Manchester city centre already has its fair share of Chop Houses what with Sam’s, Mr Thomas’s and the Albert Square one, but Mr White’s English Chophouse is a different proposition unrelated to them. The Mr White in question is Leeds’ own Marco Pierre White and this is the new, northern cousin to his existing English Chophouses in London and Dover which pride themselves on offering good quality English fare with a cheeky French twist.
The location may be familiar to Mancunian old-timers. It’s at the top end of Canal St and was formerly the downstairs floor of the Velvet hotel. In truth, it’s not that drastic a makeover from its former incarnation, retaining much of the plush, ornate look, though it’s been pruned of some of the wilder excesses such as the fish tank stairs and, yes, the TV screens in the loos. The massive framed photos of the celebrated Mr Marco are new though, obviously. It’s still a striking, handy spot, though Canal St was never previously known as a culinary destination where you might head to fill your face (stop smirking there at the back).
The food, to be honest, was a mixed bag. The starters were certainly impressive. We went for hickory smoked baby back ribs with hickory sauce which were tender and quite unexpectedly subtle, and the goat’s cheese and beetroot salad, which was light and refreshing despite some initial concern at the goat’s cheese-to-beetroot ratio (basically, very heavy on the beetroot).
Frankly, though, the mains were on the unexceptional side. To look at, the Confit duck leg à la Parisian with french fries and green salad was not a million miles from our old friend ‘chicken in a basket’. The duck was undeniable tasty if crispier than anticipated, albeit never dry, and the accompanying Béarnaise sauce was a welcome touch. A decent, hearty dish, then, if rather bland. The same went for the French burger in a brioche bun with dijon mustard. It contained a pleasant, slightly peppery patty, but it lacked any sense of panache and overall it was nothing to write home about. And maybe one shouldn’t bring one’s own prejudices into these things, but the presence on the menu of burger called ‘The Alex James’ was nearly enough to spoil the old appetite.
Fair’s fair, the sides were genuinely good – dinky miniature creusets of decent creamed cabbage with pancetta and baked macaroni cheese which easily outpaced the quality of the mains themselves. The desserts helped to redeem it, too. The baked vanilla cheesecake with blueberry compote offered a winning balance of contrasting flavours. Meanwhile, the Box Tree Mess, aka The Perfect Mistake, is an acknowledged MPW classic and was a magnificently sweet treat indeed, with stacked layers of meringue, cream, ice cream and pulped fruit.
There’s plenty to admire here, then, but there’s no overlooking the fact that the mains were decidedly meh and they’re called ‘mains’ for a reason. All told, Mr White’s English Chophouse could do with an extra French twist: just a bit more je ne sais quoi.