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Loch Fyne review

Ruth Allan likes the mood, and the attitude of staff but finds the rest, decidedly patchy

Published on September 16th 2010.

Loch Fyne review

Loch Fyne fish restaurant sits beside the Old Parsonage Gardens in a building called ‘Ye Olde Cock Inn’. Now I know its juvenile, but the name makes me laugh. The contrast between this lovely suburb and the idea of an old cock is extreme - but the two are not entirely unconnected, if you take cock to mean cockerel.

The staff don’t outwardly hate you for reproducing, which is a bonus, although the food confirmed my opinion that fish is much of a muchness in Manchester unless you go all out at San Carlo, or take a punt on something mental in Red Chilli.

Back in the 1700s, this former pub was a place where people fought with crazed roosters; today it’s a family-friendly playground.

Two magical parks (Fletcher Moss and the Old Parsonage Gardens) form a focal point for days out and there are a rash of independent shops.

A family-friendly restaurant by the park would be weekends sorted, I thought, as I stood outside Loch Fyne restaurant last Sunday.

Starting out as a shack beside the real Loch Fyne in Scotland, Loch Fyne has grown into a 46-strong chain over the last 12 years. Snapped up by Greene King Brewing and Retailing Limited in 2007 (ooh sexy), the brand nevertheless remains fairly true to its ethical ethos, which is explained on a plaque as you walk in the door.

‘This company is dedicated to the protection of our seas, our maritime communities and all forms of marine life,’ it says. The many menus (specials, two for £10, kids, mains, Christmas) repeat this mantra, as do placemats, staff and comment cards.

Lobsters and sea bass are August and September’s best catches, they advise, drawing your attention over and again to Loch Fyne’s thoughtful fishing methods, and concern for the environment. Oh for God’s sake shut up would you, I thought.

Frankly, I'm not that bothered about where my food comes from, more about whether it tastes good and first impressions were pleasantly relaxed rather than out and out worthy.

Settling into a table by the courtyard with the help of our grinny waiter, I ordered a platter of six of Loch Fyne's own rock oysters for me, my son Arthur (6) and his dad Mark to share, with a steaming bucket of seafood mariniere and heap of pillow-soft bread on the side.

“Nice,” said Mark, as the ice-laden oyster platter arrived.

“Uh,” said Arthur, spitting out an oyster on to the table. “You left the sea water in it. On purpose.”

I nudged him towards the mariniere instead. Warm lime and cream flavours were matched with buttery bread which complemented the stock stoically. At home I might’ve thrown in a few handfuls of punchy herbs into the mix but the dish worked as it was. Arthur’s verdict: “Better than oysters”. Mine: drippy-licious, with several napkins required to recover.

Giving Dad a bit of man-time with the Observer, Arthur and I went for a walk between courses. Ducking under low beams and creeping around corners, we counted 140 seats, around one third of which were populated by families, couples, and perhaps even Mrs Cohen.

The Loch Fyne newsletter told us that she is a very loyal customer approaching her 100th birthday. Congratulations, Mrs Cohen. We tried to spot her, and admired paintings of salmon and trout in soft, washed-out colours. They were cool, we agreed, and we liked the huge, marble altar at the back of the main room too.

Customers can buy fresh fish from this sturdy slab (see some of the pictures which Arthur took of the display) and cold dishes are prepared here too, including our oysters, and my main course dish of lobster with lime and chilli. Cold, compact and clammy with a kind of fake limey flavour, I didn’t like it at all and, more to the point, I didn’t get any lobster deconstructors either.

Arthur liked his simple main of mussels, fat chips and ketchup well enough (okay, he didn’t really eat the mussels, but he did put a couple in his mouth, which I was pleased about) while Mark eyeballed his seafood selection suspiciously.

Built from grilled fillets of sea bass and salmon, with a couple of seared scallops and a shelled, king prawn on the side, the dish sat in an intense, almost meaty bisque. Unsure of where to start, he was waving the king prawn around like a weapon, so I placed my hands delicately on top of his, with the intention of breaking the shell in the right place.

“Get off!” he muttered to me while Arthur was looking the other way. “This isn’t f**king Ghost.”

Indeed it wasn’t a romantic 80s movie and neither was the platter. Too fishy tasting and too over done - although Arthur was into the grilled salmon.

Pushing the bill up to around £95, we shared a lemony bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand’s Awatere Valley (highly recommended) and so-so sticky toffee puddings and crème brulees for dessert, with a Movenpick ice cream for Arthur as part of the weekend's 'kids eat free' deal.

Much like Croma in Chorlton and Didsbury’s Piccolino, Loch Fyne is calm, friendly space that feels distant from world outside.

Stepping in here is like pressing pause on life, a quality which I like in restaurant, and one which makes a return visit likely.

The staff don’t outwardly hate you for reproducing, which is a bonus, although the food confirmed my opinion that fish is much of a muchness in Manchester unless you go all out at San Carlo, or take a punt on something mental in Red Chilli. It was average yes, but special offers such as two meals for £30 with wine, and kids eat free make Loch Fyne worth a punt.

Rating: 14/20
Breakdown: 6/10 food
4/5 service
4/5 ambience
Address: Loch Fyne Didsbury
848 Wilmslow Road
M20 2RN
Tel: 0161 446 4190

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

confused.comSeptember 15th 2010.

This is an honest question.........as a food/restaurant reviewer, how can you not care where the food is from? Do the quality/integrity of the ingredients means nothing. I can't comprehend how taste can be the only consideration when reviewing food, a large factor yes, but not the only criteria.

NahserSeptember 15th 2010.

I agree with the reviewer that the amount of time Loch Fyne tell people about how f*cking green they are would be better spent on making the food edible.

AnonymousSeptember 15th 2010.

You beat me to it with your question Confused.com. Very odd comment from a respected food reviewer. Loch Fyne sold their soul to the high street chain devil a long time ago. The only way to describe Loch Fyne is as a fish restaurant that can't ccok fish. Bit like Livebait really

John HarrisSeptember 15th 2010.

@Confused.com - I think she is saying that quality is indeed everything, but "integrity" is just PR guff

When it comes to seafood, happily these two concepts go together - something wild and organic will both have a happier pre-cooked life, and will also taste infintely better.

The problem for the carnivore with a conscience comes when you get to things like veal and foie gras. Which is fine, just means all the more for uncaring vicious sods like me whose only concern is the quality on the plate

Something FishySeptember 15th 2010.

I think the point is that you hope the restaurant cares where the food comes from so you can dine safe in the knowledge that the food you are eating is fresh, sustainable and in season.

You have to suspect that if so much effort has gone in to talking about the food, and so little in to cooking it, it is a business model aimed at image and not quality.

AnonymousSeptember 15th 2010.

How many restaurants have asparagus on the menu at the moment? Lots. Also received Christmas menus with the luverly stuff on the menu - for December; RBG, hang your head in shame. Oh, I forgot, they have had it on the menu since they opened in 2001....

confused.comSeptember 15th 2010.

Please let me be clear......Personally, I think based on several visits to Loch Fyne restaurants that they are crap. That their marketing is mis-leading, they do beat you repeatedly with their holier than thou claims, left to their marketing dept. they would have you believe that one wooden boat on the loch with a crew of two fishermen with beards,dressed in Arran sweaters supply over forty restaurants.
Maybe I thought the reviewer was making a comment generally on food sourcing not specifically Loch Fyne

RaySeptember 16th 2010.

I'm really pleased that so many have picked up on exactly the same point I was going to mention, that being the sourcing of food. For example, scallops can be trawled or hand dived. The latter is rather more expensive, but if you have any conscience, you should ALWAYS ask if they are hand dived. Trawling wrecks the seabed, kills a myriad number of other species, and flattens diversification. It's wanton destruction of a marine environment. Excessive? No, not really. You have to see the results to believe it. So - caring about where food comes from DOES matter.

GordoSeptember 16th 2010.

Good points raised here.

NortherngeezerSeptember 16th 2010.

Ed - U wanna employ that 6 year old kid as a photographer, they aint no worse than yours mate.

JjSeptember 16th 2010.

maybe mancon should boycot the chains and focus on promoting the indy restaurants in the city and around, there are enough of them and they need the business also...just a thought

AgricolaSeptember 16th 2010.

Indies good yes. But all main restaurants as well.

EditorialSeptember 16th 2010.

That was weird don't know what happened then but dear, beloved USER8056 we love the indies. Of the last ten restaurant and bar reviews, seven have been indies

lozengerSeptember 16th 2010.

We ate their last week - it was OK - nothing special but the staff scare me a bit - so overfriendly it felt insincere.

I ordered the hake steak, they said asked did I want a side dish - I said potatoes please. Waitress didnt think to inform me it already came with potatoes so did I want to choose something else - she just very obligingly brought me 2 huge bowls of potatoes whilst smiling unflinchingly.

I thought it was quite dear too. £60odd quid for 3 of us midweek (one a child) - and I even had the £10 special!

BennyBoySeptember 16th 2010.

This review perfectly sums up the incosistency and often uneducated opinions that appear on ManCon. For a credible site to even let a line like 'Frankly, I'm not that bothered about where my food comes from' through the net is terrible. You criticise many good resaurants and all too often it seems with a sense of glee... This, I hope, will make people sit up and take what you say with a pinch of salt. I'm sure this comment will be deleted but that wouldn't surprise me either!

Review-eurgh!September 16th 2010.

Am I the only one that finds this review rather amateurish? I don't know about the photographs being taken by a child but the review on the whole is very disappointing.

Good points raised so far about the sourcing of the food issue, but not a lot was said about the food itself. Are there any vacancies for food critics in ManCon at the moment?...

WebySeptember 16th 2010.

Loch Fyne (in Stockton Heath, now closed) holds the distinction of being the first and only eatery where I've ever summoned the manager because the meal was so utterly crap.

The cold shellfish platter tasted dubious and the smoked haddock main was flavourless with a bone in, the size of which was more suited to a lamb chop. The sauce was like dishwater and if the mash (sloppy, over-watery mash at that) wasn't made from powder then I'm a potato. The manager (if he was indeed so) tried to be a smartarse at first, cockily saying "what do you want me to do about it, then?" whilst leaning over the table and staring right at me. Intimidation tactics? Oh, purlease. I was there with my wife on our anniversary; I'm hardly likely to let a jumped-up waiter call the shots. After trying to fob us off with free desserts ("we don't want dessert… not if it's a crap as this muck") and bottle of wine on the house, he finally agreed to waive the total food cost.

We left and went on to enjoy plenty of [effectively free] drinks, before calling at the chippy on the way home, which tasted a zillion times better than the gubbins served in Loch Fyne.

Mark ReevesSeptember 16th 2010.

I have never commented on the site before but this review really takes the biscuit. Your reviewer doesn't care where her food comes from?! And you consider yourselves an authority on restaurants?! And you want readers to take you seriously?! Plus you've awarded a better rating to this place over Felicini and The Parlour. GIVE ME A BREAK!

Leigh ScottSeptember 16th 2010.

Ten minutes MARKEYREEVES but I want to back straight afterwards!

Jonathan Schofield - editorSeptember 16th 2010.

Bennyboy as if we'd ever delete your comment. We only do that if you are personally abusive to a living individual and it all gets bitter and twisted. Your comment is safe dear chap.

scallopsSeptember 16th 2010.

This is an appalling review, made even worse by the fact that the reviewer describes an awful meal and then says because it is cheap this miserable excuse for a restaurant is worth going back to. Loch Fyne does not serve food but only misery and disenchantment in copious amounts.

ElbieSeptember 16th 2010.

Fish at San Carlo and Red Chilli? Both really, truly awful on my visits, unfortunately. Best fish recently was at The Mark Addy. Service-wise, I have to say, decent waiting staff make a massive difference to an experience. That's mainly where nearby Felicini falls down (always out of various produce and always late to be seated - very unapologetically).

Leigh ScottSeptember 16th 2010.

Personally I think a good 'seal steak' is missing from the menu...

Paul MastersSeptember 16th 2010.

Its a long way to Padstow so us northerners have to put up with this shite surly there is a gap in the market up here for someone that can cook fish

NeedtoknowbasisSeptember 16th 2010.

Loch Fyne whinges on an on about how green it is. It's nauseating. I think the writer is reacting to that. I liked the piece actually. Chatty, funny. Told me stuff. Better than that new dull writer in the Guardian who's replaced Matthew Norman.

rachelSeptember 16th 2010.

Reassuring that other readers were unimperssed by the "I don't care where my food comes from" attitude. I can't believe ManCon wanted to publish this. "I'll eat what I like and don't care" is all very well until there is no fish left in the sea and meat is prohibitively expecnsive because we've taken no care to catch/produce it in a sustainable way.

Everyone should care where their food comes from!

John HarrisSeptember 16th 2010.

Plenty of great fish available here, if anyone wants to come visit. You can buy it off the back of the boat and get it cooked for you in one of the beach restaurants if you like.

Leigh ScottSeptember 16th 2010.

Oh Rachel lighten up would you? One person's opinion is hardly in demand for a set-standard which should be rigourously followed by a journalistic code... you can go to the MEN for that!

Miserable bloody lot!

GordoSeptember 16th 2010.

Where is here, John?

foodographicSeptember 16th 2010.

The last time I went to Loch Fyne (and it really will be the last time) I felt as though my dish had been put together by their accountant rather than their chef. It was mean and poorly executed.
We also got overcharged, at which the laughing waiter commented that he'd accidentally pressed the 'London Prices' button on the till - WTF?

Of course Ruth should never admit to not caring where her food is sourced.
However, Loch Fyne could have swum into the very foyer of Atlantis itself, and stroked the fish gently until it peacefully surrendered. It's just a shame that they bloody murdered it by poor cooking once got into their kitchen!!
What was once a small group of good restaurants has now sold its sole (see what I did there) and has become an at best average pub chain.

GordoSeptember 16th 2010.

Bennyboy, the Editor is right, we love educated criticism. Whe are your favourite places and why? Maybe you can do a guest review, and I am not trying to be clever.

Jonathan Schofield - editorSeptember 16th 2010.

Gordo, John's in the Cayman Islands he's sat at the end of a quayside with his trousers rolled up catching snapper with an old bamboo stick and a hook on the end of a piece of string. He misses doing that in the Rochdale Canal off Whitworth Street West.

Michael WayneSeptember 16th 2010.

Its as bad up here as it is in Crouch End in London...they lost the plot long ago. I used go regularly when they first opened, big difference to now...enough said.

Jo NSeptember 16th 2010.

As a veggie I'm the last person who should comment on Loch Fyne, and maybe I will be, but - forced to go to the Wilmslow branch recently for a birthday do - my impressions were similar to Ruth's. The place itself was nice enough (as it was in its previous, gastro-pub incarnation) and the staff were lovely, but the food was drear. Fair enough, they're not a veggie outlet, but they shouldn't be offering anything that's tasteless and watery (the soup) or unimaginative and bland (the oversized piece of - guess what? - goat's cheese balanced on some roasted veg in a stale pastry case).

And they kill fish.

Peter HarrisSeptember 16th 2010.

Went to the Stockton Heath once and the Wilmslow once. Unimpressed on both occasions and will definitely not be returning after reading the above. Andrew Nutter knows how to cook fish "á la point" and there are some very good restaurant suppliers in Fleetwood and Clitheroe. Ramson's and Northcote Manor always have high quality fish cooked to perfection.

Peter HarrisSeptember 16th 2010.

that was an "a" with an acute accent on my screen before it was scrambled by the Mancon website!

AnonymousSeptember 16th 2010.

Went to Stockton Heath three times. First was OK, but it was the opening party. Second time was just plain dull. The last visit resulted in violent sickness and I do pride myself on my cast-iron gut. It was apparent it was going to be shit as the grill chef was working as a food runer a few weeks earlier at next door Piccolino. From food runner to grill chef in two weeks tells you all you need to know about this place

fishfingersSeptember 16th 2010.

I felt this more a history of loch fyne rather than a review of food and service, taking 10 paragraphs to mention anything of the food and then a few short lines throughout to tell me anything about it. If she doesnt care where her food comes from, then i look forward to a review on macdonalds, thats child friendly and tastes good*

*exclusions apply!

AnonymousSeptember 16th 2010.

The exclusions* being that it's cheap and therefore acceptable. Does Ruth buy £2 chickens from ASDA?

AnonymousSeptember 17th 2010.

If I believed everyone who is going on about 'where it comes from' actually serious checked out the supply chain for what they bought, or alternatively only bought things near to their basic source (eg wool from Lakeland sheep woven into fustian and stitched by you taylor to make you a winter cloak) I would have some sympathy with their concern.

Human beings have been seeking to muck about with nature to grow things better for twelve millennia. They have been maintaining hunting grounds and other wild food sources for maybe 30 millennia. That why they can afford to have big heads.
Since 1950 food production has been the province of scientific agriculture world wide. I was in at the start! and it's first critique I recall was the Rachael Carson's 'Silent Spring'.

Although 55 years ago at a religious weekend I learn about caring for where it comes from (if you like 'the ethics of the supply chain') I quickly realised I could only devote my life to this if I was Francis of Assisi.

So I cook for myself (better than most restaurants) am not fanatical about my purchases, and hence 'really don't care much about where it comes from'

Jonny VSeptember 17th 2010.

Most of the ranters are hypocrites over this Anon - you rant above shows that. They profess a pure life they can't live. Great work mate. I believe in the last century they called this 'cant'. Some people on here are another word that sounds like that.

James11364September 17th 2010.

Loch Fyne is owned (since 2007) by Greene King, Abotts Ale, Speckled Hen, Ruddles etc. They also own a chain called the Hungry Horse.

Here's what they say about Loch Fyne (annual report 2010).

"Loch Fyne Restaurants, the home of superb seafood and shellfish, has 44 restaurants in the UK, all renowned for their unique buildings and warm ambience. What sets Loch Fyne apart is its approach to environmental issues combined with its attention to detail and focus on quality. It now has sustainability ambassadors in each restaurant able to pass on the latest environmental thinking to customers and colleagues alike."

Maybe ManCon should tell us a bit more about 'ownership' in reviews. Perhaps they could also find someone to write about the dreadful failure of most groups to deliver and how it could be changed.

The experts are at MMU I think.

Jonathan Schofield - editorSeptember 17th 2010.

James11364 if you know some of these experts get them to email me on jonathans@manchesterconfidential.com Thanks, it sounds interesting.

fishfingersSeptember 18th 2010.

its a bold statement to suggest everyone who has written on here is a hypocrite, what if they themselves are farmers or food producers, perhaps they do care where their food comes from. They are faced with an 'i dont care attitude' but i imagine their beautiful produce is often overlooked due to price and convienience, not forgettng attitude. therefore even if its not always feasible to get fresh, locally sourced, ethically produced food the point is: mind sets are important

AnonymousSeptember 18th 2010.

Fact is, the average diner does not care where their food comes from, if they did the cheap chain restaurants and pubs offering a steak for a fiver, would not be packed out. Neither would the £2 chickens be flying off the shelves at ASDA. People want cheap food just as much as they want cheap clothes and cheap flights; at any cost. It's the Primarni effect and it will, one day come back to bite us all.

NortherngeezerSeptember 18th 2010.

The Primarni Effect.................FFS, i ONLY want steak an chips, not a fookin lecture!.

AnonymousSeptember 18th 2010.

Went over your that, did it NG?

Michael WayneSeptember 19th 2010.

Judging by the massive criticism & feed back so far, I don't think they will be at the top of anyone's Favorites list....!!!!

NortherngeezerSeptember 19th 2010.

I googled it Anon...............i got a migraine now#&£*^"!

EARL OF DIDSBURYSeptember 22nd 2010.

I have never bothered going into Loch Fyne in Didsbury as i went to the one in York last year and Henley on Thames about 5 years ago, they serve overpriced fish and in small portions (period).

AnonymousOctober 18th 2010.

Went to Loch Fyne a couple of weeks ago and it really was the worst experience ever! The staff were terrible (bunch of students who didn't have a clue what they were doing), food inedible (the sauce with the mussels looked and tasted like dirty dish water), manager very rude when we finally did complain after a catalogue of disasters and all in all a complete shambles. Dont bother!

NortherngeezerOctober 18th 2010.

Yet another example of fine dining in this fair city of ours eh.

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