Let me start with an apology, directed at anyone who follows more than a handful of Manchester food bloggers on Twitter. Perhaps, like I am wont to do, you were watching some nonsense on television last night, and desired to find out what the Twittersphere thought of it; perhaps, your other half was watching the football, and you turned to Twitter in search of witty, pithy conversation to see you through the darkness of the second half. Sadly, what you actually got was a timeline cluttered with pictures of people who eat out more than is good for them, eating more than was good for them, and posting a series of near-identical dinner photos. For last night was the soft launch of new smokehouse restaurant 3 Twenty One, and the bloggers were out in force - mostly eating steak and ribs, but more of that later.
First things first: location. 3 Twenty One is located above the Deansgate pub, next to the Hilton tower. You have to walk through the pub and up the stairs to get to the restaurant - an interesting experience when half of Manchester is downstairs watching the FA Cup Final, but once I'd clambered across the laps of one or two gentlemen (who to their credit, never once took their eyes off the game) and made it up the properly-pub-style-carpeted stairs, the restaurant couldn't have been more of a contrast. This is a lovely modern open space, flooded with light and with a dinky terrace out the back that will be irresistible once summer returns - in fact, I can already envisage leaving Mr Liz in the Man Creche downstairs whilst I pop up to the terrace for a cocktail or two.
Foodwise, the menu is generally what you would expect from a smokehouse, with pate, ribs and chicken wings among the starters and a range of steaks, fish and chops for mains. The most interesting items on the menu for me were the Sharing Boxes - five different selections priced at £15, with the standout option being The Mancunian Way. The thought of ordering Manchester in a box was too much to resist, so I donned my flat cap and enjoyed a culinary tour around my adopted city in the form of a Manchester Egg, an artisan steak pie, an Eccles cake paired with Lancashire cheese and vimto, plum and red onion chutney, Manchester Caviar (aka a fine pea and mint puree) and a selection of breads. Now whilst slightly barking (Eccles cake for a starter?), each component was very well executed, particularly the pie - although the butter-rich pastry was so thick that my attempts to cut through the crust sent a chunk hurtling dangerously close to food legend Neil Sowerby's head. There was too much bread (and some of it was a little dry), but otherwise we liked this very much, and I can already envisage this forming the cornerstone of many a happy lunch date.
Then on to mains. The menu does include burgers, pizzas and salads, but we both wanted to try the steak, aged for a minumum of 35 days and available in a variety of cuts - I chose the 8oz Sirloin at £18.95 whilst Mr Liz went for the cheaper 10oz Rump. The price includes your choice of side from a pretty wide range - a refreshing change from restaurants who assume you will always want chips with your steak, although Mr Liz did of course want chips with his steak and went for the twice-cooked variety. Meanwhile, I maintained my reputation for healthy mind, healthy body (temple etc etc) by having the chargrilled vegetables - these were lovely, a really hefty portion of peppers, aubergine and sweet potato, and went perfectly with a steak that was pinkly rare on the inside and striped with chargrilled caramelly goodness on the outside. It's possible I may have dented my reputation for healthy mind, healthy body (temple etc etc) by ordering blue cheese sauce as an extra and drenching my plate with it, but I'm pretty sure selecting veg as a side still overrides any such minor indiscretions.
It's also possible that I may have managed to force down a smidge of dessert - just in the interests of a full and thorough review, of course. My chocolate Oreo mud pie with white chocolate ice cream was every bit as dense and dark and squidgy as it sounds, while Mr Liz's apple and toffee crumble pie was perky and fresh but might just have been nicer served warm.
For an opening night, service was remarkably smooth - there seems to be a good team in place here, both in the kitchen and front of house. Our one regret is that we didn't try the cocktails - sitting here looking at last night's timeline extolling the virtues of their Mojitos, Juleps and - gasp - Chilli & Watermelon Collinses makes me feel I missed a trick here. Still - always good to have a reason to go back...
- 3 Twenty One is at 321 Deansgate, Manchester M3 4LQ; tel. 0161 839 5215. We were invited as guests as the restaurant and were not asked to pay for our meal - but I'll pay next time, as I'm not a fast runner and remember there are lots of drinkers downstairs to hurdle on the way out.