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Cafe At Rylands Review

Jemma Gibson and Katie Franklyn prefer gypsies to tarts

Published on June 15th 2011.

Cafe At Rylands Review

The food outlets at the University of Manchester are a constant gripe among students. Now everyone can enjoy the same standard of food and service at Cafe at the Rylands on Deansgate. The place is run by the same catering company with the same attitude. 

In Kent the local tart is a Gypsy Tart primarily comprising condensed milk, which is also foul, but, having tasted a Manchester Tart, I think I’d rather eat a gypsy.

Having never visited John Rylands Library I was looking forward to a look round the library and then a spot of lunch. I expected a festival of locally sourced ingredients, hearty food, cakes aplenty and obscure ale. Alas I was disappointed.

The recent extension is a stark contrast to the impressive gothic landmark it caters for, presumably a plain counterpoint to all the vaulting and fancy glass in its older sibling. That’s fine, in rather cold and hard way, its the catering which is the let down. As we sat down, the sticky cardboard menu hinted at the darker truths we would uncover.

I wanted to try the Medieval Ymber Day Tart, at least in part to find out what it is, but it was unavailable, so instead I opted for the Lancashire blue cheese and caramelised onion tart (£4.95).

The ordering process left much to be desired, but thankfully I was kept entertained during the wait by a Cockney fellow wondering what cake to buy. I recommended a Manchester Tart and then enjoyed the onslaught of double entendres.

When I reached the front of the queue, the idea of one person ordering two meals was unfortunately too much for the lady operating the till, so my wait was extended. I also requested a pot of tea for two, and was presented with a pot of tea for one (£1.75), when I asked again I was given another teacup. That is not the same thing. The poor love didn’t know what she was doing but at least she kept smiling. 

The food didn’t improve the experience. The cheese (which was not blue) in my tart, was so overpowering it rendered the huge portion, of what was essentially warm quiche, barely edible. The bland salad upon which it sat is not worthy of mention. The only saving grace, and that’s stretching it, was the fact that, like a number of the ingredients used, the cheese was locally sourced. If that’s your thing.

The other main was the beef and blue hot sandwich (£4.50), a minute steak with a Lancashire blue cheese glaze served on a toasted bloomer, accompanied by a side salad and garnish. The wholegrain bread was lovely and toasted to perfection, and the side salad was a refreshing companion to the saltiness of the cheese. The cheese was mild, but my dining companion, Katie, said she was pleasantly aware of its salty, tangy presence as it held the bread and the steak together with its moist, sticky character.

It was a shame about the steak though. It was absolutely ‘un-cuttable’. Minute steak is supposed to have a tender texture due to the mallet used to pound the meat so that it can easily be cut with a fork. This was not the case. With no steak knife provided, wobbling the table whilst battling with the cutlery became a theme. Katie left a quarter of the meat to a fly which persistently buzzed around.

Having never tried Manchester Tart (£3.25), we felt obliged to do so. I wish I’d done my research beforehand, and known what was coming. The mixture of wobbly custard, desiccated coconut, and pastry was enough, before I reached the bottom and pulled out a long slice of banana, coated in something with the appearance of jam, and no taste at all.

The Health and Beauty editor of Confidential Lynda Moyo, loved the Manchester Tart on a recent visit. But she’s from the North and maybe used to it. I’m not.

In Kent, my homeland, the local tart is a Gypsy Tart primarily comprising condensed milk, which is also foul, but, now having tasted a Manchester Tart, I think I’d rather eat a gypsy than use a tart. Where’s that Cockney man when you need him?

Suffice to say I was grateful for the carrot cake (£2.75) we’d also ordered. This was a tasty morsel that provided a pleasant end to the poor food.

A highlight was knowing the pain was being shared by a celebrity. Gail Platt from Corrie was tucking into what looked like a pitta and salad platter. Let’s hope it wasn’t as much of a soap opera as the steak sandwich.

For a student at the University of Manchester, Cafe at Rylands, was a sort of home from home, only pricier, slightly fancier and worse.

I would heartily recommend a visit to the library for anyone who hasn’t been, it’s a Victorian gem with one of the finest collections of books and manuscripts anywhere on the planet. Then I recommend you have a cup of tea in a neighbouring cafe or restaurant.

ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL AND PAID FOR BY THE MAGAZINE. £1000 to the reader who can prove otherwise, and dismissal for the staff member who wrote a review scored out of twenty on a freebie from the restaurant.

Cafe at the Rylands
John Rylands Library
150 Deansgate
City 0161 275 3764

Rating: 7/20
Food: 3/10
Service: 2/5
Ambience: 2/5


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: Gordo gets carried away.

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Calum McGJune 16th 2011.

I hope UoM will improve things - the JRL is a truly wonderful building and deserves a good caf.

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