It is sometimes said - a tad uncharitably, in all truth - that certain individuals would turn up to the opening of an envelope if they thought there would be a free glass of wine involved (present company excepted of course - NO sniggering at the back). Indeed, a couple of weeks ago it looked splendidly as if a number of local luminaries would be turning up to celebrate the opening of a door - the long-awaited portal that now allows direct entrance into the Manchester 235 Casino from the AMC Great Northern Complex on Deansgate.
We stayed at home for the great door unveiling, but did venture out last night for the launch of something far more exciting - the new Autumn menu from Manchester 235's impressive house restaurant, Linen. Mr Liz and I ate here at the end of July and liked it very much (you can read the full review here), so we were excited to see what the new season would bring - although it does have to be said that the welcome cocktail served on arrival by the legendary Drinks Enthusiast was pure summer in a glass: G'Vine Gin's superlative Flouraison with gomme syrup, fresh lemon juice and more fresh basil than I managed to grow in my garden all year. Still, it was delicious, and I'm fairly certain I can easily recreate this at home, only perhaps without the gomme syrup. Or the fresh basil. And with a lower quality gin. And, I might just slice the lemon. Still, similar though, eh.
Anyway, on to the food. A selection of dishes were brought to the table for us to share (fortunately I was seated next to The Hungry Manc, whose general all-round good nature and sense of gentlemanly honour slows down his fork speed considerably), and although this does of course not accurately reflect a normal dining experience at the restaurant, we were assured that the portion size and so forth seen here IS exactly the same as you would receive if you ordered from the menu. We sampled three starters, three mains and three puddings, many of which I would order again - here are the highlights.
The best starter, for me, was the sauteed pigeon breast served with beetroot hummus and red wine jus, seen in extreme close-up here as I try to shield it with my body so The Hungry Manc doesn't see it. The meat is pink and tender on the inside and stickily caramelised on the outside; I also enjoy the contrast between the warmth of the meat and the cool, aloof sweetness of the earthy hummus alongside. This is a smallish portion at £7.95 a go, but the pigeon is rich and filling, and remember, you won't have to share with TWENTY others. Second place goes to the rustic pork and pistachio terrine, a sturdy slab of nicely chewy, flavoursome meat - this would have won, actually, if it weren't the kind of starter I order pretty much every time I go out, so in fairness this is more my fault than the terrine's. Third place for the home smoked salmon and beetroot salad; I like the salmon, and I like the beetroot, but I'm not terribly sure they flatter each other in this particular partnership.
On to the mains, and I reckon the first is the best - great meaty Cumbrian lamb chops, residing stickily amongst a sultry crowd of roast garlic confit, potatoes forestiere and truffle jus. Even better, the lovely Hungry Mrs - with whom I am also dining - passes on her chop and I swoop on it with all the restraint and decorum of a seagull approaching a particularly lucrative-looking dustbin. Joint runners up spot is awarded to the fish dish - seared fillet of bream with saffron sauce - and the roasted wild boar steak with chorizo. The latter of these two would have been a clear winner with a little more sauciness - the meat was moist, but the jus was reduced to little more than a sticky glaze, and when a side order of hand cut chips arrived they took the whole dish to the wrong side of dryness. This problem is easily rectified however, and this is another dish I would order again. We also had a very good side order of cauliflower cheese - pricy, perhaps, at £3.95, but flawlessly executed, the thick, creamy sauce stylishly removing any trace of worthy healthiness on the part of the vegetable item.
And so to dessert. I am categorically NOT a pudding person, and for this reason the marbled Bailey's and chocolate cheesecake and raspberry rippled Baked Alaska - although both good-looking AND tasty - are largely just decoration at the end of the meal. But the first dessert served up, the toffee apple creme brulee, is a revelation: soft, mildly tart apples adding some welcome texture the smoothness of the creme brulee, the warmth of the accompanying cinnamon shortbread just crying out to be used as a tasty weapon to break through the crisply burnt topping...and the cute little toffee apple on the side? I'm afraid we actually fought over it. This is one of the few desserts I have ever had that I would actually adjust my menu choices in order to accommodate - it really is wonderful.
We were also extremely honoured that Head Chef Jarda (previously of Smoak fame) came out to explain each dish to us; he is engaging, and passionate, and clearly excited about the food he is serving up - we listened to him politely, attentively, interestedly, whilst secretly longing to start devouring his dishes. Linen is definitely an asset to Manchester's fine dining scene and a worthy destination for any special occasion - even better, you can now take your night out to the next level by going through that lovely new door...