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Negresco

Jonathan Schofield enters the twilight zone in a recent moody, bone heavy addition to Deansgate’s eating scene

Written by . Published on May 6th 2008.


Negresco

By the third visit to Negresco I’d twigged and brought a torch. This place is so dark any staff who hang around long enough will start to develop huge eyes like cave dwelling mammals and Gollum.

Biology teachers could take their pupils around so they could learn how to identify different species, ‘look, children, see that couple having an affair on table nine, the skull above them is from Mustela nivalis, commonly known as the weasel, note it’s distinctive jawbone’.

In fact there are so many dimly illuminated restaurants around we’re thinking of creating a new ‘dark’ category on our Food Guide on the homepage. Pesto on Deansgate is the most opaque in town at the moment which is an advantage as it means you don’t have to look at what they serve. The Malmaison Brasserie is the best dark restaurant when it comes down to the grub. Look out for the Confidential food-lover’s head torch soon, this will be like a miner’s helmet but so stylish it might become a fashion accessory.

Alongside dark we may need a spooky category as well. Because Negresco is not only dark, it’s terrifying. Inside a bland brick shell from the 1980s the Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe is in full swing. The interior comes with red and black swathes of paint, flickering candles, images of grim faced cardinals plus the largest number of dead animals ever placed on a wall in a Manchester restaurant.

Biology teachers could take their pupils around showing them how to identify different species, ‘look, children, see that couple having an affair on table nine, the skull above them is from Mustela nivalis, commonly known as the weasel, note it’s distinctive jawbone’.

Despite these oddities Confidential likes the place. Dark is good for dining, especially in the evening, making a meal intimate and special. Lots of over-illuminated restaurants need to take note of this. City Café at City Inn for example is so well-lit it apparently serves as an overspill emergency operating theatre for Manchester Royal.

Negresco is part of a chain, a Scouse chain called Korova. They want to do a Living Ventures – the folks behind a million Manchester venues such as Living Room and Grill on the Alley. They want to create mid-range ‘brands’ that plug into the mood of the moment. Nothing wrong with that, of course, as long as it’s done well.

This is more or less what Negresco achieves. In fact, the menu with a few tweaks could be straight from Grill on the Alley: steaks, burgers, classic fish dishes, chargrilled nosh and desserts seemingly designed by a committee of Wilmslow ladies who lunch – or in this case Heswall ladies. Like Grill on the Alley as well, the menu at Negresco trips across Europe like a foodie Inter-railer with enough cash in the backpack to dine at decent places.

Here’s a trio of typical dishes we sampled.

The Fegati di Pollo (£5.20) came with sautéed chicken livers, grapes, pancetta and port jus. It could be accused of being fussy, but was actually very good, combining the right amount of subtlety and rigour, the distinctive flavour of the liver partying with the port gravy very nicely. It looked good as well, Negresco has made an effort with presentation and not just when it comes to death.

The Black Sea bass main (£15.95) was chargrilled correctly, in otherwords heated through to ensure it wasn’t in any way undercooked and then whipped onto the plate before it scorched.

The flavours were strong and the bed of spinach, the rocket and tomatoes complemented it well: a simple dish but eminently enjoyable. The seasonal veg plate which comes with the meal was a little odd though. It came in that fashionable but irritating way on a wooden chopping board, with good beans, carrots and so forth but also with a massive and unpleasant lump of potato. Negresco needs to make that spud more appealing. Sticking with mains a quite excellent pepper and goats cheese risotto (£7.95) and similarly good 8oz fillet of beef (£17.95) should be mentioned in dispatches.

A dessert of Winter Berry Strudel (£4.55), a tight raft of sweet winter berries in crisp pastry, matched the standards of the other dishes, certainly in terms of presentation.

On the Confidential visit we knocked back a bottle of red, a Trulli Sangiovese (£17.75), a bit of an Italian stallion of a wine. This was as dark as the interior of Negresco, but not quite so mysterious, with big obvious fruity flavours.

Negresco makes for an entertaining and interesting visit. It’s dark, it’s spooky, the service is attentive, and the food provides easy eating. The target audience of regular restaurant diners wanting something familiar, comforting and not too challenging will be charmed – unless they are members of animal rights groups in which case they might start a riot. In some respects Negresco is a Berni Inn updated for the twenty-first century and filled with the sons and daughters of that Berni Inn audience.

The only problem is the location. The old Pig and Porcupine pub might once have been Liz MacDonald’s boozer in Coronation Street but it’s also had a history of failure, even seeing off a worthy attempt by the boys from Sam’s and Tom’s Chop Houses. Maybe this time it’ll succeed. It has the might of Korova behind it, it has a clear identity and seems to have pitched the food at the right level. Give it a go, but remember to take a torch.

Rating: 14/20
Breakdown: 6.5/10 Food
4/5 Service
3.5/5 Ambience
Address: Negresco
310 Deansgate
City
M3 4HE
839 7794
Website

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

jamesMay 6th 2008.

ate here last week, great bar, great service and great food. Also, pretty good value. It makes a change to here decent music while eating in a bar too! sure its dark, but it makes a welcome change to stainless steel and halogen! Highly recommended, my new favourite bar in manchester.

DisappointedMay 6th 2008.

It wasn't the fact that there were more staff than people seated, or the fact they got the bill wrong (which we just paid without making a fuss), or the fact I felt pressured to keep my drink re-filled but the fact that when we left we heard ''thanks for coming, don't come back now'' which came from the noisily gossiping group of staff that were hanging around a table at the back unsure what to do with themselves and have now, at their request lost two potentially very good customers.

AnonymousMay 6th 2008.

Gastros was'nt as dark as this

PipMay 6th 2008.

Absolutely lovely. The food has always been exceptional for the price. I love the fact that it's dark, I always hate sitting under a stark spotlight when I'm tucking in (Pizza Express et al...)

AnonymousMay 6th 2008.

OUCH !!!!! Its too dark in here

RustyMay 6th 2008.

Ridiculously dark. Had to steal candles from another table so as to be able to read the menu. The Waitress asked to take a drinks order, and joked about whether we could read the menu or not due to the insufficient lighting. She then tried to play it off on a light that had since been rreapired. Later upon returning to the table from a leg stretch, i bumped in to a table. Mostly my fault but the Waitress again blamed the lighting. You obvioulsy know it's dark, turn the damn lights up!!!! Food is a partially visual experience.

AMCMay 6th 2008.

Went in here on Sunday. Dark - yes; Scary - not quite. I like the vibe in here. The service is good with friendly bar staff. I'd definitely recommend it.

foffiMay 6th 2008.

Make sure you book in advance though! Walked in on Thursday evening at about 6.15pm, only to be kept waiting five minutes while the maitre d' made a phone call then advised us that there have been too many walk-ins this evening and we couldn't be seated. There were about 3 tables being used at this point and there were only 2 of us. Was looking forward to it as well, but have been slightly put off now

moo mooMay 6th 2008.

Popped my head around the door for a quick peek inside on the way back from visiting the 'body worlds' exhibition at MOSI - looked familiar! Will try it out though, it's a much cheaper version of nocturnal dining than in Germany where eating in the dark is apparently very fashionable.

AnonymousMay 6th 2008.

I think the food is great and the service from the waiting staff was bob on and really friendly. I was lucky to be seated right by the lamp but the other people in the party did have to huddle round me to see the menu! I quite liked the lighting tho, it's nicer really. They got our bill wrong to but rareley done, it was to our advantage! But seriously, I would defo go back. Everyone had something different around our table and all were delicious. Thestarer breads with 15 year old balsamic was a dream too..

Jhovian GohdMay 6th 2008.

I've eaten there several times, always been good food and service so far. I agree with James too, about the place having good music, and it's not overly intrusive. As the the darkness, I actually liked that. It made the whole experience that much more intimate.

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