Restaurant review - The French by Simon Rogan, Midland Hotel, Manchester

PUBLISHED: 00:00 18 June 2013 | UPDATED: 20:03 07 June 2016

The French

The French

© Paul Adams 2013 Moral Rights Asserted Tel 01254 6903307 or 07808930147

Why mess about with a jewel like The French? Our reviewer was concerned too... until he went along to see for himself

I first dined in the Midland Hotel’s French Restaurant in the early 1980s as the era of the late Michelin-starred chef Gilbert Lefèvre was drawing to a close.

I was supposed to interview a rock star, whose name now escapes me, over lunch. Just before the appointed time I got a call to say he was fogbound in Schipol. Shame. I had lunch anyway.

My wife and I went to L’Enclume shortly after Simon Rogan had opened up in the picturesque south Lakeland village of Cartmel with a reputation that preceded him and has since grown exponentially. The contrast between the two restaurants could not have been more marked; the idea that the twain would ever meet would never enter one’s head.

In Manchester’s grand Edwardian hotel, The French epitomised classical French cuisine amid sumptuous Louis Quinze-style trappings. In Cartmel, L’Enclume, set in an ancient stone-built forge, was in at the start of a new wave of definitively British cooking showcasing the very best of regional and seasonal ingredients enhanced by daring new flavours.

But meet they have – and The French by Simon Rogan is proving not only to be a tremendous asset to the Midland Hotel, but to the gastronomic status of a city whose culinary reputation has been on a non-too-exciting plateau for too many years.

The menu has radically changed and so has the ambience of The French. Gone are the pictures of 17th Century courtesans, the gilt and the heavily-naped tables. Instead there’s a more contemporary feel with pastel tones and the tables, unclad, are decorated with bowls of pebbles. The drama is provided by two of the most magnificent modern chandeliers I have ever seen.

As the hotel’s guests for lunch, we opted for Rogan’s six-course £55 tasting menu – one of three options – with extra surprise courses thrown in for good measure and a ‘Wine Flight’ of compatible wines starting with a glass of West Sussex’s champagne-beating sparkler, Nyetimber Classic Cuvée.

We began with exquisite amuse bouches of radish in grape oil with nutmeg mayo and pearl barley, then a wonderful parsnip crisp with smoked eel and pork belly; the bread – a French baguette and ‘Manchester bread’ made with Joseph Holt’s brown ale – came with whipped butter and was superb. Another extra brought pickled Morecambe Bay mussels in an edible mussel shell made from squid ink, strikingly served on a bed of polished black pebbles with a seaweed stick.

The first of the six courses proper comprised a ball of boiled sole with the kernels of red and white onions, truffle and wild garlic over which was poured delicious onion broth. Then the dish that split the jury just as Marmite might: ox in coal oil, pumpkin seed emulsion, kohlrabi and chrysanthemum. I thought it very clever; the coal oil giving the glistening tartare of raw beef char-grilled nuances, but Mrs K didn’t like the flavour at all. Moments later, however, she was drooling again – this time over a dish comprising the white meat of fresh Dorset crab served with caramelised cabbage, horseradish, crow garlic and the most amazingly flavoursome shards of crisp chicken skin.

Head chef Adam Reid’s expert interpretation of Rogan’s sensational culinary concepts continued with fillets of hake slow-cooked sous vide partnered with buckwheat, watercress and smoked roe butter, a platter of beautifully balanced flavours; then perfectly done slivers of Reg Johnson’s Goosnargh duck with ruby chard, king oysters, mulled cider and nasturtiums.

Dessert, poached pear with meadowsweet cream and rye, buttermilk and linseeds was pure joy and the English cheeses – we chose Devon blue vinney, Stilton and ash goat cheese – with tomato salsa, butternut squash, fabulous cumin bread, walnut and oat biscuits were top class. The wines matched brilliantly throughout and included semillion-sauvignon blanc from California’s Napa Valley, riesling from Germany’s Rheingau, a generously fruity Chablis, old vine marsanne-roussanne from the Languedoc, a smooth St Emilion and a rounded Chilean carmenère.

Just when we thought it was all over, another delicious extra arrived in the shape of delicious nougat ice cream between soft wafers served with a cup of sarsaparilla. Service – correct but friendly and thoroughly knowledgeable from being imported from Cartmel – was impeccable from start to finish.

Any rock stars out there reading this will want to make absolutely certain they keep their dates at the new French! And Simon Rogan isn’t finished yet at the Midland. His second restaurant at the hotel is to be called Mr Cooper’s House & Garden and will open in September.

The 150-seat restaurant, with 50-cover destination bar, replaces The Colony, which will close in the summer for extensive refurbishment and marks an entirely new avenue for Rogan with the introduction of more varied, international style and menus.

Named after Mr Cooper whose house and garden sat on the site in 1819, the hotel chose the name for the second restaurant to reflect their history and heritage, something they remain extremely proud of. Mr Cooper was a popular figure in the city, serving the local community with the sale of fresh food. n

Ray King dined as a guest of The French by Simon Rogan, Midland Hotel, Peter Street, Manchester, M60 2DS. Tel: 0161 236 3333

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