Warning: This blog is going to be slightly ranty. It’s not often that I do that (well, in my blog, anyway), but just for a change I thought I’d vent my spleen via this medium. I also realise that I’m going to come across as something of a grumpy old woman – a title I would usually strongly refute – but if that is the case this time, so be it.
Last month I had to go up to Manchester for work. Making the most of having my travel paid for, I extended my visit and my Mum and I stayed in the Hilton, darling, in the city centre. We had a lovely time, starting our evening with a pre-dinner drink in the hotel bar. Well, it would be rude not to, especially as we had been given a free drink voucher when we booked!
We were looking for somewhere to eat that was a bit different but nothing too fancy. You know, better than a Wetherspoons but not somewhere that would break the bank or where we wouldn’t understand the choices on the menu.
We wandered in the direction of Spinningfields, a recently refurbished area just off Deansgate. Now an attractive and vibrant design of businesses, bars and eateries, its history is somewhat less glamorous. In the mid-19th century, when the city was in the grip of the turbulent industrial revolution, it was home to some of the poorest residents of the city struggling to get by in a mass of grim tenements.
Back in the present day, the area is ironically aesthetically appealing, successful and teaming with places to eat. We liked the look of the first restaurant we came across – Neighbourhood, boasting ‘casual fine dining’ inspired by neighbourhoods in Manhatten. The stylish interior definitely appealed as we presented ourselves as ladies who dine in the city all the time. There was just one problem: the volume of the music, which was less ‘background’ and more in your face, or should I say ears? We asked to be seated in a quiet part of the restaurant and were shown down some steps to a table next to the glass wall at the rear of the restaurant.
It was a nice spot and we were all ready to commit to a drink while we perused the menu. But spending what would have been not an extortionate but still rather significant wedge of cash on a meal which was meant to be an opportunity to catch up, without actually being able to hear each other unless we shouted ourselves hoarse across the table, just didn’t sit well. We did that shameful thing – when the waiter was busy with other customers, we swiftly slunk out of the door.
We walked around Spinningfields peering into the windows to peruse the menus, but wherever we went there seemed to be the thump thump of music vibrating the glass. Clearly we had strayed into the wrong district given we were looking for somewhere with atmosphere yet without noise pollution – something I wouldn’t have thought was too much to ask on a Sunday evening, even in a city.
So we left the trendy young things to it and headed a few blocks to the right and back up in the direction of Deansgate. Beginning to be at a loss of where to go for our relaxing evening, we suddenly stumbled across a familiar sight – Bill’s Restaurant. I’m not necessarily one to favour chain establishments over something more original, but although the number of Bill’s Restaurants are increasing across the country, they are original. The greengrocer origins of the business are still at the very heart of their menus, which are bursting with fresh, seasonal ingredients. So having enjoyed a delicious breakfast at the Bill’s in Exeter with my Mum a few months earlier, we took this as a welcome sight.
I love the candlelight ambiance in Bill’s and the warmth it creates. I won’t pretend that this restaurant didn’t also manage its atmosphere by adding music, but it was less ‘thump thump’ and more ‘and relax…’ so we again asked for a quiet spot and this time it was perfect, helped along nicely with a glass of Prosecco.
I ordered the marinated chicken skewers which are served on a bed of cous cous flavoured with mint, parsley and lemon. The fresh herbs really make this dish and the dollop of tzatziki on the side prevents it from being a dry meal.
After some deliberation, Mum ordered herb crusted trout from the Specials Menu, which came with a dressed salad. She got a lovely chunky piece of fish with a firm, meaty texture (yes, I insisted on trying some!) and I loved the crunchy crust with a its subtle chargrilled flavour.
We were both suitably impressed with our grub which was made all the more enjoyable in the dusky glow of the surroundings, and wasn’t spoilt by headache-inducing, conversation-stopping thump thumping music. Yes, I think I’ve definitely earned the title of grumpy old woman now!