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Decanter Review

Having a world-famous football team can do wonders for the perception of a city

Having a world-famous football team can do wonders for the perception of a city. I’ll bet most people think Manchester is more enterprising and bigger than it actually is (it’s England’s seventh most populous city). It’s also a gastronomic horror, the acid reflux of the Midlands, a potholed bypass on the nation’s increasingly smooth road to good eating. When Paul Heathcote, swimming against the tide, opened a Spanish restaurant in Manchester, there were complaints on its website about the quality of the steak and chips. On the other hand, there’s Birmingham, with a football team that specialises in keeping its fans in a state of melancholy suspense before delivering the bad news, a local accent that creates endless jokes for southerners, and traffic patterns that would defy the best brains in the Royal Geographic Society. For the past few years, you could at least be sure of eating very well there. Now, with the arrival of Loves, the odds have swung even further your way. Steve Love is an award-winning chef (accolades include the Roux Scholarship) and a charter member of a loose network of cheerfully innovative, information-sharing cooks like Glynn Purnell, Sat Bains and Claude Bosi. He’s cooked in several smallish towns for a decade and finally settled here, in an attractively simple, modern restaurant on a modest square by a canal, a very urban space – Venice reimagined by Edward Hopper, with ducks and geese The food is complex, finely tuned, and imaginative: slow-cooked pigeon breast and leg with almonds, blackberries and dark chocolate; scallop, pork belly, spicy peas and black-pudding crumble; ham-wrapped monkfish with sweet-sour rabbit roll, soybeans and black rice; ribeye beef, tongue croquettes and braised cheek with smoked potato mash and celeriac choucroute. There’s no wasted effort here, nor, despite the complexity, any unnecessary touches. The flavours work through subtle contrasts and surprises, and are surprisingly wine-friendly, as in a starter of sashimi-grade tuna and beetroot prepared several ways (think New World Pinot Noir, Beaujolais or Valpolicella).

Sommelier savvy: The wine list is contemporary eclectic and hand-picked, with a nice range from all over the world. It’s the work of Claire Love, who is ardent about wine and manages the room and service. It is organised by country rather than category, and features a few distinctive, worthwhile producers, such as Ata Rangi, Benton Lane, Bovio, Clos du Val, Grosset, Ridge, Seghesio, Tapiz, Vesevo, and a Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva 1987, among other notables. France and Italy are especially well represented. Mark-ups are modest, making this a good-value selection; there are 24 by the glass, and a thoughtful selection of half-bottles. Mrs Love is only too keen to discuss and recommend wines, and often hosts Wednesday wine tasting dinners.

Posted on 20th December 2010 by Decanter Wine