Restaurant review - Quill, Manchester
- Credit: Archant
Manchester’s newest fine dining restaurant Quill aims to write a new chapter in the city’s gastronomy story. Is a happy ending in prospect? Review by Louise Allen-Taylor
Expectations of Quill could hardly have been higher. It represents a £1m-plus investment by the owners of Didsbury’s Chalk Bar & Grill. It aims to revive King Street - once Manchester’s designer destination, but ailing in recent years as the wind of change blew in favour of the fashion and food hub Spinningfields. And Quill’s head chef Curtis Stewart arrives with a CV featuring kitchens studded with Michelin stars and garlanded with AA rosettes.
As if anticipation were not high enough already, Stewart returns to home turf (he hails from Bury) debuting a menu which he admits has been two years in the making, promising a ‘gastronomic experience’.
For me, the acid test of fine dining is this: does it feel like an event rather than a meal? On that criterion, Quill succeeds. Wow factor on a plate? Yes. Foodie theatre? Yes again, but not, crucially, with the hushed and hallowed ambience that fine dining so often demands.
It helps that your first acquaintance with Quill is the downstairs bar. With dark brick, exposed ducting, decor of blacks and greys and a soundtrack of throbbing but not intrusive grooves from a live DJ, this feels like the kind of chic-but-not-glittery bar you would find in New York or Washington DC, right down to the bottles of Knob Creek bourbon on display.
With a bar menu offering everything from affordable malts, through sometimes quirky cocktails to a £695 bottle of Cristal Rosé for the footballer who’s just won the Premier League, this should prove a popular hangout for the smart and discerning.
Upstairs in the restaurant, there is more dark understated decor and views at one end of the room over the black and white architecture above the Watches of Switzerland shop and, at the other end, through windows into the kitchen where Stewart conjures with food.
The fine dining fripperies are mighty impressive. There is a choice of Marmite butter to go with the bread (yes, you’ll love it or loathe it). Canapés include little razor clams with dashes of caviar, and foie gras with rhubarb jelly served in what resembles a tin of boot polish. An amuse-bouche of chicken liver parfait is served in eggshells in a straw-filled box. All very clever, but with taste to match the art I’m pleased to report.
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Quill’s style is billed as modern British with European flourishes, though I detect, not only in certain ingredients but also in the delicacy of the execution, a Japanese aspect too.
There is an £80 tasting menu, but we are on the £50 three-course à la carte menu. A starter of trout comes with a deft accompaniment of warming wasabi and cooling cucumber. Our second starter is a high-concept teaming of scallop with shards of bitter chocolate, salt cod and mooli - a strangely alluring plateful.
A main of brill with - the menu says - seaweed, shrimp and ink, and yuzu (a Japanese fruit) turns out to be a perfectly-cooked fillet of fish on a bed of chewy greenery and (is this the yuzu?) a dab of something resembling lemon curd. It’s tastebud-provokingly different.
Our second main is Cheshire lamb (well this is Cheshire Life, we had to, didn’t we?) with anchovy, pearl barley and yoghurt - another intriguing combination, this time of moist meat, salt, piquancy and creaminess. Top marks again.
And yet, the highlight of the meal is yet to arrive. A dessert of ‘compressed’ apple with coriander in a fruity consommé proves a beautifully fresh palate-cleanser for my companion. But for me, a dish of chocolate, buttermilk, salted caramel and malt is, as I told the chef ‘the best chocolate dessert I have ever had’.
Another way to describe this exalted pud would be as a large deconstructed Rolo, an impression reinforced by the decoration of gold leaf.
So Quill proves to be an urbane space in which we can enjoy haute - but not haughty - cuisine. Curtis Stewart is plainly a bit of a star, and let’s hope that in time Mr Michelin - who’s been stingy with the stars in Manchester for many a year - agrees with that. w
Quill, 20/22 King Street, Manchester M2 6AG 0161 832 7355 www.quillmcr.co.uk