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Simon Rogan at The French Reviewed

Gordo delights in exquisite food

Written by . Published on March 20th 2013.


Simon Rogan at The French Reviewed
 

IT seems the Editor and Gordo have something they can agree on for a change (click here); we should all stop moaning on about everywhere else having better food than we do. Because in general, it ain’t true.

Over all, this restaurant does what any restaurant of quality does. It provides us punters with a truly great dinner; some talking points, service that will become a Swiss clock movement, wines to broaden your horizon and finally, allows you to walk away knowing that you have had a great occasion. 

Manchester, Liverpool and the North West has a breadth and depth of good to great cooking that is close to blossoming into something stunning; the signs are there. 

The knowledge that people possess about food and drink here in the region is greater than ever and their passion for it pours out of Twitter, Facebook and the commentboards, especially on Confidential. 

Simon Rogan, chef, left, Mike Magrane, Midland manager, rightSimon Rogan, chef, left, Mike Magrane, Midland manager, right

If we go back to 1978 there was something to really moan about. The restaurants, with one or two exceptions, were pretty horrific. One of the exceptions was The French at The Midland Hotel.

It was great, Escoffier food with an opulent room.  Walking in was a buzz. It had access to its owner’s wine cellars, British Transport Hotels, which were arguably the best in Europe. 

When Gordo was sixteen they had a half bottle, a full bottle and a magnum of 1961 Chateau Lafite Rothschild, one of the five finest red wines in the world and one of the four best vintages of the 20th century. They also had a 1967 Chateau d’Yquem, the best Sauternes in the world. Gordo drank a bottle of this at La Bonne Auberge in Cheadle Hulme with Paul Boutinot, then the sommelier in his family’s charming restaurant back in 1980. Today it would set you back over £2,000. 

Paul reminded Gordo of this at a lunch given by George Bergier in the private dining room at The Albert Chop House on Albert Square. George is one of the great sommeliers in the North West and spent time at the Midland. During a celebration of his four and a half decades of service, he chose a dish that a very young Gordo shared with his father, Roy Garner, all those years ago. 

A chateaubriand; a double fillet of beef, smeared in foie gras and mushrooms, enclosed in pastry and served with a madeira sauce. We didn’t have a bottle of that Lafite but we did have Roy’s favourite, a 1966 Le Chambertin, the Emperor of Burgundies. 

George and chateaubriandGeorge and chateaubriand

In those days there were always specials, sometimes wheeled out on one of those domed shining brass trolleys; memorable was a haunch of spring lamb, roasted with garlic and rosemary. Another that knocked Gordo off his seat was a whole turbot steamed in a turbot kettle. So what, you may ask. Well this sucker was a good metre in length and weighed in at eight kilos. 

The French has been getting weary. 

Gordo had given up on it ever coming back to tip-top. However, a few months ago, he was starting to hear strange rumours about a Michelin-starred chef taking over. These rumours crystallised when he spoke to Simon Rogan, the chef who owns L’Enclume up in Cartmel, Cumbria. Simon holds two Michelin stars. 

Meeting both Simon and the Midland’s canny general manager, Mike Magrane, a couple of weeks before the opening to get some background, Simon took Gordo through some of the changes up at Cartmel; his cooking has matured and his ingredients, many grown on his own farm, were becoming the star of the show. 

Gordo asked him what the food in The French was going to be like. 

“Essentially I want to grow the perfect carrot. Then do fuck-all with it” 

The team have installed a polytunnel on the roof of the hotel to grow their own herbs and vegetables. This is serious stuff.

The room has been lightened too, with pastels on the walls and a carpet that is unusual. You will either love it or hate it.  

The new French

The new French

Gordo, unlike the Editor, doesn’t go in much for commenting on décor, everyone to their own. Simon’s personality is certainly there, with tables of light Cheshire Oak that remind him too much of Ikea. There are two fabulous lighting centrepieces. And very comfortable chairs. But even so, the main points are the food and the presentation to Gordo’s mind.  

Simon has two menus at dinner; six courses at £55 and ten at £79. There is also a three-course menu at £29; this is available at lunch. One other point, the ten-course dinner is the only choice on a Saturday night. 

Proper solid breadProper solid bread

Gordo has been twice, once on the ‘pre opening’ pro-comp’d by Mike and Simon, then on the opening night as a paying guest. On the first evening we were treated to a few different wines off the list. More later. But of the food? A giveaway of hazelnut biscuit, smoked eel, leek, onion ashes, delivered on a small plank of what looked like driftwood was a good indication of the balance that is achieved throughout the menu. It was lovely. 

The first full dish arrived in a small bowl, dry. 

Artichoke broth with truffle dumplings, bacon, radish and hazelnut.

The broth arrived in a small teapot and was poured by one of the pre-Rogan waiters, slightly nervously having been used to silver service previously, but with great charm and grin on his face. We knew each other well. 

Broth of heavenBroth of heaven

To be frank, this dish worried Gordo. It was so good that he thought the team had served the money shot too early. How on earth could they carry this on? It is the perfect dish. The artichoke broth was glossy. 

Think on that word, glossy. Gordo didn’t spot him, but Doctor Who had been in the room that evening. At the end, he had jumped in The Tardis, dialled back to 1450 and told Gutenberg, the inventor of the printing press, to insert the word ‘Glossy’ into the first dictionary he printed. 

“What does it mean?” asked a baffled Gutenberg. 

“Silken, lustrous, burnished,” replied The Doctor, “perfect for the Queen of broth.” 

No, Gordo hasn’t been smoking opium, it was that good. Don’t start him on the truffled dumplings. The Doctor did the same trick with the word melting. 

Ox in coal oil, pumpkin seed, kohlrabi and sunflower shoots. 

This kept up the pace; lovely on the practice run, fully polished on the paying evening and delighting with its tiny emulsions setting off the tartare of beef, the oils delivering flavours that lifted the dish on the palate. If this dish were wine, it would be a Grand Cru served at the right age, with a long finish. 

Ox and moreOx and more

The dishes kept coming; fresh crab a hedonistic offering that gladdened the heart; another dish of scrambled eggs with unusual herbs on a razor clam shell and razor clam in the egg shell screaming meatiness at all and sundry. Bit fiddly on the presentation mind you. And, watch out for your eggs guys, they were a little bland first time round. Second time perfect. 

Eggs and clams as artEggs and clams as art

The salad course was the star of the show. Impossible to describe. When finished it reminded Gordo of losing a lover; he felt depressed. 

The sole fillet with onions, smoked scallops, parsley and leeks were let down by a heavy hand on the sole, it had dried a touch, sadly on both occasions. 

Sing for this saladSing for this salad

Studded Cumbrian rose veal was a challenge. It was studded with pork fat. Gordo doesn’t generally like rose veal, its neither one thing nor the other unless it’s handled with a touch of brutishness. The cut on offer here, fillet, is particularly underworked on the animal and requires some help. This dish confused Gordo; he would love to know what the readers think. 

Veal appealVeal appeal

There were two puddings; one was a bit of a dud. It should be served at breakfast. It involved granola. However, the pear, meadowsweet and rye, buttermilk, linseeds hit the spot. Light, tart, tangy, sweet, creamy; there was an awful lot packed into this one. 

Everybody likes a nice pearEverybody likes a nice pear

Finally, with coffee, came sass ‘n’ soda, a delightful play on those ice cream sandwiches off the van when you were a kid, this one having a cup of what can best describe as dandelion and burdock on acid. It left Fattie with a huge grin on his face. 

Wines drunk on the first evening started with a glass of Nyetimber, an English sparkling wine that Gordo scored higher than Moet and Taittinger last year in a blind tasting.

We then had a premier cru chablis, Fourchaume, domain Jean de Faix, 2010, showing classic flint and Cumbrian butter. Riesling from Chile, normally a flabby nightmare was an Emiliana Reserva, 2011 Bio Bio Valley, it clearly comes from a bit of height which lends it a nice crisp finish. 

A pinot noir from Santa Barbara, California, 2011 was truly stunning. A quick check on Google shows you can buy it for about £13. You could say it was moore-ish. Very good body. A handful.

Sass-y indeedSass-y indeed

At the second dinner Gordo, who was joined by a very pregnant Ruth Allan, treated himself to a stand out bottle of Chateau Gruaud Larose, a ’99, a typically feminine St Julien. 

The wine list here is terrific. No 1961 Lafite, but Gordo can live with that. 

Over all, this restaurant does what any restaurant of quality does. It provides us punters with a truly great dinner; some talking points, service that will become a Swiss clock movement, wines to broaden your horizon and finally, allows you to walk away knowing that you have had a great occasion. 

For all you moaners out there this is the place that will change your mind about the quality of dining in Manchester. Simple as that really. Go, at least once a year. This is your restaurant; give it and its worthy team your support.

You can follow Gordo on Twitter @GordoManchester 

ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL AND PAID FOR BY THE MAGAZINE.  

The French, The Midland Hotel, 16 Peter StManchester M602DS. To book for a meal at The French - click here.

Rating: 18.25/20 (Remember venues are rated against the best examples of their kind so check out the box below)

Food 9.25 (Artichoke 10/10, Ox 10/10, Crab 10/10, Sole 7/10, Veal 8/10, Pear 9/10, Sarsaparilla 10/10)
Ambience 4.5/5
Service 4.5/5

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, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20, we get carried away.

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

Gordo Knows WhoMarch 20th 2013.

Gordo, you've hit the nail on the head " go at least once a year " any more than that would be a challenge.
The question is, will it survive on the once a year punter ?

1 Response: Reply To This...
Lisa FlanaganApril 29th 2013.

Food For Flanagan

The French Restaurant at the Midland Hotel, Peter Street, Manchester. M60 2DS

Having been so disappointed with the Manchester food scene over the years, I was extremely pleased to hear that Simon Rogan’s new ventures were coming to town. Having opened in 1903, the Midland Hotel, with its individual Edwardian-Baroque style remains a Grade 2 listed building. After a recent renovation, the French has again been re-invigorated with a new sense of passion and enthusiasm, allowing a perfect venue to deliver a platform of exquisite food one might think. Expectations were running high.

The French dining room has approximately 20-22 tables in a rather uninviting cavernous space. There are two very large chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, to which your eyes are immediately drawn as you enter this rather opulent room. On first glance, mirrored walls interspersed with French decorative wall design, it was a little Palais de Versailles esque with mismatched canteen style wooden tables and a rather unusual carpet taking on the appearance of a hardwood floor. Even amongst the grandeur decor there still seemed to be a lack of atmosphere with the usual convivial restaurant room buzz and hubbub somewhat missing. Unfortunately, for me the setting was not one to lift the spirits with intrusive piano playing modern music in the lounge area on the doorstep of the restaurant, and visitors bobbing in and out of the open doored entrance with intrigue.

We were welcomed by rather dashing staff, who were charming, courteous and unfailingly knowledgeable about both the food and the wines. To start our lunch and peruse the menus we chose two glasses of English sparkling wine, one white and the other rose. In my opinion, a perfect way to start a meal. We then opted for the 6 course tasting menu, along with the ‘flight of wines’ to accompany and compliment each course. This will set you back an additional £55 per person and expect the glasses to be rather on the small side.

Firstly, some pre-starters on offer, with a crunchy baby radish complete with tasty ‘greenary’ as I call it, served with a creamy mousse scattered with toasted buckwheat. To follow, a sensational parsnip crisp with parsnip puree, smoked eel, pork belly and a garnish of fennel. Onward and upward as they say, as we began our 6 course extravaganza. Rather unusually, most dishes were served in Lancashire sourced high rimmed pottery bowls, making it somewhat difficult to use your cutlery and near on impossible to see what others around are eating!

My experience started with the razor clams, egg yolk and sea herbs. Texturally this dish was outstanding, with the egg yolk sous-vide, poached to perfection, crunchy squares of celeriac and razor clams littered with crunchy herbs and edible seeds. Following this the ox in coal oil, pumpkin seeds, kohlrabi balls and sunflower shoots. This carpaccio was a triumph, using the rump of the ox, smoked delicately to seduce your tastebuds with the textures adding to your overall satisfaction for this dish. Next came the crab with caramelised cabbage, horseradish, chicken skin and crow garlic. As a concept I feel this is a wonderfully conceived dish. However the proof is in the eating, as they say. For me the white crab, mixed with the brown meat and dressing spoiled what could have been an exceptional dish. I would have preferred it served with a lighter touch and unabashed simplicity to the crab, leaving it in a fresher, less creamy state. Following this was the hake fillet, buckwheat, watercress and smoked roe butter. The cooking of the hake was perfect. The smoked roe is somewhat of an acquired taste I feel and not one I care to repeat. Next, Reg’s duck, ruby chard, king oysters, mulled cider and nasturtiums. With duck, one of my least favourite meats, my tasting of the well prepared meat was good, if not a little overwhelmed by the richness of the deeply flavoured jus and complex chords.

My companion substituted the razor clam dish for the boiled sole, onions, truffle and ramsons and the ox in coal oil for the early spring offerings, vegetables, herbs, flowers and lovage salt - a vibrant, lively dish guaranteed to push vegetarians’ to venture into a wonderful world of unknown. Indeed, I believe even meat eaters would be in food heaven with this one. This for me was the dish of the day amongst a showcase of wonderful, imaginative dishes using modern techniques and superb, diligently sourced seasonal British ingredients, keeping provenance at the forefront. All in all producing some quality cooking. Simon Rogan definitely has respect for ingredients delivered with careful balance between textures and tastes. Slightly too heavy on the foams for my taste, but otherwise superb.

The dessert of pear, meadowsweet and rye, buttermilk and linseeds continued the intricate story behind Rogan’s cooking. Not too sweet, but full of wonderful flavour. To finish the afternoon, a play on wafers and ice-cream from years gone by. The Sarsaparilla tipple on the side with rasperry meringue and a sarsaparilla parfait worked for me, but for my partner was much too sweet accompanied by a ‘languid’ tasting root drink.

At the end of the meal we felt satisfied we had tasted some perfectly executed food, some a little rich for our taste, but overall exquisite cooking. Although we were pleased with the majority of our plates we were left with a sense of uncertainty about returning to give the French a second visit. I would say the food is hot, but the environment left me cold. With rather premium price tags, for some, this palatial Parisian feel restaurant will definitely work. For me, however, the outlandish decor and unusual serving bowls and plates distorted my view somewhat. I found it difficult to disentangle the lack of ambience, the elaborate, elegant food and the dining experience intended.
 

GordoMarch 20th 2013.

I think, with just forty-odd covers, it will. Custom will come from people staying at the Hotel, the new wave of young foodies who will want to go to put a notch on their gun every now and then, and the shires who will travel in to town for a restaurant of this calibre.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Gordo Knows WhoMarch 20th 2013.

They struggled before to get people staying in the hotel to dine in, as during the week many corporate guests are on a tight dining budget and I used to see loads of them every time I was there bringing in pizzas and McD's etc. to eat in their rooms. I hope i'm wrong as a destination restaurant is needed to bring fresh money in the town

Gordo Knows WhoMarch 20th 2013.

They used to struggle to get hotel guests to dine in as a lot of the corporate guests were on a tight dining budget and you would see them bringing in pizzas, Mc D's and the like to eat in their rooms.
I think this will be only an occassion or destination restaurant.
The town needs this to bring fresh money in.
I do hope i'm wrong but I know 4 couples who have dined there as well as myself since the opening and said they wont return for a long time, shame but the fact is more than once in a while would be more than enough.

Poster BoyMarch 20th 2013.

You should have an opinion on the 'decor'. In addition to the main event, the great eating houses provide a sense of occasion, and theatre.

The new 'French' (misnomer) is a lost opportunity. IKEA -chic in the grand old Midland and 'lighting centrepieces' last seen at Housing Units of Hollinwood, just will not do.

Much more, not less, of the opulence would have provided a statement of intent, a return to glory, a show of confidence, and be an antidote to the misery of the current zeitgeist.

A message from Manchester...

1 Response: Reply To This...
Gordo Knows WhoMarch 20th 2013.

Well said, couldn't agree with you more, no table linen, stainless steel cutlery and tables that are like garden furniture are nothing like a decent " French Restaurant " should have

AnonymousMarch 20th 2013.

I for one much prefer the new dining room. I find opulence often creates a rather oppressive atmosphere. The room is light and airy and the longer I sat there the more comfortable I became, despite being fit to bursting after six courses (no idea how I will ever manage all ten...though I will try).

Anna SadokMarch 21st 2013.

I went with some friends on Friday and we actually met Simon. It's reassuring to see such high scores as he seemed concerned that they "weren't quite there yet". I agree with most of the scores given but was slightly under whelmed with the rose veal, the flavours of the dish were quite bland, although the beetroot reduction accompaniment (at least I think that’s what it was) was tasty. If I’m being picky, I also found the sole a little too salty. The OX was my favourite – definitely deserves a 10/10, as does the pear dessert! I’d definitely recommend the experience; we had a fantastic evening!

AMCMarch 21st 2013.

Why can't you see the menu on their website? Is this to add to the mystic? Is this a daft question, or is there any hope for vegetarian diners?

2 Responses: Reply To This...
TimbucMarch 21st 2013.

I don't think they're adding to the mystique, probably just that the menu can change often if anything like L'Enclume. They'll email you a copy if you ask. And they give you a copy to take home with you which I really should have brought to show you all but I left with my dining companions. Full vegetarian tasting menu and it looks brilliant. Already saving to take my veggie pals along.

Lindsay BoothmanMarch 22nd 2013.

Had the 10 couse vegetarian menu for lunch on Saturday. Utterly brilliant. As good as L'Enclume.

PeterMarch 21st 2013.

Can anyone tell me if there is a matched wine option and how much it is?

1 Response: Reply To This...
TimbucMarch 21st 2013.

I didn't see anything about matched wines but they may rectify this. As I recall they don't have anything at L'Enclume about matched wines - you just have a chat with the sommelier and he'll put something together for you.

Which reminds me. The wines by the glass are terrific value for money for a restaurant of this type.

Anna SadokMarch 21st 2013.

There wasn't a matched wine option but the staff are very knowedgeable (some have followed Simon from L'Enclume) and I'm sure would be able to provide advice on this. There is currently only a 6 or 10 course tasting menu (or 3 for lunch). Simon is also opening a brasserie at the Midland in May which I'm interested to try - I'm sure that will have more variety as well.

AnonymousMarch 21st 2013.

Thrilled Manchester finally has a great restaurant, terribly disappointed this review is written in the third person.. Why oh why Gordo!?

1 Response: Reply To This...
GordoMarch 21st 2013.

Gordo writes to Inform, entertain, educate and irritate. Not necessarily in that order. For eight years now. The character that is Gordo was only meant to be around for six months whilst the publisher found some 'proper' writers. However, the 'blog' as it was at the time took off like a rocket and now he is the highest read food writer in the North West. Yes, weirdly, that third person nonsense has stuck.

Don't forget, you can get even more irritated by following the fat irritant on Twitter, @gordomanchester .

Have fun,

Gordo ;-)

TimbucMarch 21st 2013.

I agree with anonymous above re the decor. It's much better now. I wasn't sure I'd like the carpet but I actually did. And I just love the chandeliers.

I also agree with Gordo (I know, I'm sorry) for most of his review. That broth was stunning. The crab was my favourite dish. The ox was great. Have to say that my sole was absolutely perfect. And I disagree about the breakfast dessert. It was certainly different but in all the right ways. Oh yes and the salad. Goodness! Any vegetarians should be reassured as this dish was jaw-dropping (I also checked and they are offering full vegetarian tasting menu - they didn't have any to take away but I had a good perusal).

The rose veal. Oh dear. It just didn't work for me either. Quite bland piece of meat and the added fat is a great idea but didn't save it. Only thing I adored were the blewits. I think they could improve upon the dish but not much and I still wouldn't like it. I suggest a new dish altogether. Pigeon would work well (for me anyway).

I think this restaurant will be an absolute success. I'm positive it will be a destination restaurant for those who like to eat food from the best and most exciting chefs and there are those like me who won't go once a year, they'll go as often as their budget will allow them.

Sorry for the lengthy rant but I'm excited.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
TimbucMarch 21st 2013.

One other thing. Re Michelin star. People fuss about it too much. Simon will no doubt focus more on presenting great food and getting (happy) customers through his doors. In the process he will undoubtedly pick up a star so all those people worried that Manchester doesn't have one can relax.

GordoMarch 21st 2013.

Timbuc, I agree re pigeon. The more I think about the veal, the ladies will be horrified with the idea of it being larded with pig fat. My companion on the first visit pulled them all out, appalled.

avoMarch 21st 2013.

I think Gordo has mis-described a beef wellington as a chateaubriand???

4 Responses: Reply To This...
GordoMarch 21st 2013.

You are, of course, completely right Avo, although i did have both many times. Its the morphine...

avoMarch 21st 2013.

I only pick you up on it because I've cooked beef wellington a couple of times recently. What do you reckon about adding foie gras to the mushroom duxelles? Too strong a flavour which overshadows the beef?

GordoMarch 21st 2013.

no; if you use cheap pate, which is what everyone does these days, yes. But, (very)roughly chopped button (not wild) mushrooms go very well. Love that dish. Did two whole fillets the christmas before last and completely fucked them up!

avoMarch 22nd 2013.

You're right. I used cheap pâté once and all you could taste was salt. I'll have to sneak some foie gras in next time as the girlfriend refuses to eat it as its cruel. I think the secret is to keep everything cold. Cool the beef after searing it and shape it like a long torpedoe with cling film and put it in the fridge prior to wrapping.

Paul CarterMarch 21st 2013.

Went to L'Enclume twice last year - in January and September. His menu in September was something else, I suspect because the season allowed him to play with more flavours in what primarily was the climax of the growing season. I think something similar will happen at the Midland. Go twice a year in winter/spring and end of summer/autumn and you'll get two completely different experiences. Rogan is the man. At last Manchester has its destination restaurant that it has so needed over the past couple of decades.

Hero
Gail HounsleaMarch 21st 2013.

Went yesterday and had a fabulous meal and the dining room was light and airy with incredible lighting. Had been to L'Enclume just after Christmas and the meal yesterday was equally as good. The front of house staff are superb - welcoming and knowledgeable and we were invited into the kitchen and met Simon, Dan and Adam who told us of their plans to grow produce on the roof. This is definitely one to visit and I agree that at least twice a year would be good. Not to be missed.

AnonymousMarch 22nd 2013.

Looks like R House should be worried

AnonymousMarch 22nd 2013.

all sounds marvelous for you "ARTY FARTY " lot! I'll leave you to it, I'll stick with choosing what I want to eat, & my happy memories, and if I want to be a moaner I will be,the choice thank God is mine, as your choice is yours. ENJOY

1 Response: Reply To This...
James KayMarch 22nd 2013.

sigh...

AnonymousMarch 22nd 2013.

I used to go the old Midland French fairly regularly, on average at least every two months. Went to the new style MF last weekend and have to agree with most existing comments here that the food was exceptionally good. Service from the (mainly) new staff was also excellent. However, as the menu choice is currently restricted purely to the Tasting Menus, my future visits are likely to be reduced to a couple of times a year unless more options are made available. Have to say that I thought the Wine List was quite poor, particularly the Reds. The room itself is still magnificent, but the weird carpet and bistro style tables were a real let down. Also, considering that I spent around £150 per head, I don't think its asking too much to be provided with table linen.

Hero
pagrayMarch 22nd 2013.

Just been this afternoon.We had the 6 course menu.All three of us loved the menu.The service was exemplery and the food was magnificent.WE put it on a par with Petrus,Gordon ramsey's hospital road in London.
Hopefully Manchesters first Michelin starred restaurant.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
DrakeMarch 23rd 2013.

To be pedantic, The French WAS Manchester's first Michelin starred place, back in c1974.

But this certainly could be the first for two decades

pollolocoMarch 26th 2013.

Drake...anyone reading this column would know you are stating the blindingly obvious.

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