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Kro Piccadilly, food review

Jonathan Schofield thinks about Danish merchant sailors and the limits of authenticity

Written by . Published on June 17th 2010.

Kro Piccadilly, food review

When I ate at Kro Piccadilly earlier this year, I had a poor experience with the food but it was the rushed, almost dismissive, service which really annoyed me.

While there I sampled the surstromming too. I sampled it in the open air. I think the local authority had cordoned off the area. Surstromming is herring fermented by salt and decay and stored in cans. When you open the can you lose consciousness and nearby dogs yelp, go mad and bite people.

A flock of sheep, a shoal of herring, a murder of Kros. The collective word for crows is an odd one, but murder is what I wanted to visit on one surly member of staff This was a shame, as I like what the Ruby family have done with the six cafe bars they own in Manchester.

Daddy Ruby ran the Danish Food Centre on Cross Street three decades back, the memory of which is held in immense affection by many including our foodie topdog Gordo. Mark Ruby, the son, has with dad’s advice, developed a mini-empire of contemporary bars with their collective hearts in the right place, and with a Danish influence still present.

So I thought I’d give the place a second chance: this time with pen and paper to hand.

The service, I’m afraid to say, was still all over the show. Kro Piccadilly is very busy but that’s no excuse. The young male waiter showed how it should be done with a casually efficient pace to his service, a young female waiter didn’t have a clue and the supervisor looked like she was about to have a nervous breakdown. I suggested we give her a cuddle but my dining chum demurred.

You like clupea herengus, we got clupea herengus

The food was better, this time around, although that seemed down to choice rather than an improvement in the cooking.

Last time I had the biksmad (£8.50) which you have to be a bit mad to love. One of the recipes I looked up called this ‘a very traditional Danish dish and one that merchant sailors love to make when they come off night watch and want a quick easy hot meal.’ Danish merchant sailors can keep it: it’s an indifferent hash of diced pork, spuds and onions topped by fried egg.

Sometimes authenticity in food merely shows the weaknesses of certain cuisines, and by turn Scandinavian foods can be either too plain or completely smothered in creamy, eggy sauces. Hash by its nature is food made from leftovers - whether it’s charmingly Danish or not - and really doesn’t have any place on a restaurant menu unless treated creatively. This wasn’t. There’s a reason why people say someone’s made a hash of something.

This time around I had clupea herengus. Herring. Scandinavians love it. I had it in many forms, in sauce, pickled, and breadcrumbed, with rocket, capers and red onion (£7). I love this dish. It reminds me of Scandinavian excursions, where you find herring dishes everywhere you go. Baltic folk are truly, madly, deeply for the oily fish.

The Danish herrings in Kro were very salty-sea dog. The most simple of the herring presentations on the plate was as clean and bright as a winter morning with the snow on the land behind and a fresh breeze off the Baltic in your face.

Food triggers memories as we all know. I was in Umea in the north of Sweden about seven years ago as a consultant advising the town whether it was ready to sell itself as a tourist destination. It wasn’t. The surrounding countryside was lovely, but the town looked like a Stalinist prison camp. A lot of work needed to be done. Still I ate lots of herring and I walked across a frozen river as wide as the Thames at Westminster.

Medister Sausages, blandly authentic

While there I sampled the surstromming too. I sampled it in the open air. I think the local authority had cordoned off the area. Surstromming is herring fermented by salt and decay and stored in cans. When you open the can you lose consciousness and nearby dogs yelp, go mad and bite people. The rotten fish fillets are served with potatoes and onions, yet somehow the taste is worse than the smell – something you never thought possible. You feel heroic after eating it but slightly frightened. Developed for long sea voyages or long lonely isolated winters, it’s not a food for the 2010 globalised world.

I digress. Back to Kro. We also had the medister sausages (£8.50) from the Danish grub selection. They came with potatoes, beetroot and caramelised onions. The sausages are made from pork mince and taste of very little. The dish is ok, filling, but its only appeal is that it’s a traditional Danish dish. It’s a curiosity nothing more, you wouldn’t want to eat it again. Once more it reveals the problem with authenticity: some foods can end up being a big ‘so what?’

It was time to leave Scandinavia for a while, so we ordered fish and chips (£8.50) and a classic burger (£7.95). Both were excellent, the burger juicy and rugged and the very fresh haddock given a beautifully crisp and delicate beer batter. The chunky chips weren’t chunky enough, but the pea puree and the homemade tartare sauce were as good as the haddock.

In fact the non-Danish food on the menu is usually very good at Kro; my companion declaring special affection for the breakfasts in the Oxford Road Kro Bars.

A bottle of Willowglen Chardonnay was an adequate complement to the meal. A bottle of organic beer from the Aero island brewery called Rise IPA (£5.50) was better; a rich golden and fruity beer of 5.5%. Along with the herring, it was the best ‘authentic’ Danish thing we had.

Battered, beautiful non-herring

Kro Piccadilly, in terms of footfall and visibility, has the finest bar and restaurant site in central Manchester in terms of footfall and visibility. So thank the Lord we have Kro here rather than a Bar 38 or a Wetherspoons. Visitors to Manchester coming from Piccadilly at least get a good city business rather than an identikit chain outlet.

The place works splendidly well as a drinking den with its clipped contemporary design, high ceiling and its outdoor areas. Watching the good, the bad and the ugly in Piccadilly Gardens is great fun too.

The food experience is variable though.

Stick with the herrings and the more standard bar/restaurant food and you should be fine, try the other Danish originals, if curious, but don’t expect to be blown away. Forget the biksmad unless you have some Danish merchant sailors with you coming off night watch.

Rating: 13/20
Breakdown: 6.5/10 food
2.5/5 service
4/5 ambience
Address: Kro Piccadilly
1 Piccadilly Gardens
M1 1RG
0161 244 5765

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

carabuJune 17th 2010.

I really like the atmosphere and bar at Kro but had to give up meeting my friend for lunch there as the food and service were so dreadful. Its a shame they can't match the food up to the bar standards.

LyndaJune 17th 2010.

Last time I was at Kro Piccadilly, I found a milk bottle top in my hot chocolate. The waitress was chatting to another member of staff so I ended up having to walk over to her to get her attention. When I told her, she huffed as though it was too much trouble for her to actually do her job. No apology either. Unbelievably bad service.

Round the cornerJune 17th 2010.

We often eat here for work leaving parties etc as it's a good spot for large groups. We've always had good service in the back dining room - I've never eaten out front so I don't know if that changes things. I have had drinks in the front bar area post-work on a Friday and I found it a bit heavy going.

I like the open face pastrami on rye, the fish and meat platters and the full English breakfast is pretty good too. Nothing is ever amazing, but it's mid price decent grub.

Even better - you get 15% off if you have a System One travel pass.

AnonymousJune 17th 2010.

I too have stopped visiting Kro Picadilly due to the truly horrendous attitude of the staff. it's such a shame because all of the Kros are great, particularly Kro opposite the University. one bad apple tho........

Smyth HarperJune 17th 2010.

Pea puree? Do you mean mushy peas Jonathan? Reminds me of a (perhaps apocraphal) story about Peter Mandelson going into a chipper in Hull and saying that the guacamole looked fabulous...

AgricolaJune 17th 2010.

Smitty, looks like puree definitely. Not sure the editor would like being compared to Peter Mandelson

Smyth HarperJune 17th 2010.

ooh, didn't know about the discount round the corner.

I've always really enjoyed it when at Kro. Although some of the staff are a bit hit and miss, most are very good. Plus it's the first place I ever had that strangely pleasant treat of cherry beer.

Agri - those peas def look mushy!

Leigh ScottJune 17th 2010.

Crap place, crap staff,over priced drinks, crap food- Full every night of the week!

AnonymousJune 17th 2010.

The service in this place is awful, I have been twice for food, wanted to give them a second chance, not only did we have to wait nearly an hour for meal but we were sent the wrong food and were told we would need to wait about 20 minutes whilst they prepared the correct dishes. Never again!

AnonymousJune 17th 2010.

This review is bourgeois Manchester at is worse. "Yeah the fish and and chips were good,but the 'foreign' dishing stunk... "and rather than chose the food service area "we sat in the bar where the food service was awful."

Kro is a Bar, slightly pretentious, which serves snacks and moderate meals.. It's the place where my mate and I go on whim for a chat and eat on Sunday and I pop in for lunch alone about once a week. It is not a 'destination'. The comparison is with the Cornerhouse

My last visit I had the soup, hake with a crusted jacket, and a glass of strawberry beer, for around £12.00 It was 6.30 in the Restaurant area. It was good. The service was discreet though he'enjoyed' my jokes...

Mike WhittakerJanuary 12th 2012.

So bring back the real Danish Food Centre !!

Especially in this era of Borgen and Forbrydelsen.

AnonymousNovember 18th 2014.

KRO didn't open its doors this morning with a loss of over 40 jobs!

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