Now, not everyone is a fan of Living Ventures, Tim Bacon and Jeremy Roberts' wildly successful bar and restaurant operation. Some Manchester residents find them a little too ubiquitous, particularly in the Spinningfields area, whilst others have had a rogue experience in one of Living Ventures' many brands (Artisan, for example, has attracted some very mixed reviews, and Alchemist Spinningfields is simply not for me - although I do like the New York Street one). The cachet of landing Aiden Byrne's Manchester House has, however, given the brand a real boost amongst people who are serious about good food, and if my experience at Grand Pacific earlier this week is anything to go by, this new pocket-sized bar and restaurant looks sets to attract further plaudits.
Grand Pacific, although it has a clear identity in its own right, is an extension of the underground Australasia restaurant, offering some much-needed outdoor space in the form of a fully covered heated terrace that looks just perfect for dining in pretty much all weather. We chose to sit inside, in the small but perfectly formed colonial-style restaurant with its overhead fans and oversized chairs; indeed, we far preferred the laid back atmosphere of Grand Pacific over the rather more opulent glamour of big sister Australasia. Of course, the quality of the food is what really matters, particularly as Grand Pacific is not the cheapest place to eat in town. The restaurant aims to combine "modern Australian cuisine and Pacific Rim flavours"; indeed, we felt we could have happily eaten pretty much anything from the extensive menu and found it hard to restrict ourselves to a non-embarrassing number of choices.
In the end, we went for the 14-piece mixed Sushi and Sashimi selection followed by something (or, ahem, things) from each of the Tempura, Robata Grill and Small Plates sections. The selection platter was flawless: eight different sushi varieties including California rolls, and six perfect slivers of sashimi, all beautifully presented in a manner that caused even me to pause for a second before ruining it with my amateurish chopstick skills (only a second, mind). It tasted as good as it looked - peerlessly fresh and each packed with flavour. My only criticism is that I feel most people would order this platter to share, and whilst there were two slices of each type of sashimi, each of the sushi was unique: this obviously allows the greedy diner to sample a wide variety, but makes for difficult division of food items when both of you want to try everything.
Our helpful waiter suggested the rest of our food arrive in two waves, with the slightly lighter dishes arriving first. The soft shell crab tempura was a prime example of this most obliging of crustaceans, encased in a light and crispy batter, whilst the tuna tartar was one of the standout dishes of the night - beautifully fresh chopped fish served very simply with a soy reduction that added a salty edge to the fatty blandness of the lovely tuna. An unexpected star of the first wave was the gado gado salad - crisp lettuce, crunchy croutons, whole peanuts and a rich satay-style dressing. Apparently, not many people order this - a fact which made me want to weep, and run my finger round the dish to eat up every last scrap of dressing in support for this lovely dish (I did, in truth, complete the second of these actions; the gado gado remained quiet, but clearly appreciated my show of solidarity).
The second wave included our meat choices, along with a roasted aubergine dish that had a real chilli kick to it. The pork wontons were the highlight here - three glutinous glories where the wrappers were every bit as tasty as the porcine filling; I try not to use the word "unctuous" too often, rationing myself to perhaps once or twice a month, but here I have really no option. We also enjoyed the Szechuan salt and pepper beef skewers and the Teriyaki beef - the latter in particular really showcasing the joy of simply-seared meat in a sticky, salty sauce.
We were too full for dessert but I did fancy something sweet - so I went for the Banana Pancakes cocktail, complete with cookie (now that's my kind of garnish). This is quite simply my new favourite thing, although I now know that too much slurping of creamy, fruity, coconut milky goodness leads to brain freeze - this mistake did admittedly have to be repeated several times before the message got through. The cocktail menu here is a joy - essentially classics and old favourites with an Asian twist - you see here, for example, the superlative rose and lychee Martini alongside my splendid behemoth. I literally can hardly wait to come back and try the rest.
Any drawbacks then? Yep - cost. We were lucky enough to eat as guests of the restaurant (although we were not required to be positive - we really did enjoy the food this much) but under normal circumstances I simply wouldn't be able to afford to eat from the full menu on a regular basis. I have, however, already arranged to come back for cocktails with some girlfriends, and there are a couple of offers running that would make for a reasonably-priced repast. The lunch menu runs until five and offers four dishes from a tempting selection for £20, and the Asian High Tea also sounds good value at £25 a head, particularly as this includes a glass of fizz. We also felt the wine list was very well priced, with prices from £18 for an excellent Sauvignon.
And after this classy meal? We went to the Oast House, and listened to a man play Beatles songs on an upright piano. Manchester, I couldn't love you MORE.