I’m not one for frippery; I’m that one who nods sagely along to Masterchef when Greg lambasts a contestant for putting things on plates he can’t eat. I’m with you Greg, if I can’t eat, why the hell have you put it in front of me?
Having said that I’m going to sound like a total hypocrite for the rest of this piece: mainly because I went to restaurant that served me a dish accompanied by a bowl of smoking pebbles that smelled like the sea. And I liked it. And then demanded they brought more fun things to the table for me to play with.
The restaurant I’m talking about is Quill, the first food offering to come back to King Street in central Manchester. Headed by Bury lad, Curtis Stewart and developed by On The Wall (who also own Chalk in Wilmslow), it’s a brooding space; all grey, stuffed rooks* and moody lighting. I’d been asked if I wanted to review and knowing how skint I’ve been lately, I jumped at the chance without knowing much about the place.
Quill is a fine dining restaurant serving modern British fare (their words, confirmed by my experience) – but that sounds very dull, so what is it? It’s a restaurant where the food is has equal amounts of style AND substance, the staff are passionate and the chefs certainly know what they’re on about (they come and explain as much at the table when they bring out each dish).
We chose a wintery Wednesday night to review and the place was quiet – thankfully our wonderful waitress Alexandra made up for that, chatting away about the food, the inspiration and anything else we wanted to know. Sitting upstairs in the window (best seats in the house I think), we looked down on a sodden King Street and perused the menu.
Split into chapters (a gimmick I’m not overly arsed about), the a la carte was short, sweet and to the point. Recipe descriptions were minimal, only listing principal ingredients – all sounding delicious.
One of the stand out dishes of the meal included the scallops and white chocolate – something I’m sorry I didn’t order. I presumed an overly sweet dish, but the kitchen had cleverly used slightly burnt cocoa to pick out the sweetness of the scallops.
Another blinder was the apple and coriander pudding – a simple concept, but ridiculously refreshing and it’s something I still think about a month later (a true mark of a good dish if you ask me). Apple sorbet, burnt apple, apple consommé and pressed apple sat abed a fragrant (but thankfully not overpowering/soapy) coriander base. I can’t describe how light, refreshing, sweetly tart this dish was – it was a true testament to the masterful cooking to be found in the kitchen.
Mains of duck and lamb were solid and both a big slap of flavour to the mouth. The duck, soft and smoky; hen of the woods offered a seasonal silkiness and the fried skin a welcome crunch to the dish. The lamb was very rich, we had to scale back on the sauce, but again it was a multi-layered smasher of a dish.
If there was one bum note to the meal, it was the trout starter. And then it wasn’t really a bum note, just not as pitch perfect as the rest of the food on offer. The dish itself was stunningly simple – compressed trout with edible flowers, wasabi snow and burnt cucumber; but like Marcus Waring, Ifound myself saying, “what does burnt cucumber bring to a dish?” Nothing, bar its stunning contrast to the pale pastels on the plate.
In addition to the apple pudding, we also ate a very good treacle tart (with bubbling rosemary dry ice served alongside), an amazing chocolate dish, which is basically a massive, grown-up rolo (which actually defeated me), a silky smooth amuse bouche of chicken liver parfait offset by a sour cherry jelly and three little canapes, of which the samosa thing was a crunchy, spicy sublimity.
Though dishes were presented in boxes of hay, in handmade egg shells, on bowls over-flowing with uncooked rice and accompanied by more dry ice than the Tivoli Ballroom circa 1999, the supreme excellence of the food shone through. In the month that has passed I have been deliberating on why I hated frippery so much and I’ve put my finger on the answer; it’s usually there to enhance lack lustre, poorly thought out food – thankfully, all it does at Quill is add a little theatre to some truly show-stopping dishes.
*The birds are there as the bar is called The Crow’s nest, so they should be crows – but I’ve looked and a lot of them are rooks (I know the difference: #birdgeek).
Cost for three courses – £50. (If you dine in Jan there’s 20% off a la carte and drinks after 7pm).
Please note the restaurant asked me to review, the meal was gratis and they knew I was there.
Food – 10/10
Service – 10/10
Atmosphere – 6/10 (although as mentioned, the staff made up for it)
Value for money – 9/10
Total – 35/40
Go again – yes, I’m going in a couple of weeks.