Monday, December 24, 2007

Eating French at the Midland in Manchester

The Midland Hotel is the sort of place I would have liked to have been taken to by my godfather for my first grown-up afternoon tea probably to celebrate a special birthday. I would have been picked up from school by his peak-capped driver in a highly polished silver shadow, all glossy walnut and deep leather seats. We would have glided to a halt at the main entrance and the white-gloved doorman would have tipped his hat and led us through to the octagonal palm court. There we would have been relieved of our astrakhan collared cashmere coat and school trench-coat respectively and settled down to a fine afternoon tea. Amongst the gently tinkling sound of silver tea pots filling china teacups we would have sat at our starched linen clad table and daintily nibbled crust-less cucumber sandwiches and plump scones smothered in jewel bright strawberry jam. My godfather would have handed me my birthday present, maybe a pale blue gift bag stuffed with clouds of tissue paper and containing a pale blue beribboned box containing an elegant silver Tiffany pedant – possibly a starfish.

An idyllic picture and possibly one born of too many Agatha Christie reruns or Rosamund Pilcher novels. I certainly never went to a school that would have had a regulation trench-coat; I never had a godfather that would whisk me off to afternoon tea or lavish me with Tiffany trinkets. I am fairly sure my godparents (not that I could even name them) were on different continents by the time I was past the stage of puréed food so the Midland was somewhat out of the question.

But fortunately on this nippy Christmas Eve we have managed to secure a late cancellation to their French Restaurant. I had tried previously to get a reservation but they are rather sought after so if was fortunate that a random call a few hours ago struck gold. We are here early as the whole of Manchester seems to be already shut, so we avail ourselves of their comfy sofas and start with a cup of tea before hitting the Kir Imperials. Well that was our plan but my explanation as to perfect Kir Imperial got somewhat misinterpreted so we were shaken up French Martinis instead. We were bought the menu whilst sipping our martinis and waiting for the art nouveau doors to the restaurant to open. I had been taken when reading about their tasting menu that they was a little savoury course of Welsh Rarebit before the dessert but being Christmas Eve they weren’t doing the lengthy tasting menu and it was à la carte only. But I still thought I should try their rarebit and they were happy to oblige my curious request.

Our little amuse bouche was a delicate creamy white onion soup topped with a little basil oil whilst the waiter sliced our chosen loaf off a large trolley. As the bread we’d had at Choice was a little stale, this seemed a good idea but possibly rather a palaver for a couple of slices of fresh bread.

I started with fat cushions of Tortellini of Woodland Mushrooms, Local Corn Fed Chicken, Black Truffles which was as fabulous as it sounds. The rich Autumnal woodiness of the mushrooms, the soft chicken and that heady truffle, not a bad start at all!

M’s appetiser was the artistic and vibrant Oak Smoked Salmon “3 ways” and she wasn’t disappointed in fact knowing her love of both small portions and seafood, it was the perfect starter.

Then to continue the fishy theme M tucked into the Cornish Seabass, Crab Tortellini, Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Shellfish Foam which was another beautiful looking dish. The sea foam in particular gave it that very en vogue modern twist. And I was on hand to help with the odd pert Chantenay carrot.

In the mean time I was enjoying my Cutlet, Saddle, Rillette of Cumbrian Lamb, Buttered Leeks and Fondant Potatoes. A local lamb feast! The lamb was perfectly pink and beautifully cooked, the potato tower soft and buttery.

I probably missed a trick opting for the Welsh Rarebit in favour of the dessert menu. I could have had a Raspberry Soufflé or a Vanilla Brulée with homemade Garibaldi’s or indeed the delicious Tasting of Chocolate that M chose. Oh such dessert envy I suffered. There was chocolate mousse piled high with fruit, an oozing chocolate fondant and a slab of chocolate parfait and a delicate chocolaty wafer construction. What was I thinking of.

My Welsh Rarebit was a teensy bit flabby as it can often be. I should have stuck to the sweeter options.

But if I had a lack of “a sweet finale” regret it was immediately sated by the wonderful sculptural petite fours silver tree adorned with various chocolates. We couldn’t do them justice but I really had to admire the special stand, there is a piece of table adornment I don’t have in my collection, oh woe is me!

The French at the Midland was a last minute restaurant substitution but went to the top of the table, a fine three forks for them. And just the perfect way to spend the night before Christmas!

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