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Arts Brasserie, Piccadilly Hotel, Reviewed

Jonathan Schofield goes on an on about a mural and belly pork

Written by . Published on April 18th 2013.


Arts Brasserie, Piccadilly Hotel, Reviewed
 

SO there's this multi-level mural in the Piccadilly Hotel with which I'm obsessed.

There's an echo here of something, some kind of romance in this concrete monster, still a spirit of "Yeah, man, it's all going be all right, it's all going to be cool."

Resin, mosaic, pebble, bottle-top - anything that the artist William Mitchell had to hand in 1965. Looking hard at the surface there may even be loads of 'acid' tabs stuck in there, because that's what all sixties artists were on, weren't they?

Hidden wonder in Piccadilly HotelHidden wonder in Piccadilly Hotel

I wrote about William Mitchell (click here), but Hayley Flynn's article is better. (click here).

In the mural you can make out domes, peacocks, rainbows and buildings, which could mean anything or nothing.

2013 bland interiors2013 bland interiorsWhat you have to love is the sheer verve and ambition of the Piccadilly Hotel management of the sixties in commissioning the astonishing five floor high artwork.

It's almost a challenge thrown down to the present owners and operators of Manchester hotels saying, "Could you ever think this big?"

Sadly, you need to be on acid in the rest of the hotel to enjoy the place.

Most of the sixties flash has been ripped out leaving only hints of the structure that was once one of the most luxurious hotels in Europe. Now the public areas are laden with mass produced 'abstract' artworks that are so mediocre and so pedestrian a Knutsford teashop would close itself down for shame.

Piccadilly Hotel - 1960SPiccadilly Hotel, on the left, and plaza - 1960s postcard

Yet I can't help returning.

I love the way the crazy place has a reception at the fourth floor level because of course, by 2013, the optimistic sixties thought we'd all be travelling around with individual jetpacks or in helicars.

The bar and the restaurant is the level above, or maybe two levels it gets confusing. From the restaurant there's a glorious view into Piccadilly Gardens which despite being partially wrecked by the unfortunate and grim One Piccadilly building, still provides living TV for diners.

The buses and trams move like clockwork toys, the tiny people scurry round, the Starflyer (click here) spins up and down, and between the buildings on Oldham Street, the Pennines can be glimpsed, field walls and all. 

 

View from the brasserieView from the brasserie

The food on a previous visit a year or so ago would have made a transport cafe owner proud for its lack of sophistication, but this time it was acceptable, very good in places.

Not that it started well.

A glazed fresh fig, mozzarella, herb salad and honey vinaigrette (£5.95) was deeply average, large in scale, low in quality - a thrown together dish. There's simple and careless.

FigsFigs

A prawn and crayfish cocktail (£6.25) with lettuce, spiced Marie Rose sauce and brown sliced bread from Warburtons or Hovis, was as functional as the most Modernist of ultilitarian sixties' buildings. Dull again.

Prawn cocktailPrawn cocktail

The mains showed the chef has talent when he applies it.

The sea bass (£16.25) was described by my dining companion as 'surprisingly nuanced' with its lively bedfellows of chorizo, creamed Savoy cabbage, crispy leeks and Parmentier potatoes. She thought it the best sea bass she'd had in the city for a long time.

Sea bassSea bass

The belly pork (£15.25) was excellent. It was well timed flesh with good crackling, excellent gratin potatoes and bolstering parsnips. I'd go back for that. It was a sturdy and hearty food with no little skill applied.

At the same time it was good to realise that in Manchester there are other things to eat than burgers (although there are five burgers on the menu) and that pork doesn't always have to be pulled. 

Belly porkBelly pork

A chocolate salted caramel torte (£5.50) was a decent blast of salty sweetness to round things off, but was unbalanced by the cream and the orange stuck at one end. 

Mixed up dessertMixed up dessert

Service from Czech Republic Martin was professional and informed, delivered with a smile. The manager should give him a bonus for his unobtrusive up-selling. 

We had to dine in the bar area, rather than the dedicated restaurant bit of the high-in-the-sky dining room, because that was filled with conference folk chattering away. 

The bar area has the world's perfect storm of a motorway service station carpet. It's as if hotel bosses asked for a really bland interior for the Brasserie, and when the interior designers delivered, there were intakes of breath, a round of applause, and statements such as "You've outdone yourself with that bit of weave". Probably a gong was given out during the Hotel Design Awards sponsored by Travelodge. 

Terrible carpetTerrible carpet

If I were the manager, I'd be onto Head Office for a bit of refurb money.

I'd get rid of the world's worst carpet, darken the wood veneer on the walls, buy new furniture, lose some of the irritating TVs, lay the brasserie section with linen (Martin had a lovely picture of it dressed with linen for Valentine's Day), get a couple of local ales propped on the bar, improve the wine list, and get better ingredients in for the chef, ask him to bake his own bread. 

In fact I'd give the chef six months to prove himself. This place could be a real destination for Mancunians. It whiffs of unrealised potential. It needs to match the aspiration of the Mitchell mural.

Like I say though, I can't help coming back.

There's an echo here of something, some kind of romance in this concrete monster, still a spirit of "Yeah, man, it's all going be all right, it's all going to be cool." (This is captured well in another article by Hayley Flynn here.)

When this place was being built on blitz rubble, Manchester was smoke-blackened but going through a sixties mini-boom. United had started to be glamorous, Manchester bands such as The Hollies were becoming famous, and the city was still a major world manufacturing centre. There was even a coal mine, almost 3,000 feet deep, where the Etihad Stadium presently stands.

Piccadilly Hotel site sfter the 1940 blitzPiccadilly Hotel site sfter the 1940 blitz

At the same - it must be remembered - those sixties dreamers were delivering through misplaced good intentions, the inhuman Hulme Crescents and the disaster of Fort Ardwick. Whereas Piccadilly Hotel is a happy example of concrete addiction, the housing shemes were a blight on all who had to live in those concrete warrens. 

As we dined in Arts Brasserie, Margaret Thatcher's funeral played on the TV. Her time, the eighties would be when the full horror of the Crescents was realised, and when industry died - hurried to its grave by the Iron Lady's policies.

Funeral in the brasserieFuneral in the brasserie

There is nothing as weird as the recent past.

There's nothing as weird in Manchester as dining in Arts Brasserie in Piccadilly Hotel.

I recommend having a go. And if you try it, make sure you spend a bit of time on the stairs with the mural as well. 

Bottle tops in the Mitchell muralBottle tops in the Mitchell mural

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here@JonathSchofield or connect via Google+

ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL AND PAID FOR BY THE MAGAZINE.  

Arts Brasserie, Mercure Manchester Piccadilly Hotel,  Portland St, Piccadilly Plaza, City, M1 4PH, 0844 815 9024

Rating: 13.5/20 

Food: 6.5/10 (prawn cocktail 6, figs 6, sea bass 7, belly pork 7.5, chocolate pudd 6)
Service: 4/5 (All down to Martin from the Czech Republic, the waiter, who has his mother over this weekend so be nice.)
Ambience: 3/5 (All four points for the view, if you sit right next to the window, no points for any other ambience enhancing qualities)

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

IanApril 18th 2013.

How much better was Piccadilly in the 60s!

Melanie CashApril 18th 2013.

I know! I lived there not long after it opened as my dad was the GM? We watched in awe as Princess Margarget arrived. On another occasion her niece, A very young and trendy Princess Anne. Then of course Sir Matt Busby and George Best. It was The Lowry Hotel of it's time believe it or not!!

nices wolkchenApril 18th 2013.

how can you possibly score a sliced under-ripe fig with some cheese and rocket .. 6?... its a joke.
and then score the frozen prawn ,crayfish salad with ketchup and hellmans sauce a 6?
is this a joke too?
chorizo (fat), creamed cabbage (fat) , deep fried leeks (fried) , pan fried sea bass (fried) parmentier potatoes (fried) ... where is the balance , where is the acidity? its a poorly composed dish and you score it 7?

3 Responses: Reply To This...
food for thoughtApril 18th 2013.

Agreed , leeks aren't crispy either

nices wolkchenApril 18th 2013.

i know tell me about it! The julienne is crap too. its proper mediocrity , 5 at best.

AnonymousMay 8th 2013.

Given that JS ate the food he's probably more qualified to judge it than you are.

food for thoughtApril 18th 2013.

Too much junk food destroy tastepuds

3 Responses: Reply To This...
nices wolkchenApril 18th 2013.

i feel sorry for simon rogan.. his sole dish scored a seven. Equality in scoring of dishes? i think not!

nices wolkchenApril 18th 2013.

i feel sorry for simon rogan.. his sole dish scored a seven. Equality in scoring of dishes? i think not!

nices wolkchenApril 18th 2013.

ok apologies i read the "Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind" section.

AnonymousApril 27th 2013.

EDITORIAL COMMENT: Obscene rants get removed

AnonymousApril 27th 2013.

ive been to the pic a few times the food is spot on i would defo go back any time for a meal

1 Response: Reply To This...
nices wolkchenMay 7th 2013.

I am actually a student. I suspect you work for the 'pic' hotel. The punctuation would suggest you work in the kitchen. The two separate comments didn't fool anyone either. Try cooking better rather than throwing insults around.

AnonymousMay 8th 2013.

Great....

AnonymousMay 14th 2013.

Thats funny as you have changed your name since you last wrote and no I dont work there ive been there a couple of times and the food is some of the best ive had in manchester and what would you know being a student

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