Every so often I am remiss, and allow myself to forget how utterly, breathtakingly amazing Manchester is. There are a number of reasons for this; I am lazy, for example, and too often remain safely ensconced in my own suburban corner, where I know lots of people and can easily walk home. I am also something of a worrywort, and occasionally believe certain sectors of the press when they claim that Manchester is a dangerous place, some kind of ghetto where great gangs roam the street ready to divest you of your beer money.
But it only takes a single night out to remind me how lucky I am to live here. Last night was such an occasion: a properly sultry Manchester evening with thunder in the air and a booking at the new(ish) sister restaurant to my beloved Grill on the Alley - The Grill on New York Street. Now, even the name is exciting, suggesting that if you kept walking long enough you would find yourself in the heart of the Big Apple having some kind of impossibly glamorous Carrie Bradshaw moment; in a slightly less glamorous way it also reminds me of the time I fell out through the fire escape of New York, New York on Canal Street where, according to an unsympathetic friend who was clearly too busy thinking unkind thoughts to actually do anything useful like help me up, I lay there looking not unlike the Wicked Witch of the West, with just my twitching feet on view.
Anyway, The Grill on New York Street. Astonishingly, I like it even better than the original, as The Grill on the Alley was often a little cramped, with hoards of after-work drinkers baying away in the bar area whilst you were trying to eat an entire baked camembert with a bit of quiet dignity. The New York Street restaurant is a much better space, with a large seating area in front of the open kitchen along the back wall, and a smaller raised area along the side; our table for two was in the latter area, and although the tables are still on the small side they are artfully arranged so that you feel you're having a private meal even though when you get up to go to the loo you discover that there are approximately one million other people there as well.
The menu here is broadly the same as the other restaurants in the Blackhouse chain, specialising in seafood and steak cooked to perfection. As is so often the case with steakhouses, you get what you pay for; the food is not cheap here but across the entire meal everything - everything - was faultless. Here is what we had:
Starters: Mr Liz had two beautiful, plump duck spring rolls (well, strictly speaking he had one and a half, the other half mysteriously disappearing when he was engaged in topping up the wine glasses) and I had chicken livers with bacon, shallots and garlic on toast. These were so good that Mr Liz has actually been to Sainsbury's this morning and purchased both liver and bacon, in the devoted assumption that I will be whipping up something similar for his tea next week.
Mains: Obviously, we both had steak. I had the fillet steak cooked rare and served with mashed potato, and Mr Liz had a medium-rare sirloin with chips; both were cooked perfectly to order and shone in their own different ways - my fillet literally did melt in the mouth (well, it might have done if it had remained in my mouth for any length of time) and the sirloin, although chewier in texture, had a sublime char-grilled flavour. The Grill on the Alley always did the BEST mashed potato and I'm pleased to confirm that the standards are maintained in the new restaurant - I suspect it might be the potato to butter ratio (which seems to be roughly 50/50) that does it.
Dessert: For me, puddings are often a disappointment, something I regret having ordered, but not here. Mr Liz had a perky Rum Baba, a squat little gourd that looked imposing amid its sea of fruit soup but which turned out be as light as a puff of air, most unlike my one and only attempt at ever making rum babas, which could comfortably have been used to break windows, or as the foundation tier in a dry-stone wall. I had the cheese, which was pricy at £9 but turned out to be the best, bravest cheese board I have ever had. Six cheesy morsels arranged on a slate slab, and not a duff one amongst them - even the cheddar (which I often deem to be dispensable) was interesting, matured for 12 months only to be snaffled in seconds. The remaining five ranged from stinky to extremely stinky, with the best of them - the Epoisses Hennart - merely a fetid puddle which I was forced to wipe my finger round when no-one was looking. I could happily have eaten the whole lot twice over, and urge The Grill on New York Street to consider a lunchtime special of cheese board with a glass of red wine; I would be in every single day.
After our perfect meal (throughout which, incidentally, we also received perfect service), we walked back through Manchester. The night was still warm, with summer rain in the air, threatening to become heavy; not that this mattered to the cheerful revellers thronging the streets. Canal Street was as colourful as ever, with a proliferation of pink flashing bunny ears much in evidence and the sound of Kylie filtering out from the busy bars; little seems to have changed here since the days when I was obsessed with Queer as Folk, and Stuart and Vince carved their oh-so-attractive swathe through the heart of Manchester. We jumped on the bus and made our way back to Didsbury, full of promises not to leave it so long until our next reminder that Manchester is a truly gorgeous place to be.