Let me say from the outset that The French at The Midland doesn’t come cheap. At £55 for the six course tasting menu and £50 for the wine flight to go with it, it took up the £110.07 I got from a pre-emptive raid on my piggy bank (excluding the £8.80 to an unnamed charity c/o the penny counting machine at Asda), leaving a mere £5.07 for unforeseen expenses and sundries. That went with the complementary glass of a dry, crisp glass of English sparkling wine that wasn’t complementary but a classy start to the meal nevertheless.
The French has been open for three months under the watchful talent of Simon Rogan from L’Enclume at Cartmel. I went to L’Enclume over a decade ago and the meal I had there still lingers in the memory among many a great meal I’ve had since. So, at least, my expectations knew what to expect. The rotunda room that houses the restaurant is all green hessian and mirror cool that echoes the hard wood circular tables. It exudes an air of modern elegance that is slightly offset by a cartoon carpet woven as the wooden floor that replaced the wooden floor. Noise was cited as the cause and, certainly, a spongy silence adds to the intent of a serious eatery.
The lunch began with some tasty mouthfuls of potato mousse on rice cracker and eel on a parsnip crisp to coax the taste buds into submission before the first course of boiled sole in an onion broth arrived with a chilled Ariadne. The sole melted light in the mouth as the deep flavour of the dark brown broth danced on my tongue. God, I know that sounds a bit A. A. Gillish (food critic speak for wanky) but my guest Sofie and I agreed that the combination of fish and broth was delicious. The fruitiness of the wine refreshed our palettes for the next sumptuous mouthful.
A tartare of ox in coal oil followed which, for raw meat, was tender and oaky. A chenin blanc was an interesting choice of wine to go with the ox rather than a traditional red as the oakiness of the wine tipped a wink at the flavour of the meat and coal oil. Next up was a gorgeous dish of asparagus, crevettes and duck skin served with an elegant Ca’Lojera Italian white. Mumbled “mmms” all round for a stunning combination. Hake and radish, beautifully cooked, and a classic Chablis premier cru again left us nearly speechless. This was food of high quality and serious intent. As Sofie and I began to run out of superlatives, we were delivered an exquisite guinea hen and turnip 3 ways with a dark dense rioja reserva to taste. Yet more silent admiration followed as the hen slipped down swimming in Spanish grape.
A quiet dessert of pear, meadowsweet and rye sneaked up on us to announce the end of the meal somewhat disappointingly. Was this a whimper? Thankfully not! Our surprise finish came in the shape of a cup of sarsaparilla, a biscuit of meringue and fruit mousse and a glass of sparkling Rosa Regale. An entertaining twist to end a fantastic meal.
The service was attentive as each course and wine was described without the cloy, informative without the condescension. It was, and I’m sure Sofie would agree, a fine meal that will linger as long in the memory as my experience at L’Enclume. As I said, The French don’t come cheap, but it do come good.
Review by Robert Hamilton
What: The French
Where: The Midland Hotel, Peter Street, Manchester
More info: www.the-french.co.uk