Birthdays are always special aren’t they? Mine was last week and I wanted to do something special to celebrate. Nobody (and I mean nobody) does ‘special’ better than The French in Manchester so I was over the moon when I found out I was going to the French for my birthday dinner.
If you haven’t heard of The French, it’s the famous restaurant at the Midland Hotel which is as old as Manchester itself! The Midland Hotel is where Rolls met Royce to form the Rolls-Royce company way back in 1904 after all. The French has its own claim to fame too, it was one of Britain’s first Michelin-starred restaurants awarded back in the 1974, with the publication of the first guide. Even the Beatles were famously refused a table at The French for being ‘inappropriately dressed’.
Early 2013 saw a new page in the chapter that is The French with Simon Rogan taking up this legendary establishment to restore it to it’s former glory and opulence. How has he fared so far? The French was voted the 12th best restaurant nationally in its first year of opening and awarded the best New Entry award by the Good Food Guide. It was also awarded three Rosettes – the maximum permitted in the first year of opening. Translation – He hasn’t done too bad, not too bad at all!
Our coats were taken off us and we were promptly seated when we arrived. You immediately notice the impeccable service provided by the seasoned team at The French. Good service is hard to come by at most restaurants and great service is even more rare and the team here know this – they make every customer feel special and you won’t be left disappointed by the service. The interior is grand yet has a very modern feel to it, the centre piece being the two chandeliers that hang high above this intimate dining space.
We started off with some very fine gin and tonic as our friendly waiter talked us through the menu options.
You had the option to go for a 6 course or a 10 course taster menu. We decided to stick to the 6 course menu along with the wine pairing to accompany our food. I would definitely recommend the wine pairing – the well thought out selection of organic wines brings the food to life.
In usual Rogan style, we started off with canapé styled appetisers that set the stage for the six courses of pure joy to follow. The Celeriac with Apple and the Rye, Mackerel and Lovage were beautifully presented as expected and really got us excited for the courses to follow – something Simon Rogan and his team are really good at. They know how to make you get excited about food like you have never done before!
The bread was just as delightful with a selection of 3 different breads laid out on the table. We were served the Wholemeal with Manchester Ale bread, a Chestnut and Sunflower Seed variation and an unusually long French baguette. All three were just as good but the chestnut and sunflower seed one was a superstar in its own right!
And then it started, six courses of beautifully presented plates of joy. Our first course was the Swede Dumplings served with Duck Yolk Sauce, Onion and Nasturtium. It’s literally a burst of flavours and the duck yolk sauce presented in an egg shell perfectly complimented the swede dumplings.
Our second course was the Pièce de résistance – the dish that made me want to book a table for lunch the next day. The Ox in Coal Oil, Pumpkin Seed, Kohlrabi and Sunflower Shoots was to die for. I can easily eat this dish for the rest of my life and not get bored of it – that’s how good this was. The smokey flavours of the ox coupled with the rusty freshness of the sunflower and pumpkin flavours is a match made in heaven.
I was later informed that this course was considered to be Simon Rogan’s ‘signature dish’ and that they do a variation of this beauty at L’enclume, the Simon Rogan masterpiece that holds two stars in the Michelin guide. Definitely coming back for this dish alone!
Caramelised Cabbage, Scallops, Coastal Herbs, Smoked Roes was the next course on the menu. I am not the biggest fan of cabbage but this dish could easily change my mind (and it did!)
After resisting the urge to lick the sauce of the plate from my previous course, the Butter Poached Plaice with Seeded Breadcrumbs, Roasted Cauliflower and Mussels was brought out and served. This probably was my least favourite course on the menu but that being said, I cannot fault the food – it was perfectly done and I would still happily eat this anyway.
Our ‘main’ course was up next – Reg’s Guinea Hen, Dripping Potatoes, Turnips, Hen of the Woods and Rosemary. This was a strong contender for my favourite dish – the contrasting flavours were so strong but still managed to be delicate and light. Top marks for presentation too!
Each course was perfectly paired with a glass of either white, red or rosé wine. They were all really nice and complemented the courses wonderfully but one wine stood out to me specially – the Rosé D’une Nuit Château la Coste, 2012. I am not a big fan of rosé but this one has definitely changed my mind and I will most certainly be trying this again soon. The sommelier at The French is a fountain of knowledge and talked us through all the different wines articulately – again another member of Rogan’s handpicked team who understands great service.
Seb and I had a choice to make at this stage – do we say no to the cheese or go all out and get a selection of the British cheeses on offer?
Of course we said yes to the cheese – it was my birthday after all! Our waiter talked us through the different options and we picked a few of our favourites and also ordered a glass of port to go with the cheese.
We then moved on to our dessert course – the Forced Yorkshire Rhubarb, Crab Apple, Douglas Fir Oats, Yoghurt. I have never had a dessert this light and refreshing and it makes such a nice change from the heavy chocolate dishes you see at a lot of places. I can sum up dessert in one word – perfect!
To finish off this wonderful meal, we were served Sass ‘n’ Soda – a delightful combination of a Sarsaparilla Shot served Sarsaparilla Meringue, Parfait and Gelée.
The team at The French even had a surprise me for in the end!
Which brought me immense joy and I left with a smile on my face.
As you can probably tell, I am a big fan of Simon Rogan and his garden inspired cooking. The French strikes the perfect balance between heritage and progressive modern British cuisine and the fact that a large proportion of the organic ingredients are grown on a farm managed by Mr Rogan himself is a testament to how committed the team here is to take fine dining to the next level. This place has it all – outstanding levels of service, heritage and once you add Simon Rogan to this equation you have Manchester’s finest dining experience. Team Michelin – are you listening?