Manchester. So much to answer for. Factory records and the rave scene. New Order and the Happy Mondays. The Stone Roses and The Smiths. Fashion and football. Miserabilism and rainy, rainy days.
As lockdown continues, the way we eat in continues to evolve.
While there are plenty of great takeaways across our region – more of which in coming weeks – we are no longer confined to barracks.
The continued rise of heat-at-home boxes is bringing the UK’s best restaurants to our doors.
Affordability and quality are at hand for those who are embracing the idiom that eating in is the new eating out.
From three-star Michelin cooks to the UK’s filthiest burgers, from restaurant-grade pasta and pizza to a la carte dining, all are now available at the touch of a mouse.
It’s called the future. And while some may rail and whinny about the changes in our restaurant trade, they are shouting into the winter on a stormy sea. It’s too late. It’s happened. Embrace the future or be left behind.
Those who continue not to trade are watching their businesses go down the tubes.
Those who, literally, have stepped up to the plate are providing better choice, finding new customers and extending their reputations to far flung corners.
And so, by dint of a mouse click, we find ourselves in Manchester, the city more frequently overlooked by Michelin than any other city on earth.
The French held a star between 1974 and 1977 and famously featured in a BBC2 documentary in which its then-head-chef Simon Rogan duelled with Manchester House chef-patron Aiden Byrne as they tried to win recognition.
Both failed, remarkably, before Rogan moved on and Byrne’s restaurant closed.
That, however, created an opportunity for the dazzling Adam Reid, who now runs the kitchen in The French.
Reid had been selected by Rogan, he thinks, because a local cook was considered preferable behind the stove.
Or perhaps Reid’s being needlessly humble. For when Reid stepped up to the plate, one of the UK’s most important regional restaurants inherited a class act.
Using only the finest seasonal produce available, the food at The French is known across the city and beyond for its exquisite flavours. The menu of modern British cuisine showcases the creative culinary talents of Reid, with a choice of four, six or nine courses.
Reid joined The French back in 2013 as Head Chef, before taking over as Chef-Patron in 2016.
Since then, he has been awarded four AA rosettes, as well as going on to win BBC’s prestigious Great British Menu competition with his signature dessert, Golden Empire.
His list of achievements is stunning. His restaurant was listed as being the UK’s 11th best in the Good Food Guide 2020 while there have been notable achievements from Square Meal, the AA and many others.
Perfectly marrying old and new, The French’s Grade II listed dining room provides an opulent yet welcoming and friendly atmosphere that’s steeped in history.
The box, meanwhile, is just as classy.
Restaurants are getting better at delivery quality to our doors. In the case of Reid, this means a rock’n’roll branded delivery that’s good value at around £45 per head for three courses with bread and beef butter. Yum.
The instructions are clearer than those on offer from any other kitchen, with an outsized A3 list of instructions, folded into three like a menu.
Reid’s personality shines through. His instructions tell customers not to be intimidated – it’s cooking, not assembling flatpack furniture – and he warns people that they’ll have to do their own washing up, with no kitchen porter provided to help. Nice.
There are sensible tips about resting cooked meat and allowing ingredients to come to room temperature. It’s clear he’s thought through the steps that people at home take when they receive the box, and provided instructions to make the journey just that little bit easier.
We started with a French malt loaf with beef butter. Dense, malty and with plenty of rye, it was a fabulously-baked loaf, given added ballast by the umami-rich and thrillingly-decadent beef butter.
In a parallel universe, I may sack off eating three-course dinners and focus exclusively on sandwiches made from French malt loaf and beef butter. It was a thing of beauty.
First up came a baked pear with Stitchelton sauce and chicory with walnut oil and chives.
It’s difficult to imagine a more classic assemblage of flavours. Like a tricolour flag, Reid had lined up compatible elements with considerable skill.
The sweet of the gently baked pear was paired with a beautifully creamy cheese sauce while the bitter chicory leaves and the gently warming heat of the chive oil completed a stunning dish.
Plating up was made easy by Reid’s team, who’d carefully bagged and labeled the disparate components. It doesn’t get much easier – or more delicious.
The main was stunning. Sugar pit bacon was paired with butter braised cauliflower and a garlic and almond crumb. There’s much to be said for dinners that aren’t pointless carbs, but instead focus on big tastes and a sensible marriage of protein and vegetable garnish.
The cauliflower was beautiful. Gently braised in butter, Reid’s treatment elevated the humble ingredient to new heights.
Paired with a tender, sweet fillet of sugar pit bacon, a flavoursome, texturally-sublime crumb and intense sauce, it made for superlative eating.
Dessert was magnificent. A vanilla meringue was served with sea buckthorn custard, orange jam salad and chocolate scraps.
The scraps were redolent of the mini balls from a Mueller yoghurt – let’s level, who doesn’t like those – while the custard and salad showed Reid’s classy.
Again, bringing together bitter and sweet flavours, as with his starter, he demonstrated the remarkable palette that has taken him into the upper echelons of UK chefs.
He was right about the washing up, though.
Mind you, having eaten such good food, there was no disappointment in getting arm-deep in the suds.
Reid is a fabulous, playful and inventive cook whose lightness of touch and marriage of complimentary flavours sets him apart.
Lockdown might be a nightmare for so many, but the emergence of high quality heat-at-home boxes is one of the few bright lights in challenging times.