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Ruth Allan admires an admirable lunch at Luso and would definitely return

Published on January 6th 2011.


Bridge Street in the city centre seems to change by the hour. Shops and bars come (Vivienne Westwood, Mojo) and go (Aspecto, Richard Crème, Geese) but one, which has bucked the trend so far, is Luso. It’s the city’s only Portuguese restaurant and it’s been a foodie focal point on this city centre street since September 2006.

The interior is a wood and cream paint affair, with a blue mural and some spiky light fixtures bringing warmth to what would otherwise be a minimal space. Wines are almost exclusively from Portugal, and the two-floored restaurant is usually busy enough to feel cosmopolitan but not over-crowded. It’s a place I recommend to friends on dates because taking people out here makes them think you have good taste: not something you can always say about places in town.

Front of house is managed by Luso’s owners, Jane and Carlos Cortes. As a result, you’re guaranteed superb service, and they’ve got experience on their side too. Carlos was the former manager of The Restaurant Bar and Grill (which needs him back, Ed, click here), while Jane did similar work in London’s West End. They’re a confident, comfortable team, and despite falling out and back into fashion over the last two years, the couple haven’t wavered in their commitment to serving authentic Portuguese fare alongside select dishes from the former colonies of that Iberian country.

They’ve got a new head chef called Dan Borza. He’s come from Podium at the Hilton on Deansgate, where he was working under David Gale, and, after starting last month, he’s treated Luso staples - pork vindaloo, clam cataplana and grilled sardines and so on - to a revamp, and thrown in a host of meaty new dishes too.

Spicy lamb rendang with rump of mutton (£16.50) is one tasty-sounding example, as is the pan-fried saddle of venison with bean cassoulet (£17.50). Don’t get me wrong, if you ate here two years ago, and came back tomorrow, you’d probably not notice the difference, but subtle change has taken place, and I think it’s for the better.

My journalist friend David Sue was already in situ when I arrived late for our lunch date. Fortunately, he didn’t look too cross. He’d got a large glass of vanilla-ish rosé (Casal Mendes Rosé £5.50) half-supped, and was flexing the new menu about with enthusiasm. I ordered a glass of house red (Vista TR, £5.95) as David enthused about a new lunch menu of small plates to tuck into. Tempting as they looked – the salt cod fritters in particular (£4.25) - we decided not to limit ourselves.

Choosing salade a Portuguesa (£6.95) to start with, the plate arrived decked in a juicy fusion of blood sausage, chorizo, baby octopus and leaves. The dressing was a little sweet perhaps, but that’s my only possible criticism, otherwise it was the perfect size and the octopus was a highlight. Unlike those chokey, rubber balls which are served in lesser places these eight legged critters were tender as butter.

David’s pigeon breast salad with a blue cheese dressing (£6.50) was, if anything, better. I didn’t get on with a similar bird at The Glasshouse a couple of weeks back, but this reminded me why game is great. Tender, liverish and pink, the breast was presented simply on a bed of leaves, the perfect complement to its breadth of flavour. David ordered another glass of rose to celebrate.

The salt cod Luso (£16.95) is a must-try being the house speciality. Really, I should have ordered glass of white on the side, but the pearly hunks of cod matched the red with ease. Fish for meat-eaters or those with huge appetites, it comes in a gleaming, hearty hunk, surrounded by Savoy cabbage and smooth potatoes.

David chose the lamb rendang (£16.50), which came shredded on a polenta cake, and surrounded by nuggets of mutton. It was another fine example of the kind of simple, flavoursome grub that they serve here, and we polished the whole experience off with the custard-based farofias (£5.50). Just big enough to share, the eggy pudding arrived topped with fresh meringue and wisps of crispy orange peel. Straightforward and very custardy, it made me think of my favourite bits of trifle.

Lunch at Luso was one of the best meals I’ve had in Manchester. Certainly it’s the best I’ve had at Luso. Occasionally, they’ve been a little heavy-handed in the past: too much cream, too much garlic and such like. This time around however, our dishes were the kind of harmonious, elegant creations that you seldom see outside of Michelin starred restaurants. Each element was a fine example of its kind, yet combined they were greater than the sum of their parts. If you like bacon froth and miniature soufflés, you probably won’t like it. If you like simple, good food, you probably will.

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

JayNovember 25th 2008.

The food described doesn't sound very Portuguese to me

CitizenandrewNovember 25th 2008.

Anonymous, I've not eaten a big mac for 20 years. I was just commenting that I'd had a bad meal in Luso, that's all. Thanks Ruth Allan for your positive contribution, maybe I'll give Luso another go.

JonNovember 25th 2008.

This is rubbish. Luso does good food, has decent staff and is an island of quality on the west side of the city centre.

JoNovember 25th 2008.

Jay - the food in Luso is contemporary Portuguese and features cuisine not just from Portugal itself but also its former colonies in Asia. But there are plenty of great examples of modern twists on traditional Portuguese dishes too.I agree that Luso is one of the best restaurants in town. Excellent food and each time I've eaten there the service has been top-notch - friendly and professional with great attention to detail and a lovely calm, understated but welcoming atmosphere. My only tiny quibble would be that one or two more vegetarian dishes would be nice, as then I'd be more inclined to share this great restaurant with vegetarian friends, but other than that, the overall experience of eating in Luso is excellent.

ArNovember 25th 2008.

‘Oi Anonymous’, do you work at Luso or something, or are you just easily satisfied! ‘Complete delight’, that’s a laughable comment! But it’s yours, so each to there own I guess!

shaunacNovember 25th 2008.

this is by far the best restaurant I have eaten in in manchester..in fact probably the best meal I've ever had. The food was excellent and the service was first class. faultless.

esquiloNovember 25th 2008.

The portions may have been small, but be fair, you got to enjoy them twice, no?

AnonymousNovember 25th 2008.

I left after eating at Luso still feeling hungry; I'm not one for big dinners, but the portion of food for the price was not very good. Unlike Ruth Allen's review, the lamb rendang I had was tasteless to say the least and by hiding what little was there by with big leafs of coriander, did not create the illusion of there being more! I was expecting more from Luso. For a start, some of the mains on the website menu are not even listed as options on the restaurant menu! Secondly the place lacks atmosphere; yes it was a Wednesday night and the place was quiet, but I felt I could have been in any restaurant (so nothing special). I felt that the restaurant wasn't sure was kind of customer it was trying to attract either; the decor is basic and simple, apart from two large paintings on the wall which lift the place and the food is edging on fine dining, but fails to deliver. I didn't leave the restaurant thinking 'oh so that's what Portuguese food is', because it wasn't (it was more fusion). The waiter that served us needs to realise he's not serving in the Savoy and the restaurant needs to have some identity, which it's greatly lacking. The food needs to be more relaxed, not trying to be 'haute cuisine'. I will not be going back or recommending this restaurant as there are far more better places in Manchester to dine in

Sue LNovember 25th 2008.

Luso is the best...mushroomand goats cheese starter cant be bettered.Forget the pretentious booths at San Carlos 5 star treatment and food at Luso....

steveNovember 25th 2008.

REMOVED BY EDITORIAL - broke the rules about personal comments and is also clearly written with an axe to grind.

ruth allanNovember 25th 2008.

There is a new chef citizenandrew and he's good.

AnonymousNovember 25th 2008.

Why are some people so obvious and so transparent??

AnonymousNovember 25th 2008.

Citizanandrew, there is a big mac with your name on it in the arndale food court, hopefully thats also what you're looking for in the amount of dinners.

Michael BallNovember 25th 2008.

I am sort of torn between whole heartedly agreeing with the review and everyone's comments and wanting this place to stay a little bit secret because it is the best in town by a reasonable margin. Not much good for the owners if we keep quiet so what the heck - it's a great place, lovely atmosphere, interesting different wine and superb well presented food.

CitizenandrewNovember 25th 2008.

I can't believe all the positive comments refer to the same restaurant I ate in. Only been once, about a year ago, but the starter was tasteless, the main course was very average, small portions (I was still hungry when I left)and overpriced and the service was laughably bad. They were unable to offer us dessert because there was a large party upstairs! I also felt the place lacked any ambiance at all, with the bare windows and tables but maybe that was because there was only 2 other people in the room. I've never considered going back. Just shows you can't please all the people all the time.

AnonymousNovember 25th 2008.

Someone can see through walls and down stairs. Amazing

JamesNovember 25th 2008.

Myself and a friend were very VERY ill after eating here shortly after it first opened and I have avoided like the plague ever since. Will keep an eye on posts here and consider giving it another try at some point.

RebeccaWhoNovember 25th 2008.

Its by far my favourite too. Amazing food, nice ambiance and lovely staff.

crazyjohnNovember 25th 2008.

We were let Luso in Manchester one evening. It was a birthday meal with me mum (hi mum) and my sister (hi). It still rates as the best meal I've ever had I reckon. Plus they brought out a spider-man cake for me. Sweet.

BabyNovember 25th 2008.

Two words for this restaurant; bloody brilliant

AnonymousNovember 25th 2008.

Jo, not all from their colonies, e.g. Japan was not their colony.I agree with Jay, the dishes are more than "twist". But I agree with Jo, also. It is a nice place.

samNovember 25th 2008.

REMOVED BY EDITORIAL - too many unsubstantiated allegations about staff

Viva Chris RonaldNovember 25th 2008.

Shaunac i completely agree, Luso is an absolute gem on bridge st....Great work Jane & Carlos!

John de BaptisteNovember 25th 2008.

hi, i have eaten here a couple of times when wishing to impress birds. Never had a problem with the food, which i enjoyed a lot! Chicks dont like huge portions on a date, they think it makes em look bad, so its a good solution! If you get ill after eating here its probably because you are not used to the richness of it. 4/5 stars from me.

Oi Anonymous!November 25th 2008.

I went to Luso last week so thought i'd guage public opinion on the place as i had a reat night and was shocked that i had never been before afterwards. The reason i thought i'd add a rant is just to ask anon prior to this to get a grip! you sound like you were almost murdered in there. My experience of the staff, food, the atmosphere was one of complete delight. Well Done Luso - Keep up the great work and see you guys soon as like arnie, i'll be back! 10/10

FiNovember 25th 2008.

Citizenandrew, you should, you really should. This restaurant is the best by a country mile. I've been eating here since it opened and never had anything but a brilliant time - great food and service, this new menu is the best yet. It has evolved into the best place in town as far as I'm concerned. Everyone has an off-day, sometimes it just happens. Try again and I'm sure you'll love it as much as me

AnonymousNovember 25th 2008.

Intersting to see that somebody else was ill following a meal here. We ate at Luso this week and were also very ill following the meal. Unfortunately, the meal itself was also a huge disappointment, with the small portion sizes not justifying the price. Overall I was left completely underwhelmed by the Luso experience!

fionaNovember 25th 2008.

we went to luso 2 weeks ago on the off chance as we couldn't get in to another restaurant we'd already tried and tested. so glad we did as it was the best food i've had in years! the best restaurant i've been to in manchester by a long long way. the salt cod was unbelievable.

ivanNovember 25th 2008.

...lovely to hear the place is still going strong & looking forward to checking out DB's new menu next month. Cheerz for the heads up!

KathrynNovember 25th 2008.

My family and I (two adults, three children) ate lunch at Luso recently and found it to be a complete rip-off. For a total of four starters, two mains, two baskets of bread, a plate of olives and two small orders of chips, we paid £75! No, we did NOT order wine. Or dessert. Or coffee. Or even soft drinks! Apparently Luso's owners aren't aware that there's a recession on. Maybe these prices would be acceptable if the service and food were outstanding, but the service was indifferent and some of the food was downright BAD (stand-outs: the vegetarian paella, which had an overwhelming and unpleasant aftertaste, and my scallop starter, featuring a scallop so unappetisingly large and flaccid even the server commented that it looked like it had been harvested near Sellafield--nice!). I don't normally bother to commit my restaurant complaints to writing, but we left Luso feeling so completely fleeced that I feel the need to warn other potential diners: give it a miss.

InterestedFebruary 7th 2010.

Is Luso still open? I liked everything about it except maybe the occasional casual service from the older members of staff. Good food though usually.

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