Karl Holbrook goes in search of an A-list celebrity chef, travelling to Manchester to James Martin’s first venture this side of the Pennines
Lancashire has no shortage of great restaurants. Restaurants like the Michelin-starred Northcote and the Freemason’s Arms are among the best in the business.
The county also boasts more celebrity chefs than you might expect; not least of all Great British Menu veterans Nigel Haworth and his protégé Lisa Allen.
But to get one of the cooking world’s A-list celebrities, a real household name whose star-quality trumps even their culinary skills, you need to head down the M61 to Manchester where television sweetheart and housewives favourite James Martin has set up his first venture on this side of the Pennines.
Now, it is probably fair to say, the Yorkshireman has become more well known for his hip-shaking stint on Strictly Come Dancing than his actual knife skills but I’m glad to say, after visiting James Martin Manchester to sample his newly-launched Sunday lunch menu, it is easy to see how he made his name as a chef in the first place.
The restaurant itself is a beautiful 150-seat dining room hidden away in a far corner of the Manchester235 casino at the heart of the vast Great Northern redevelopment, laid out with luxury vintage-style fabrics beneath the exposed brick and cast iron vaulting of the old railway company’s Victorian structure.
The a la carte menu, with dishes like Thai crab risotto and British Wagyu ox cheek with smoked potato puree, both sound out the place as a serious foodie joint.
But I was here to try the newly-launched Sunday lunch menu, which changes each week. For each course there are three options and to start I went for spring pea veloute – served cold on the server’s recommendation. The velvety soup, served with confit egg yolk was a beautiful beginning to the meal, bursting with fresh, summery flavours and presented stunningly.
Across the table, Mrs Holbrook tucked into ham hock terrine, which came served with spiced croutons, picked vegetables and light-as-air foie gras parfait.
For main course, there was really only one option for me and the carnivorous Mrs Holbrook – roast pork.
Perfectly cooked slices of roasted meat came served with crisp shards of crackling, dripping roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, gravy and a pear sauce all served with star anise-flavoured carrots and buttered savoy cabbage.
No doubt, one of the best, no-nonsense roast dinners I’ve had in a long time, all washed down with a glass of Castillode Piedra Tempranillo (£3.30 for 125ml).
For less red blooded diners there was cod loin with bitter lemon purée or caramelised cauliflower cheese with Quicke’s cheddar rarebit and black truffle on offer, too.
To finish, my dinner guest opted, unsurpirsingly, for the cheese board, which came with a pickled pear, water biscuits and a very beguiling celery flavoured meringue-like wafer.
Ever the sweet tooth, I went for the decadently rich banana cake with rum soaked bananas and raisins, deep chocolate grenache and crunchy pistachios with a glass of Lafleur Mallet Sauternes.
All three dishes were stylishly presented and faultlessly executed and, while not the cheapest at £25 for three courses (or £20 for two), it is certainly worth paying the little extra, especially considering the heavyweight name above the door.
James Martin Manchester’s high culinary standards deserve every success and the Sunday lunch is well worth checking during your next shopping trip to the city.
James Martin Manchester is in Manchester235, Great Northern, 2 Watson Street, Manchester M3 4LP
Tel: 0161 820 1699.