“We need to go outside.”
Michelle was right. Our lunch at Manchester’s 20 Stories had morphed from a gentle Friday-easing-into-the-weekend mid-day meal into a eat and drink-a-thon, albeit a culinary marathon of the highest quality.
A few hours previously, I was teetering on a bar stool enjoying (albeit in a wibbly wobbly way) the view over Spinningfields. Such is the height of this rooftop bar and restaurant that I was pretty sure I could see my house some 14 miles away (for the love of god, if you want to come in Connie Cat then use the goddamn cat flap). In a week when winds were buffeting Manchester (so a typical, erm, season), the outside terrace at 20 Stories had lost its allure. I contented myself with a Champagne Supernova and a sip of iced cucumber water at the swish bar. Proper posh, like.
On arrival, Michelle was well impressed by the wide selection of Barbados rums on the cocktail menu (as a gin drinker this meant little to me), and more so by the verdant foliage draped around the room. Ferns fell in abandon over the heads of diners, stopping short of tables, while green was the couleur du jour. As my seven-year-old niece said of a similar establishment, “they must really like green”.
But all thoughts of seductive interior decor were cast aside when the starters made their entrance. Smoked & poached salmon terrine, confit duck with a chicory & blood orange salad, and a celeriac soup lightly flavoured with apple & stilton all wafted towards our table, begging us to fill our boots early doors. It was jeffin’ hard to resist. The soup guarded its delights carefully, only giving up the oozy cheesy goodness when my spoon scraped the bottom of the bowl, while the other offerings were scarfed down quickly accompanied by ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from the two us.
Then onto the mains which sauntered out, smugly aware of their own magnificence. Plaice fillet, Sweet-cured bacon chop, and Herb gnocchi all made their way to our table, an embarrassment of riches that, once again, elicited moans of delight and grunts of pleasure from its recipients.
It’s not often I’m surprised by pasta but I can honestly say that square gnocchi was a new one on me. Seriously, how do they do that? And, more to the point, how did they manage to make it dissolve in the mouth, purple sprouting broccoli, pine nuts, feta and all? I’ll take that question to my grave.
Desserts were nearly upon us. Crème brûlée hovered, all come-hither on the plate, as did red wine poached pear, and a honeycomb concoction I’d have sold my grandma’s teeth to buy. But among this succulent largesse was the wine list. From the off, Michelle and I had been cosseted by the attentions of sommelier Daniel, a wee lad whose wine knowledge and passion belied his tender years. He had it all – from a taste of Nyetimber, an extraordinary English sparkling wine, to Cuvee Jean Paul Vaucluse Rouge 2017, a red wine which, on passing the taste buds, whispered that ‘it doesn’t get much better than this’.
Maybe it’s unfair to single out Daniel. Service at 20 Stories was uniformly ace. And, if that wasn’t enough, the toilets offered another level of sophistication. With a soundtrack that could easily be mistook for a Radio 4 documentary, the wind tunnel effect of the hand-dryers (conveniently positioned below the mirrors) channelled everyone’s inner J-Lo. Even I, a northern 40-something, felt like I was auditioning for a L’Oréal advert. And, given the Manchester weather that day, my windswept look fitted right in.
By Helen Nugent, Editor of Northern Soul
Photos by Jack Kirwin