Manchester – small plates in the city centre

Like the UK in general, the restaurant scene in Manchester has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years. Here are two of my favourites for Mediterranean flavours…

Google map here.

The Refuge (High Intermediate A), in The Principal Hotel, Oxford St, Manchester M60 7HA

I need to declare a conflict of interest here as one of the proprietors of this top notch small plates restaurant is my best and oldest friend from school but believe me, my boy knows his grub, and if it wasn’t really good, I wouldn’t write about it.

As well as holding the contract for this hotel bar and lounge, Luke and his business partner Justin run their own restaurant, Volta in West Didsbury, and a boozer, Electriks Bar in Chorlton, both of which I also highly recommend for good food, drink and vibes.

The Refuge is located in the former office building of the Refuge Assurance Company who occupied the building for nearly 100 years, from 1895 to 1987.

Their red neon ‘Refuge’ sign, at the top of the building’s sixty-six metre tower, was an Oxford Road landmark for much of this time. The building has now been converted into an opulent hotel called The Principal

It has a beautiful red brick and terracotta exterior.

The walls and pillars of the bar area are decorated with decorative ceramic tiles known as Burmantofts facience.

Beyond this there is the tastefully decorated restaurant which seats ninety in cosy banquettes.

On the far wall is a legendary stencil which was taken from an old poster the boys found in the cellar.

As luck would have it, I occasionally work in an office just two blocks up the street. Usually I eat a light Thai lunch in Chinatown, but when I deserve a treat, I come to the Refuge.

The food takes inspiration from Mediterranean cuisines; Spain of course but also North African and Levantine. The small plates are best shared with friends and you need at least two but ideally three per person. Everything I’ve ever had has been great.

The menu is always changing but here are some past favourites; Sake cured salmon with spring onion and ponzu, Lamb tagine meatballs with apricot and pistachio, Char grilled cauliflower with carraway and pomegranite, Chargrilled Picanha steak with smoked Cafe de Paris butter, Mackerel with couscous , Daal Makhani, Salt cod croquettes, Battered squid, Salmon on rye, Roast baby new potatoes with bravas sauce, parsley and aioli, Grilled broccoli with beetroot Romesco and hazelnuts. Click the pics to enlarge them.

Service has always been friendly and on-point. As a miserly Yorkshireman if I was to criticise I’d say some portions are a little small for what you pay but hey, you’re getting top quality grub in a beautiful space in trendy Manchester so it’s to be expected.

And now for the competition…

This is a highly renowned tapas bar in the central retail district of Manchester. Luke loves it as well despite the fact it is a rival.

El Gato Negro (High Intermediate B+), 52 King St, Manchester,

This is a review of my experience in 2016 so the menu and wine list may well have changed. I’m sure the quality of the cuisine is still the same though.

To drink I had the Morfil Garnacha (B+), one of the cheaper wines at £21 a bottle. I also got complementary Aqua Panna.

The Jamon Croquettes were very good (B+).

As were the Lamb Skewers (B+).

I loved the Syrian Lentils too (B+).

I was really looking forward to the Scotch Eggs with Morcilla but sadly the flavours just weren’t there for me (C).

The Ribs were okay (B).

And to finish, the Yorkshire Rhubarb & Cream Crumble was a winner (B+).

I pushed the boat out with a £7 glass of Emilio Lustau Moscatel (B+) to go with it.

And even further out with a glass of Alvear ‘El Presidente’ Brandy from Cordoba which was a new one on me and unexpectedly good (B+) for a £5 glass.

The staff were very attentive, as was the chef owner which makes a nice change. My total bill with a tip came to a greedy £80.

So a couple of Mediterranean inspired gems to bring you some sunshine in the Rainy City. Enjoy!

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