lucy Tomlinson on a bang-up meal tainted by the steak blues

Written by . Published on January 29th 2015.

REVIEW: TNQ | Northern Quarter

AS JANUARY slopes out of the door, exiting with threats of a winter apocolypse and disillusioned hopes for self-improvement, it’s time to re-examine how we did on our New Year’s resolutions.

The pickled herring and chicory was a glorious dish of Scandi loveliness. The gastronomic equivalent of a Viking giving you a hug.

I only made one. It wasn’t to give up drinking (please) and my trainers will remain in a fetid heap, unloved and untouched for another year. Instead I vowed to write one, just one, food review focusing solely on food. So before this bad-tempered month ends in a whimper rather than a bang, let me try to fulfil that commitment.

The setting for my stylistic overhaul was The Northern Quarter Restaurant, but I shan’t be commenting on the pared-back decor, or the wonderful view of the old Fish Market from its lovely large windows, oh no, not me. Here goes:

Like the girl-next-door fantasy, this smoked ham hock terrine starter (£6.95) contrived to be homely and stunning at the same time. The tranche of terrine disintegrated at a gentle push into its constituent parts: shreds of coyly pink ham, bright green pennants of fresh and clean-tasting parsley, tiny speckles of mustard grain and glorious, glorious wobbling fat. All this served with piquant, chunky homemade piccalilli and a tangle of pickled shallots. Lovely.


Ham hock terrineHam hock terrine

The pickled herring and chicory (£7.95) was a glorious dish of Scandi loveliness, where sharp fresh flavours dally with oily-silky sweetness, set against ultra-simple strips of carrot and lumps of unreconstructed potato. The gastronomic equivalent of a Viking giving you a hug. I know this starter won’t leap out from the menu for most people, but I hope my recommendation will give the undecided the push to try it. And if you don’t like it, hey at least you now know what it’s like to hug a Viking. Basically, it’s fishy (fun fact: herring are also known as silver darlings).

The pan fried Goosnargh chicken livers (£7): alright, not enough toast.

After reaching pork belly saturation point a while ago I was excited to see roast Middle White pork fillet on the menu (£16.50). The lack of fat means it is more delicate in flavour and needs careful cooking, unlike the cheaper, tastier cuts. So I’m sad to report this particular piece of pork had been blasted with a thermonuclear device, seemingly more than once. What a shame.

Dried out and withered it might have been, but it came reclining on a luxuriant bed of sage crisped gnocchi, white beans and chorizo. The chorizo was a big bad flavour bully that threatened to overwhelm the sage gnocchi (crisped to perfection) but pulled back at the last minute, becoming the unexpected hero of the piece.

Fism MarketOld Fish Market gates through the TNQ window

Blue steak? (shot at night... sorry)Not blue steak (shot at night on a second visit... sorry)

A rib-eye steak (£20.95) was requested blue, but given the overzealous hand at the grill they churned out a medium-rare piece of meat. It came served with a tomato and mushroom, which weren’t all that much to look at but tasted like they were brought up in good homes, and chips which were fine but suffered from over-chunkification - a common disease (note: at this point we checked with the next table if their meat was overcooked and they were very happy, so perhaps we were unlucky). This was an average pub dish which doesn't showcase the chef’s clear abilities – the one dish I regretted ordering.

The baked butternut squash and sage gnocchi (£10.95) was a creamy dream of a dish that shows those vegetarians might be onto something after all. Slippery with butter, sweet squash was paired with pillows of softly baked gnocchi, unctuous goats curd and studded with walnuts and garnished with the soft grey-green velvet of sage leaves peeping through like rabbits’ ears in a meadow.

This is food as comfortable and comforting as a wearable sleeping bag. Devoted as I am to the divine pairing of cream ‘n’ carbs, the only flavour spike came from the sage, which meant that all those emulsifying calories got a little much after a while. Still I bravely waded on, even if it meant waddling home.

GnocchiCreamy dreamy gnocchi

A Sticky toffee pudding wasn’t much tinkered with and did exactly everything expected of it. Which is to say I can’t remember much except a glowy caramelised sugar haze.

There is so much more for us to discuss of course, including whether the reviewer ought to send back a dish or just grin and bear and then let it all out later on, and the rather lovely glass of Chablis (£8.60) I had. But restriction is good for the soul, as I think Mary Poppins once said (or perhaps the Marquis de Sade, I often mix them up).

Now roll on February, and we can all get back to our particular vices, whether they be smoking, drinking or unnecessary pontificating on the socioeconomic ramifications of the juniper content of your micro-distilled gin.

Regular service resumes next time.

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

The Northern Quarter Restaurant, 108 High Street, Manchester, M4 1HQ. 0161 832 7115

Rating: 14.5/20

Food: An overall 7/10 (terrine 7.5, herring 7, livers 7, pork 5, steak 6, gnocchi 9, pud 6)
Service3.5/5 - Our waitress was a bit preoccupied, but manager Cai’s enthusiasm and knowledge tips the balance in favour.
Ambience: 4/5 - In a neighbourhood that goes for either ‘twee tea’ theme or ‘dirty skank’ theme, this place has cleverly gone for a ‘restaurant’ theme. Refreshingly grown-up.

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

AnonymousJanuary 29th 2015.

You did well to see the poor moo cow if you only shot it at night . One barrel or two !

AnonymousJanuary 29th 2015.

I had the steak there last year and it was fine but I really don't like fat chips. When the waitress cleared the table I said the steak was fine but I preferred fries she said "you should have said when you ordered, we keep a bag in the freezer for the staff :) So it'll be steak frites next time I eat there.

AnonymousJanuary 29th 2015.

Oh dear that is the most boring meal I have see in ages. Steak, sticky toffee 'bastard' pudding, ham hock pate... I need to check the rest of the menu, but that is just so dull. I like the NQR - it has a nice 30 something creative(ish) affluent(ish) buzz about it - but the food could be so much better...

AnonymousJanuary 29th 2015.

Great review. Well written - even made me LOL. Dont let this be your 1st and last review. More please :)

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousJanuary 29th 2015.

No, not really - more like an over-flowery, A level attempt at romantic prose.

Henry VJanuary 29th 2015.

Hmm. Rib Eye is a cut unsuited to cooking below medium rare; blue usually leaves the fat uncooked; Unpleasant. Fillet is the one for true blue.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousJanuary 29th 2015.

Completely agree. I suppose the argument is that you should give the customer what they ask for, but I imagine many kitchens may have experience of a rare rib eye being sent back because the diner says it's too chewy.

AnonymousJanuary 29th 2015.


SteamyJanuary 29th 2015.

Yes, a blue rib eye steak sounds massively unappetising to me, the chef was probably doing you a favour.

Rick22January 29th 2015.

I agree, who orders rib eye blue??? i suppose the customer is always right but it is an odd request

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousJanuary 29th 2015.

Completely odd!

AnonymousJanuary 29th 2015.

Rib eye is the most overrated cut there is. Get rid I say. A mistake and crap fad from the 2000's. Fatty and not moreish at all. T-Bone extra thick all the way please!!! Also flat iron is ace, as is hanger steak. Both can take a battering in the pan/bbq to achieve a char, while remaining rare.

Steve5839January 29th 2015.

Having eaten here on many occasions and always enjoyed it I would agree with the review and I also agree the server's need a bit of a lesson re guest interest. All in all a fair review, I also agree that blue Ribeye might be a bit of a mistake.

NaomiJanuary 30th 2015.

Ambience: 4/5 - In a neighbourhood that goes for either ‘twee tea’ theme or ‘dirty skank’ theme, this place has cleverly gone for a ‘restaurant’ theme. Refreshingly grown-up. That's do funny. Dirty slack lol. I've eaten here a number of times and always been pleased with the food. You're right it stands out from the out hers in attempt at fine dining. Which it is not. The staff are nice enough bit not enthusiastic about the menu. The acoustics are bad. Too noisy. Id go again not only on a discount voucher There are better places for the money

SmittyJanuary 30th 2015.

Really enjoying the snippy comments around the rib eye. I quite enjoy chasing a cow around the restaurant before sinking my teeth in, but have to agree with the other commentators - you simply can't eat rib eye blue - bup! Just a hint of pretention from an inexperienced reviewer perhaps? meow.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
SmittyJanuary 30th 2015.

*pretension. If you're going to bitch, learn how to spell.

Stephen HayesJanuary 30th 2015.

kwite aggree Smity

JimJanuary 31st 2015.

Although I agree a rib eye should be no less than medium rare if you order it blue it should be delivered blue, or the waitress should advise you that they won't cook it that rare. Just giving the customer a steak cooked a way they didn't want seems bad customer service.

RobFebruary 1st 2015.

Been here twice, and the over riding impression I was left with was a complete lack of generosity. Tiny portions and lots of re-animated meat.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousFebruary 1st 2015.

not ANOTHER tight-arse restaurant. Small portion size and over charging is one of my biggest gripes about eating out in the city centre.

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