Monday 19 May 2014

Mr Cooper's House & Garden, The Midland Hotel, Manchester

As I understand it, this was the space that the Midland Hotel originally wanted Simon Rogan to take over, but a bit of clever bargaining meant he got The French as well, which was where attention was focussed, and which opened first.

I haven't been to The French: it's easier for me to get to the mothership, L'Enclume in Cartmel, than the French, so I just don't see the point of collecting Rogan restaurants purely for the sake of it.  I'm also not sure what I think about the complete makeover of The French's decor, given that it's a restaurant that holds many memories.

The last time I was in the space (and it's definitely more of a space - a very big space - than a room) that is now Mr Cooper's House & Garden, it was when the great Nico Ladenis opened Nico Central at the Midland in the 1990s, with Clive Fretwell in the kitchen.

Mr Coopers must be the airiest restaurant in Manchester, with massively high ceilings and a light cool interior, particularly in the garden section (the restaurant section: the bar that's key to a Manchester restaurant's success is in the house and library section of the House & Garden).  I'm not entirely sure about the use of garden furniture, but it was on theme and wasn't uncomfortable.

The menu is clearly Simon Rogan stretching his legs beyond the narrow focus of British ingredients, and there's a lot on the menu that I find attractive.  Actually, that's not correct.  I've just looked again at the menu online, and there's nothing on there that I don't find attractive: I'd happily order the lot.

At a recent meal, the starter of anise crusted sweetbreads with saffron risotto and fried leeks was excellent.  I don't think I've come across the combination of sweetbreads and anise before, but it worked so well, and also then in combination with the saffron risotto.  A great dish, but not perfect. I'd like larger pieces of sweetbread - fewer naturally in a starter, but it would also make a great main course if scaled up a bit. When asked, the waiter responded confidently that it was veal sweetbreads, but the smallness of the pieces made it difficult to confirm, and I wondered if it wasn't a bit of a waste chopping a veal sweetbread up like that when you could achieve the same result with lambs' sweetbreads.  The fried leeks were beautifully crisp without tasting overcooked, though so crisp in fact that one speared the top of my mouth and I had to pull it out with my fingers! Not very elegant, and if you happened to witness this, sorry.

Anise crusted sweetbreads with saffron risotto and fried leeks
A steak main course, served with truffle pudding and purple potato latkes was an excellent piece of steak, perfectly cooked and with a good flavour.  The truffle pudding - essentially a bread pudding along the lines of a German Semmelknödel was exceptionally good, definitely threatening to overshadow the steak.  The latkes were a disappointment, however, and again it was an issue of size: they were just too small, which meant they became a tiny potato fritter garnish (you can just about see I think three of them on top of the steak in the photograph below) and lost all latke characteristics.
Cumbrian rib steak, truffle pudding and purple potato latkes

My dessert was White chocolate cake with pineapple-cardamom compote. A warm, moist sponge filled with a layer of pineapple-cardamom compote & then a generous amount of foamy white chocolate sauce.  Of course it was sweet: it couldn't be anything else with white chocolate and pineapple to the fore.  But the balance of flavours - again an unusual combination, I think - was excellent, and there's no doubt it was a well-conceived dish.
White chocolate cake with pineapple-cardamom compote

Service throughout was excellent.  The style is so different to L'Enclume that it easily repays the trip.

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