Aiden Byrne on his vision for Restaurant MCR
PUBLISHED: 00:00 15 February 2019
Top chef Aiden Byrne from Lymm has returned to Tower 12. He tells us about his new vision for Restaurant MCR
Manchester House was a catalyst for the big improvement in the city’s food and drink scene. And it was award-winning Cheshire-based chef Aiden Byrne in the driving seat. Before the restaurant opened in 2013, the city’s fine dining scene wasn’t something the food critics were taking seriously.
Fast forward to 2019 and industry giants like The Ivy, Hawksmoor and Dishoom have graduated north from London. Randall and Aubin founders Ed Baines and Jamie Poulton bought back the Manchester franchise of their original Soho restaurant to make it a success and ex Noma chef Simon Martin is turning heads in Ancoats with Mana. When Simon Rogan left The French, its head chef Adam Reid was so convinced of the city’s culinary palate, he took it on himself.
Manchester House left a legacy. And this is something its head chef Aiden, who has relaunched the venue as Restaurant MCR, is rightly proud of. ‘Manchester House was about pushing the boundaries, delivering a unique fine dining experience and staying true to that endeavour. It belongs to Manchester, an institution in its own right.’
When the former Living Ventures restaurant went into administration late last year Aiden, who had moved on to lead the kitchen at 20 Stories, knew what he had to do.
‘I’d asked to buy the restaurant previously but the cost was too high,’ he said. ‘I was sad it was closing. Within an hour of hearing the news I’d decided I wanted it. I rang my friend Gemma McGowan and she was in.’
When Aiden first walked back through the doors of what is now Restaurant MCR, it was like coming home. He has worked in some of London’s top restaurants and at 22 was the youngest person to gain a Michelin star. But it was returning to the place he’d built up with the late Tim Bacon, chairman and co-founder of Living Ventures, that felt right.
While the decor is mainly unchanged, Aiden has made some alterations, stripping back the number of covers, getting rid of the Chef’s Table and not reopening the bar area that was on the 12th floor. His main driver isn’t accolades or that much talked about Michelin star for the city. He is focused on creating a stellar experience.
‘It’s about creating food that makes people happy,’ he beamed. ‘There is no better feeling than looking out from the kitchen and seeing people enjoying themselves. The guest is at the heart of everything we’re doing.
‘The menu is me, but evolved. There are some classics from the old Manchester House menu, like our Ribblesdale goats’ cheese and onion soup, which offers real theatre. But we’re evolving too. We are on the crest of a wave.’
Manchester House’s impact on the scene also brought pressure. The BBC2 documentary that pitted it against Simon Rogan’s The French at The Midland Hotel is where, Aiden believes, the obsession with the city getting a Michelin star began to heat up.
‘I hate how crazy people get about it. It’s not necessary. The city has a fantastic dining offer, it’s not all about stars.
‘When I worked in London I was getting all the accolades but I never felt like I belonged. As head chef at The Dorchester I’d be called out to greet diners, arms behind my back standing on ceremony, I never felt comfortable. Things are different now.’
Aiden’s transformation as a chef began when he moved from London to open Church Green in Lymm. He realised the aggressive approach to working in a kitchen that was commonplace in London, wouldn’t wash back home.
‘Opening in Lymm taught me a lot,’ said Aiden, who lives in the village with his wife, Sarah, and children Laura, Harrison and Isabella. ‘Shouting at your staff was the norm in London. If you didn’t survive someone else would and it created an aggressive culture. I’m not proud of it but it’s the way it was. I quickly learned that wasn’t going to work here. I’m proud of what we’ve done with Church Green, it’s a place that feeds the families of Lymm and it does it well.’
But the 46-year-old also craved an outlet for the sophisticated, fine dining dishes he was renowned for. He saw a news article about Tim’s desire to launch a fine dining restaurant. Together, they launched Manchester House and its reputation soon had diners flocking to Tower 12. It was a hit.
‘It grew like nothing we could have imagined, said Aiden. ‘We were doing hundreds of covers and had the bar upstairs. Tim gave me free rein and as a partnership, it worked. He was an inspirational person: ten minutes with him would keep me going for two weeks. To be here without him is hard, I miss him a lot. I hope he’d be pleased with what I’m doing.
‘It also feels good to be back. Early in my career I always felt out of place. I’m not standing looming over tables with my hands behind my back any more. I sit down, chat with the guests, who have also become friends. I might be a scouser from a council estate but here I belong. Here, I am home.’