Restaurant review - The Rabbit in the Moon, Manchester

Fillet of beef with black bean sauce and salt a pepper prawn

Fillet of beef with black bean sauce and salt a pepper prawn - Credit: Archant

Your granny wouldn’t like it but this Manchester restaurant aims to be out of this world, writes Roger Borrell.

The amazing carpet sets the tone for the restaurant

The amazing carpet sets the tone for the restaurant - Credit: Archant

When I sat down to write this piece Michael O’Hare was the celebrity chef behind the Rabbit in the Moon restaurant in Manchester. By the time I’d finished it, he’d gone.

OK, I exaggerate a little but it says something about modern art of cheffing that every kitchen now seems fitted with a revolving door. O’Hare, who has gone back to Leeds, came to prominence when he produced winning food on BBC’s Great British Menu

He has looks that wouldn’t seem out of place fronting a heavy metal band and the plates he presents could be abstracts torn from the walls of Tate Modern. Jackson Pollock’s, perhaps – and no, madam, that isn’t rhyming slang.

I am assured nothing has changed since O’Hare went. That could be good or bad, depending on what you like to eat. If you prefer a nice pub lunch, then I’d strongly advise you to avoid it.

Bao bun with smoked eel, oyster sauce and avocado

Bao bun with smoked eel, oyster sauce and avocado - Credit: Archant

While big city sophisticates might beat a path to its door, devotees of meat, two veg and don’t stint on the gravy, mother, might find this Asian-influenced food a bit challenging.

The Rabbit in the Moon – the name comes from an oriental story, I’m told – is based on the top floor of the Urbis building, a green glass box in Corporation Street. It’s achingly modern in décor with a large pottery spaceman on each table and giddying views over the city. Dull it isn’t.

It’s first incarnation was a disappointment to some customers and to O’Hare, who I suspect is a micro-managing perfectionist. He was brave enough to close it for three months to get things right and then walked away.

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According to diners, one of the biggest problems was a tasting menu with so many courses it could take you several weeks to work your way through them. That problem seems to have been solved with a manageable, pared down version of eight dishes.

Langoustine toast

Langoustine toast - Credit: Archant

Even with a reduced menu, it’s probably best to confine ourselves to The Rabbit’s greatest hits, although an honourable mention goes to a very amusing bouche – what looked like rabbits ears sticking out of moon dust. They were, I’m pleased to report, carefully crafted prawn crackers.

Three small starters set the standard. Little steamed bao buns, with the restaurant’s rabbit logo seared into the tops, came with smoked eel, oyster sauce and avocado. Lobster with a Thai twist was captured in a crispy shell while Porthill oyster came with a kick of pickled ginger and wasabi. Confusion or fusion? Who cares – these were great ingredients that delivered on flavour.

More Far Eastern influences came with juicy hand-dived scallops with duck tongues and on-trend OX sauce, nothing to do with the cubes you crumble into gravy but a spectacularly spicy fish sauce from Hong Kong.

Charcoal cinders – they tasted better than they sound, happily – provided a bed for some soy and ginger pork cheek. This wasn’t the prettiest dish of the night but I’m a sucker for a bit of cheek.

Petits fours, including a peppercorn eclair

Petits fours, including a peppercorn eclair - Credit: Archant

The stand out – in looks and taste – was the pink fillet of beef with a butterflied salt and pepper prawn and a black bean sauce. This possessed a flavour so deep they must dig it from a mine. It was a gorgeous plate of food and the sunny fried egg on the side just made you smile. Only negative was the large prawn that looked a little like roadkill.

The desserts were equally inventive as were the petits fours, which included a peppercorn éclair. Everything came on striking tableware made especially, my dear, for the Rabbit by artisans in Spain. They were fetched and carried by a young, friendly and knowledgeable team who liked to chat – particularly about the wine list which includes a red from China – but didn’t outstay their welcome.

The Rabbit in the Moon is certainly different and for special occasions rather than a once a week venue. It will appeal to people who are prepared to put a little adventure into their eating. Dinner is £70 a head (£45 for lunch) and not a gravy boat in sight. Hopefully, by the time you’ve finished reading this, it’s still there.

The Rabbit in the Moon is open Wednesday to Saturday and is based at the Urbis Building, Corporation Street, Manchester, M4 3BG. 0161 804 8560.

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