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Sunday, 27 September 2015

The Spinningfields Rotating Menu: Five Restaurants, Five Courses

When the new Michelin stars were announced last week, it was no great surprise that once again there were none for Manchester. Equally unsurprising was the Mancunian reaction, which was predictably defiant and can largely be summed up by "you can keep your poxy stars - we have an amazing restaurant scene and we're perfectly happy as we are, thanks". It's certainly true that Manchester has a wealth of great restaurants and that some nights it's difficult to decide where to go - hence the genius of last Sunday's Rotating Menu event at Spinningfields. Part of Manchester Food & Drink Festival, this promised to be a culinary roadtrip around some of Manchester's best venues, with a different course in each of Manchester House, Ibérica, Australasia, Fazenda and The Alchemist - an ambitious plan, made all the more so by the fact that there were five sittings from 1pm onwards.

We were booked on the final one at 5pm, which began at one of my favourite restaurants - Manchester House, which is normally closed on a Sunday but had opened specially for this event. Here we were plied with sparkling rosé and had our first course of the night - the Squab pigeon with cherries, pistachio and violet mustard. This dish has been on the menu right from the beginning and is probably their signature dish; the foie gras cherry is still a very splendid thing no matter how many times you've had it.

By this point we were all enjoying a game of "guess which restaurant is next", and many of us were correct by anticipating a fish course at Iberica. I reviewed here a few weeks ago and loved it, so was excited to go back; even more excited when this course turned out to be octopus. Served very traditionally with potatoes and a very garlicky pimenton mayonnaise, this dish initially caused some consternation at table - many had never had octopus before, and were a little startled by the suckers (a few even cut them off). I love octopus and would order this dish every time - and even the doubters ate and enjoyed it.

For the main course it was always going to be Fazenda. I am wildly partial to this meat lover's paradise and eat here regularly - the staff are utterly welcoming and charming, the unlimited salad bar is spectacular and the all-you-can-eat meat is of the very highest quality and always perfectly cooked. For this event, they'd selected four of their signature cuts - the rump steak, the chicken hearts (to which I am utterly addicted), the pork belly with honey sauce and the minted leg of lamb - and essentially kept bringing them round until we could eat no more. They let us have unlimited runs at the salad bar, and kept topping our wine glasses up, and chatting with us about Portugal, and bringing us extra chips; we didn't really want to leave. Reckon I'll be back here again within the week.

Dessert had to be at Australasia - the puddings here are exquisite, and the one they'd chosen for us was no exception. The Chocolate Dome with Salted Caramel and Blackberries was a show stopper, brought to the table as a round chocolate ball over which the staff then poured hot caramel sauce, melting away one side to reveal a beautiful nutty ice cream in the middle. Unfortunately our time here was marred by an issue over a nut allergy that could have had the most serious of consequences and which was badly handled by one of the members of staff; luckily all ended well but it did rather take the gloss over what would have been a really lovely course. We also had one of their excellent lychee martinis, which I often have here in lieu of a dessert, thereby giving me a pleasing feeling of having had not one but TWO puddings.

By this point some of us (me) were definitely waddling, not least due to the cute but cumbersone gift of a plant potted up by David Wayman (who has a lovely shop on The Avenue) that had been waiting for each of us on arrival at Australasia. Fortunately we had to walk only as far as The Alchemist, where our final course consisted of our choice of cocktail from their ridiculously extensive menu. My raspberry Mojito was excellent, although the venue was a bit on the busy side for me (on a Sunday night too - clearly the whole of Manchester had last Monday off) and I'd in truth have liked perhaps a sliver or ten of cheese to properly consider this a course; still, they were probably just saving me from myself.

I ended up booking on to this event quite late, as I'd originally been put off by the price tag - at £80 a head this was not a cheap night out. I consider it was worth every penny though - the food was all pretty flawless, and each venue was generous with the booze (particularly Manchester House and Fazenda). I really hope the idea catches on - it's a great idea to be able to visit several different places in one night without committing to a full meal in any one of them, and it was also nice to sit on communal tables and chat with like-minded people. Roll on the next Rotating Menu; in the meantime, you'll find me at the salad bar in Fazenda with my extra large plate.

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