Archive for the ‘Restaurant reviews’ Category

Australasia Restaurant, Manchester

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

Time for another review. If you have read my reviews in the past you will be aware that I can normally find fault with most things, but in the case of Australasia I am hard pressed.

It opened in 2011 and there was much talk about it and I couldn’t move an inch around Manchester without someone asking me whether I’d been. I shall admit that I was worried that it would be too trendy and too up-itself for my liking, but – I quickly discovered – that it’s not. In fact, it’s so amazing I must have eaten there fifteen or sixteen times since September last year. I take clients, friends and family and not one person has said anything negative about it… with the exception of my friends last night who said they only wished it wasn’t in Manchester but in their own city. I even seem to have got ‘a table’ – for 50% of my trips to Australasia I seem to have been seated at exactly the same table.

You enter into the restaurant, just off Deansgate, descending underground through a Louvre-esque structure jutting out in front of the Armani shop. The welcome received by the front of house team is professionally friendly and not too overwhelming or aloof.

Once seated at your table – last night I had different table, which did throw me a bit – one of the waiting staff (who are all nauseatingly attractive) comes over and offers to ‘explain the menu’ to you. Now, I do normally loathe these ‘concept’ restaurants where the staff assume you are so thick you can’t work it out for yourself – but in Australasia’s case I can forgive them this gimmick, and they don’t patronize you.

Being a creature of habit, I have the same thing every time I go. To begin, Szechuan salt and pepper beef skewers with sweet soy and crispy shallots, followed by Corn-fed chicken with asparagus, mushrooms and foie gras foam. The accompanying Sweet potato and rosemary mash is a must and I have tried to replicate it many times at Hanson Towers, to some success but nothing compares to the real thing.

There always seems to be ‘someone’ at the restaurant – mostly people from the footballing community (although don’t let that put you off). I have to have them pointed out to me as I could trip over them and still not realise who they were. Indeed, I once was seated on a banquette at Australasia next to a VERY high profile footballer and didn’t clock until the puddings.

Ah, yes – pudding. Now here is where I like to shake it up a bit. I fluctuate each time between Chocolate pavé with sour cherry jelly, griottine cherries and miso ice cream and Espresso fondant and vanilla crème fraiche with walnut ice cream.

I don’t want this review to sound too gushing so I will just nit-pick a bit for sake of balance. The cleanliness of the lavatories is not quite right. They are not dirty (all things considered) but the role of an attendant could be used effectively to spruce them up a bit during service. Things I noticed from last night on my trip to the loo: wet tissue behind the sink, one of the loo roll holders was broken, an unexplained lake of water beneath the Dyson Air Blade dryer. Minor things, but having someone go in every fifteen minutes and spruce the place up may just help.

W.C.’s aside, Australasia gets everything right. The atmosphere is happy, vibrant and the music is present but not so overpowering you have to project your voice just to speak to the person sitting next to you. The décor is light and airy, with an excellent use of Lloyd Loom garden furniture – Hyacinth Bucket once hosted an ‘Outdoors Indoors Luxury Barbecue with Finger Buffet’. Perhaps Living Ventures, who own the restaurant, copied Mrs Bucket’s idea for this first-rate restaurant.

I really cannot say enough good things about Australasia. If I were to run a city-centre restaurant, this is exactly the sort of place it would be.

Service: 9/10
Food: 10/10
Atmosphere: 10/10
Cleanliness: 8/10



Room, Manchester: Room for Improvement

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

Day & time of dining: Saturday, 7pm
Number of party: 3
Cuisine of restaurant: ‘Classic dishes produced with a contemporary twist’ 

So many restaurant reviews focus too much on the food. A critique of the service is often limited to a couple of lines, maybe a short paragraph at most. Good service is becoming a rare species in Britain. My colleagues and I have found that trying to get British hoteliers, restaurateurs and store managers to realise that customer service is crucial is like trying to sell sand to the Arabs. Complacency has developed within the service industry, and in turn I feel that the clientele have lowered their expectations and almost given in to trying to fight for a good ‘customer experience’.

Entrance to Room

Entrance to Manchester's Room restaurant

I recently dined for the second time at ‘Room’, which purports to be one of Manchester’s leading restaurants. Room is located in Spring Gardens, one of several restaurants within literal spitting distance of each other. With such close competition, one would think that the restaurants would have to try even harder to get things right. In Room’s case, this is sadly not the case.

The building is lovely, as indeed most of the buildings in the centre of Manchester are. A former gentleman’s club, the actual restaurant is just one big, high-ceilinged room. The ceiling is carved wood with very intricate features in points; two massive lampshades and bulbs hang down and gently light the restaurant. Although I am still not sure about the quasi-William Morris wallpaper, the décor is quite nice, with the exception of the stairs leading up to the restaurant, which has plastic treads reminiscent of a school staircase.

Room restaurant, Manchester, UK

The interior of Room restaurant

Upon arrival the hostess and a man wearing one of those now trendy (I think?) flat-caps greeted us. The obvious ‘gentleman don’t wear hats indoors’ rule aside, the welcome was welcoming although nothing special. The man asked us whether the three of us would like to share a coat hanger; being British and not wanting to create a fuss, we said yes. Our coats were all very smart coats – one of which was quite expensive and having other coats sit on top of it is not a good idea. But what stunned me was his lackluster approach to putting the coats on the hanger. He hadn’t even bothered to get the shoulders over the hanger and I had to re-place them, as he was about to hang two other coats over the top, which would have creased the bottom coat.

Upon entering the restaurant proper, I was struck by a funny smell, which I had noticed the first time I ate at Room a few weeks ago. The smell mercifully dissipated as we walked over to the far side of the restaurant.

Our waiter – who should have been clean-shaven or at least had a tidy beard (a bug-bear of mine) – persisted in calling us ‘guys’ throughout the meal, which normally I’d be fine with (so many restaurants do it, sadly) but due to the other misdemeanors I was on ultra-critical form.

We had to wait 25 minutes before our drinks came to the table. An apology was offered (last bottle of wine in the cellar) although 25 minutes to search for a bottle of wine without alerting us to why we were waiting… ? Our first courses arrived before any drinks had been brought to us. Extraordinary.

I had the pate & brioche toast (£6.50), which to be fair was delicious. I had this dish the first time I came to Room and experienced deja vu when there was more pate than toast (this is not a fault exclusive to Room – so may restaurants world-over don’t serve enough bread/melba toast meaning there is a large portion of pate that goes uneaten).

The main courses came, and again – delicious. The food is clearly not Room’s problem, although one diner did say that the chips from the ‘Posh Fish & Chips’ were a bit too hard. I had the Beef Wellington (£17.50, plus sides), which like all of Room’s food is ‘deconstructed’ and does not look (or taste) anything like the dishes from which they take their name. As I said, I am not reviewing the food as I am not a chef or foodie and as such I will not attempt a detailed critique. But maybe the chef could rename the dishes, as using well-known names gives diners a pre-conceived idea as to what is coming – only to have equally as delicious but very different food arriving.

Some of the dishes came on slates, which I must say does make it look quirky and quite smart, but they are totally impractical from a service point of view. Like with hospitals nowadays not being run by doctors & nurses, Room’s table settings were clearly bought by someone who has not been a waiter (or ‘table host’ as they are called in Room). Both waiters who cleared our table struggled to pick the slates up, as unlike a conventional plate, there is nowhere to pick up – instead the slates go flush against the table and the method the waiters used was both inelegant and indescribable.

The bill came, although was presented not in any book or with any covering, which was bizarre. A minor transgression but at this point I was noticing everything (including the diners on the next table who were getting a bit too merry and boisterous for my liking).

Upon leaving we once again met the hat-clad man who handed back our coats in one ham-fisted go. Rather than helping the lady of our party on with her coat, he just stood there watching, leaving me to aid (not that I mind in the slightest but at a restaurant at these prices, that is the level of service you should be getting).

The first time I came to Room I left with a weird feeling not knowing what I thought of the place but decided to give it a second go. My second go has now passed and I left feeling mightily unimpressed. Yes, the food is good but the service leaves a lot to be desired. For the prices you pay (which are normal for a London restaurant but higher-end for Manchester) you expect good service. I do wonder whether this is all just noted by me and me alone, but having trained (now) first-class service staff world-over, I am probably more susceptible to noticing the hiccoughs. All the problems (and there were more I have left out of this review!) are easily fixed and like so many other restaurants, Room needs to take the time to train their staff and iron out a few of their rather severe creases.

Service: 4/10
Food: 7/10
Atmosphere: 7/10

Restaurant Review: C London

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

I have thought about writing blog posts on restaurants I have visited before, but never managed to put fingers to keypad. Of course, this has now changed. The blogs I had in mind previously for my culinary musings would have focused on the service (or lack of) but this post is designed to highlight and praise what is probably now my favourite restaurant in London, and one of my favourite in the UK: C London.

Formerly called ‘The Cipriani’, it was forced to change its name to the present title due to a law suit from the Italian hotel (which also owns this restaurant… bizarrely). Situated in Mayfair’s Davies Street, the restaurant is (I discovered subsequently) a favourite of television and music mogul Simon Cowell, and a regular haunt of many A-list celebrities. There weren’t any slebs in when I ate, presumably that was because I was the token sleb at the time (please note the irony).

The restaurant is Italian in theme and like many good authentic Italian restaurants up and down the land they seem to employ half of Italy as their waiting staff. This is not strictly a negative as it does mean efficient and conscientious service, but I often find that it can mean the ‘dining experience’ is over before it has even begun. Maybe I am just fussy as I also don’t like sitting for hours for the food to be brought out, but there is an art in perfecting the timing of the diners’ service.

The one concern I always have with quick service of the food is that it hasn’t been prepared fresh. My mother would always say about late service, ‘well, at least it means it is fresh’. Quite true, and I did slightly question whether the food at C London was as fresh as it could be seeing as it seemed to fly out the kitchen before the waiter had even taken our order.

Any reservations I may have had were quelled when I tucked into Sausage Tagliarelle. The sausage meat had been squeezed out of the sausage skin and gently fried so it melted in the mouth. The pasta was fresh (of course) and a very light sauce coated the pasta. I also tried the Veal Milanese, which was tender and succulent.

I have a very sweet tooth and sadly I did not have time to sample any of their puddings. That said, I find that Italian restaurants generally have a consistently poor selection of puddings – tiramisu, summer pudding, gelati. Although at C London I did glimpse mention of a crepe on their website, so I shall retain judgment on the pudding front until my return visit in a few days.

C London

The interior design is awash with bronze and off-bronze colours. Copper-tinted mirrors clad the bar area, reflecting the 1930s inspired décor. The dining tables and chairs are lower than your average restaurant, which can be off-putting at first, as to a first-time diner it felt a tad like Alice in Wonderland, but it helps the congenial and laid back atmosphere that is synonymous with Italian dining.

Reading this review back it may seem to draw upon negatives and flaws too much, but the fact that I can only pick out one or two minor ones means that it is good: I’m quite critical. The prices are not that expensive for London standards, but it is certainly not cheap. The quality of food one gets and the overall pleasure from eating there is worth the slightly steep prices: if one got more on the plate then they might be justified. But it won’t stop me from going back for more.