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Ego review

Emma Unsworth goes dining with Sarah, Evie and Suzie: the latter becomes a latex skin graft that sticks in the throat

Published on November 30th 2009.

Ego review

When I think about ‘ego’, I think about Chesney Hawkes, aka ‘the one and only’. An awareness of the self as distinct among the masses.

I’d always thought ‘Suzette’ was a French girl’s name. I was wrong. ‘Suzette’ is in actual fact the French word for ‘latex’. I deduced this when the crepes arrived lined up clinically on a white plate, like four skin grafts.

It’s an odd choice for the name of a chain. And yet Ego Restaurants is a small, ten-year-old company with 11 outlets in towns and cities across the region, from Leeds and Liverpool, to Bramhall and Paris – sorry, I mean Prestwich.

The newest Ego boasts an enviable location in Albert Square – no one seems to be able to remember what occupied the premises before, but three weeks ago a new restaurant popped up and inflated to fill the space on the corner between two established bits of Manchester food talent: the Armenian Taverna, and Piccolino (also a chain, but in my experience a good one).

As the double doors closed behind me, blocking out the bustle of a seasonal Town Hall square, I found myself among a comfortable jumble of tables, booths, candles and cushions.

Ego has an instant bistro feel, with dark wood tables, chocolate leather seating and bright halogen spots – but then relaxes beyond mere efficiency with pendulous copper-coloured light fittings, and scraps of mosaic tiling, planks of driftwood and wicker coasters pinned to the walls. The message is probably this: We can serve you fast if that’s what you’d you like, but please also feel free to lounge. It was the first hint of a split personality at work within Ego – more, oh much, much more of which later.

Anyone who’s been watching The Restaurant on BBC Two will have seen Raymond Blanc doing his best Alan Sugar-with-a-French-accent impression while dangling the carrot of business partnership before a selection of hungry, hapless and often pretty hideous couples.

Two episodes in, he had them all sweating at three famous chains: Pizza Express, Yo Sushi and Tampopo (the popular Manchester-based chain). One thing that came as a surprise to me was how much attention to detail ideally went into keeping things consistent (I say ideally, because any chain is only ever as good as the individual taking the orders or slinging the pizzas in the ovens). Did you know that in Pizza Express every single menu is supposed to be precisely angled in the direction of the door? It’s almost creepily OCD, but essentially it’s about meeting expectations, about the lure of the familiar.

Closer inspection of Ego’s interior revealed all the telltale signs of a chain: arbitrary artwork in the shape of black-and-white photos that look like they were taken on a photography student’s gap year (buddhas, boats, deserts, dogs), and then segments of desperately wacky upholstery (if the words ‘desperately wacky’ make you think of Timmy Mallett, you’re on the right track). Yep, I suddenly found myself on a wavelength with Diana Ross, ‘in the middle of a chain reaction’. Not that chains are necessarily bad things per se – as I said, I’m a big fan of Piccolino and Tampopo, but what those two have and Ego lacks is very simple: food focus.

Like the décor, the menu at Ego encompasses a range of influences: France, Italy, Spain, Britain – but then it off-roads into unexpected territory like Greece and Morocco. To look on this kindly, it could be seen as cherry-picking from a world of cuisines. However, the unfortunate, predictable truth is that Ego is jack of all cuisines and master of none.

Still, the atmosphere was pleasantly buzzy on a Thursday evening – so Ego must be doing something right, or at least got its location right. The service in particular was spectacular, which combined with a cheery ambience, left only the cooking as the letdown. But it’s a big letdown if you like paying attention to your plate.

I’d taken along two friends, Sarah and Evie, who both became mums this year. The fastest land animal on two legs? Not in fact an ostrich, but a just-expressed new mum – towards a bottle of wine. Sarah was enjoying her freedom so much she forgot the name of her six-week-old daughter at one point late in the evening (“Oh you know, what’s she called…”). I promised her I wouldn’t put that in.

She ordered seafood fritti (£5.45) – consisting of calamari, whitebait and prawns served with lemon and roasted garlic aioli. The fish was nice, if not very fritti. Downright soggy in my opinion, although Sarah said I was being harsh. Evie had a slightly better starter of grilled goat’s cheese (£4.75) on toasted brioche with caramelised red onions and tomato chutney. The chutney was lovely, but the bread beneath yet again soggy – if it had ever encountered a toaster, it was a distant memory for this brioche. My warm chicken and chorizo salad (£4.95) with a shallot, ginger and orange chutney was boisterous – mostly due to the chorizo, current darling of the sausage scene, which however did need cooking for longer to get properly juicy, and (schoolboy error this one) should have had its stringy skin removed.

Mains cemented the impression of an uninspired kitchen knocking it out by the book – and not a very good book, something akin to Alan Titchmarsh’s fiction. I ordered bouillabaisse (£10.95), which should look like a rock pool, filled with contrasting shells and softness. Ego’s was an insult of tough white fish and passable squid rings, mussels and prawns skidding about in a 2D broth of tomato and onion.

The parsnip crisp-smothered beef bourguignon (£8.95) had also been unforgivably fast-tracked, with chewy chunks of meat and pellet-like button mushrooms. For the love of dentistry, Ego, let your stews stew. The best of the mains was Sarah’s Moroccan lamb tagine (£9.95) – soft meat with spiced vegetables, cous cous, and a green pepper salsa.

I decided to assuage my disappointment with wine – a Pinot Noir – from… guess where in this geographical megamix? Why, Argentina of course. We didn’t dare ask where the bread came from. Andromeda perhaps. Put it this way, it certainly tasted as though it had travelled. You want a crisp baguette with a stew – bread that retains some purchase as you dip. Ego’s bread was space-age, devoid of taste and texture.

But I was yet to face the crepes suzette (£4.45). I’d always thought ‘Suzette’ was a French girl’s name. I was wrong. ‘Suzette’ is in actual fact the French word for ‘latex’. I deduced this when the crepes arrived lined up clinically on a white plate, like four skin grafts. The traditional hot orange sauce was more of a sparse marmalade. Cutting the crepes proved tricky; chewing them, trickier still. (To his credit, the waiter clocked my grossed-out face and removed the crepes from our bill.)

Luckily, my pals were happy to share their puds: nice and oozy warm chocolate fondant (£4.95) and classic vanilla crème brulée (£4.25), the rink of hard sugar cracking open into vanilla-flecked creaminess.

It wasn’t an irredeemably bad meal, it was just on the bad side of okay. Ultimately, Ego is a restaurant with an Id crisis. And so we stepped outside, desperate for clarity, for lucidity, for grounding in our city – only to find… a Christmas market selling olives, and a Santa who looks more like Zippy from Rainbow. Ack!

Rating: 13/20
Breakdown: 5/10 food
4/5 service
4/5 ambience
Address: Ego
9-21 Princess Street
Manchester M2 4DN
0161 819 2464

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

Karen HNovember 30th 2009.

How petty are you Rosie there are two pics among several here that include people, both of whom are mentioned in the review and Cas the writer gave the food 5 out of ten that means it's poor isn't it? Back to the review Ego is another formula of how people think we want to eat. Cleverly though given it's location we will go. It's a slipshod formula though, used through convenience.

KeepitupNovember 30th 2009.

FOODILOVE presumably you prefer critics to say everything is wonderful all the time. Then they wouldn't be critics of course, they'd be arse lickers.

DescartesNovember 30th 2009.

Eat Soup, I find it amazing that ANYONE wants to start a new business at the moment, franchise or not. I just don't get good vibes for independents launching their brand right now.

CasNovember 30th 2009.

Food looks rank, not sure it should have scored so high. Also the Armenian Tavern has really gone down hill, eaten there 3 times over the past year and each time it got worse. Going to give it a wide berth for a bit.

snNovember 30th 2009.

agreed Cas. as noted by Schofield in the days when he was at the MEN, town (within about a square mile or so) has a good diversity of fare, certainly in comparison w its provincial peers anyroad, total misunderstanding of Kevin on my part ensuring i then bleated on about Michelin... ...we can enjoy pan haggarty at Sam's for lunch, decent pizza at Croma, or there's Caines, there's enough for everyone somewhere in town, w'in reason

ego me go no goNovember 30th 2009.

The last time I went to Ego I had to peel the skin off my soup!

SnapperNovember 30th 2009.

Actually, I think the blond lass looks better than any of the food.Looks likethespoon ios about to be used in boiledegg smashing mode though.

scoteeeNovember 30th 2009.

ha-ha-ha, go on Cas, your getting more like my kind of woman every day :@)

CasNovember 30th 2009.

foodilove, I don't think anyone is wishing doom upon the place, just pointing out that a restaurant should serve food that looks vaguely edible. I love the food reviews on here and have often gone to restaurants solely on that advice, the pics are usually tempting too. However the food on display here looks awful. The fritti looks fritti burnt and stodgy to me, not the light fresh starter you'd expect. The salad looks like it's been thrown at the plate which is a sign of the kitchen not really giving a damn. The bouillabaisse looks like someone has poured soup over yesterday's leftovers and the beef looks like dog food with wood chippings on top. I can't make my mind up on bottom left, either the left overs of an autopsy or the sick I see outside the tepanyaki most weekends. Anyway the point is, just because they have a great location (who wouldn't be busy near the Christmas market at Christmas?), doesn't mean they can treat the customers like mugs and serve below par food. I appreciate it's new and may well improve and should I hear it has, I'll give it a go. Until then I'll frequent the much better chains nearby, such as Chez Gerrard and Tampopo.

CasNovember 30th 2009.

I'm not bothered about Michelin stars to be honest. It's no guarantee and I worry sometimes that some restaurants set out with that as their first priority. Locanda Locatelli in London being a good example, probably ticks all the boxes for Michelin but that seems to be the point if you know what I mean. I think Manchester's food scene is very good, there are over ten restaurants that I would say are excellent.

FOODILOVENovember 30th 2009.

that may be your opinion, but have you eaten in there?????? and if you haven't would you???? probably no thanks to the wonderful job that so called food critics do! I honestly think that the food and presentation is of a high standard for the price. But then if you use words such as S**te to describe food im sure you're just a s ill educated as them!!

FOODILOVENovember 30th 2009.

i feel that this is an unfair representation of a wonderful restaurant. Having been a customer of Ego since its arrival on the Wirral, the food, service and ambiance are all very inviting. They offer amazing food at a very reasonable price. Yet again the so called critics try to destroy a new venture !!!! I say go find out for yourself, you won't be dissapointed

The Lampshade with AttitudeNovember 30th 2009.

Thats just because they aren't good looking blokes Rosie. I rather like the look of them. Why not do a bit of match-making Mancon?

AnonymousNovember 30th 2009.

FOODILOVE, you said it was an unfair representation of a wonderful restaurant. The food looks shite, are you saying it looks good?

Eat SoupNovember 30th 2009.

Well done Manchester Council for letting yet another bland and uninspiring chain restaurant set up shop in the middle of the city. Still, it's not as bad as down the road in Wirral where local councillors knocked back plans for Marco Pierre White to open a restaurant there because, in the words of one councillor, "having Marco Pierre White in our town could lead to a big increase in unwanted traffic!!!!" I truly, truly despair.

snNovember 30th 2009.

@Kevin, oops! mea maxima culpa. totally misread you, thought you were going on about Michelin stars. my bad.

Eat SoupNovember 30th 2009.

Independents are thriving in the sticks - check out places like Da Pierro and Sanmini. All over the country out of town independent eateries are doing well. But in the city centres they've been nudged out by places such as Pizza Express, Pizza Hut, Est Est Est etc etc. Go into any city centre and you'll find the same old same old restaurant chains. It's a shame. Now is a good time to start a business, but there's no way independents will ever get a look in on Britain's High Streets.

rosieNovember 30th 2009.

I'd much rather see photos of food and decor than snapshots of the reviewer's mates.

AnonymousNovember 30th 2009.

I have also eaten at Ego in Chester in the past and really enjoyed it, the food was great, good staff and a lovely small cosy restaurant, upset to find it had closed. Went twice to the new one opened in Bramhall, as much much nearer to home, and it was dire, bad food, poor service, yuck, will not even try the one in town.

peteoNovember 30th 2009.

by the look of the food I would rather see pictures of the reviewer / her friends thank you very much

snNovember 30th 2009.

@Kevin, i mentioned this once in another thread so hope i don't sound stuck record (!) but one of Brum's three Michelin stars is in its city centre, to be fair to the place. (and the other two are respectively a mile south of the city centre, and three miles south.) don't know about other the location of other stars in comparable provincial cities and their suburbs i must admit. mind, isn't the one in Belfast in Belfast centre? Michael Deane or whatever. i'm more impressed that smaller (albeit obviously affluent, and pointedly southern) towns like Cambridge, Oxford and Cheltenham have more stars between them than bigger northern towns like here, Pool and Newcastle.

FOODILOVENovember 30th 2009.

far from being a teenager, i've worked in the hospitality industry all of my life and know how difficult it is for any new restaurant to become established. Surely we should be encouraging the likes of Ego and other similar places. At the end of the day it is the diner who decides, and having walked passed there most nights it always looks busy. I wish them the best of luck in their new venture.

FOODILOVENovember 30th 2009.

Having had the pleasure of eating a their establishments in Liverpool and Heswall, i have had the opportunity to try most things on the menu. The lamb tajine is beautifully tender and very tasty. I would say yet again, go find out for yourselves, this is still a fairly young company with years of success ahead.

FiNovember 30th 2009.

"The service in particular was spectacular". Was it? You gave it 3/5, that's not 'spectacular' IMO. EDITORIAL COMMENT: Sorry Fi, Emma originally marked on Food, Decor and Ambience rather than Food, Service and Ambience. Then I (JS) forgot to reinstate when she sent the correct marks back. Now changed.

FOODILOVENovember 30th 2009.

No far from it, i just think sometimes they can be too critical in what they say just to boost their own self importance.

JamesNovember 30th 2009.

Northern Geezer, that's a great line. Well done.

candlestickchimneyNovember 30th 2009.

The one in Prestwich is average, no more, no less. I had to send my monkfish & chorizo stew back last time I ate there, as it was cold, which is sloppy to say the least. The best deals are to be had on the 'early bird' type menus that they do, but they don't seem to vary very much for a 'seasonal local produce' based restaurant. I'd have knocked a couple of marks of the reviewers score.

johnNovember 30th 2009.

I can see what FOODILOVE is saying, i have visited ego in trafford ctr a few times and food has always been ok - good. It does the job it is trying to do. I fail to see why there is a massive outcry whenever any of the restaurants listed belong to a chain ? It either does good food or doesn't !As for Eat Soups comments, there are better places to eat agreed, there are also a lot worse places to eat, but would you get 3 courses in Ramsons/ Harvey Nicks for £20 (without special offers etc ?) i think not so to compare to these is daft !Although i must adm,t that the pics posted would not make me want to vist the place !

HCNovember 30th 2009.

I used to eat in the Ego in Chester all the time. It was a fairly small restaurant but the food was always really good and the menu varied. They also had lots of good offers on for earlybird menus and wine etc. Even went there last New Year and food and service were excellent. There only used to be 4 of these restaurants in the Merseyside area. Suspiciously the Chester restaurant closed about 6 months ago though. I wonder if they have decided to expand to quickly which has left something to be desired which is a shame as the Chester restaurant wa excellent!!

Eat SoupNovember 30th 2009.

Manchester's food scene is pretty weak in comparison with other cities and I feel the Manchester Confidential reviewers do a good job in presenting balanced criticism. FOODILOVE, sorry pal, but you only have to look at the pictures to realise there are far, far better places to go out to eat than this - like Sanmini, Ramsons, Harvey Nicks, Red Chilli, Abode, Choparaya to name but a few. If you believe the sort of food eaten at Ego is worthy of a city centre restaurant then there is something seriously wrong with your taste buds. Either that or you are a teenager, in which case you are forgiven.

ADNovember 30th 2009.

I used to eat regulaly at the Liverpool Ego and the food was great a bargain at the prices as well. Seem that the big corporate roll out has killed the quality - shame

lindaNovember 30th 2009.

I actually have to agree with foodilove. Having frequented Egos branches in both Bramall and Prestwich, i have to say that i was rather looking forward to its arrival in the city centre especially when so close to my place of work. It is true value for money, tasty food, great service and a good atmosphere. I've never experienced anything bad about the place, unlike some other eateries in close proximity. As for "ID crisis"??? it is and does what it says on the label, a great Mediterranean restaurant offering good Mediterranean food. Especially Monday nights, any 2 courses and a bottle of wine each for around £18 per person. I will definitely be returning!!!!!!

CasNovember 30th 2009.

Karen H, what's the point in marking places from 10 if you never use 1,2,3 and 4? Most good places on here get 7, ok places get 6, this looks downright awful and the review reads that way so is it really just one or two marks below a great place? No, so wind your neck back in.

NorthernGeezerNovember 30th 2009.

I've re-read the review and looked at the piccy and i cant make me mind up whether its four skin grafts or foreskin grafts.

AnonymousNovember 30th 2009.

FOODILOVE, so seeing the pics of the food, what would you say?

AnonymousNovember 30th 2009.

If this one is anything like the three (yes, three) other Ego restaurants I've eaten in, it's pants, with a big 'P'. Vile, un-inspring food, served by uninterested waiting staff and cooked by 'chefs' that were previously washing pots (fact). Dreadful. Never, ever again. Tried three times as I thought it may be the location. How wrong could I be?

KevinNovember 30th 2009.

Eat Soup inform us: which other cities are better and please don't go on about places in the suburbs of Birmingham, but other city centres. Which are the stars?

NortherngeezerSeptember 12th 2010.

Did me 1st heroes deal this weekend and it was nice to save £12 off me bill.
The food..............generally distinctly average but an outstanding melt-in-the-mouth-cooked-to-perfection 10oz rib saved the day.
Would i go again?...............well the bloke on the next table raved about his lamb tagine, so yeah, if for no other reason than to try this dish, oh yeah, and the £12 discount.

AgricolaSeptember 13th 2010.

I've used my discount card this weekend as well and it worked a treat. Did it in Luso and they even had a sticker on the window.

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