As I check my notes, scribbled in a teeny tiny notebook during my stay at new Manchester hotel, Dakota, this is what I find: ‘Coffee bags! Sky TV! Toilet rolls folded into a point!’. While this might seem overly enthusiastic, two days prior to my night at Dakota I’d sampled the delights of a Premier Inn where the smell of paint pervaded every room and the echo of nearby occupants’ flushing toilets sounded like the plumbing was about to explode. Even if Dakota hadn’t been damn lovely, I’d still have been happy to be in a hotel with more on the menu than fried fish.
Manchester is Dakota’s newest incarnation, and the furthest it has yet to venture south. Its other four outlets are in Scotland and Leeds, making this hotel review something of a novelty: a chain which is creeping southwards not northwards. And thank god it is.
Billed as ‘a truly luxurious experience’ with ‘sophistication at its heart’, for once the hospitality hyperbole is spot on. As soon as you cross the doors, Dakota screams ‘relax’. Well, not exactly screams, this is an oasis of calm after all. Um, Dakota murmurs ‘chill out’, beckons you in and, for good measure, there’s a textile dog called Chester in the foyer, perched on his hind legs. I’m not sure what this is all about but I’m on board.
Said to have cost £30 million, it’s easy to see where the money has been spent on this new offering from former Malmaison owner, Ken McCollough. From the off, the lighting is glamorously low-key, the decor both stripped back and proper posh. It’s how I imagine my own hotel would look, if I had taste and money. There’s also a deliciously laid-back outside patio and a come-hither restaurant, Dakota Grill, which, if I wasn’t going to die alone, would be top of my list for a romantic evening.
As it is, my companion is the splendiferous Michelle, a Northern Soul writer and arbiter of good taste. Like me, she is impressed by the hotel room with its subtle colour scheme, rainfall shower and, yes, its complimentary coffee bags. There’s even a bespoke slate tile for hair tongs which, if I’m being honest, I would have lifted if it hadn’t been glued down.
Down in the restaurant, Michelle and I settle in, loosen our belts and ready our taste buds. As an opening gambit, there’s an amuse-bouche so amusing that I’m tempted to lick the plate, only prevented by doing so by the curl of the dish which makes a swift and shifty lick of the broccoli foam with Stilton crumb too tricky. Among the starters is an avocado purée involving salmon which is so wonderfully refreshing that it’s like tasting a crisp Spring morning. Also on our table is something called a witchey cackle (at least, I think that’s what the waiter said). The main ingredient is some kind of magical cheese sauce. It’s sex on a spoon. Meanwhile, a dish of light fritto misto and creamy aioli has me offering thanks to a deity I don’t believe in.
By the time the mains arrive, I’m salivating as much as my cat does on Tuna Tuesday. For Michelle, there’s a melt-in-the-mouth aged rib-eye and broccoli with blue cheese sauce while my eyes widen at the sight of monkfish curry, accompanied by fragrant rice, raita, kachumba and mango chutney. The miniature breads look like naan nipples but that doesn’t deter me from lathering them in dips and licking the tips. The curry itself veers just on the right side of coconut and, I’ll be frank, barely touches the sides.
While Michelle and I wait for dessert, we engage in a furtive discussion about how to fit the disgustingly gorgeous candle-holders into our handbags, our conversation brought to an abrupt close by the arrival of basil ice cream. I know what you’re thinking: I’d rather lick the pavement than eat basil ice cream. It’s all kinds of wrongness but as Michelle bellowed “How do they do that?!” across the room, I sat quietly, ruminating on a dessert that had no right to be this good.
There was more though, oh god there was more. As the cheese trolley wibbled into sight, Michelle whispered “Don’t look straight at it.” I responded with, “My eyes! My eyes!”. This was a cheese-tease if ever I saw one. Replete with Lancashire and Cumbria cheeses, all made within 80 miles of Dakota’s front door, we accepted slivers of dairy goodness from Oakenclough and Crofton and, as gentle moans escaped our lips, didn’t regret doing so.
As I repaired to my room, my cheese-addled brain reflected on the quiet. This is a hotel situated in spitting distance of Piccadilly Station and on the edge of the Northern Quarter. Yet all was silence. Well, until I turned Sky on and found the latest episode of Gogglebox.
By Helen Nugent, Editor of Northern Soul
For more information about Dakota Manchester, click here. On average, rooms start at £120 a night but can cost considerably more for suites.