I have a huge crush on James Martin. I’ve spent many a hungover weekend morning watching Saturday Kitchen and scoffing scrambled eggs made with a tonne of butter.
Since Martin left the popular show, I’ve not seen a single episode. It’s just not the same without his dulcet Northern tones. So when I realised that my favourite telly chef had opened a restaurant in Manchester, I was salivating at the thought of sampling his culinary delights.
The last time I was at Manchester 235, situated in the Great Northern Warehouse on Deansgate, it was called Linen, it was Valentine’s Day, there was a magician, and I won £40 on roulette. The building has changed a lot since then, including the addition of a bowling alley and an immersive theatre company which revamps Shakespeare as club nights.
This time around, it takes me a while to adjust to the bright lights and patterned carpet. The concept of a restaurant above a casino is a bit strange, and not usually my kind of venue. It’s like being in a nightclub with no concept of time. But as we’re shown to our seats, the casino buzz melts away.
The restaurant is situated on a mezzanine so, if gambling really isn’t your thing, you are completely removed from the rest of the building. With its low lighting, plush interior, and a fella sat crooning at a piano, you’d think you’re somewhere else entirely.
Before dinner, I meet with Abby who works for Manchester235. She tells me about a woman who called prior to an event with James Martin and asked if anything was cooked in butter. We look at each other and laugh. Martin and butter are synonymous.
A tasting menu is a wonderful way to try something you might not normally order and, for a few quid more, there’s the option of accompanying wines. The menu isn’t released beforehand. There’s a sample on the website but you don’t really know what you’re getting until it’s put in front of you. If you’re an adventurous foodie, or simply like a surprise, the five-course option is the way to go. There’s also an à la carte menu.
We don’t need persuading to opt for the alcohol. Be warned though, it’s a boozy affair (even for me) – I don’t think I have been urged to “drink up” by a waiter before.
I’m someone who knows next to nothing about wine, one of those people who tends to choose their plonk according to what’s under a fiver in Tesco. But the chardonnay, prosecco and pinot noir were right up my street and expertly matched with each dish.
If you’re calorie-counting, this might not be the ideal place, but James Martin Manchester isn’t everyday dining. It’s a treat, like a bottle of red on a Friday or a huge slab of cake on your birthday. And dietary requirements are easily accommodated (my friend Danielle is wheat-free and I’m a pescetarian but the staff were more than helpful, bringing out gluten-free bread).
To say I love bread is an understatement. Carbs plus butter (and cheese) is my idea of heaven. Diners often overlook a good bread basket but, for me, it’s a sign of what’s to come. I could have devoured a whole plate of the sourdough and salty butter.
Vegetarian fare is getting so much better – gone are the days of limp filo pastries or dubious vegetables stuffed with ricotta – and James Martin offers one of the more adventurous menus. There’s brightly coloured tortellini with beetroot and squash, charred cauliflower, warm, gooey goats cheese, and the most amazing heritage carrots I have ever tasted (and I don’t really like the orange vegetable). Each course is delicious and executed perfectly. Our lovely waiter, Michel, explains each dish and I try to take it all in, but it’s a thorough list of complicated chefy stuff I don’t quite understand.
The stand-out course is the truffle potatoes and mushrooms. Truffle can be overpowering (I used to work in one of those fancy oil shops and someone once smashed an entire container of black truffle oil – I couldn’t get the smell out of my trainers for weeks) but here it’s the right amount.
Danielle opts for the meat-eaters menu which includes a fish course – the most sensational smelling cod complete with crispy skin– and a perfectly-pink cut of lamb which she assures me is delicious.
By the time pudding arrives, we’re both stuffed, but it looks so tasty that, of course, we make room. I’m not the biggest fan of ice-cream so I’m surprised by how much I like the pistachio flavour. There’s some fruity jelly – almost like blancmange – but it’s the chocolate which steals the show.
“You have to try this chocolate thing,” Danielle says. “It literally melts in your mouth.”
It dissolves as it hits my tongue. “It’s like Aero. Like really fancy amazing Aero.”
At first glance, I thought the menu was expensive. But as each dish and accompanying wine are brought out, I begin to think that the tasting menu is excellent value for money. Priced at £30 for five courses and £47.50 with matching wines, you get a wonderful experience – and tasty food – for your cash.
I’d thoroughly recommend treating yourself to a leisurely dinner at James Martin Manchester. Just make sure to wear something with a bit of give as he certainly doesn’t hold back on the butter.