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Cafe At The Royal Exchange Reviewed

Tom Rowlands thinks in a space this grand the Royal Exchange could try harder

Published on February 15th 2012.

Cafe At The Royal Exchange Reviewed

The Royal Exchange, has been a pillar of Manchester life in various buildings for more than three centuries. 

It needs to make sure the grub is clearly home-made and feels robust and honest. The present offer is desperately out of date. 

Once the centre of the global finished cotton trade, it now famously boasts a theatre-in-the-round carrying over 350 shows per year. There’s also the less formal Studio Theatre too and a craft shop. 

Catering is covered by a small lounge-style restaurant, a bar, and an informal, open plan cafe - the latter the subject of this review.

The first thing that strikes you about the interior of the Royal Exchange is its grandeur. There are tall ceilings with domed skylights, scagliola pillars and even the old ticker board that used to display the prices of commodities sold there. 

Jaw-dropping interiorJaw-dropping interior

In some respects we’re lucky to have the space.

The Royal Exchange was bombed in 1940 and again in 1996, first by the Germans and then the IRA. It’s good then to see the groups of middle-aged women 'lunching' and casual students lounging on sofas and surfing the web. Clearly this is a popular place.

For the opening act, I chose a bowl of tomato soup (£3.95 including a seeded roll) – with if desired croutons and chilli flakes, offered to me by the friendly young member of staff. 

This sort of DIY added flavour option - normally reserved for pizza parlours and food courts – is a point of foodie debate. I'm a firm believer food should leave the kitchen as it’s intended to be tasted.

In hindsight (or maybe Heinz-sight) I should have gone for more chilli flakes. Anything to mask the unnatural sweetness usually associated with a tinned product. You really shouldn’t spend too long wondering if a product is from Heinz.

Shoddy soupShoddy soup

Top billing on this lunchtime visit went to the 'homemade' chicken, mushroom and potato pie (£6.50). Topped with golden, buttery puff pastry, my scepticism took a backset as I bit into tender chicken and rustic, man-sized chunks of potato and mushroom, all swimming in a rich and creamy white sauce. This was a winner. I appreciated the amount of thigh meat over the blander breast – you got to hope this was by design.

Maybe the Royal Exchange could add seasoning and possibly some tarragon or rosemary to cut through the richness of the sauce and take the flavour that little bit further.

The other crazy thing about this pie, is that it came just as a pie, naked so to speak. Surely the Royal Exchange could maybe stick a few greens nearby, add some life and colour and healthy munch?

Decent pie, best thing sampledDecent pie, best thing sampled

The final act came in the shape of an oatmeal and honey cookie and a black Americano (£1.20 and £1.95, respectively). The coffee was of obvious quality, though there wasn't enough of it to soak my biccie. The cookie was GCSE food technology course and nothing more. Drab. It looked like a desert landing strip.

Lifeless, plain and opposite to the surrounding interiorLifeless, plain and opposite to the surrounding interior

It was all a bit poor.

The Royal Exchange catering needs to up its game. Take a leaf out of The Bakerie’s book or Teacup in the Northern Quarter when it comes to food. It needs to make sure the grub is clearly home-made and feels robust and honest throughout. It doesn't have to be fancy but nor does it have to be so desperately out of date. 

The result is there are no showstoppers on a meal visit here aside from the building itself. Given the impact of the latter, if The Royal Exchange catering did cut loose it could surely drag in loads of tourists while pleasing the regulars far more.

At present it's an incidental visit simply not good enough to justify a detour. For a space next to a theatre it lacks any drama. 

All scored Manchester Confidential reviews are impartial and paid for by Confidential.

The Royal Exchange, St Anns Square, City, M2 7DH

Rating: 12/20
Food: 4/10 
Service: 4/5
Ambience: 4/5

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

Tom RowlandsFebruary 15th 2012.

An imposter at work. Nowhere near dry enough. My lawyers will be in touch.

4 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousFebruary 15th 2012.

Sometimes I see your face in my sleep

EditorialFebruary 15th 2012.

So is there more than one than Tom Rowlands around?

Tom RowlandsFebruary 15th 2012.

You've got the wrong one writing on-here. Hit me up. http://www.facebook.com/tomrowlands86

Tom RowlandsFebruary 15th 2012.

joking btw!

Sad but trueFebruary 15th 2012.

Listen at least it's better than the terrible catering at the Opera House and the Palace but still have no idea why it has to be so bland. It's like all the energy goes into the productions and nothing into the bits around

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Latest Rants


The staff should wear clothes made out of corn flakes.

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Dress the staff as Tony the Tiger and the honey monster, otherwise i'm just not interested. ;)

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