Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Foodie Abroad: Simon Rogan at The French, Manchester

I think that Simon Rogan might be my favourite chef which I am sure that he is delighted about.  Clearly, if I am the type of overwhelmingly pretentious person who thinks that having a favourite chef is an actual thing, I am a fan worth having.

If you’ve ever eaten at his restaurants though, you’ll know what I mean when I say that he is someone whose every dish is a paean to the particular qualities of its component parts.  Sorry, that is an appallingly written sentence in praise of food that is anything but.  It sounds like it should be obvious that ingredients are the focal point of any plate but too often, especially in very modern restaurants, technique seems to have supplanted them as king, and the foams and gels and spheres and whatnots just end up adding layers of obfuscation that gets in the way of the natural flavours and texture.  Simon Rogan can do all the whatnots, but never at the expense of the wonderful ingredients he is using, many of which comes from his own dedicated farm in Cartmel.  And while The French, situated as it is in a busy central Manchester hotel, does not have a farm of its own, the hostess did tell us that they have put poly tunnels up on the roof to grow herbs and vegetables to supply to the kitchen.  Commendable stuff.

The choice for dinner is simple - six or ten courses.  OBVIOUSLY we opted for ten because we are greedy and covetous.  There was some definite loosening of belts around the halfway point and we did not so much walk as roll out of there but nearly every mouthful was worth the discomfort.

I say nearly because, in an unusual turn of events, D took violently against one of the dishes, to the extent that he just refused to eat it.  This was the final dessert course - the "Lancashire coals" (or toasted liquorice cake) with fennel.  It was very, very heavy on the aniseed and although I didn't hate it, it is not something I would be in a terrible hurry to eat again. 

The offending "Lancashire coals"
Elsewhere though, the meal was a treasure trove.  We loved the little selection of nibbles brought over at the start - especially the dainty rye toasts with cream cheese and the cheesy baked potatoes with a liquid centre that I, of course, managed to squirt everywhere by not popping it all in at once.  And from then on it was one spectacular dish after another - although particular highlights for me were the quail eggs with leek, kale and mustard:...

Egg, veg and mustard!
...and the roasted hake with cauliflower and mussels:...

Hake, cauliflower, mussels!
...the latter of which I am minded to try and recreate at home.  The swede dumplings in duck yolk sauce were amazing as well with a remarkable texture, achieved by using a Japanese starch called Kuzu (yes, we are the annoying customers who ask questions about every single dish).      

So, digestive problems and unappealing pudding aside, another fabulous dinner at the hands of Mr Rogan - or, since he is probably quite busy elsewhere at the moment, one of his trusty lieutenants.  I am so pleased that he will be getting a permanent home in London because it will bring his extraordinary food to a wider audience and perhaps get L'Enclume the third star it so richly deserves.  In the meantime, he has a devoted fan girl in me - which, as we know, is almost as good.

The Midland Hotel
Peter Street
M60 2DS 
0161 236 3333 

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