Manchester has come a long way from its coal-fired, satanic-mill past: its fifth international arts festival kicks off in June with a new musical from Damon Albarn of Blur. Yet Adam Reid, pale and polite, wears a black apron. Why? Because, he says, of all the fire in his kitchen.
This hotel restaurant bears the signature of Simon Rogan, the chef behind L’Enclume in Cumbria and Fera in London, but Reid, who runs the show, is the man responsible for cooking The French’s big draw. Ox in coal oil: you can eat it only if you upgrade from six courses to ten, but Reid says, because of the ox, most customers do just that.
Like a meaty Picasso, the ox – actually raw, cubed rib-eye of beef – is served on a brick of silky green-grey slate in an oak frame. It glistens with coal oil, made, at fiery risk to the chef’s eyebrows and aprons, by dropping red-hot lumps of charcoal into vats of rapeseed oil. Punctuating the fleshiness are exactly eight balls of whitish kohlrabi and eight blobs of a pale pumpkin mayonnaise. Toasty brown seeds peep from among the dark red cubes; three long sunflower seedlings are laid on top, a giant’s cress.
Once in your mouth, the hit is instant – a strong smokiness, heftier than wood, with some of the blackness of charcoal. There’s a sharp tang of salt, heat from Tabasco, brassica bitterness and crunch from the kohlrabi. It tastes of brasiers, and the beach – the kind where sea-coal washes up on the shingle and a power station hulks in the distance. But the raw beef is satiny and oddly delicate under the brute force of the oil, and the roasted-seed nuttiness is warm, welcoming. It’s a dish that sums up Manchester: industrial, muscular, unafraid, but woven with a thread of sweetness. ~ ISABEL LLOYD
£85 as part of a ten-course menu; the-french.co.uk