It always pays to double-check. Shortly before setting off on this assignment, a befuddled Northern Soul was convinced that the dining destination was Grand Central, which is of course the time-honoured Manchester metal-heads pub near Oxford Road station. A quick google revealed that, although they both do food, the correct venue, Grand Pacific, is a very different kettle of fish, one infinitely less likely to host a loud, sweaty battle of the bands.
Described in its own publicity as ‘our homage to the golden age of high society, where deep rhythmic baselines writhe through the air and sweet botanicals tantalise the senses’ (so, maybe all not that different to Grand Central after all, then?), Grand Pacific is part of the late Tim Bacon’s Living Ventures group, and it’s proper posh. Dating back to 1871 and previously the Manchester Reform Club, the building is now resplendent in old world, luxurious colonial chic, all oak panels, dark low-lit toilets, and curving high-backed wicker chairs. The bar hub nods knowingly towards Singapore’s Raffles Club. Thankfully, the overall effect is more Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom, less Carry On Up the Khyber.
It’s enough to give you airs and graces, so we started as we meant to go on with cocktails – a simple, beautiful mojito and a tangy, eminently sippable Kiwi Blanc, blending Sauvignon Blanc, Ketel One, Cointreau, kiwi, mint and lemonade.
The menu boasts a range of new dishes for the summer, such as a Thali sharing plate, a chicken satay salad, baked salmon fillet, and a Buri Bop Korean hot plate. We plumped for a mixture of old and new. Grand Pacific aims to match swish surroundings with similarly exotic food fare, and our starters were corking, as well as strikingly presented. The pea and wasabi houmous with sesame crackers, celery, carrot and lotus root crisp was a big hit, albeit with the emphasis firmly on the pea rather than the wasabi.
The chirashi sushi bowl, with tuna and salmon sashimi, tiger prawn, avocado and wasabi, was delicious, the salmon in particular, and well-judged in terms of portion-size as a starter. The chilled Vietnamese spring rolls with king prawn, basil, spring onion, roast sesame sauce were exceedingly fresh, bringing together a little medley of delicate flavours.
Of the mains, the roast cod loin with bok choi and lobster sauce went down well too. The cod itself was perfectly fine, but it was massively enhanced by the lobster sauce, which was declared to be a taste sensation. Served with a flourish by our waiter, it came in a small kettle which allowed for more to be added as desired. Rest assured, it was.
The mild lamb Massaman curry came in a dinky dish but it proved more than enough, as the rich, tender meat came with helping of roti and spicy ‘gunpowder’ potatoes, along with the enticing ‘forbidden fried rice’, an established Grand Pacific speciality, which was another highly appealing concoction of flavours. All told, though, the real hit of the meal was one of the new summer sides, namely caramelised mushrooms and peppers with brown chestnut, shittake, shimeji and padron peppers, a smashing, supremely tasty dish with a consistency just the right side of gloopy.
To be honest, after that little lot the desserts couldn’t help but be a bit underwhelming. The pineapple cheesecake with crème fraîche and raspberry coulis was subtle and creamy, but the iced peanut butter parfait with caramel miso, chilli and almond brittle was a bafflingly tough frozen lump which was only just worth the effort required to attack it with a spoon. The brittle didn’t blow us away and the miso element was interesting at best. Possibly that’s just how Phileas Fogg and his mates liked it, though.
Overall, though, Grand Pacific manages to pull off a neat, admirable trick with panache. The setting is outlandish and exotic, and the food doesn’t let the side down. It makes for an exceedingly agreeable experience.
Grand Pacific, Spring Gardens, Manchester