So it was back to Mr Cooper's for the third time (for food) since it opened last September. This time it was because Mrs Bacon was on a works do at Red Hot Buffet (her verdict; f*cking awful). I think I got the best deal don't you?
I took my friends who'd not been before. We were going to stay local but I realised that for a few extra quid I could be eating the new dishes on the menu created by one of the best chefs in the country. It was a no brainer really wasn't it. Actually if you factor in the cost, Mr Cooper's is my favourite restaurant in Manchester. (It'd be The French if I could afford it as regularly). This time we got a booth. The only thing I don't like about this place is the crappy music they still have playing over crap speakers that only plays the top end of records. But anyway that's one of my pet hates and at least it wasn't too loud.
I got two starters; Mussel chowder with leeks and bone marrow croutons (£7.50) and my favourite, the Anise crusted sweetbreads, Saffron risotto and fried leeks (£8). I loved this dish, phwoar those sweetbreads and the intense flavour of the anise.
My only complaint? I wanted more. A few people have mentioned the small portions. This could be solved in one stroke; bread. It wouldn't be too hard to get more bread from The French would it?
Are these the best chips in Manchester?
Lamb is always amazing in Simon Rogan's restaurants and this was no exception. Malabar pilaff, lamb rumps, garlic, lemon and chilli (£16.50) was a truly stunning dish. The quality of the meat is exceptional, with just the right amount of fat and flavour and all the elements worked perfectly with it.
Another new dish; Yoghurt cream, warm rice pudding, rhubarb and ginger (£6) has pretty much everything I want in a dessert.
And finally a visit to Mr Cooper's wouldn't be complete without a Rum & Raisin Old Fashioned. I noticed that the chocolate was better this time.
It cost me £70 with beers, wine, cocktails and a tip. I left very happy as did my friends to meet Mrs B and listen to a tale of another sitting. I will be back to Mr Cooper's House and Garden I'm sure. Yes the prices do add up but it represents superb value for money for food as good as this. 8/10.
Does it have a pool? You know that annoying advert where a couple inadvertently find themselves dropped into a swimming pool whilst looking for a Barcelona hotel room? Well I always think that it's this one. We couldn't afford to stay at the Hotel 1898 on the ramblas, but on the first night of our stay in Barcelona this bar was exactly what I had in mind. I'd imagined sipping cocktails on a roof top terrace with views of the city on a warm summer night. As you get out of the lift you see the beautifully lit bar and pool and the only thing you can say is wow.
We enjoyed some fairly decent tapas and cocktails whilst taking in the breathtaking views of the city and the atmosphere. Yes this felt like we were really enjoying life. I write this in the depths of the dreadful cold and wet British winter and long to be back there.
Find the Hotel 1898 on las ramblas and take the lift to the top terrace.
London is awash with great cocktail bars, so for a want of knowing where they all are, I asked twitter for their recommendations. They came up with loads of great looking places, I even made a cocktail crawl map. But not planning ahead and a few weeks before Christmas is not the best time to try and walk into a Soho cocktail bar without a reservation on a Saturday night. However, straight off the train at around midday we had a celebratory cocktail at Mark's Bar on Brewer Street.
This place was recommended to us by blogger Mrs Petticoat, it's a firm favourite of hers. You go down the stairs through the restaurant Hix and into the cellar. It feels like a secret that you have to know is there, like a New York speak-easy.
I had an ATHOLL BROSE: Parsnip infused Monkey Shoulder blended malt Scotch whisky cooked with Bitter Truth pimento dram, oatmeal brose, cream and heather honey, poured over ice (£10.50).
If you've never had a cocktail at midday before, I can totally recommend it and this one was absolutely perfect as a breakfast pick me up. It'sa gorgeous mixture of cream, honey and whisky, but it somehow felt healthy at the same time. Mark's Bar may very well become a regular habit next time we're down in London as part of an all day cocktail crawl.
I'm always interested in what people have had for their tea, but also in the larger sense - what people order in restaurants and why. Many times what I like isn't what sells the best at all. At Solita last summer, we loved their DIY Steak Tartare (it had a few fans), but it just didn't sell enough to keep it on the menu (I don't think). I guess raw meat doesn't appeal to everyone. Although I believe they may bring it back this year.
There was also an interesting debate the other day on-line about the old chestnut - the limited vegetarian options in many places (apart from the apparently ubiquitous Halloumi), and a few restaurants said the same thing; they had put more options on but nobody bought them. I can understand the frustration for vegetarians when eating out, but it has to be remembered that restaurants are in the business of making money and 95% of the population (or thereabouts) are meat-eaters. I guess that halloumi remains popular as meat eaters are likely to order it too. I would order it, whereas I'd never order a vege-burger from Almost Famous or Solita etc, I'd want the real thing.
I had a newly added Paulaner for research purposes.
So we were invited down to try the new brunch menu at Solita. They didn't invent brunch of course but they're making it their own in Manchester already. It was totally packed when we turned up at midday on Saturday. As we were both recovering from a nasty stomach bug we couldn't actually face the larger meaty dishes. They've reported that the Toad in the Hole is their most popular dish so far. Whereas the one I most wanted to try the Truffled Egg on Toast (£5.90) was the least. I'm not sure why, it's a real winner this one, comforting, gooey cheese with the egg running into it, and just a hint of truffle oil. Despite not having any real hunger, I scoffed this one no problem. I'd definitely recommend this for the vegetarians.
Our favourite though was the Uovo Pomodoro. (Eggs baked in Little Italy Marinara sauce and N'Duja added, £8.80). Spicier than I'd anticipated this was a lovely comforting dish like the Italian grandmother I never had used to make. There's a real gap in the market for a proper Italian restaurant doing this sort of thing in town I think, that's not a soulless chain serving the same old stuff.
I'd also wanted the hot salt beef bagel, but Mrs B quite rightfully said that it'd be too much for our delicate stomachs. She was right of course so we went for the CreamCheese and Home Smoked Salmon bagel. (£7.90). Taking a little of the salmon off, you could taste it was proper home smoked as it's so much better than the usual supermarket bought stuff.
The Buttermilk pancakes and Maple syrup (£4.90) were light and fluffy, Mrs Bacon was very pleased with these, it set her off talking about childhood holidays to The States.
So there we have it, we probably ordered the least popular dishes off the menu but it was spot on for us and not too heavy. A couple of other things I noticed on this visit to Solita, firstly their FOH seems to get better and better each time, and secondly, I always enjoy the music they play in there.
The only thing I don't like about brunch is there's no lunch to look forward to, but should you fancy brunch in town, Solita's clearly the place you want to go to - it's busy though so get there early is my advice.
When Australasia opened three years ago, the Manchester restaurant 'scene' was very different.The French restaurant didn't exist (in it's current superior form anyway) and there was no Mr Coopers, no Solita and no Almost Famous. So when Living Ventures opened Australasia, it was a jewel in their crown and quite a big deal. I think local journos were mostly beside themselves with how good it was. We liked it too, went a few times and enjoyed it. But we never went back, there were too many other new places to try and it faded from my memory a bit. I thought it wouldn't be quite as good as I'd remembered it. Besides, it wasn't really our sort of place with the 'glamorous' people and the DJ with loud music etc. I also like cheap eats and I like really high end, (when I can afford it) and Australasia falls somewhere in the middle.
Since then LV has gone from strength to strength with the opening of Artisan, and Manchester House, plus a sales figure of close to 50 million this last year. The boss Tim Bacon in a speech at Manchester House said that Australasia was still somewhere close to his heart. So when we were invited to the 'extension' Grand Pacific, we jumped at the chance. Who wouldn't?
It's almost like a separate restaurant, they serve pretty much the same menu, but they also do an Asian 'high tea'. The design is as bling as you'd imagine from LV with a colonial style twist. We liked it, and the heaters were blasting out making it lovely and warm despite the chilly conditions outside. We still sat in the inside bit as Mrs B is well nesh. (There's also a large outdoor terrace that's now been fully weather proofed).
Onto the food. We had; A Mixed plate of filtered Cornish Oysters (Soy pearl, chilli, coriander, shallots and mirin, £12.50) As always with oysters, I prefer them naked, one of these (the chilli one) was way too salty for me. You don't need to do anything with them, they're superb as they are and as good as you'll find in Manchester.
Then a mixed plate of Sushi and Sashimi (14, £25). This was all good but as were were sharing, it was tricky to split them up as there were few duplicates, so I never felt that I could get properly into it.
Then we had some mixed plates; Soft shell crab Tempura (£12.50). Gorgeous, crispy and light.
Tuna tartare. (£8.50). A lovely simple dish. You know I love burgers, but it was nice to eat some grown up food like this for a change as well. It was a little too salty again for us though.
Roasted foie gras with pickled rhubarb. (£13.50). You might also know that we love foie and this was an excellent dish. Our favourite of the night.
Hand dived scallop ceviche with tiger’s milk. (£14.50). Mrs B really liked this one, I couldn't see it myself. I think it needs tweaking as it was a little unbalanced in flavour for me. It looked impressive though in the fish bowl.
By the time the puds came, (all £7.50) and after a few superb Smoky Old Fashioned Cocktails, (they are really smoky), things get a little hazy, but I remember the Mango soufflé with coconut ice-cream and mango soup from our previous visit to Australasia. If anything it had improved over the years. It's a real winner this dessert. We also really enjoyed the Lemon crème brûlée with raspberry sorbet and the Garden buttermilk panna cotta.
We were pretty impressed with Grand Pacific, it was much better than we'd anticipated, so sometimes you can go back, as it was as good as we remembered Australasia to be. I also think that we ordered well, you can't really go wrong with oysters as long as the produce is high quality, but the other stuff was good too. The prices do mount up though, so it's the sort of upper mid range restaurant you might go to with a group for a special occasion and fine cocktails unless you're loaded that is. If you already know Living Ventures restaurants, you'll know what you're getting here, they're slick and glossy and very well run on the whole, but the food for us on this occasion was as I said, very decent too.
As we were there super early (as usual), I was at home by 7pm watching The One show, very 'happy' after another successful evening of eating and drinking. So where to next?
Price: By invitiation for us*, but it's not the cheapest place in town. Service: Our waitress Emma was lovely. Food: Good. Star dish: Roasted foie gras with pickled rhubarb. Score: N/A * I always tell the truth, see my Rosso review for details.