When I was invited to this I was so excited, but I was totally stupid, read the email wrong, and up until the day itself thought it was to be held outside Manchester Town Hall, not Bolton Town Hall. I’m ridiculous. I know. But that’s another matter, and one I’m sure my friends will never let me live down. Thanks, guys.
I’ve quickly been able to get over that embarrassing hiccup. I’m hoping Aiden Byrne is able to do the same, after this disappointing and tasteless so-called Pop-Up restaurant, which was priced at £60 per head and was held in the event’s ‘luxury marquee’.
The main reason I was so excited was that I ate Aiden’s stunning food at an event at Greenalls Gin back in May this year. It was incredible. One of the best meals I have ever had; and he managed to pull it off from a burger van outside the main distillery. “This man is a genius”, I thought. “Must save up to go to Manchester House”, I thought! So in turn, I also thought, “this ‘pop up restaurant’ will be an absolute doddle for him.”
I’ll start with a positive: the shellfish bisque was delicious. So much flavour, it was rich, velvety, and the melba toast was delightful. The grilled Sicilian red prawns were cooked to perfection, the saffron mayo was good and the whole dish came together really nicely.
I had one mouthful of Lucas’s confit rabbit terrine and, being polite, said it tasted ‘very clean and refreshing’. But after further discussion, we agreed it lacked seasoning, depth of flavour and had no real oomph.
There were three to choose from: beef; chicken or cod. I wasn’t particularly excited by any of them, so opted for beef, as did Lucas.
On the plate came served a huge piece of braised beef cheek (served tepid) and then a big spoonful of wagyu beef tartare (obviously served cold). The braised beef was topped with a slice of Secretto ham and beneath was some braised cabbage with sweet miso Hollandaise sauce.
I was confused by this dish, it was underseasoned too. The beef cheek tasted a little over-braised. Almost sweaty? I know that’s gross, but it’s the only way I can describe it. The Wagyu tartare was completely lost against the rest of the warm ingredients. It was a big disappointment, and with the food sub-standard it quickly began to feel more like a catered wedding than a pop-up restaurant, as marketed.
When we arrived at the event, the waitress checked our pre-order. She let me swap from the chocolate and hazelnut mille-feuille to the ‘selection of regional cheeses’ as I fancied something savoury. Lucas stuck with the Manchester tart.
I hate to say this, I really do, but this was one of the worst cheese plates I’ve tasted. In my local pub in Cheshire, the cheese board is miles better. They hail each supplier on the menu plus their region, including Claire’s Burts blue, the Lancashire bomber and Snowdonia’s sharp, rich and full-flavoured cheddar. I couldn’t believe how bland the cheeses were. The chutney was average at best and the biscuits were just a random selection of posh crackers, so nothing to write home about at all.
The Manchester Tart. Lucas, who ate the tart thought it was bland, under-sweet and didn’t have the unctuous quality of a tart, and while it looked quite nice with its dehydrated raspberry and coconut tuiles, it didn’t satisfy as a dessert. A bowl of the fresh raspberry garnish would have been more rewarding.
The Mille Feuile was not received well by Sarah of Northwest Nosh and her experienced guest, either. They were very disappointed with it indeed.
I’ll keep this one quick, as I hate writing negative reviews and don’t want to go on and on, but the service was also dire. The girl who checked our order had been working for 14 hours already, so perhaps that didn’t help.
One of the runners came over to our table with two plates of cod (and who could clearly see Jess already had a plate of cod in front of her). He proceeded, anyway, to ask “cod”? And well, we just thought, fucking hell, Thank god we didn’t pay £60 a head for this, otherwise, I would have been fuming!
The wobbly floor was also a point of frustration; I know it’s a pop-up marquee but every time the runners went past with food it was shaking our seats. At one point Jess actually looked sea sick.
The ever-changing colours of the disco lighting also made it impossible to take decent pictures of the food.
To end on a positive: the wine was absolutely a highlight. The event was sponsored by Aldi, who provided a really lovely, broad selection. Our Italian Sauvignon and Australian Shiraz were divine, and the markup prices weren’t too bad either.
I’ve been as honest as possible here. I know Byrne is an exceptional chef; his menu at Greenalls proved that and got me excited about him and his food. I won’t for a second let this event put me off saving up to visit Manchester House, as I know there’s some exceptional food waiting for me there, and I really can’t wait to try it.
I just hope any future Manchester House pop-ups are better than this one!