Restaurant review - James Martin Manchester, Manchester235

PUBLISHED: 00:00 28 November 2013

James Martin Manchester at Manchester235 Casino - Photo by Carl Sukonik

James Martin Manchester at Manchester235 Casino - Photo by Carl Sukonik

© The Vain Photography | Carl Sukonik | http://www.thevain.co.uk/ | http://www.twitter.com/thevainphotos

The restaurant scene in Manchester doesn't stand still for long. We check out another new eaterie with a big name attached

I’ve always thought that fine dining in a nightclub can be a bit of a lottery. Peter Stringfellow got it right (according to the expectations of the time, of course) at Manchester’s Millionaire in the late 1970s. Many others didn’t. So how much of a punt is a gourmet dinner in a casino?

Don’t look to Las Vegas for a benchmark. Most of the casino-hotels on the famous strip give away food for free at all-you-can eat buffets to lure punters to their slots and tables. At that level, glamorous it ain’t. I’ve paid fleeting visits to the casinos in Monte Carlo and Baden Baden but never ate in either (or gambled for that matter). So what of the promise of a celebrity chef taking over one of the restaurants Manchester 235, the casino housed in the monumental 19th Century former Great Northern Goods Warehouse in Deansgate?

In truth Linen, the restaurant that Saturday Kitchen host James Martin’s new venture has replaced, was always pretty well regarded. Certainly the location of the dining area, room for 150 covers set on a spacious mezzanine area away from the main gaming floor, lends a striking ambience beneath the exposed brick and cast iron vaulting of the old railway company’s vast structure. The Victorian industrial functionality is softened by judicious use of lighting and Martin’s choice of luxury vintage-style fabrics and eclectic artwork.

To reach the restaurant, however, it’s necessary to negotiate the casino floor before climbing the short, James Martin monogrammed stairway. How much of this was a factor in the success or otherwise of Linen - and will the cachet of a celebrity name draw in discerning diners. The chips, so to speak, are down and only time will tell, but James Martin Manchester has been pretty busy so far and few if any will have left disappointed with the quality of the food on offer. We certainly didn’t after our early Thursday evening visit.

The seasonally changing a la carte is commendably unfussy, reliant on impeccably sourced local produce - the ‘Meat Market’ a walk-in butcher’s fridge in full view of diners is something of a testament; why not when an 8oz British-reared Wagyu fillet steak comes in at £49 - and full of dishes you really want to eat.

It’s a beefeater’s paradise but at a price - 12oz Cumbrian Lakeland Fells sirloin £42; 10oz 28-day aged Hereford ribeye £26 etc, all served simply with chips, onion rings and flavoured butter. But if you’d ordered your rib of beef for two for £69, might you not baulk a little by being charged another £1.50 a head for some sauce?

It wasn’t an issue we faced, however, for after a delightfully silky and flavoursome duck liver parfait with lovely orange chutney and crunchy toasted sourdough (£7.50), I chose one of my favourite fish, brill. It came in a generous, inch-thick wedge, simply steamed thus moist and creamy and inspirationally accompanied by candied fennel, with smoked mussels and white beans in a delicious broth (£18.95).

Mrs K opened with Thai crab risotto, perfectly cooked and fragrant with lemon grass and kaffir lime and lifted by a drizzle of chilli oil (£7.95), then opted for slow roast belly of Redhill pork with braised cheek, pickled baby apple and cider sauce (£16.50). The belly was just right, moist, well flavoured and meltingly tender beneath excellent crackling; the marinated cheek was an exceptional addition and the saucing sublime.

We drank a fresh Australian chardonnay with the main courses for, given the setting, a reasonable £19 And while I finished with a glass of house red - tempranillo from Spain’s La Mancha region (£5.75) - Mrs K rounded off with a dreamy white chocolate and whisky croissant butter pudding with single malt ice-cream (£7), generously proffering her spoon in my direction every now and then.

James Martin Manchester’ high culinary standards deserve every success and the restaurant is up there with the best of the city’s most recent openings. But life can be a gamble - especially inside a casino.

James Martin Manchester is in Manchester235, Great Northern, 2 Watson Street, Manchester M3 4LP. Tel 0161 820 1699. www.manchester235.com

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