Now, anyone with even a passing interest in a/ food and b/ Manchester will have noticed a recent influx of well-known chefs to our sunny climes (well, if three counts as an influx, which I'm not entirely sure it does). James Martin will soon be taking time away from judging omelette challenges and so forth in order to open his own restaurant at Manchester 235, but in the meantime, two heavyweights are already here in the guise of Aiden Byrne and Simon Rogan. The former opened the newest addition to the Living Ventures stable, Manchester House, on Thursday, with a press lunch which I was unable to attend due to - outrageously - my presence being required at my actual day job; I'm going in a few weeks though, so more to come on that. The same evening saw Simon Rogan launch Mr Cooper's House & Garden at The Midland, a more casual bar-and-dining addition to the already phenomenally successful operation at The French.
Of course, Manchester was very much up for this, despite the inclement weather - with the result that 86,000 people (approx) found themselves crammed into the new venue on Thursday night, trying to look polite and aloof whilst actually converging on the nearest drinks tray (the trick, by the way, is to stand near Thom Hetherington, who claims that any alcohol in the room is magically drawn to him by osmosis - I believe this to be true). The astonishing number of people made it a little difficult to fully admire the space here, which stands on the site where Manchester businessman Thomas Cooper's house and gardens used to be and is divided into different areas such as study, library and garden in tribute to this fact. Indeed, Simon's welcome speech was given from underneath a tree in the garden area of the restaurant, where the prime seating already looks to be the gazebo table.
I have already booked to come back and try the food properly, but the samples that were circulating the room suggested the high standard one would expect from Rogan. We particularly enjoyed the samples of Nick's Meatballs from the starters menu - dainty lamb balls with a beautiful tzatziki foam - as well as mini skewers of grilled fig, ham and rocket with a morsel of spicy popcorn balanced on top. I also tried one of the cocktails, Mr Cooper's Autumn Punch, which went down a treat with its refreshing notes of apple and mint - you see it here, perched in front of the library where some people were playing us some jazz; I like to think I won't type a more middle-class sentence than this all year. There are no photographs of the food, as if I'd paused for even a second then somebody else would have whipped my prize from before my very eyes; it's every man and woman for themselves at these kind of things, and the tolerant staff did remarkably well to keep smiling even whilst under siege from greedy bloggers practically rugby tackling each other to get at the goodies.
So: great space, great atmosphere, great staff, and of course a really great chef at the helm - Mr Cooper's looks like being a welcome and well-priced addition to Manchester. I look forward to a more thorough exploration of the menu in a couple of weeks - in the meantime, I shall be drooling over it here.
- Mr Cooper's House & Garden by Simon Rogan is at The Midland Hotel, Peter Street, Manchester M60 2DS; tel. 0161 2363333.