Cheshire Life Luncheon The Commonwealth Suite City of Manchester Stadium

PUBLISHED: 12:04 30 December 2009 | UPDATED: 15:21 20 February 2013

City of Manchester Stadium

City of Manchester Stadium

Guests of Cheshire Life who tucked into daring, yet delicious food at the home of Manchester City enjoyed dining that's truly in the Premier League <br/>WORDS BY RAY KING

Manchester City Football Club's reputation as the 'Great Unpredictables' of the beautiful game is no exaggeration.

Given that the Sky Blues remain the only team ever to be relegated as champions - they topped the old First Division in 1937 and went down in 1938! - their inconsistency is legend. Moreover, no managerial door has revolved at quite such speed elsewhere.

But historically there's always been one aspect of my beloved City that has been utterly reliable, nay, unbeatable: the club's hospitality. During those halcyon days between the mid 1960s and 1970s, the plate meat pie served in Maine Road's press room was sublime. From the pie perspective, even the bad times were good.

And I recall the day in 1996 that will go down in infamy - when City wasted time, mistakenly believing that a draw would keep them in the Premiership - being tempered by a splendid lunch at Maine Road. At least the chefs played a blinder.

Today, the spanking new City of Manchester Stadium - built as the city's world showcase for the 2002 Commonwealth Games - delivers Premier League dining in a multitude of hospitality suites.

Little wonder that it has become the venue of choice for Life Magazines' prestigious Food and Wine Awards' gala dinners - 2008's winners will be announced in the CoMS Boardroom Suite on October 14th - to which the region's best hoteliers, restaurateurs and chefs are invited.

Thus it was with considerable anticipation that almost 150 guests of September's joint Cheshire Life and Lancashire Life's luncheon gathered within the spectacular Eastlands stadium for refreshing Pimm's cocktails and delicious canaps - including duck with julienne of oriental vegetables and salmon on caramelised beet - in the roomy 1894 Suite affording views of the superb elliptical playing arena below.

Given the scale of the occasion, one of the largest in Life Magazines' calendar, one might be forgiven for thinking that the luncheon menu would be a relatively uncomplicated affair. But that would be to reckon without the daring culinary wit of consultant celebrity chef John Benson- Smith, the man who once brought us three soups in a single bowl.

John's 'sky blue thinking' was much in evidence all afternoon in the Commonwealth Suite's spacious and attractive dining room, sumptuously decorated by Eventures and Event flowers of Urmston.

Hence the starter comprised no less than seven delicately fashioned components - vodka cherry tomatoes, baby endive, squash, dinky honeyed parsnip skewers, asparagus tips, goats cheese fondue and roast cheeky Tinkerbells (mini bell peppers).

It was all exquisitely arranged on the plate and offered a myriad of delightful flavours, but presented quite a task for a matching wine.The choice, a young, fresh French vin-depays viognier exuding notes of apricot blossom, however, did the trick admirably.

The main course too reflected supreme confidence in a kitchen brigade led by head chefs Lee Miller and Nick Simpson: confidence enough to present a dish that I had never encountered before - hot smoked cannon of lamb. In fact smoked lamb of any sort had previously passed me by (smoked puffin, smoked reindeer and smoked kangaroo yes, lamb no) and I presume most of the guests also.

The new experience, however, was wholly pleasurable; the subtle smoking imparting a slight gaminess to the cut, which was innovatively partnered with a warm broad bean Nicoise, particularly effective black olive emulsion and paprika oil. The concentrated inky mulberry fruit of the accompanying Argentine malbec made for the ideal red wine accompaniment.

Dessert was a summery and sophisticated take on a nursery treat, with cinnamon apple jelly, apple sorbet and a lime and apple tuille working their magic together.

The citrussy-sweetness of Brown Brothers' Late Harvest Muscat and Flora performed the remarkable feat of not only partnering dessert, but also complimenting an outrageously elaborate cheese course. How about tiny a cone of Stinking Bishop ice cream, soft and tangy Boursin and Parmesan millefeuille served with pumpernickel muffin?

We're light years on from the half-time hot dog and cup of steaming beef tea. Or even that plate meat pie.

Fact file

City of Manchester Stadium, SportCity,
Manchester M11 3FF.
Tel: 0870 0624141;
Extensive and versatile facilities available at the City of Manchester Stadium catering for conferences, exhibitions, seminars, product launches, banquets, weddings and dinner dances.

The various menus available for functions includes Classical and Traditional, Vegetarian, Gourmet, Buffet selections, Global and Around the World and a range of specially themed options.

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