Sometimes, being so greedy can cause a diner great - although, admittedly, first-world - problems. When you like almost everything, as I do, menu choices are never easy; I dislike coffee, and am not keen on celery, and am quite happy to decline a Bounty bar, but that's pretty much it - everything else on the menu is fair game. Hurrah, then, for the new Grazing Menu at Vermilion, a selection of dainty dishes very much in keeping with the current Manchester fondness for eating lots of smaller plates - but more of that later. Vermilion, that well-regarded purveyor of Thai, Indian and Asian Fusion cuisine, is one of those places I've been meaning to visit for ages but haven't due to sheer laziness - it's slightly out of the city centre, located at Sport City (which is NOT somewhere I would normally have cause to go), and therefore a little off the radar; actually, it's only a few minutes walk from Piccadilly, and is certainly worth the trip - not least to marvel at the pretty remarkable building. Their solution to being slightly out of town is to make Vermilion something of a destination restaurant - and the results are really quite spectacular. The red lighting and exuberant decor won't be to everyone's taste but I love it (not least because the air conditioning is fearsomely efficient); they've also been pretty clever in how the space has been divided up. This is a huge restaurant, seating 200 people, but metal frames section the vastness into more convivial areas - there are perhaps 20 people in when we dine early on a stiflingly hot Wednesday but the atmosphere is surprisingly cheery, with everyone seated in the restaurant's central section.
And this cheery atmosphere is also no doubt partly due to the food - for the food here is good. The Grazing Menu offers a list of dishes priced between £3 and £7 from which the hungry diner is encouraged to choose four per head - ideally you should take an equitably-tempered husband or other companion with you, as then you can choose his four dishes as well and make sure you eat most of them on his behalf. We start with the Poppadum Platter from the main menu (primarily because I've never yet said no to a poppadum, and certainly don't plan to start now); these arrive pre-broken into handy bite-size pieces, along with three small dishes of chutney, and whilst £4.95 seems on the expensive side, they are very good.
We then move on to our chosen grazing dishes (note the use of the plural possessive pronoun), which all arrive together and consist of the following:
- Thai Papaya Salad: our one concession to even vaguely healthy eating, this dish of shredded crunchiness is nicely spicy and is - apparently - the most popular salad in Thailand.
- Hoy Malang Phu: or, two big fat mussels topped with lemon butter and herb crust - these are lovely.
- Seafood Dim Sum: prawns, crab, shitake mushrooms and salmon, wrapped in wheat jackets to produce two sturdy, surprisingly meaty parcels. I would have liked to be able to taste the individual flavours more clearly, but the overall package is delicious.
- Squid Prik Thai: salt and pepper squid just briefly griddled and served with fresh chillies and fish sauce - this is really light and fresh, and is probably good for me as well.
- Rock Lobster: four pieces of lobster served with black pepper sauce and perfumed with truffle oil. I am happy to eat lobster under any circumstances and this is no exception; I can't really taste the truffle oil though. Both the squid and the lobster are heavy on the fish sauce, which suits me as it is a flavour I love - and luckily I have an excellent bottle of Pinot Grigio to hand to quench any resulting thirst.
- Barbary Duck Red Curry: I really like this dish - served with grapes, pineapples and garnished
with Thai sweet basil, it is a perfect combination of sweetness and spiciness. I would eat it all if it wasn't for this stupid sharing business.
- Lamb Massaman: this little pan of curry is my favourite dish of the night - it has just the right earthiness to it, and the chunks of lamb are generous and tender. I try to snaffle all the pices of lamb and it serves me right when some of them are potato.
- Beef Phad Prik: this dish is Mr Liz's particular choice and although it is a little too hot for me, he very much enjoys the spiciness of the chilli, capsicums and green aromatic peppercorn. He eats it all and feels less bitter about the division of the lamb dish.
We also try the three mini desserts (carrot cake, creme brulee and chocolate tart), by far the best of which is the creme brulee. To be honest though, next time I would skip dessert and order another savoury dish instead. As someone who often just orders lots of starters in a restaurant, this sort of dining is right up my street, but I understand it wouldn't be to everyone's taste - it could get quite expensive quite quickly, and whilst Mr Liz enjoys every dish we try he has already seen several things on the main menu that he would prefer to eat all to himself. Before we leave we have a quick look at the fairly fabulous Cinnabar upstairs, where pod-type booths filled with cushions look worryingly tempting - these can be booked in advance, and I have a very real fear that once I lay in one of these I might never get out again.
So, slightly over-the-top? Yes. On the pricey side? Yes. But would I go back? Yes - preferably on a night that Husband Cabs was running...
- Vermilion is on Hulme Hall Lane/Lord North Street, Manchester M40 8AD. The Grazing Menu is only available at certain times and each diner must order at least 4 dishes - see website for more details. We were invited to dine as guests of the restaurant and were not asked to pay for our meal.