Until now, my only trip to Manchester was to the Granada studios to be interviewed by George perma-tan Hamilton III for a cable TV show. Ah my heady broadcasting career Š the guest before me was a toe reader Š think palmistry for feet - and the man after me collected telephones. The visit was unforgettable because Brian Eno rang me on my mobile phone on the way home -possibly a wrong number - but I didnÕt stop shaking for days. Imagine if it had been Bryan Ferry? The tracks would have vibrated all the way to Euston - one way to get Virgin trains running on time.
No such starry one-to-one occurred on this occasion Š but thankfully, the food was better than the cardboard sandwiches in GranadaÕs green room Š TV hospitality is a bit like eating the leftovers from a childrenÕs party, two days later.
I kicked off this gastronomic journey with dim sum at Yang
Sing Š the most famous Chinese restaurant in Europe, built in a converted
cotton warehouse which burnt down a couple of years ago but has now been
rebuilt. Only the downstairs
dining room was open, fitted out with dark red carpeting and matching napery,
glossy painted pillars and a restrained helping of chinoiserie. We arrived straight from the station,
luggage in hand Š my companion with large, ostentatious Louis Vuitton holdall,
myself, classy Kate Spade job from New York Š to be met by Ryan (according to
his nametag) the happiest, friendliest waiter anywhere in the world (according
to his beatific smile). He took
one look at our separate suitcases, immediately assumed we were on a dirty
weekend, and insisted on giving us a huge table with room for the luggage to
nestle obligingly at our, supposedly, entwined feet like well-trained pets. You
obviously have a lot to talk about, he said, fairly twinkling shall I leave you
to get on with it and just bring you a selection of things?
Three hours on a train during a weekend so clean you could disinfect germs with it will kill most conversations dead, but we agreed. No chicken feet, called my companion anxiously as the waiterÕs brocade waistcoat disappeared briskly across the room. A nicely varied selection of dishes followed, delivered by a succession of adept waiters Š a wondrous feast for only £26.00.
Evening was a more formal affair Š a night in the severely fashionable Lowry, described by a friend as designed to make visiting Lab Technicians feel at home, and whose calm, spacey airiness was a rest for the senses after castle clutter back in suburbia. The bed alone Š big enough to hold everyone IÕve ever slept with at once, or not, with itÕs tightly drawn sheets made me feel as though IÕd been ironed Š a fact not borne out by the magnifying mirror in the bathroom next morning. The River Room restaurant is also a minimalist local anaesthetic of clean lines and cool taste, and full to bursting with 30-something high-rolling locals even on a Monday night. ThereÕs a small terrace edged against the window like a cornered man for when the weather is less grim up north than on our visit, when the sky was the same milky glass green as the creamy upholstery. Food is, ostensibly, cookie cutter Marco Pierre White with dishes familiar to diners at his other establishments; mussel soup Billie-Bye, omelette Arnold Bennett, Drones potted shrimps, though the waiter announced there was no roast chicken properly garnished. What about improperly garnished, I wondered Š a breast of shame, perhaps, but no Š no chicken, anywhichway.
I had veloute of celery a la royale, i.e. with a leathery, forbidding poached egg languishing at the bottom of the opaque broth like a leftover from a boarding house breakfast. The soup itself was as pale, bland and disappointed as Gina McKee in the Forsyte Saga, though not, thankfully as cold. My companion had ballottine of salmon with some miniscule morsels of langoustine, of a high standard showing more of a return to MPW form, followed by a fine escalope of veal with wild mushrooms. My main course was a perfectly grilled sole served in a full metal jacket of warm tartare sauce Š delicious if difficult to debone amidst the profusion of sauce. Both dishes were accompanied by a teddy-boyÕs quiff of glistening mash potato. Other vegetables like creamed spinach were offered as extras at £3.50 each Š though neither price, nor side dishes are listed on the menu.
Desserts feature more Marco specialities. I had a claggy, somewhat lacklustre chocolate terrine, and Š in compensation - most of my companionÕs credible and elegant cr¸me brulee, pierced with slivers of Granny Smith apple. I once tried slicing apples to the same transparency using a mandolin. ThatÕs another 6 hours in casualty IÕll never see again. Best left in the hands of a professional, IÕd say. Mine has three stitches.