How one might find oneself in Manchester on a day trip, without entirely meaning to do so:
Step 1 - Buy a massage voucher online, with settings on Local: London
Step 2 - After activating said voucher, find out that the address listed is located in Manchester, and that the voucher for the London outlet was another one altogether with a different (Read: Higher) price
Step 3 - Buy advance tickets to Manchester, which are cheaper than topping up the voucher anyway
Step 4 - Get told by the massage center five minutes later to go to their London outlet instead
Step 5 - Read that cancelling the £12.55 tickets would incur a £10 penalty each way
Step 6 - Get on the train to Manchester on the day. Hope for the best
Lunch at Manchester House had been the only thing I'd planned in advance for the day. I'd booked a table because it had looked terribly interesting online, and I figured I could find somewhere to go from there. I gave myself a forty-five minute buffer in case the train got delayed and to navigate my way from Manchester Piccadilly, but it turned out to be an overly generous estimate, and I wound up getting ushered to the bar to have a drink while waiting for my table to be set up. The bar menu was probably the thickest I've ever seen, filled with rather breathless prose on the history of each cocktail. It would have made for excellent reading in many other situations, but when all you want is a nice, quick overview of what the bar has to offer, it was just too much to go through. I ended up asking the bartender for his recommendations so I wouldn't have to read through the whole thing.
Me: I'll be happy with anything Hendrick's based to be honest.
Mike: You know what, I'll make you something off-menu.
I was given a perfectly balanced Tom Collins to start the day with, and even though it was drizzling outside, it tasted so much like summer I could sit back and pretend I was really on a beach somewhere nice and sunny. On hearing that I was visiting from London for the day, Mike listed out a number of places I should check out around town, which I dutifully keyed into my phone for later use. With the lounge on the 12th floor of the building, he was able to point out the general direction of each location.
At 1.15 pm exactly, I was invited to go down to the restaurant on the 2nd floor, and shown to my table. It was towards the back, fairly far away from the open kitchen. (Alas!) The restaurant itself feels fairly cavernous, and no matter where you're seated you won't ever be in danger of claustrophobia. (The table of four next to me seemed to be seated so far apart from each other I wasn't sure how they managed to communicate.) Manchester House is run by Aiden Byrne, who was the youngest chef to win a Michelin Star, and I was looking forward to the meal.
The bread and amuse-bouche came together, and consisted of an onion brioche, mushroom butter and mushroom consomme with Parmesan foam. The brioche was light and flaky, with slivers of onions studded through, suspended in the soft flesh of the bun. Taken together with the sweet mushroom butter, it tasted like perfectly caramelized onions. The Parmesan foam was a lot thicker and punchier than I'd expected, but the taste of mushrooms in the consomme weren't entirely masked by its strong flavours, which pleasantly surprised me.
When you think everything on the menu sounds brilliant, it's always a good idea to ask for someone else's opinion as a tie-breaker. Hannah was my waitress for the afternoon, and helped me pick out my dishes with great enthusiasm. My starter was hare leg, which she encouraged me to try for the uniqueness of the gamey meat. As she said, it tasted absolutely nothing like rabbit at all. From a very deep red it had been cooked to dark pinkness, and though the meat was obviously very lean it had been prepared so well it remained juicy. The hare was served with caramelized cauliflower, kale and gloriously sweet golden raisins, which I rationed out to eat with each bite of hare meat.
I'd assured Hannah that two courses of red meat wouldn't overwhelm me, so she told me to go for the Ryeland lamb instead of the cod. Onions seemed to be the order of the day, with a gorgeous caramelized onion purée, onion mashed potatoes and pickled onions accompanying the very tender lamb.
Onions aside, there were also two slivers of pungent fried anchovies that came with the lamb. In small doses, the salty-savouriness of the anchovies brought out the delicate flavours of the meat to great effect. It was a really well-crafted dish with lots of complementary flavours.
Dessert was a toss-up between a dark chocolate delice and what the menu simply described as strawberries and cream. Hannah was all for the strawberries and cream, and even brought another one of the waitresses over to convince me I was doing the right thing in ordering it.
"Oh yeah, definitely. Strawberries and cream is amazing."
Faced with that sort of conviction over a dessert, obviously I had to get it. When it arrived, it turned out to be a frozen strawberry juice dome sitting atop a layer of crème brûlée, decorated with strawberry sauce, pansy petals and baby basil leaves.
Shattering the dome, inside was a scoop of strawberry sorbet and a rich champagne mousse. Hidden within the custard layer were bits of chopped up strawberries and little squares of shortcake. It was a really special dessert, especially if you get a bit of everything and layer a basil leaf on top which just made everything taste fresh and more. It was very, very satisfying.
I sat for a while looking at the other diners who were having the six course menu, until I finally got over my lingering food coma and set off for the rest of the day's adventures.