The last time I visited Artisan, shortly after this Manchester eaterie opened, the city was holding its breath over the first restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star. Three years on and there are loads of puce faces out there. Still no Michelin star despite the abundance of fine restaurants and fine dining.

At the risk of seeming ‘chippy’, this seems terribly unfair. I lived in that there London for 15 years during which time I had some pretty stupendous meals at a number of Michelin-starred venues. Since returning to my home city six years ago, I’ve eaten equally stunning fare, not least at Aiden Byrne‘s Manchester House and the much-missed Mary-Ellen McTague‘s Aumbry.

The proliferation of new restaurant openings in Manchester has, for a large part, been concentrated in Spinningfields, the city’s new-ish posh-ish enclave. Many of these hot-spots are owned by Living Ventures, a widely successful company owned by the late and much-loved Tim Bacon. This is where Artisan is located, opposite Neighbourhood and a stone’s throw from a glut of other foodie destinations and sparkly bars.

Artisan hasn’t changed much since my last visit. This is something to be applauded – I’m all for light-filled restaurants, industrial chic and comfy booths. This time, however, I’m joined by three Northern Soul writers, all experienced purveyors of Manchester’s culinary offerings in their own right. I’m anticipating some sharp turn-of-phrases, pithy summations of the dishes on offer, and apposite descriptions of our menu.

Not so much. It soon becomes apparent that off-duty food critics are just that: off-duty. As a range of lip-smackingly good plates arrive, the common consensus is “that’s really nice”. Or, when the repast is super tasty, “that’s really good”. What begins as a joke soon turns into a mantra. Reader, I was laughing on the inside.

CamembertThat aside (and it was all in good humour), the consensus was positive. “When you get bits in a salad, I’m usually suspicious, but everything tasted nice,” said one colleague. “I can see you have food envy,” commented another as I eyed his moreish, baked Camembert starter with rapacious eyes. Meanwhile I was dealing with prawns with roasted garlic and coriander (a half-hearted attempt at a healthy first course). They were perfectly serviceable but, after a sneaky taste of the melted cheese with rustic potato crisps, a little underwhelming.

And so to the mains. Two of us (including me) plumped for the ribeye steak with matchstick fries and roast garlic and herb sauce. At £17.50 it’s not exactly a budget option but still cheaper than the fillet at £24. Both pieces of meat were cooked as requested (one pink, t’other well done) and they hit the spot. But they didn’t set the world on fire. And for that price I’d expect a few fireworks.

Did we have room for dessert? Do you have to ask? Before long a vanilla, yoghurt and honey mousse was winging its way to our table along with multiple portions of Italian pistachio meringue with lemon Chantilly cream. Remember guys, it’s a marathon not a sprint. Honey mousse

Meringues can go either way. Over-bake them and they’re inedible (as a friend of mine discovered when she opened the oven door to find a tray of egg white and sugar dog turd lookalikes), under-bake them and they’re, well, they’re inedible too. Thankfully Artisan’s meringues were just right: chewy but not too soft. The mousse was equally palatable. “Simple but subtle,” according to my mate. Top marks for afters.

Overall, though? I like Artisan, I like it a lot. It’s a spiffing place to chillax with friends and enjoy fresh, well-cooked food. But I’m not sure I’d take anyone new to Manchester who I was trying to impress.

By Helen Nugent

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