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Sunday, 18 November 2012

The Restaurant Bar and Grill, Manchester: Mr Liz Becomes an Oyster Convert

So. When I originally rescued Mr Liz from Wiganer bachelordom - now more than a decade ago - our individual food terrains were clearly and unmistakably delineated. Sure there was some common ground (we both put on about a stone in our first month together, due almost entirely to a shared and slightly shameful love of the baked bean and cheese toastie as a Sunday morning breakfast), but many of my most favourite food items were met with suspicion, incomprehension or occasionally downright terror on Mr Liz's part. I mean, he even claimed not to like peanut butter - he was lucky I kept him on to be quite honest.

Anyway, over the years he has gradually got braver and/or greedier, embracing an ever wider field of food items and leaving me with less and less to call my own, until now - finally, tragically - the last bastion has fallen. Mr Liz likes oysters.

And The Restaurant Bar and Grill on John Dalton Street is entirely to blame. We dined there last Saturday night courtesy of Manchester Confidential, and were treated to such a virtuoso display of skillful and sensitive cooking that I felt thoroughly ashamed to have never eaten here before - I think somehow the very size of the place had put me off, its three vast floors looming intimidatingly over the old-fashioned charms of this Manchester street, all modern and shiny and fashionable. I feel silly now, for although it is modern and shiny and fashionable, it is also friendly and welcoming, and if you are lucky enough to get a window seat on the first floor then the views are spectacular - I spend the evening torn between admiring the beauty of the food on the table and the twinkly allure of the Christmas lights outside.

In the end, of course, the food wins the day. I start with the aforementioned oysters - six plump beauties lounging seductively in their ice bath, just waiting for a hungry blogger to apply a little tabasco to each one and scoff the lot. Mais non - for Mr Liz is already looking at them with some interest, and plucks up the courage to try one; this I permit, for after all, this noble act of generosity will still leave me five. Except, quite rightly, he loves them - a good, fresh oyster is pretty much unbeatable, and we end up splitting them fifty-fifty; not an entirely bad thing in the end, as he is then morally obliged to give me one of his crispy duck spring rolls. These are enormous fat parcels, generously packed with meat and served with a little Thai salad and some good, sticky dipping sauce - truth be told, they make an excellent foil to the slippery saltiness of the oysters, and I learn a valuable lesson about sharing.

After such a good start, we have high hopes for the mains - and they do not disappoint. Mr Liz chooses steak, as Mr Liz ALWAYS chooses steak (and he has already been quite adventurous with the oysters, remember), and asks our exceptionally helpful waiter for his advice - advice that proves spot on, as THIS is what arrives...

...the 35-day-aged 14oz bone-in prime rib, served with chips and a particularly successful mustard sauce. I always prefer bone-in meat (insert your own innuendo here, if you must), and this is a prime example *smirks* of the advantages of such cuts - the flavour is superb, and the texture substantial without being tough or chewy. Meanwhile, I am attempting to be vaguely healthy by ordering the Tuna au Poivre with salad - sterling efforts a little scuppered by the sheer size of the fish, the pefectly rich buttery bearnaise that accompanies it, and the fact that the waiter throws in a few chips as well (truly my kind of man). The tuna loin is excellent, and perfectly seared as requested - but, astonishingly, the real star is the house salad, which offers a variety of leaves in a refreshingly tangy herb vinaigrette; I decide that this unexpected bonus is my reward for sharing my oysters.

The healthy train is well and truly derailed when we order dessert. I choose the sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce whilst Mr Liz has the Autumn special - a dainty little apple and blackberry crumble; both are delicious, but I had also admired the Black Forest Eton Mess on the menu, so the waiter simply brings this as well - I tell you, this oyster karma just keeps on giving. The desserts are generously sized and nicely rich; my only comment would be that the Black Forest Eton Mess (chocolate brownies, cherries, crushed meringue, chocolate ice-cream) becomes a little too rich by the time you've eaten quite a lot of it, but bearing in mind I have already consumed one large pudding I'm not entirely sure this constitutes fair criticism.

The wine list is a good one - we have an excellent bottle of Pouilly Fume, and although there are few wines on the menu around the £20 mark there are plenty available by the glass. We are already planning a return visit, to sit on the new terrace and drink a cocktail or two - I have already made it very clear to Mr Liz though that if he wants oysters next time, he's really going to have to get his own.

- The Restaurant Bar and Grill is at 14 John Dalton Street, Manchester M2 6JR; tel. 0161 839 1999. The restaurant knew we were there to review and we were not asked to pay for our meal, but the place was obviously full of very happy customers and we will go again as paying guests.

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