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Sian Claire Owen discovers the secret of success for the small operator in the big restaurant world

Published on December 6th 2007.


West Didsbury is an established foody destination. Rhubarb, owned by Mark and Lisa Ramsden, is one of the mainstays on the fashionable stretch of delis, boutiques, wine shops and restaurants on Burton Road.

The restaurant opened back in 2003 and in their first year won the City Life Newcomer of the Year award. Since then its gone from strength to strength, building a loyal following and attracting customers by word of mouth and rave reviews.

We don’t buy any stock or sauces. Mark is quite fractious when it comes to making sure the quality of the produce is there.

Rhubarb is a family business: hubby Mark is head chef and Lisa manages front of house. Mark has always worked as a chef, and Lisa comes from a marketing background, which lends itself well to running a successful business.

Before settling, they spent time travelling to far flung places, bringing back the inspiration for much of their food. This led them to take the plunge and open a restaurant that combines style and quality ingredients. It seems to work with: Rhubarb nestles comfortably in the 2007 Michelin guide for instance.

As Lisa explains: "We wanted to own our own business, and we decided that to open the restaurant would be the right thing for us. It was a lifestyle decision as much as anything else because the hours I worked were incompatible with Marks, they were at the opposite ends of the day. It's been nice to be able to work together."

Rhubarb acquired its unusual name because Lisa and Mark are fans of the ingredient, and it sounded quirky. Saying that, the restaurant itself doesn't go overboard on the decor, the room is utilitarian yet comfortable. But it's not all about the wallpaper is it

"We change the menu seasonally," says Lisa. "I think that's one of the special things about Rhubarb, we don’t pigeonhole ourselves by saying we’re Mediterranean cuisine, or even saying we’re European cuisine. We like to incorporate anything from a classic French dishes to American dishes. I think being independent gives you the freedom to do that really."

"The classics are usually the most popular here like the fillet steaks with the dauphinoise potatoes," she adds. "But a lot of the spicy dishes are really popular. We’ve got one on at the moment which is going well, Manchester scallops. If you’re from Manchester you might know them as deep fried potatoes in batter as scallops, so we play on that and serve them with fish."

For those who like their flashy meat-and-two-veg served distinctively you can sink your teeth into slow cooked lamb shank with pumpkin and Swiss cheese mash with root vegetables for £15.95, or maybe the 21-day matured fillet steak with sautéed mushrooms and baby spinach for £19.95, both courtesy of the à la carte menu. Diners who want to save their splash-out for Christmas pressies can also tuck into the set menu - two courses (£14.95) or three courses (£15.95).

As this is Rhubarb each dish comes with it's own autobiography, probably with a detailed history of it's place of origin, where it grew up, and what it's parents were like. Provenance is the name of the game.

"We do everything from scratch," Lisa says. "We don’t buy any stock or sauces. Mark is quite fractious when it comes to making sure the quality of the produce is there."

It's clear that Rhubarb is a labour of love. "It was a lot of hard work. It still is, but you learn as you go along and you start to understand what customers want. We have a very loyal local following but we draw people in from all over the region."

So, given the success of Rhubarb, what would Lisa’s advice be to those who want to follow in their footsteps?

“Around one in three restaurants shut down in the first 12 months,” she says, “So you really need to get good advice, and a good account manager.”

Location is also crucial, as Lisa explains: “We did look at somewhere that was three times the size of Rhubarb, but it’s the location and the other businesses, who we really get on with, that made us choose to set up here.”

“If you can, it’s good to set up in good company rather than be out on a limb.”

167 Burton Road
West Didsbury
M20 2LN
0161 448 8887

To find out more about Rhubarb, look at their menu or to take advantage of their latest promotion click here

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

tomcDecember 6th 2007.

For my money, Rhubarb is the best restaurant in Manchester. It's not about having the fanciest food, flashest location, or biggest wine list. No other restaurant I have been to so consistently puts a big smile on my face. The whole package is great.

PJDecember 6th 2007.

My boyfriend took me here and I thought it was excellent. The choice on the set menu was fabulous and I've been trying to organise a meal their with friends before Xmas too, just so I can go back to show it off.Keep up the good standards!P

AnonymousDecember 6th 2007.

Bistro West 156 on Burton Road - much better!

DidsburyratApril 14th 2011.

My mum and stepdad went for a meal here last week with another couple. The other couple arrived at 7.25 and were offered the before-7.30pm prix fixe menu, whereas my mum and stepdad, who arrived at 7.30 were refused it. When neither couple ordered by 7.30 the menus were taken away! I thought this was a petty, jobsworth attitude on behalf of the restaurant's management - they could easily have offered the cheaper menu as a courtesy but chose to follow their rules to the letter at the expense of good service. Rubbish!

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