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Livebait Reviewed: A Restaurant Brilliantly Re-invented

Jonathan Schofield loves the clever, often exquisite work of an Aussie arrival

Written by . Published on May 24th 2012.

Livebait Reviewed: A Restaurant Brilliantly Re-invented


THIS could be one of the best times we've ever had in Manchester city centre for cooking.

You have to applaud the fabulous figs that burst in a sugary blast in the mouth, the carefully worked veg and the little surprise I was talking about, pork scratching affairs, that turn out to be ducks tongues.

John Farrer at Teacup is a fine addition to the city, David Gale is doing magnificent work at Podium, Robert Owen Brown constantly delights and surprises at the Mark Addy, the Moreaus are going great guns at 63 Degrees, Michael Campbell at Doubletree is worth seeking out, Thompson and Guarracino at Cicchetti hit the heights and the kitchens and brigades at MC at Abode, Sole, Australasia, Room, Harvey Nichols, The Northern Quarter Restaurant and Bar, Ning and The Angel can all be exceptional in their various ways.

The pretty exteriorThe pretty exterior

Now add David Spanner to the list. This fairly recent arrival at Livebait on the Lloyd Street corner of Albert Square is the real food deal. In some respects he's had the hardest of jobs. Livebait's had a poor reputation for years, disappointing punters with the quality of its cooking. 

Now under new ownership (Richard Muir's Edinburgh-based Cafe Fish) and due to be re-branded in the late summer, former whingers need to look again. The food produced by Spanner is eye-opening. 

Spanner, the food engineerSpanner, the food engineer

The Aussie chef has cooked in restaurants and cruise ships across the globe. "It's been 20 years of slog," he says.

The slog has paid off. The man allies craft with skill, flair and imagination. 

He says: "Without creating a laboratory kitchen I've a fascination about using different techniques, getting new flavours and bringing in a great variety of texture  - and passing that onto the people who work with me. I'm obsessed with getting the texture element balanced and interesting."

He might also have mentioned that his food looks spectacular. 

Look at the care and craft in the wild striped sea bass (£16) here. The flesh is beautiful, delicately cooked, but because white fish can be a little bland Spanner has added samphire and croutons for crunch. The result is a triumph. 


The salt cod croquette (£14) is another utterly charming dish this time with little beetroot bricks of sheer delight adorned with roasted almonds, tidsy tomatoes and various jellied veg. Taken as a whole it's a meal where give meets take with every bite.

Salt codSalt cod

The fragrant fish and shellfish curry with steamed jasmine rice (£14) is as good an example of this dish I've ever had - and reflects Spanner's Aussie training and global experience. The deep fried whitebait with aioli pictured below for £6 is an A1 version of a classic. 


With all these dishes there are surprises.

This is best summed up by the poached foie gras with figs and pistachio salad (£8). People with a taste for foie gras should rush into Livebait and grab this quick. It's a little work of art, although Spanner's description of the preparation left me a shade exhausted, "de-veining...12 hours in sodium nitrate to keep the colour...tea-toweling...poaching it 90 seconds...leaving another two days..."

It's impressive work and tastes so sweetly, forgivingly, joyous that you have to applaud the complexity.

Then you have to applaud the fabulous figs that burst in a sugary blast in the mouth, the carefully worked veg and the little surprise I was talking about, pork scratching affairs, that turn out to be ducks tongues. 

Cheekily the ducks tongues are not mentioned on the menu. It's a sly surprise that makes the dish so much better.

Foie grasFoie gras

Those paying attention might have realised that foie gras comes from birds of the feather rather than fish in the sea. But a bonus for diners here is that rather than putting just a single steak on the menu in the time-honoured Loch Fyne group way, this fish restaurant shows the same care for its two or three meat dishes as any of the other food.

A good combo classic is the scallop with bellypork (£9) where the elements balance beautifully and the cucumber pickle adds perfectly to the party. But what's that bit of scaffolding rising up there? Crackling you've got to assume - nope, pig's ear, unannounced on the menu, very welcome on the plate. Another Spanner surprise.

Fork bunching bellyporkFork bunching bellypork

The desserts are going to be fully re-visited another day but again do the job very well. Here was a little trio that Spanner gifted us - so we can't review them as such. Suffice to say the chocolate number gives a wacking endorphin rush along with the lush flavours.

Pudd samplerPudd sampler

The practicalities include set lunches of two courses for £9.95, three courses for £12.95. And of course you can get old Livebait stalwarts such as seafood platters for market price, and whole lemon soles for £21. The basket of home baked bread is worth popping in for as a snack at £5. There are only about two vegetarian courses on the menu. 

What Dave Spanner has done is turn the Albert Square/Lloyd Street junction into a food destination for the North West.

I adore his cooking and his attention to detail.

He will have to tread a careful path with his imagination so as not to bewilder diners, but for those who like eating out to be an occasion - and not overpriced - we have a cracking re-invented restaurant to enjoy.

Livebait is a big part of what is making Manchester dining so good in 2012, across a range of disciplines, styles and price points. I know a few writers and regular readers of this site who love a good moan about the city's dining scene.

They need to get out more.  

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield


Livebait, 22 Lloyd Street, City, M2 5WA. 0161 817 4110. 

Rating: 16/20 (please read the scoring system in the box below)
Food: 9/10
Service: 4/5
Ambience: 3/5

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.

Clamming upClamming up

Homemade bread and dipsHomemade bread and dips

Platters availablePlatters available



Livebait chiaroscuroLivebait chiaroscuro


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

pollolocoMay 24th 2012.

can't wait to try this place.

AnonymousMay 24th 2012.

Livebait - bring back the hot shellfish platter cooked in garlic butter!

heyladyMay 24th 2012.

Hi Anonymous, the shellfish is still available either hot with garlic butter or cold on ice

pammyranMay 24th 2012.

*gaaarrrggglle* Think I may have to make a booking, it sounds way too tasty!

AnonymousMay 24th 2012.

Even more excited for my booking on Friday!

The Bear CatcherMay 24th 2012.

Mmmm making my mouth water, is whole lobster back on the menu?!

PeterMay 24th 2012.

Yes I agree the food is lovely, service warm and friendly and prices high but 2 out of 3 of us were sick after eating oysters on Saturday night !

PeterMay 24th 2012.

Sorry guys ! I know that's not nice to write but it's true.

PeterMay 24th 2012.

The 3rd person didn't have any oysters. We shared everything else.

AnonymousMay 24th 2012.

Was in there a few weeks ago and the service was poor.
We had to get our own conduments and ask the staff for any drinks, It was Saturday PM so it wasnt busy and while the staff were nice they just need to be trained to be a bit more attentive.

Need to enhance the service to add to the great food.

AnonymousMay 24th 2012.

think someone is trying to back track now eh peter? first you say 2 out of 3 were sick after eating oysters now u say the 3rd didnt have any?! emm, think someone is telling porkies eh

PeterMay 24th 2012.

You are incorrect so I clarify ... Three of us had a lovely pleasant dinner together. Food was fab. Two of us ate from the oyster platter of 6. One of us did not eat any oysters. The two people who had oysters were both sick, one urgently within 2 hours (he ate 5 oysters) and me, the other, 36 hours later (I ate 1 oyster). I hope that clarifies things. All of the food was really delicious and I hate complaining but this needs pointing out as I was violently ill (in work). I had never eaten oysters before, thus I cautiously only ate 1. I regularly eat mussels, scollops, prawns and never ever get ill. It's put me off risking it again. That's me done. I'm sorry to hurt your pride and put a downer on the obvious effort you are putting in. Everything else was great. There were other customers eating oysters so I wonder how they fared ?

1 Response: Reply To This...
GordoMay 25th 2012.

Peter, It takes more than two hours to get the effects of oyster poisoning and a lot less than thirty six and the effects are horrific and last for up to two days where you are completely debilitated. It is very unlikely that you guys suffered from the oysters. After forty years of Oysters i have never had a bad one. That said, Heston Blumenthall famously poisoned over three hundred people last year at three sittings, the warnings coming the following day.

AnonymousMay 24th 2012.

Why did you guys take my fair review down???

I didnt slag the place off.......I commented on the service and in a positive way!!!!!!!!!!!

AnonymousMay 24th 2012.

Either you want customer interaction and feedback or you dont!!!

AnonymousMay 24th 2012.

fair play, and apologies for making an assumption. Was going to go but i'm not sure now!?!

Jonathan Schofield - editorMay 24th 2012.

Anonymous, we never take comments down unless they are very very personal - that is our USP - I'm not sure which comment you feel we've taken down. So I have no idea what you are talking about. Peter, seafood is as seafood does. If you were ill that happens, although it's never once happened to me after years of eating oysters. This food is exceptional people, just try it. And by the way for lots of the doubting Thomas's out there, Livebait do not advertise with us.

AnonymousMay 24th 2012.

Jonathan, I've noticed comments disappear on your website a few times.... but they tend to come back a day or so later, so I don't think you take them down... I think, shock horror, your website might be imperfect!

1 Response: Reply To This...
CobbydalerMay 24th 2012.

Comments do take ages to appear unless you use Ctrl-F5 to reload the page directly, rather than from the cache.

Wall-EMay 24th 2012.

Bryn Evans new chef at abode. Food here looks good but needs rebrand soon. Wonder how many of above places will feature in GFG this year?

AnonymousMay 25th 2012.

The IT-related problem of rants not appearing immediately once posted has been raised many times by many people yet Man Con still seem to behave as though they are unaware of the problem. Apart from the CTRL-F5 method, I found I could get round it by clearing my cache, logging in on the front page, navigating to the article, then posting. Always works but is annoying thing to have to do every time you want to post.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Jonathan Schofield - editorMay 25th 2012.

We don't ignore them Anon. But we're trying to rectify them. Massive apologies for any inconvenience.

AnonymousMay 25th 2012.

That's good to hear, thanks for the response.

P MaddyMay 25th 2012.

This is tremendous. Livebait needs to invented. Let's hope they get the customers, I had a great meal there recently but it was very quiet.

CheesemanMay 25th 2012.

Yep, let's support this restaurant the food is reasonably priced for the quality. I think it's my favourite place in Manchester at the moment. Can't wait for the make-over as well.

Mark GarnerMay 25th 2012.

Thanks for the tech comments people. The site is running on software that is now groaning with indigestion; we are currently looking at several clever people who are bidding to a)shore it up and b) do a complete rebuild in parallel. So bear with us, the rants are the most important thing on our site IMHO.

pollolocoMay 25th 2012.

Peter..thats the risk with eating oysters. I've eaten them for years and have had one bad experience........can't blame the restaurant though...all they do is open the little blighters!

bigearsMay 25th 2012.

good news about Bryn being back in Manchester centre - about time he resurfaced! And POLLOLOCO its not really a risk eating oysters other wise the Restaurants would have to have a warning about it. Just means they're probably not as fresh as they could/should be. That's not the Restaurants fault either - usually poor suppliers taking the p*ss

1 Response: Reply To This...
pollolocoMay 25th 2012.

I agree Bigears....probaly should have worded that better. I love em!

Stephanie GlugMay 25th 2012.

The main chef here is extremely careful with his sourcing and knows exactly from which area each fish is caught. But it says on the menu 'It is not advisable to consume strong spirits if eating oysters'. You weren't doing that were you.

Stephanie GlugMay 25th 2012.

Seriously good this place. Have a go. There chips weren't mentioned in this review either and they're exceptional.

KckcMay 25th 2012.

Your right Stephanie, it's a cracking restaurant this now but it does need a name change to happen. It's thoroughly devalued in Manchester. The food is well worth a visit though

Terry WardMay 25th 2012.

went yesterday evening and had the "lunch" menu. Excellent will definately return for the a la carte

shabob1May 25th 2012.

"He will have to tread a careful path with his imagination so as not to bewilder diners"
Thats a bit patronising - I'm not bewildered, I think I can manage to get my head round it.

JohnthebriefMay 25th 2012.

Friend of mine had a bad experience with oysters that saw him in hospital for 2 months and off work for 6. For something that is basically flavourless snot, they are just not worth the risk

Paul CarterMay 28th 2012.

Jonathan are you 100 per cent certain what you had was poached foie gras and not foie gras pate? I went on Sunday, ordered the foie gras and what came was, in my opinion, pate not liver, and the picture you have posted looks suspiciously like pate to me.
Overall the meal was great without being particularly memorable and I'm probably one of those people you refer to who bemoan the lack of quality restaurants in Manchester.
Manchester deserves a world class signature restaurant, it doesn't have one, and I'm talking in the vein of Notttingham's Sat Baines or a Pollen Street Social in London.
There isn't one restaurant in Manchester that could walk into the Michelin Guide with a star and that's a problem in my opinion.
True there are now more decent restaurants in Manchester than there has ever been but when are we going to get a knock your socks off eaterie?

3 Responses: Reply To This...
Mark GarnerMay 28th 2012.

Paul, I had it on Friday and it is indeed foie gras; I will guess that the liver is 'moulded' into a large sausage shape, wrapped in cling film and poached at a low temperature for around an hour.mto de-vein

Mark GarnerMay 28th 2012.

Oops, to de-vein the lobes and get them free of the bits and pieces is a great skill. The point is that the results should bring the richest, most flavoursome and smoothest pate in the world, which this chef has delivered in this dish IMHO

Wall-EMay 29th 2012.

Keep hearing rumours of one or two restaurants opening that will raise the bar later this year. Nothing concrete yet though.

David GaleMay 28th 2012.

just wanted to add to the oyster topic the fsa issued warnings about them recently as with global warming and tempertures of the water riasing there has been a significant raise in neuro virouses carried by oysters. this can offer excactly the same symtoms as the talked about food bacterias and this would have no reflection at all on storage or purchessing or serving of the product. that aside food looks great cant wait to eat there will be giving it a go very soon i hope

1 Response: Reply To This...
pollolocoMay 29th 2012.

Hi David....do oyster undergo the same UV treatment they give to mussels etc?

Craig GibsonMay 29th 2012.

Stopped by for a quick lunch yesterday and to be fair I wasn't any more impressed than i was when i visited some years ago. This was however mainly down to the lack of staff, when we walked in, the place was deserted with not a member of staff in sight and with around 12 or so diners. After a couple of minutes the waiter arrived and to his credit was friendly and helpful.

Having ordered we were a little puzzled as to why each dish took so long to come out of the kitchen with so few diners in the restaurant.

Having previously read this review I was excited to taste the whitebait and for that little treat I wasn’t disappointed. The fish were light and fluffy with a nice, thicker than usual crunchy batter. Good start!

My partner had the black pudding with goats cheese, this could have potentially been a disaster of a dish with the cheese and pudding being of similar dense sticky consistency but the saving grace was the chutney sitting between the two. It really brought the dish together and helped to cut through the cheese and black pudding perfectly, would have it again.

For the main course we had mussels and the red mullet, the mussels were tasty if not a little greasy and the mullet was a nice dish but they could have done a better job at crisping up the skin on the fish.

Overall the food was good with the only downsides being the amount of staff and i say the amount rather than the service because when we did interact with the staff they were pleasant and helpful.

If asked about the place id say its ok to stop by as a bit of a change but i wouldnt cross town to get there as there are other places in the town that provide a better overall experience.

David GaleMay 30th 2012.

hi polloloco
to be honest the answer would be i dont know i informed some farms do as there is a farm on the scotish coast called cumbrae oysters which apprently do and i have asked i a fish monger this morning for some technecal info on weather its relavent and industry wide and will post it later when i get it since you asked. hope you have a good day

Neil JohnsJune 14th 2012.

I went last night highlights were the fish pie. Low the scallop (singular) starter with pork, moulles mariniere the sauce was poor. No prawn dish at all on the menu we were told as the chef doesn't like them!

The cutllery, glasses and decor all need changing as they are either dated or knackered. I did raise this with the staff but to be honest I would be surprised if this was fed back.

Can't see this staying open in it's current format if I am honest.

Catharine BraithwaiteJune 18th 2012.

Had an amazing meal yesterday with a group of hard to please fish lovers - the oysters were fresh and delicious, my sole was incredible and the service was impeccable. Thanks for the tip off - we'll be coming again.

IanSeptember 24th 2012.

Went again on Friday with the 50% offer, food was great - king prawn ceviche, whitebait (although mine weren't as crispy as the above picture looks), oysters, steak and chips, seabass, trio of desserts.

I think the restaurant is in need of refurbishment though, seems a bit dull inside.

BenOctober 12th 2012.

Went last night, none of the food looked anything like the above pictures....

Mike HuntDecember 1st 2012.

menu has changed from these photos and they have a new chef the manager was telling us. regular ala carte menu food was fab i've no complaints and what you get is good simple cooking and no other stuff thrown about the plate like baby bubbles and balsamic drizzles! and I wasn't sick after the oysters which were top notch and really fresh - you have to have the lobster thermidor and chips mind blowingly brilliant!! small wine list but does the job - we had an albarino which was great value. i'll go back.

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