It’s not so long ago that a culinary night out in Manchester was a toss up between a random pizza joint and a Chinese banquet. But things have moved on, so much so that the city holds its breath over the first restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star.
Spinningfields seems to have a monopoly on new bar and kitchen openings, thanks in no small part to Living Ventures, owner of, among others, Australasia and The Alchemist. The newest kid on the company’s block is Artisan, a funky mix of artist’s loft studio and concrete minimalism. Set in a vast 12,000 square foot, semi-industrial block on the first floor of The Avenue North, the space itself takes some beating.
Now, I love light-filled eateries, comfy booths and chefs who aren’t afraid to try a few new things with a menu. Artisan ticks all of these boxes, as well as offering chic surroundings and friendly staff. But what about the food?
On the day I visited with my sister, Manchester was in the grip of a heatwave. Artisan hadn’t been open long and was still having some teething problems with its air conditioning. To be honest, me and my sis weren’t unduly put out by this – we had a night of theatre ahead of us in a deconsecrated church that was hotter than hell. And it was a great excuse to chug back some light alcoholic refreshment.
The starters augured well. I plumped for a slice of cheese and onion pie with piccalilli dressing. My god, I do like a tasty condiment. You know that scene in Bridget Jones’s Diary where she eats branston pickle straight from the jar? I could do that with piccalilli. And then move onto tomato chutney without pausing for breath. And this was some mighty fine piccalilli. The cheese and onion slice, meanwhile, wasn’t quite what I expected – more of a quiche than a pie and somewhat disappointing for that reason. Quiche is all well and good but when I want a pie, I want a PIE.
As a dedicated vegetarian, my little sis opted for artichoke petals with garlic and herb vinegar dressing. Wow. A veritable work of modern art arrived, more of a challenge than an appetiser. Written instructions would have been helpful but, with the help of the waitress, she muddled on and was rewarded for her perseverance.
Then, the main event. For me, the New York Deli pizza, a heady concoction of ingredients including pastrami, olives, smoked applewood cheese, guerkin and French’s mustard. Yep, exactly like a New York Deli buttie on a pizza. Normally I’m more of a Vegetarian Hot pizza gal (as my local Pronto Pizza will attest – yes Miss Nugent, no need to place your order, your veggie hot will be with you in half an hour) but I was feeling adventurous. I’m still not sure if this leap into the unknown was worth it but I did scoff the lot. Not so the salt baked new potatoes. I don’t know if the cook had a problem with the pepper pot but the potatoes were so heavily doused that they were impossible to eat.
Over on the vegetarian side of the booth, my sister was tucking into houmous with sugar spiced nuts and crispy flatbread. It was finger lickin’ good but the most exciting element of the dish was its presentation: it arrived on what can best be described as a piece of corrugated roof. This worked better than you might think – the portions were separated nicely and it gave us something to talk about while we waited for dessert.
Ah, pud. We tripped down the days of our childhood and shared an arctic roll. Thankfully, this wasn’t too faithful a reproduction (no sullen dinner lady saying “you’ll have it or you’ll have nowt”). Rather, a genteel helping of raspberry coulis and berries accompanied this 2013 incarnation. We lapped it up.
So, is Artisan a welcome addition to Manchester’s gastronomic delights? Yes and no. The prices are reasonable for what you get and it’s worth paying summat just to eat in such an appealing venue. But they really need to sort out those potatoes.
Review by Helen Nugent
Photos by Ben Blackall
Where: Spinningfields, Manchester
More info: www.artisan.uk.com