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The Market Restaurant

John McAuliffe has an unedifying meal in a Northern Quarter classic – has the change in ownership meant a slip in standards?

Published on May 27th 2008.

The Market Restaurant

The taxi driver does not think it will be open. He drops us at the corner of High Street.

The Market Restaurant is usually called old-fashioned and traditional, but tonight (the night of the Rangers madness) its quietness and corner-pub whitewash have the look of a relic. Inside, the old ad posters, slightly wonky tables and unmatching Delph seem less traditional than fixed in a particular time. It is homey, unpretentious and remains entirely empty all night, which is understandable, although, occasionally, someone comes in to ask if they do off-licence.

For mains I chose roast rump of lamb with tabouleh and mint oil (£16.95), which I’m told will be served pink, but which arrives well-done. It is nonetheless the best dish of the evening.

From Tues to Thurs, the restaurant offers a three-course meal plus side order for £25, an offer we take up. The restaurant prides itself on its drinks' menu. We start with a meaty martini (£6.95) and fizzy Kir Royal (£7.50), pass on the attractive beer menu and instead take the waiter’s advice on the wine special, a 2004 Cahors (£25.95) which is full-bodied, fruity and easy to drink.

The food is presumably seasonal and based on what is available in local markets, but the menu is short and offers very little information on the food’s provenance. It is short and unsurprising, with very little twist on staple salmon, beef, chicken, lamb and vegetarian main options. The starters look like they should be a little more enterprising and exciting. I go for ‘blue cheese fritters served with waldorf salad’(£5.95). The fritters are gluey, gooey and mild: the salad’s apple is gelid and too sweet, the celery soft. Nancy chooses tasty gravadlax (£6.25) which is quaintly presented with a necklace of coriander and lime dressing.

For mains I chose roast rump of lamb with tabouleh and mint oil (£16.95), which I’m told will be served pink, but which arrives well-done. It is nonetheless the best dish of the evening. Nancy orders a pan-fried chicken breast stuffed with courgette and ricotta with a fresh tomato sauce (£16.95). The chicken is bland but the filling is moist, delicate and rich and contrasts nicely with the sauce. Our side orders (£2.75 each) are a different matter, waterlogged new potatoes and an inadequate rocket and parmesan salad which tasted mostly of olive oil.

To finish, I order Manchester Pavlova with whipped Jersey cream (£6.25), which the menu explains will lead to a donation to the Community Foundation for Greater Manchester, which supports grass-roots organisations around the city. It is a touch that seems typical of this restaurant’s institutional status (founded in 1980 as ‘the original Northern Quarter restaurant’) but it is also the kind of information that the menu fails to provide about the pavlova, which turns out be a hard, sticky meringue with a coconut flavour and a cherry on top. The generous English organic and farmhouse cheeses with biscuits, fruit cake and our own chutney’ (£6.25) is equally frustrating with its selection of unnamed blue and cheddar cheeses.

The very helpful staff order us a taxi and free coffees, as the streets begin to fill up again with disappointed football fans. The Rangers chairman has apparently booked next door for an afters, so the staff pull down the shutters in expectation. As we wait, the restaurant’s charm seems more obvious, from its Charles Aznavour and Edith Piaf soundtrack to its mix’n’match décor. It’s the food that is disappointing and, in a competitive town and on the mid-week discount, over-priced.

Given that this place has recently changed ownership then a little work needs to be done. It needs to rediscover that charm that made it a prime destination in the city - and one Confidential has loved for a long long time. The new chef, Robert Brittain, needs to ensure that the menu at least delivers what it promises.

John McAuliffe’s second book of poems Next Door (Gallery) came out last year. He co-directs the Centre for New Writing at the University of Manchester. Click here

Breakdown:5.5/10 Food
4/5 Service
3.5/5 Ambience
Address: The Market Restaurant
104 High Street
M4 1HQ
0161 834 3743

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

AnonymousMay 27th 2008.

One of my regular dining places and an old time favourite. I hope John S gives the place another chance.

danthemanMay 27th 2008.

I've visited the market serveral times in the past few months. Its charm Is equally as good as the food. It really is like walking in to a time machine. Really different from the masses of 'Modern' restaurants out there in manchester. I recommend whole heartedly!

AmeliaMay 27th 2008.

don’t charge for under 8 but charge just under 8 notes a pint food tough and cold with fat oozing out of the tatters sent the lot back wont bother again how can you not remember who is on what when there are only three people in the place its just a scruffy cafe with vinyl tiles. tic tic tic times runing out for this one

ancoats girlMay 27th 2008.

I have never had a bad meal here - and ate at the Market in February of this year which I presume was under the new ownership? I can't comment on the dishes mentioned here, but my steak with horseradish pancake and madeira gravy was beautiful, and the sides we had (potato wedges and crushed carrot and swede) were simple but delicious and carefully cooked. Maybe it was an off night - given the stress of the day in question? I do agree it's a bit on the pricey side though.

oksauceMay 27th 2008.

We used to look forward to the market restaurant , every valentines day (my Birthday) we ate great food , attention to detail was great ,atmosphere fab, expensive but worth every penny, now im afraid its a different story, new owners.Im sure anyone who takes over this landmark of a restaraunt must have good intentions to keep the same quality of food service etc, but you do feel miffed if your bill is £120+ and the food has been relegated to almost pizzahut standards, this rant is too long already , but if i can save some poor tourist or anyone some money by writing this then ok.It is not the same restaurant, service attitude, too cool for school--kids who you know eat at greggs regulaly, and are on the rude side, terrible waiting time between ordering a bottle of wine (25mins later im at the bar collecting) etc etc, £130 pounds later, nobody says bye thanks ,,, bugger all.We were sad because for us it was special and its the end of an era.

AndyWMay 27th 2008.

I have eaten here on friday 11th sept and i have to disagree with "fan of the old market" the food was amazing i had the sea food salad which was beautiful as was the terrine my partner had! the mains were equaly as good the steak was cooked perfectly with a delicious butter flavoured with peppercorns my partner went for the blacksticks tart which tasted alot better than it sounded to be honest but then im not a fan of blue cheese so thats probably just preference. I had the rice pudding, which despite what was said above was served in a tumbler style glass and was great although i felt it could have done with a it more chocolate!!! The banoffi brulee was as good as any ive ever eaten!! I would definatly go back and would urge anyone to give it a go!!

northern qtr manMay 27th 2008.

i must admit i've never been disappointed at the market restaurant!

annaMay 27th 2008.

If the author wanted to know what the cheeses were, why didn't he ask? That would seem to be the most sensible option in solving his troubled predicament.

John SMay 27th 2008.

I must admit I was really disappointed when I went recently. It seemed more about marketing that quality market produce. I went there for an anniversary meal recently and thought it was overpriced. The service was appalling we ordered some apéritifs before we ordered the food, they still hadn't arrived by the time they had cleared the starters. They kept ignoring us when we tried to get the waiter's attention, this was despite the fact we were right outside the kitchen door with the waiters barging past us all the time. The whole restaurant was swelteringly hot despite there being air-conditioning that was switched off. The food was more focused on cost than quality. What especially annoyed me was the man, who I can only presume was the owner, who got exceptional service when he decided to eat. I have been several times over the years and always loved it until now. I am never going again.

OBurgerMay 27th 2008.

We regrettably opted to dine at the Market Restaurant recently to mark a special occasion.Service was sniffy, we were somehow made to feel as though we were gate-crashing some Private Members' club. On arrival we were only offered the Christmas Menu, although duly informed when booking we would definitely be allowed a roast (the Manager didn't seem to believe this, or check our reservation details although we'd booked in advance).After enforced negotiation/pleading our case to avoid walking out, our meals took longer to arrive than the only other occupied table, enduring a 40 minute wait for a main course. When the food did arrive it was okay, if miniscule (2 x baby potatoes per person?!) We weren't offered a wine list, and then charged £6.00 per small glass of less than average quality Pinot Grigio. Ditto the coffee, we asked for single coffees, and then served enough for a party of 10!We won’t be visiting the Market Restaurant again.

D JokhiMay 27th 2008.

Having been to the Market a few years ago and loving it, I recently recommended it for my mums birthday. This time I had mixed feeling about it. The Food was great, if a little expensive, the staff were polite and the atmosphere was pleasant, but we went in at 7.30 and didn’t leave until 11.30pm.For a small restaurant the service was very slow and we waited approx 40 minutes in between meals. They had also done a bit of a refurb and removed a lot of the things which gave the restaurant such a unique feeling. I do still love the place and if you want to go out for a delicious meal in a lovely atmosphere then this is the place for you, but make sure you have all night.

cashsnatchukMay 27th 2008.

Naturally,everyone is likely to have a different opinion on the "Market" as everyones tastes can vary wildly, however having visited on more than 40 occasions,twice since new ownership i have to say the old place has a certain charm about it,i and my party personally didnt notice any deviation from the usual standards one has come to expect. Go try it and make your own mind up!!

PaulMay 27th 2008.

Just rang to book for sunday din dins got a suprise no charge for under 8 year olds

FeedthegoatMay 27th 2008.

Our recent visit was good. We went the same week as John McAuliffe - we were told that the head chef was on a week's holiday. Maybe that helps explain some of the problems John experienced.

Fan of the old MarketMay 27th 2008.

Good grief what's happened?We used to love the old Market Restaurant under its former owners. Really welcoming. The atmosphere and food was like stepping back in time 20 years, but it was quaint and quirky and the food was pretty good and the service was charming.But our last visit, since the change of ownership, wasn't so clever. Average food, poor service. So a recent visit was a last chance for The Market. The decor is unchanged from the past. The menu is perhaps simpler than it was, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Good food cooked within the limitations of a kitchen is still good food.Some of it was good this time. A pork terrine and a fillet of pork served with black pudding hash was delicious, though the fillet was obviously from a very small pig, and there wasn't a great deal of it. Some of it was ok. Prawns (supposedly marinated, but we couldn't detect that) were accurately cooked, though the chick pea curry they were served with had too much raw spice in it. Some dishes were just plain unacceptable. Seafood cocktail was an ungenerous martini glass full of mainly salad. It was a struggle to find any seafood. Certainly a high profit dish. Desserts were a particular low point. Fruit crumble had virtually no discernable crumble. Rice pudding came in a shot glass. You might be thinking that I'm going to complain about a small portion. Oh, no. This was far too big a portion. This was completely unacceptable. The rice wasn't cooked. It was hard and solid in the glass. If I was feeling uncharitable, I might use words like congealed and nasty. Oh, but I shouldn't. One of our party answered to the how was it question that it was nasty and unacceptable. The owner quickly turned up and to put none to fine a point on it, created a scene. How dare we say that to his staff? What are we supposed to do? Post on Manchester Confidential and hope he reads it? What an amazingly bad attitude.So do go, but choose carefully. Don't have dessert. And for all that is sacred on this world and the next, don't bloody criticise!

The ModernMay 27th 2008.

Dan---*ouch*. We love the Market. Honest.

AnonymousMay 27th 2008.

Had sunday lunch here yesterday and was impressed, service was slow but the food was lovely. It was a little poor when i went a couple of months ago but definately improved!!

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