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The Rose Garden, West Didsbury, Reviewed

Ruth Allan has a fine time on Burton Road

Written by . Published on December 18th 2013.


The Rose Garden, West Didsbury, Reviewed
 

MODERN British is hard to get right. But head chef and restaurant owner William Mills seems to have finally found his feet at The Rose Garden with his most confident cooking to date. A year on from an indifferent review by restaurant critic Marina O’Loughlin in The Guardian there’s now less muddle through self-conscious complexity. The kitchen is on a roll.

Between us we’ve eaten here together many times, but this is the first I’ve come away meaning to return.  

I’m dining with Gordo and he starts with the ‘3-way mackerel’ (£7.50 - main picture above). A Nordic-inspired rollmop comes with a portion of classic pâté and beetroot-cured fillet. With melba crisp on the side, it’s both skillful and restrained. Mackerel is an everyday fish, the kind of thing, Gordo says, that he’d “never in a million years order”. But tonight it’s the dude at the Christmas party who’s scrubbed up better than you expected – a bit like the Fat One. 

The Rose Garden

 

The Rose Garden

The menu’s full of dishes like ‘Hake! The Herald Angels’ (£18.95) and, my favourite, ‘Deer oh Deer’ (£20.95). This melange of gamey slabs, wrapped in an almost crisp pancetta, is particularly good in that proper, smelly pâtéish way. I love it. Bambi’s friends are a choice bunch too; a slow-braised venison and blueberry pie and a little pan of Madeira-drunk blueberries on the side. Who knew blueberries could be so good? The sweetness has gone skywards and they taste winterishly fresh, like skinned grapes, or slow cooked onions, bringing out sweet notes in the meat.  

Venison

 

Venison

Gordo’s pink-cored baby partridge (£17.95) is a light yet festive affair. Its gentle gamey-ness is made special with a butter-boiled potato and unctuous William pears. A dusting of grass-green sprout leaves smartens up the plate - and the potato’s slightly solid core is the only stumbling block. Impressive stuff. 

Partridge

 

Partridge

Nothing’s perfect, of course, and examples of the faffy old cooking style linger. Gordo describes the dried lavender flowers on my brulee as “dead flies”. They’re dead weight at any rate; neither attractive nor edible. I’m not sure anything has ever benefited from the addition of lavender, to be honest, except footbaths. 

Lavender loss

 

Lavender loss

Another hiccup is pesto in the ‘Bloody Mary’ (£6.95) tomato and goats cheese starter. Tethering the palate to memories of cheap Italian restaurants and their tri-colour salads, it’s just kind of dull. The vodka-tipped tomatoes could have done something gourmet for once, but the moment’s lost in a wash of basil. It’s one of those where it sounds great on the menu. 

Bloody 'Bloody Mary'

 

Bloody 'Bloody Mary'

Drinks are a return to form. 

The only rum in the house is obscure and Guyanese – points for being on-trend - while my Rose Garden Bellini whispers its artisan liquor heritage. The wine is a brickish Rioja from 2001 (Lopez de Heredia ‘Vina Tondonia’ Reserva) which Gordo insists on introducing to our waiter as his “new thing”.

For obvious reasons, I can’t face telling him that the rest of us got into it in 1993. It’s far from the only option, though, and one of the most expensive at £65. Others to look out for include British varietals from the Gusbourne and Biddenden estates in Kent – I’ve had the white Ortega before (£31.95), and it’s a Riesling–style charmer. 

Img_4089Lovely bit of Spanish

The guy who does most of the cooking is co-owner William Mills himself. He grew up around here, going to school in Manchester before learning the ropes in places like Ostara (remember that flash in the pan? It’s now the Beagle) and the restaurant formerly known as Rhubarb. But he’s not an albatross, as all this came before setting up the Rose Garden, with his brother Joe Mill (assistant manager) and Dad, the architect George Mills, who’s also the hand behind the rather avant design of the restaurant (and the designer of the big white Siemens building round the corner on Princess Parkway). 

In fact, a new bar and more seating were fitted in October this year taking the capacity to around 80. The predominant colour is milk bar white, with a few primary colours thrown in; a stripe of lawn green here, an orange stool there. 

Through the round window

 

Through the round window

If Zaha Hadid did nurseries, she’d probably come up with something like this.

I think Gordo finds it less alluring than me. I’m of the Yo Sushi generation, so it just looks a bit 1990s to me. Gordo, on the other hand, winces and groans about the stools, complaining that they’re all “arse-splitters”. 

But in the end, we agree that The Rose Garden seems to have it together. Between us we’ve eaten here together many times, but this is the first I’ve come away meaning to return. The cooking, for the most part, all grown up and service is razor sharp, plus for some reason – lighting perhaps, or soft rock music – it just feels warmer, and more whole. Time to celebrate this peculiarly British family affair. 

Follow Ruth on Twitter @RuthAllan

ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL.

The Rose Garden, 218 Burton Rd, Manchester, Lancashire M20 2LW
0161 478 0747

Rating: 14/20

Food: 7/10 (mackerel 8, tomato 5, venison 9, partridge 7, brulee 6.5)
Service: 4/5
Ambience: 3/5

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

GORDODecember 18th 2013.

Cheeky Cow, when you were drinking shit Rioja in 1993 I was still working my way through second growth Claret... Having spent two years in Burgundy

AnonymousDecember 19th 2013.

It's a shame you even referenced that review in the Guardian, which was more of a lesson in how to write in cliches about the North and gripe about having to leave the confines of the M25 (and on public transport!) than a critque of the food she ate. The readers' comments are still worth a look, however.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousDecember 20th 2013.

The only cliche in evidence is you with your chip on your shoulder. I'm from the north, I had no issue with the review. Besides, she's talking about West Didsbury, it's not as though it has anything in common with the rest of Manchester.

AnonymousDecember 20th 2013.

I'm from the south, so no chip.

Stewie BDecember 19th 2013.

Rose Garden is nice, really welcome venue. This piece highlights my pet peeve though. You can buy a crate (6) of Vina Tondonia Reserva, 2001, for under £100. Yet you get charged £65 for one bottle. I've never been able to come up with a satisfactory answer as to how this doesn't constitute a rip-off. Back to the review: the nordic Mackerel dish is excellent. I'd go back just for that.

Stewie BDecember 19th 2013.

For example: www.rdfinewine.com/…/TONR01B…

Larry OgdenDecember 19th 2013.

Stewie B You have a point, but it's not quite as bad as you make it out to be. The £95 is in bond, so you have to add duty, VAT, shipping.. so it comes out more like £130. Still a healthy mark up though.

Rocky CruzDecember 19th 2013.

Hi Stewie, Do you think the building, lighting, heating, gas, business rates, trained staff, innovative head chef, furniture, decor, flowers, hand soap, glassware, dish cloths, refuse collection, order pads, pens, printing, Xmas decorations, kitchen equipment, salt and pepper pots, napkins, glasswasher fluid, public liability insurance and chopping boards all cost nothing? I could go on. If you'd like a cheaper experience you could try Candian Charcoal Pit down the street where you certainly get what you pay for or else write to your MP about the 20% VAT, the excessive alcohol duty in the UK, onerous ENIC contributions and scandalous business rates. Or else stay at home. You're paying for the experience, not just the wine. If you can recreate that at home then buy the wine and stay in. Sixty five quid for a 2001 Rioja sounds fantastic to me. Is that satisfactory? Signed: The Owner of a Bar/Restaurant in Manchester.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousDecember 20th 2013.

No, it isn't, £65 is still a rip-off and plenty of successful restaurants don't have such a high mark-up.

Wall-EDecember 19th 2013.

If memory serves me right marina said it was good for Manchester and enjoyed the puds. This place got listed in this year's good food guide which is worth mentioning. I would say this is a point or two too low.

TanyaDecember 20th 2013.

Gordo- when exactly did you go? I host a monthly dining club and we waited all of November for The Rose Garden to complete their refurb so we could visit. We finally booked for the first week of Dec. Seated upstairs, it was a little cold and unfortunately the menus were not matching what was online so this threw a little as we were opting for the set menu which changed. I had the chestnut soup (delicious and thick, a delight for the tastebuds), The Ox pudding (6/10 approx on your scale) and the xmas creme brulee (7/10). I have to say, (and this was agreed solidly with my diners), that the food was a touch on the cold side and greatly affected our enjoyment of the food. I also intend to return, possibly when the menu changed, but will ensure we are seated downstairs so our food is not prone to cooling. The waiting was friendly but I did get the impression at times as if it was "hard" for them to please, as our waiter appeared to speak out loud about the compulsory idea of the "customer comes first". However seemed genuine and pleasant. ...On the subject of Rioja....just down the road from the Rose Garden - Lapwing Lane, is the "classic" Railway pub, where I tried my first glass of Spanish Rioja Reserve, approx £7 per bottle, i think 2007. Till this day I still only drink Red Sauvignon- Australian, some shiraz pinot noir and malbec. But ever since that Riojia, I still havent enjoyed another Riojia! ...Try it- its perfect with cheese!

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousDecember 20th 2013.

What wine are you recommending? A Spanish Rioja Reserva from 2007? Yes, go on Gordo, try it, we want to hear your review.

Jonathan Schofield - editorDecember 20th 2013.

Tanya, Gordo didn't write this Ruth Allan did.

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