Much as Spinningfields has grown and improved over the last couple of years, it still seems to me a place of extremes. There are some brilliant casual places - I like The Dockyard, and am excited about Beastro coming to The Kitchens - and an excellent high-end bar/restaurant in Manchester House, as well as a couple of great restaurants if you're feeling really hungry (Iberica, Fazenda) but which won't leave you much change from £50 a head (well, not if you're as greedy as me, anyway). Where it seems lacking is in those useful in-between places, somewhere to have a quiet drink without risk of Z-list celebrities and dancing girls dangling from chandeliers, somewhere to have a decent-value dinner without too much bling but without having to perch on a trestle table.
This is where Artisan comes in. I wrote recently about how it had overcome an uncertain start to become a reliable, go-to place with good food, more-than-acceptable cocktails and great atmosphere (during the week, at least - I'm not really one for town on a weekend so cannot vouch for the Friday/Saturday crowd). We had a quick drink in the oh-so-cute Artisan bar underneath the main restaurant ahead of our whisky tasting at Manchester House last week; I like this little place, with its outside seating and relaxed atmosphere, particularly as it carries the same drinks list and offers as its big sister upstairs. We went back for dinner after the whisky tasting and were once again impressed by the new menu, which offered up lots of things we wanted to eat, although the starters were, for once, the weaker link. My prawns with roasted garlic, coriander, tomato, chilli and lemon were full of flavour, satisfyingly big and juicy and with just the right hit of chilli, but the dish seemed a little incomplete somehow - some substance and texture in the form of some bread (and to allow mopping up of the juices) would have improved this. Meanwhile, across the table the braised chorizo with cipollini onions, cherry tomatoes and super seeded toast was even better in terms of flavours but suffered the opposite problem - this simply didn't need the bread, which added a bulk and sweetness that jarred slightly with the rest of the dish. Predictably enough, I stole half the bread to have with my dish, and balance was thus restored.
Mains were very good. I had the 10 oz ribeye with french fries and roast garlic & herb sauce, an excellent value dish at £19.50 which was very well-executed - the steak had good flavour and was perfectly pink as ordered, and the fries were salty and moreish. The real revelation was the chopped salad with peanut dressing that I ordered as a side - I've never woken up the morning after a meal craving salad before, but I will have this fresh, crunchy, spicy, nutty joy every time I eat at Artisan from now on. My dinner date fancied a burger and was rightly pleased with his beef burger with bagel bun and french fries, a properly moist and pink burger with good texture and flavour and more of those addictive chips. They also knocked him up a tomato salad off-menu, just one example of some really excellent service throughout the meal.
Of course I didn't need dessert, and of course I had one. The sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream was indeed very sticky (in a good way), and brought the meal to an accomplished end. All in all, it was another very enjoyable Artisan evening; the food is good, but it's the overall package that really works - I like the atmosphere here, with its slightly seedy red-hued lighting (I've left the photos their original colour so you can share the enticing murk), its loud-but-not-too-loud music, its comfortable booths and its open kitchen, and we drank a lovely rich Cabernet Franc Carmenere priced at £24 from a wine list that has loads of nice things under £30. The mixed reports that plagued Artisan when it first opened seem to be increasingly a thing of the past - for me, Artisan has definitely found its feet, and any restaurant that can make a salad sexy deserves all the plaudits I can give.
- Artisan is on Avenue North, 18-22 Bridge Street, Manchester M3 3BZ. Our restaurant food and wine were complimentary but we paid for all our drinks in the downstairs bar and I come here quite regularly as a paying customer.