As a student in Manchester in the early 90s, I never crossed the threshold of The Midland. For me, with my going-out budget of little more than a pocket full of loose change, this grand and glamorous historic hotel was off-limits.
I walked past the Edwardian Grade II-listed landmark Peter Street property a lot, though, on my way to (the now closed) Discotheque Royale in the former Theatre Royal 100 yards further along, where pints of lager cost 50p. The Midland was otherworldly from the outside.
And after finally stepping over the threshold recently, 26 years after graduating, I discovered that it’s otherworldy from the inside, too. And the venue for one of the finest restaurants in the land – The French, run by former Great British Menu winner Adam Reid. About which more later.
The Grade II-listed Midland hotel in Manchester was built for £1million by the Midland Railway Company in 1903
The ‘showstopping’ split-level lobby bar, pictured, was constructed recently during a £14million refurbishment
ROCK AND ROLLS: THE MIDLAND’S ILLUSTRIOUS HISTORY
The name of the 312-room hotel can be traced back to the company that built it for £1million in 1903 – the Midland Railway Company.
Back then, it served as premium lodgings for its inbound passengers from London St Pancras, who would disembark at the nearby Manchester Central terminus (now the Manchester Central Convention Complex).
It garnered renown that quickly ballooned into legendary status, thanks in no small part to a meeting that it’s said took place there on May 4, 1904, between Charles Stewart Rolls and Frederick Henry Royce that led to the formation of Rolls-Royce – as a plaque at the front of the building explains.
For the next century and more it would welcome a dazzling array of dignitaries, celebrities and even royalty, keen to sample the delights of ‘the grandest hotel in the North’.
Many famous types made a beeline for the hotel’s food offerings, though not all have been successful in securing a table.
The Queen Mother dined in the former Trafford Restaurant at the hotel in 1959 after attending a Royal Variety Performance, but The Beatles were famously refused entry to ‘The French’ restaurant in 1974 for being inappropriately dressed.
A meeting took place at The Midland on May 4, 1904, between Charles Stewart Rolls and Frederick Henry Royce that led to the formation of Rolls-Royce. Pictured is the new lounge area featuring a real olive tree and (not real) orchids
Over the decades The Midland has welcomed a dazzling array of dignitaries, celebrities and even royalty, keen to sample the delights of ‘the grandest hotel in the North’
David Beckham made no mistakes on the sartorial front when he had his first official date there with Victoria.
The French was one of the first restaurants in Britain to receive a Michelin star, in 1974. It has since been shorn of this acclaimed accolade, but does now have a distinctly noteworthy four rosettes from the AA, denoting a restaurant exhibiting ‘a passion for excellence’ and ‘superb technical skills’.
I wholeheartedly agree with this appraisal.
The Michelin Guide awarded it a Bib Gourmand, for being a ‘good value restaurant’.
‘Good’? It’s sensational.
Now, I have the utmost respect for the Michelin Guide – but can only assume that when its inspector began composing their assessment, they took leave of their senses.
After experiencing its Saturday-night tasting menu, I’m declaring that this is a Michelin-star restaurant in all but name.
The Queen Mother dined in the former Trafford Restaurant at The Midland in 1959 after attending a Royal Variety Performance. Pictured is the new lobby bar
Ted and his partner enjoyed Pommery and Bollinger Champagne at the lobby bar, pictured, before dining at The French
Our pre-The French experience was a brace of Champagnes (one glass of Pommery, one Bollinger) perched on stools at the exotic new showstopping split-level lobby bar, constructed as part of a recent £14million refurbishment.
There are beautiful (real) olive trees, including one in the centre of the circular bar, orchids (fake, but nice idea), stylish banquette seating on the upper and lower levels – and guests dressed to the nines.
DINING AT THE FRENCH
Service at The French, pictured, comes courtesy of the chefs themselves, who bring the dishes to the table and chirpily reveal how they’ve been made
TOP THINGS TO DO IN MANCHESTER
See a play at the renowned Royal Exchange theatre.
Eat and drink somewhere trendy in the uber-hip Ancoats neighbourhood. We had lunch at the excellent Flawd, a natural wine bar that does tapas-y bites.
See paintings and watch performances at The Lowry arts centre.
Delve into the arty enclave that is the Northern Quarter, home to Victorian pubs, amazing street art and several art galleries.
Explore the Science and Industry Museum, home to ‘250 years of innovations and ideas that started life in Manchester’.
The lobby and The French both have a palatial feel, but while the former is bright and airy, the latter is opulent and cosy, decorated in blue and grey with two striking globe-shaped chandeliers made from glass balls hanging above the tables.
After being ushered in by the brilliant restaurant manager, Eleanor, we discovered that the service comes courtesy of the chefs themselves, who bring the dishes to the table and chirpily reveal how they’ve been made, which we found fascinating and utterly delightful.
We opted for matching wines and the sommelier did a similarly splendid job describing the quaffing itinerary.
He started us off with a glass each of perky Nyetimber sparkling wine, then the first chef rocked up.
He presented us with ‘A Warm Northern Welcome’, a little cup of warm burnt onion broth, malted sourdough from local superstar canalside bakery Pollen and beef and onion butter so good it practically constitutes dessert.
Then it was on to ‘Little Bits of Something Fancy’, ‘biters’ that Adam says ‘show off the chefs’ skills, quality of ingredients and preferred flavour combinations’.
There was an ingenious dinky ‘fish pie’ comprising an oh-so-delicate crispy croustade shell with trout roe, potato mousse, pickled shallot and dill salt (we were advised to eat this in one go); Kirkham’s cheese gel on a cheese cracker with sugar crisp of hazelnut and fried shallot – then little ‘sausage rolls’ made from crispy pastry tubes filled with raw beef and smoked tongue, topped with whipped cods roe and a little bowl of fresh horseradish to dip them in.
Then it was ‘Yesterday’s Dinner’, which ‘celebrates the classic British leftover lunch’.
There was a plate of honey roast ham, another of hot smoked salmon, Doddington cheese, rye crackers and a little bowl of celery, radish, cauliflower and gherkin.
To wash it all down, the sommelier distributed ‘Biere de Coupage’, an aged sour ale fermented in French oak barrels by award-winning Macclesfield-based RedWillow Brewery.
Ted’s meal at the French began with a perky glass of Nyetimber sparkling wine (left). On the right is the ingenious ‘fish pie’ made with trout roe served as one of the starters
Then it was on to ‘Today’s Tea’ – Scottish scallops seasoned in coriander salt and a powder of dried roes with Cheshire baby plum tomatoes (some dried and others pickled in gherkin juices), followed by a layered dish of broccoli puree, giblet gravy (duck offal in a duck sauce), Tunworth cheese and potato mousse, crispy potato, mushroom and cured egg yolk.
At various points we were asked what our favourite dish so far was. Every time I was stumped. I was in food heaven every step of the way, saucer-eyed with wonder at every course
Then Mr Reid himself brought out one of the moreish, masterfully assembled main courses – monkfish tail roasted in butter and served with wilted spinach, battered mussel and a brown butter sauce.
The Chef-Patron explained that the fish course comprises whatever comes out of the van on the day from the restaurant’s fish supplier in Cornwall to ensure it’s as fresh as possible.
Then we tucked into fallow deer loin rolled in black pepper and juniper, seared hot before being cooked submerged in bacon fat and served with beetroot from Cinderwood Market Garden in Cheshire. This dish also has crispy black cabbage and a gravy of the bones flavoured with black garlic.
For afters, the chefs brought over wafer-thin crispy plum ‘leaves’ served with custard, garden plums and a wild damson sorbet – and a leavened cake soaked in a syrup of muscovado sugar and creole shrub served with whipped cream and a cold tea infusion.
On the left, little ‘sausage rolls’ made from crispy pastry tubes filled with raw beef and smoked tongue, topped with whipped cods roe. On the right is one of the desserts, wafer-thin crispy plum ‘leaves’ served with custard, garden plums and a wild damson sorbet
At various points we were asked what our favourite dish so far was. Every time I was stumped. I was in food heaven every step of the way, saucer-eyed with wonder at every course. The textures, the flavour combinations… every dish surprised and delighted in equal measure.
And the drinks were expertly matched throughout, with a Pinot Noir by Adelsheim in Oregon, Domaine Bott Geyl Riesling from the Alsace and an aromatic Granbazan Albarino from Spain decanted strategically post-Nyetimber and ale.
THE REST OF THE HOTEL
The Midland’s Mount Street Dining Room offers superb lunches with zippy service
What’s more, The French isn’t The Midland’s only top-notch dining experience.
We lunched in the Mount Street Dining Room and Bar, where the setting is mildly magnificent, the service scalpel-sharp (one of the waiters immediately gave my four-year-old daughter a little colouring pad) and the food decidedly on point.
My smoked salmon with crème fraiche, avocado and lime starter was fresh and zingy, the lemon sole with baby potato main cooked to perfection and nicely comforting and the desserts – honey pudding made with white chocolate, and a caramel mousse – superb.
Ted’s room was very similar to the one pictured. He liked the oversized lampshade, elegant headboard and luxurious feel to it, but felt it lacked character
This was also where breakfast was served – a far more boisterous affair, with huge queues for the (satisfying) self-service buffet.
A hat-tip, then, for the waitress who brought my daughter porridge and continually double-checked on our well-being (she sensed our post-The French glassy-eyed daze).
We had descended for breakfast having had a very good night’s sleep.
The spa at The Midland is well worth a visit. Pictured is the ‘relaxation room’
Ted says that the subterranean spa has a suitably ‘otherworldly’ feel to it
The rooms were part of the refurb but unlike the lobby, the overhaul wasn’t obvious. There were several watermarks on the bathroom ceiling and while generally lavish with lovely beds, soothing muted décor, elegant headboard, armchairs and an eye-catching oversized ceiling lampshade, it wasn’t terribly distinctive, as if it had been picked out of an ACME ‘luxury hotel bedroom catalogue’.
We had a quick nose around the beautiful subterranean spa before leaving and noted that the hotel was back in ‘otherworldy’ mode there.
As we made our way outside to my former Discotheque Royale route, I noticed that the front of the hotel sports another plaque aside from the Rolls-Royce one, displaying the words ‘Adam Reid at The French.’ With room enough for a Michelin star (or two)…
The French rating:
Avanti West Coast fares for London to Manchester:
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Return: First class – £217.60. Standard premium – £121.80. Standard – £71.80.
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