MANCHESTER RESTAURANT REVIEWS - The French Manchester Reviews  
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The French Restaurant Manchester
Adam Reid At The French Manchester
AddressMidland Hotel, Peter Street, Manchester, M60 2DS
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The French Restaurant Manchester
The French Manchester Reviews

Things change quickly in the restaurant business.  It's a 4 year lifetime ago since Simon Rogan took charge of delivering change at The French; an iconic Manchester institution which ultimately became a victim of its own old school ethos.  In the modern world of high end yet informal, approachable, and non-stuffy environments, living in a city whose attitude towards eating out only exacerbates this requirement; The French of old became a fossil.  

It just wasn’t for most people, especially not a new breed of customer, in a world where everybody is a foodie and hence high end restaurants are now less of a niche than back in the day.  The term 'fine dining' no longer means anything concrete, and can now sway from being a 3 star in Monaco, to a zero star back street brasserie. 

Sadly the stuffy preconceptions over the term, which generate a certain distain from many, have had no place in our city for decades.  Anyway, Chef Rogan was the British chef of the moment back when he got behind the wheel.  Newly embellished with 2 Michelin stars long after it was deserved, a London opening, 10/10 in the Good Food Guide, and he was/still is in my view probably  the 'best' chef in the country, whatever that subjective term means. 

With Chef Rogan's arrival, we saw a less formal approach from him, which seemed to fit Manchester.  No table linen, the now broadly industry overused stoneware crockery, genuinely world class yet friendly service with a smile, and a relaxed version of the décor.  Well, almost as relaxed as you can make a 110 year old listed room which was designed to look like the Palace of Versailles.  And then there was 'that' wood effect carpet, which we tried to like for 4 years but never really did, even if you don’t notice it after a while. 

The French Restaurant Manchester The French Restaurant Manchester

The French became Manchester's best dining experience under the guidance of young rising star Adam Reid; a friendly, good bantered, approachable chap, without a shred of cheffy arrogance, being always approachable, despite supreme talent in the kitchen, and a true Manchester lad who one day was always going to follow in the footsteps of his mentors in term of accolades and industry recognition.  The food had true star quality, being in North Western terms second only to Rogan's flagship itself.  That’s not exactly a slur when you consider that L'Enclume is arguably the best complete restaurant/ethos package in the whole country. 

The new French offered the best front of house team in the area, in fact better than any of our trips to Cartmel.  The food was Rogan driven with the odd Reid twist to it, more so as time drew on.  It was a fine place to eat out, and we loved it, even if the 1902 based décor and the food never really had any synergy with each other. 

It continued to evolve though, always pushing.  In the end it even had its own loo, rather than making punters traipse through the hotel's foyer to pay a mid-course visit, often passing hen parties and people checking their bags in at the grandest hotel in town.  Then Chef Reid became a foodie household name due to his 'Adam's Apple' success on GBM, and every possible box was ticked to secure that star.  The kitchen sinks, both of them, were thrown at that star push. 

The French Restaurant Manchester

Then we hit last October.  Michelin announced via their first ever live, and very badly run presentation from London, that once again The French had missed out on the accolade, whilst just weeks prior they adorned a soy sauce chicken food stall in Singapore with a star, citing food as the only factor that they consider, whilst going on about consistency. 

The excuse was that a star wasn’t adorned because the package wasn’t up to the same food standards as L'Enclume and Fera at Claridges.  Now we've done it ourselves in the previous paragraph, as it's only natural to compare things which are related.  But saying that The French wasn’t star worthy because it wasn’t as good as L'Enclume, or dubiously even Fera, is like saying that The Hinds Head in Bray doesn’t deserve 1 star, or that Dinner having 2 stars is wrong, just because The Fat Duck is a global food mecca. 

Chef Rogan mutually agreed to step away from his QHotels link up soon after the announcement, which was apparently totally unrelated to not securing a star, and was to focus on his other interests.  Id argue that if a star had landed then he wouldn’t have departed, but each to their own view on that. 

The French Restaurant Manchester

So, February 14th 2017 saw the opening of Adam Reid at The French, minus a big press launch, which was refreshing to be honest, and again, very Reid.  The latest incarnation was billed as showcasing an even less formal approach, with the same high standards in terms of food and service. 

When we chatted with Adam in October last year, he told us about a plans for a chef's station in the dining room to add a bit of theatre, that there would be music from his own playlist. Taylor Swift then?  We also heard that the carpet would be going too?  All the initial buzz sounded very positive really, but would it be 'too' informal to have synergy with a room which screams formality? 

Now I'm going to be totally honest here because I've never been a fan of blowing smoke to get free meals.  Without going into detail, I have a lot of history with that room in its 2012 form, and Id argue that there's not a person on earth who loves it any more than me.  A part of me was massively worried about the refurb, the music, the whole format of the ambiance.  Maybe a very small part of me didn’t want to like it either? 

Now once you're in there, truth be told, it's broadly very similar in truth beyond the colour scheme.  It's a handsome place to eat via a darker colour scheme, with better lighting, but with the same overall structure and layout, same tables albeit topped, same chairs, same booths, and same chandeliers.  But then, the room is listed so it can't change much. 

It will always feel old and grand because it just is.  Nothing can ever totally change that fact so I'd rather it didn’t even try.  'That' carpet is also still there though.  Nice one Chef.  Fortunately, no Taylor Swift on the playlist though.  Despite the dark feel, lighting was amazingly good and taking photos was a breeze.  The front of house staff are dressed less formally, and the suit jackets have gone.  Still, their demeanour is the same professional, friendly, yet sharp level which you've grown to expect from Kamila, Rebecca and their team.  Still the best front of house in the city by an absolute landslide. 

The French Restaurant Manchester The French Restaurant Manchester

Now we called in for lunch, and literally ate everything on the menu, so I won't bore you with details on all 15 courses that we shared between us but it's safe to say we enjoyed everyone. 

The stand out ones were a lovely snack of Cod's roe dip, with squid ink wavers (£3), scented with some lovely paprika, giving great smoky aroma to it.  Super smooth, and finished with burnt onion powder for a contemporary black dusting. 

The Crispy Trotter with Pickled Onion (£4) was a cracker, and pure flavour wise, possibly my favourite dish.  Rich and fatty, with great balancing-out acid from the onion.  It also looked great. 

Next was another table favourite, the Fried Broccoli with cheese and truffle (£5).  Anything with truffle will smell amazing, and this did.  Perfectly cooked broccoli and a super-rich yet light and balanced cheese based sauce too. 

Speaking of balance, The Rolling Stones and Oasis soundtrack somehow fitted.  I was happy to be wrong about music in such an old room, and it was very much a background addition, rather than dominating the ambiance. 

The French Restaurant Manchester

Onto the main riff via the bigger plates.  Salt Aged Duck with beetroot and cherry sauce (£14), was a great looking plate.  Super high quality duck, perfectly rendered fat, tied together with the acidic cherry, stacked up to being a gamey taste sensation. 

Red Mullet with Shrimp (£12) was more solid cookery, being the dish which perhaps displayed the most of Chef's previous mentor on the plate than any other course. 

Afters arrived and  the Clementine with White Chocolate (£6) and also the Pink Rhubarb, ginger and malt ice cream (£6) were both served in the same bowl, and looked a bit too similar really when ordered together.  But both tasted spot on, particularly the Clementine which paired well with its garnishes. 

The rhubarb was a bit long cut and stringy so hard to eat without feeling messy, but you couldn’t fault things flavour wise.  The Cinnamon donuts (£4) were a pleasant way to end the 'Afters', course, and would have gone well with a brew had I had the room to fit one in.  They were generally a pleasant set of puddings to end a quick lunch visit. 

The French Restaurant Manchester

Finally though, just when we thought we'd finished, we ended with the Golden Empire (£15), served to our table by Chef himself, for some of that added theatre and customer interaction.  We had it back in October on the GBM lunch, and it was better than back then in fairness.

The same classic apple crumble flavours, with nitro sorbet, and a stunner of a dish.  The sugar apple shell had move down the road a little though, and was now amazingly thin, rather than just being super thin.  You're seeing a bit of blown sugar on menus these days, usually lemons not apples, but doing it to this level is an art-form.

The French Restaurant Manchester The French Restaurant Manchester

So, the new French by Adam Reid, as if it would ever be in doubt, still has the winning formula in spades, and is a logical progression from its predecessor, honed by the personality of a young chef who is now very much at the point in his career where he can operate fully to his own ethos. 

Said ethos feels like being flexibility, approachability, a total lack of pomp, with truly top notch, modern British cooking in an environment which reflects a new chef's vision from scratch, rather than trying to shoehorn an admittedly world class, super organic, Cumbrian based local ethos into a dining space where the food never really fitted the environment. 

Either way, it's pure class from start to finish via the same exceptional front of house, the same creative and talented kitchen, in a lovely space which has changed slightly to reflect a more modern, relaxed and younger thinking project, delivering the same exceptional food standards in a more approachable and informal setting.

The French Restaurant Manchester

What really jumped out is that you can spend as much as you'd like on the full throttle tasting menu dinner experience, but crucially can now indeed pop in for lunch and spend what you like, and not feel at all out of place or unwelcome either.  Relative to this, the lunch service is an absolute bargain. 

You can nip in and sit at the chef's counter over a fine wine, or just a nice craft IPA, eating a tasting menu or just nibbling on a couple of those snacks.  I spent a shade off £20 on lunch for a very average pulled pork burger, chips and a pint at am unnamed  smokehouse in York earlier today.  I sent the burger back as it was overcooked, and watched the chef throw it on the side whist ordering his server to come and explain to me that it wasn’t overcooked and that I was wrong. 

I sat thinking that I could be sitting at The French's chefs station, being looked after with a beer, the trotter, broccoli, cod's roe dip and cinnamon doughnuts, for the same price.  I can't name a tapas bar in Manchester selling food of this quality, in the same currently popular small plate format, especially not for better value for money?

The French Restaurant Manchester The French Restaurant Manchester

That carpet though?  Taylor Swift would be better that that.  I  guess it's a minor thing though, and let's see Michelin even try and use that as a poor justification for their next round of ironically inconsistent and generally flawed ramblings come October.  If they go on about lack of formality overshadowing top notch cooking and service, can somebody remind them of that Singaporean street food vendor for me please? Sandra Handley, Restaurants Of Manchester Trusted Reviewer (Friday 25th March 2017)

4.5 stars
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4.5 stars 88%

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