Restaurant reviews - Aubaine, Selfridges, Manchester
PUBLISHED: 22:01 16 August 2012 | UPDATED: 21:45 20 February 2013
Aubaine is another new restaurant within a Manchester city centre shop and it isn't easy on the pocket...with prices for starters heading towards £19. Our reviewer took a break from shopping to investigate REVIEW BY RAY KING
So dramatic has been the transformation of Manchester city centre in the area most devastated by the IRA bomb that its difficult to envisage what was there before that fateful day in1996.
A grim, uninviting and worn-out precinct separated the fashionable shops of St Anns Square from the cathedral and the old Shambles was lost amid grey concrete. I wrote a book charting the post-bomb rebuilding to dispel the notion, which grew in popularity as the new cityscape was revealed, that the terrorists had somehow done Manchester a favour. No the real benefactors were those brave enough not merely to patch up the damage despite acute commercial pressures, but to redesign the city for the 21st century, not least by implementing Ian Simpsons brilliantly simple master plan which created Exchange Square and New Cathedral Street.
The vista from two of Manchesters best restaurants both located in department stores that did not exist before 1996 takes in the entire scene as well as the cathedral and relocated Shambles pubs, which look for all the world they have been in their new position for centuries. Harvey Nichols Second Floor Restaurant has won many plaudits; Aubaine now open in Selfridges, will win many more.
Aubaine is a delightful space, its floor to ceiling glass wall overlooking Exchange Square providing an atmosphere as light and airy as an elevated conservatory with lovely blue and white tiled floor, white furnishings and copious fresh flowers adding to the effect. The menu is modern French, free from stereotype, and the cooking demonstrates a lightness of touch entirely commensurate with the surroundings. The combination made for an exceptional summer time lunch.
Prices are top-end starters ranging up to 18.95 for lobster salad but the quality of ingredients is superb and their handling accomplished. I began with wild mushroom friande with a duck egg and hollandaise (8.50), every component of which was beautifully done. The mushrooms oozed woodland flavours and were encased in the lightest of puff pastry; the duck egg, on a bed of spinach, was poached to creamy perfection and the hollandaise exemplary. Mrs K had crispy squid fried with salt and chilli (9.95) served in a monogrammed paper cone with a deliciously tasty dollop of lime aioli and coriander.
Main courses feature a highly commendable variety of fish alongside the likes of beef fillet, rib-eye, chicken supreme, lamb rack and pigs cheeks. Mussels, tiger prawns, lobster, scallops and cod all feature in deceptively simple presentations behind which there is no hiding place for mediocre fare. I had faultless lemon sole (21), topped, tailed and skinned but served on the bone for maximum flavour with excellent chunky tartar sauce and a garnish of al dente French beans.
Mrs K chose fish too and was delighted with her three perfectly fried fillets of sea bass served with steamed mussels and a gorgeous combination of artichokes and really flavourful tomatoes (19.50). We shared side dishes, at 3.95 a portion, of very food French fries and superb dauphinoise potatoes.
We drank a fresh, approachable Italian pinot grigio (23) from a pricey list and while Mrs K was enjoying a trio of pretty, colourful and delicious macaroons for dessert (3.95) I rounded off with a glass of generously fruity merlot-grenache (6.75). The automatic addition of a discretionary 12.5 per cent service charge which has caused some comment among Manchesters chattering classes brought the bill to 115.99. Lunch has to be a special occasion to justify such a ticket, but Aubaine IS a venue that can provide just that.
Aubaine, Selfridges, 1 Exchange Square, Manchester M3 1BD. Tel 0161 838 0571; www.aubaine.co.uk