Mr Cooper’s House & Garden, Manchester

The Midland Hotel is one of the great hotels of Manchester, a grand old building which formerly had a Michelin starred restaurant within it, and a few years ago Simon Rogan, of L’enclume, Fera and Rogan & Company took over it’s plush dining room under the original title of The French, with the intention of bringing back that star. Alongside this he also set up and ran the more casual bistro (and when we’re taking Simon Rogan, you know I’m being loose with the term “bistro”) style restaurant, Mr Cooper’s House & Garden.

Sadly, that elusive star was never regained under his tenure, and head chef under Simon, Adam Reid has now been bumped to the role of chef patron at The French, and Mr Cooper’s has been fully handed over to head chef, Robert Taylor to oversee.

Both of these restaurants have been on my hit list for quite some time, however for some reason or another I’d not managed to make it to either, until recently we had a meeting for #GNUF17 and decided to combine it with a nice lunch in Manchester, and Mr Cooper’s House & Garden was chosen for it’s good value lunch menu.

Located to the side of the building, so as not to mix with the well heeled checking in to the hotel, the entrance leads into a quirky dining room and bar, designed, much like the name, as a house and garden.

We were seated at a table in the garden part of the restaurant, probably the most interesting section of the dining room to look around.

We started with homemade sourdough, whipped butter, sea salt. I love bread at restaurants, it’s one of the parts of the meal I look forward to, sadly from now on I’m going to try and temper that excitement so as not to encounter disappointment like I did this day. A heavy loaf, with too thick a crust and a cake like crumb structure, rather than something more bready, came with the now obligatory whipped butter and a pile of salt crystals.

Please, restaurants, just give us salted butter at a spreadable room temperature. Whipped butter feels too much like margarine and salt crystals result in mouthfuls of bread being overly salty!

For starters, Sara and Rob had the smoked ham hock and carrot salad, spiced carrot jam. A smoked ham hock terrine with a few textures of carrot and a delicate fragrantely spiced carrot jam.

Mary and I chose the beetroot cured salmon, kohlrabi, skyr yoghurt and dill for our starters. Soft, thinly sliced salmon, purple tinged from the beetroot cure alongside earthy slices of beetroot and a tangle of shredded kohlrabi with dill, almost imitating white crabmeat. The tart sourness of the skyr yoghurt cleansed the palate ready for the next bite.

Everyone aside from me had market fish (sea bream), confit potatoes, mussels, saffron. Crispy skinned fillet of sea bream on top of soft confit new potatoes and a creamy sauce with a scant sprinkle of seasonal samphire was an ideal dish for a sunny spring afternoon.

I had the seared pork loin, cracked wheat, scorched turnips. Tender pork loin, golden brown from being shown a good bit of heat. Sadly there was only one half of a turnip, which being one of my favourite vegetables disappointed me slightly.

We shared a side order of creamed kale, roasted chestnuts and bacon. Kale is nice, sure, but it’s even better when served with bacon and in cream. But then again, so would insoles. Those two ingredients can improve anything and everything.

Mary’s choice for afters was the market cheese, caramelised pecans, homemade crackers. Light and buttery crackers, made from compressed puff pastry with aniseed fennel seeds with a slightly blue veined cheddar and astringent Tunworth cheese which could have benefited from a little more time out of the fridge.

Myself, Sara and Rob all chose Kendal mint cake brownie, mascarpone ice cream. A squidgy looking oblong of brownie with a rocher of mascarpone ice cream topped with a scattering of Kendal mint cake. Sadly, whilst the brownie looked squidgy and moist, it was dense and required both hands on the spoon to apply enough pressure to break some of the brownie off. It was closer to a solid brick of ganache than an unctuous chocolate cake with that slightly crispy exterior. Thankfully the ice cream was light as a feather and creamy as you could ask for.

Mr Cooper’s House & Garden isn’t faultless cooking, but their lunch menu is ridiculously good value for money, at £20 for three courses I’m willing to forgive a few issues with suspect baking, I just hope these wrinkles are ironed out by the next time I visit, because I definitely will be returning!

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