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The Glasshouse, Crowne Plaza

Ruth Allan debuts for Confidential with a review of the biggest, swishish new restaurant to arrive in the Northern Quarter

Published on November 11th 2008.

The Glasshouse, Crowne Plaza

The new Crowne Plaza stands on Shudehill, at the fringe of Manchester's Northern Quarter. As certain tour guides like to relate this was once a rum area of markets and interesting trading practices. Many of the pubs sidelined in prostitution. With the arrival of this new build hotel though, accommodation has moved to the right side of the law.

Eight storeys high and encased in burgundy glass panes, the new Crowne is not the ugliest building we've had to endure of late, indeed it’s sort of attractive. It's home to 228 bedrooms, conference facilities including banqueting for 200, a private dining room and a compact gym. The rooms are quiet and spacious, the continental breakfast a celebration of European produce and the dinner menu, for the most part, worth a try too.

The hotel and its restaurant has been open since the end of August, and having eaten here before, its somewhere to take a girl who likes to tuck in. Food And Drink Festival director Siobhan Hanley is that and a whole lot more. Dealing with chefs, local produce and restaurant owners year round, she knows a thing or two. She's not, however, wild about cocktails.

“I only like mojitos', she announced as we waited in the bar. Normally I'd give her grief for being boring but on this occasion, she made a good call. Icy, mint-packed and fresh, her Cuban classic was a lot smoother on the palate than my Martini-style blend of rum and Cointreau (both £7). Called The Manchester, credit is due to the bar staff for mixing their own, even if the combination of warm Havana Club and orange liqueur is a bit jarring.

Adjacent to the bar is The Glasshouse restaurant. Tall and arching, it takes in a lot of glass, as you'd expect with a name like that, and the mostly white decor - ceiling, chandeliers, furniture and so on - makes for a very bright experience. If there were a large table in the centre, you could imagine giants operating on a giant man in this room. Still, it retains that inoffensive, hotel vibe, which I like. You could eat in a ball, dressing or hospital gown and no one would mind.

Head chef is Karl Bittner, a man who has cooked at Harvey Nichols Second Floor Restaurant and at City Inn's City Cafe too. With top-end experience, he should know his spices and, bravely, he's gone for broke in his first outing as head chef. The menu is nothing but adventurous, taking in unusual ingredients along the lines of roasted squab (that's pigeon to you and I), aged venison and quince in various incarnations. As Emma Jean Sturgess pointed out in her review, several dishes appear to have been inspired by Michelin-starred chef, Gabriel Kreuther - the organic cod with coco bean mash and chorizo oil (£16.50), for example, is almost a direct replica of one of his creations at The Modern in New York - but if you're going to ape anyone, it's best to aim high.

Soup is a good test of a chef's mettle, so I started out with Karl's saucy white onion and cider edition (£4.50) while Siobhan tucked into corn-fed chicken ravioli with quince mousse (£7.50). The soup was the most fun: it arrived in a tea pot, which I used to pour the soup over the plump olive, and dusty sliver of crumble in my bowl. More like one of my nan's cheese-straws than the stuff you find on top of an apple pie, the sage-infused crumble contrasted well with the soup while the olive lent a salty kick. I schlurped the lot, as Siobhan polished off her fine pasta and poultry in record time. Nine out of ten so far.

A bottle of Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc (£26) from the Marlborough region in New Zealand not Cumbria, gave our night a zingy lift at this point, although proceedings took a downturn with the arrival of my main course. I'm no pigeon expert, but my roasted squab (£17.50) arrived, sliced and what I'd call super-rare beside a couple of thin pastry cases, filled with cheesy chicken mousse, pigeon and sticks of courgette and pepper. The ingredients seemed to repel each other like relatives at a wedding, and the sight of blood in mousse will hopefully be one I won't have to revisit. I didn't enjoy it.

“Not nice,” Siobhan concurred, and to compensate, she let me try a bit of her poached fillet of Cheshire pig. (£17). Creamy, caramelish pink meat and crispy fat oozed over parsnip puree and a segment or two of roasted pineapple. It was very good, and the beef fillet (£19.95) which comes with a juicy cheek, slow roasted for 8 hours, is worth the price tag too.

As we discovered, Karl Bittner really can cook, but to get the most from an experience at The Glasshouse, you have to make informed choices, and dessert confirmed our suspicions.

Picking a selection of mini desserts to share (£5.50), we enjoyed the Toberlone tart (good, solid, chocolatey) and some kind of take on a creme brulee (intensely custardy and moreish), but avoided what appeared to be a pineapple ring from a tin moulded into soggy weetabix (really, as bad as it sounds).

I've eaten in the hotel's Glass House restaurant twice now. The first time, about a month ago, they knew I was reviewing and this time, under Siobhan's name, they didn't. Impressively, there was little difference in the experience: the staff were equally helpful, the wine list standard and the food hitting the right spot regularly but veering now and then into the weird. Go, I'd recommend, but order with care.

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: Gordo gets carried away

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

Ron HickmanNovember 11th 2008.

The original glasshouse was Colchester military prison which had a glass roof which ran down the centre of the main prison block hence the nickname . I did a two year sentence there in the earlier fifties . These so called hard hoddies would die of fright if they were ever send to such a place

CraigNovember 11th 2008.

The glass house is the name given to the army prison in colchester due to the work that goes into cleaning the floors as punishment. It is said that when the floors are polished by the detained soldiers, the floor reflects like glass.

GordoNovember 11th 2008.

She's fit an'all. Isn't Glasshouse the name for army prisons?

Mark Garner, The PublisherNovember 11th 2008.

Welcome to the fold Ruth, you're a welcome addition to the crew.

ruth allanNovember 11th 2008.

In my opinion, the food at the Glasshouse is way more intriguing than my fitness levels.

rosieNovember 11th 2008.

unfortunately Ruth,on this website only Gordo's opinion counts.

IntriguedNovember 11th 2008.

And photos of her are avaialable where Gordo??

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