Now, there's a popular misconception that when Anthony Burgess said "all human life is here", he was talking about Catholicism. He wasn't, of course; he was actually talking about Manchester on a Saturday evening as viewed from a window table in 47 King Street West. In the course of a couple of hours last night I saw shoppers, families, women with pushchairs, stag parties, mahogany-coloured girls in neon heels so high one of them really did fall off them whilst crossing the road, an old lady with an actual tartan shopping trolley and - my personal favourite - a WAG-wannabe making her friend photograph her as she leaned across the bonnet of someone else's sports car. All part of life's rich tapestry, and rather fitting really - for 47 King Street West could not be more different from the restaurant we had eaten at the previous night (but more of that later).
47 King Street West is on the little bit of street that runs down the side of Kendals, also home to San Carlo and Cicchetti, and whilst I suspect it often plays second fiddle to these two giants it has been quietly building a good reputation for itself and is fairly full at 7pm on a Saturday night. The venue began as a tea room when it opened at the end of 2011 (and still offers afternoon tea), but has now expanded its range to offer an evening à la carte menu of British and French classics - head chef Rod Francis (you might remember him from Mash & Air) is classically trained in French cuisine and it shows. First up, we are brought a small taster of the Chicken Liver & Foie Gras Parfait, which I hope Mr Liz will not like. Tragically, he loves it, as do I - rich without being cloying, the masterstroke here is the inclusion of a few tiny shards of sweet tomato at the bottom in order to break up all that meatiness. It looks a little grey in this picture - I wished to photograph its inner pinkness, but once the surface was broken it was pretty much gone.
Then on to the starters, and my plate of Pan Fried Scallops with a Spicy Chorizo Cake is the standout dish of the night. Any decent restaurant should be able to procure some fat, sweet scallops and cook them properly, so the interesting thing here is what they are served with. The chorizo cake is indeed spicy, its warm kick contrasting beautifully with the comforting blandness of the plump scallops, and the tiny pieces of chorizo dotted artfully around the plate also provide a satisfying chewiness to the texture of the dish. Mr Liz has the Moules Marinere (again, a dish that shouldn't ever really be messed up) and enjoys a/ the palpable freshness of the mussels, b/ the generosity of the portion size, c/ the provision of two sturdy slices of bread and butter to mop everything up with and d/ the richness of the cream and shallot sauce, which is the perfect consistency to coat the mussels rather than run straight off them. I do not enjoy sitting opposite a man with cream down his chin and - somehow - across the backs of his hands, particularly as rumour suggests he is what I have chosen as a life partner.
Mains consist of Pan Fried Duck Breast with Rosti Potato, Braised Pak Choi and a Raspberry Jus for me, and Oven Baked Veal with Confit Ratte Potatoes, Sauteed Leeks and a Tarragon Cream Sauce. These are both delicious but perhaps lack the finesse of my scallop starter: my rosti is perfectly executed, but the duck is not quite as pink as I would have liked, and I could have managed a little more jus. I also have to give some of my duck away to a can't-believe-his-luck Mr Liz, and whilst I fully applaud a desire to give value for money, if a serving of something is too big for me then it's probably safe to say it's on the overly-generous side. Mr Liz's main is plain but good: essentially a veal schnitzel served with small roasted potatoes and leeks, it looks a little beige on the plate - I feel it is lacking something, although I can't quite put my finger on what this might be and happily eat the forkful I am proffered.
Desserts are equally traditional, with Eton Mess for me and Hot Chocolate Indulgence Pudding for my sticky-chinned companion. Mr Liz's is the more exciting - you have to allow 15 minutes for it to be cooked, and it arrives, seductively molten, in a teacup that proves too hot for Mr Liz to ever grasp hold of, despite his increasingly desperate attempts to do so. My Eton Mess is a well-executed classic, with a good ratio of cream to meringue to fruit, and some entirely unnecessary ice cream hidden at the bottom. I eat it anyway, and then have to get a taxi home as I am too fat to waddle to the train station.
Overall, we have a very pleasant dining experience - the food is good, the staff are lovely and the wine list is well-chosen, with nothing on the main list over £30. If "pleasant" sounds like an faint insult, it's not: it's just that there are no surprises here. This is not cutting-edge dining - it's traditional, classic cooking at reasonable city centre prices (between £11.95 and £23.95 for a main), and sometimes that's exactly what you want.
And the other restaurant I mentioned at the beginning? I'll be writing up Room next week, but at first glance you'd be forgiven for thinking that the two would be pretty similar - different ends of the same street, similar prices, menu full of nice things most people would enjoy eating. However, whilst Room pushes the boundaries in constantly coming up with twists on classic dishes, 47 King Street West just serves them up as they are. An uncharitable soul might suggest that 47 King Street West is a little dated, but for me it's all just part of Manchester's rich tapestry - now excuse me while I go and drape myself over that Lamborghini.
- 47 King Street West is at, erm, 47 King Street West, Manchester M3 2PW, tel 0161 8391929. We were invited to review the restaurant via Manchester Confidential and were not asked to pay for our meal.