Tom Kerridge’s new restaurant at the Stock Exchange Hotel, The Bull and Bear (geddit??) is a step change in Manchester food. It may also be the most upmarket sports bar in Britain, which is fitting for a hotel owned by a couple of men called Neville and Giggs.
Built in 1904, the Stock Exchange operated for nearly a century finally closing its doors in 2000 and becoming the Italian restaurant Stock with the trading floor as a large open dining room in the style of a Conran joint like Quaglino’s. I had the most expensive and least interesting seafood platter of my life there. It closed.
Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville bought the building in 2013 to turn it into a boutique hotel. The hotel has just opened with the restaurant in the trading room as before, but Kerridge has had a major hand in the design and it feels quite cosy. In the middle of the room, rising above the action, is a sculpture by Kerridge’s wife, the artist Beth Cullen-Kerridge. It looks like a headless, handless, footless figure in a gold suit in a force ten gale. I’m told it’s the Kerridges’ revenge on the banking class for its failure to support their first venture.
The surprise is the big screens on the walls around the room. While there’s no sound coming from them, they are initially a distraction but you get used to it. In a world where we all feel nervous without our phones, perhaps they’re comforting. This space, with its domed high ceiling, could seem cold and empty. The screens bring the focus down and warm it up.
Service comes in the form of small plates. I have eaten some very small plates in my time but these portions are a good size and the recommendation of three per person is about right. Everything is perfectly executed, some of it good, some of it wow, and some of it, to coin a phrase, is ‘awesome’. This is the kind of food that makes you gasp.
The cooking is modern British with French influences. The duck parfait is nominatively determined; perfect, smooth, ducky and served with brioche toast. Meanwhile, the Chicken Kiev is a bread-crumbed croquette of breast stuffed with garlic butter and, unlike most restaurant Kiev, not at all dry. A quail arrives loaded with black pudding. Perfectly pink and falling off the bone, the juiciness of the bird pairs brilliantly with the stuffing. Wow. But the Venison Chilli. I shared it with Tom, a finance journalist, and on the first mouthful we looked at each other in wonder. What is that? We fought over the rest.
I had a similar reaction to the chocolate tart. Oh dark, dark, dark. Not sweet at all. And the first hit was peanut. Stunning. My co-diner, a vegan, just had to have a go. It took great willpower – and me – to stop her scoffing the lot. The vegan menu was equally successful.
The wine is sold both by the glass and the bottle. Unlike some restaurants, the wines by the glass are extremely good and there’s a Sauternes pudding wine which reminded me of a d’Yquem. It was viscous and sweet without being cloying.
However, one of the most impressive things about The Bull and Bear is the staff. Many of them worked for Kerridge in Marlow and have now moved up here. Their loyalty and admiration for the boss is evident and the service (everyone has had ten days’ training) is excellent.
Once you get used to the screens, everything about this place is a pleasure. The entrance is tucked away down Norfolk Street, between Pall Mall and Brown Street, but I expect pretty soon you’ll be able to find it by the crowds of foodies heading that way. A step change indeed.