A Budget Taste Of L'Enclume
Autumn is here and it's all change at Mr Cooper's, exactly two years since it originally opened in the plush Midland
Hotel. The new menu, reflects the seasonal produce being grown in the hotel's tiny roof garden and, more importantly, that from Simon Rogan's farm at his 2 Star Michelin restaurant, L'Enclume, just an hour and a half up the road in Cartmel, which has just retained its crown of "The Best Restaurant in Britain" in the latest edition of The Good Food Guide, for the second year running. With that in mind, we popped in the evening after the new menu's premiere to see if the dishes stood up to the high standards set by the restaurant's previous summery choices.
Having just taken the reigns, following a brief visit
to the Champagne Academy in France, new head bartender
Joe Butcher, formerly the manager of Epernay, explained
his ideas for the new cocktail menu, which was due to be
launched later that week, with influences from the kitchen.
He is the third top name the bar has employed, following
in the footsteps of Nate Booker and Tim Laferla, who had
gone on to reach the Diageo World Class British Finals.
The menu still includes many of their amazing creations
as well as Joey's addition, the "Honeymoon",
a delicious mix which reinforces the notion that this is
still the place to come for the best cocktails in town.
Taking our cocktails
from the Library bar into the restaurant, a welcoming "inside
garden" dining arena centred around a 30 foot high
tree, inspired by The Savoy in London, we took the waiter's
recommendation of the Crispy Oxtail and Marrow Croquettes
(£3.50) as sharing nibbles whilst we
perused the menu. An excellent choice, if somewhat too
greasy, these would also make an ample starter dish. The
Home Baked Sourdough Bread with Whipped Butter and Salt
Flakes (£3.50), also come highly recommended,
especially as a bread basket is not offered to the table.
all the dishes on the Autumn menu are new, and we opted
for one of the old favourites that have remained. The starter
of Buttermilk Fried Oysters (£8) were delightful,
even if deep frying such a flavoursome delicacy is more
representative of America's Lone Star State, rather than
a Michelin Star chef. The combination of the oyster, light
batter, pears, pickled fennel and kimchee puree worked
Possibly the best dish I've ever eaten was under the
same roof - a forty ingredient "Late Autumnal Offerings"
salad in Simon Rogan's adjacent The
every single bite revealing a different taste experience.
It was the memory of that dish that influenced my order
of the Stichelton & Red
Cabbage Coleslaw (£7.50), a new addition to the
menu. The complex flavours of the strong blue cheese,
red cabbage, mustard and salted walnuts, very much making
it a highly recommended dish - especially for cheese
lovers. If anything, personally, I would have preferred
the walnuts to be served au naturel, as they were a little
too caramelised, annoyingly sticking to my teeth.
Although similar in taste and production to Stilton,
Stichelton is made with unpasteurised milk and, as a
result, has an apparently creamier edge. It's one of
only a few dishes on the menu that you could term 100%
British, something Simon Rogan is celebrated for at L'Enclume, The
French and his new Michelin Star offering,
Fera at Claridge's in London.
The same could
not be said of the Thai Crab Cakes (£7.50); a new
addition to the menu and one of many dishes pointing more
to the Far East rather than the North West. Complemented
by a mango salsa and coriander mayo, the flavours were
pleasurably powerful. Reviews in the national press previously
had been somewhat undecided as to Mr Cooper's combinations
of ingredients, with the Independent saying that they "owed
more to Google Earth than Mrs Beeton" and Jay Raynor going
as far as describing the menu as "baffling".
You can understand such descriptions, when starters like
this sit alongside Koftas glazed in hyssop, apricot, bean
puree and tzatziki (£8)
or Yuba Spinach Rolls with nameko mushrooms, dashi reduction
and sesame (£7), and with ingredients as diverse
as paw paw, wasabi relish, chorizo, strozzapreti pasta,
truffle pudding and pak choi appearing across the menu.
But that's surely snootily missing the point. There's something
here for everybody and Mr Cooper's isn't L'Enclume, Claridge's
or even The
French for that matter, nor does it try to
be, with dishes priced from £7 for starters and
£12.50 for mains. Instead it's a fantastic, affordable,
casual restaurant which highlights
the creativity and boundary-pushing approach of the Cumbrian
chef; even if the menu is more internationally influenced
than those which earned him 3 Michelin Stars.
And that leads
us on to the main courses. You'd have to be in an especially
grumpy mood (or Jay Raynor) to find fault with these. The
Hot Smoked Salmon (£15.50) is a dish that has been
adapted slightly from the Summer menu. Now served with
aubergine, instead of green onion, the ginger and coriander
vinaigrette gave the dish a beautiful taste. However, it
was two new dishes that had us most impressed.
The Butter Poached
Pollock with Smoked Eel Risotto, lovage and leek (£16.50)
could quite easily sit on the Tasting Menu at Simon Rogan's
fine dining restaurants and leave the diner equally happy
as with some of his other more technical dishes . We'd
describe the portion sizes of all the main courses as being
"just right", although those with a larger appetite,
might want to order a side dish (all £4). Talking
of which, regulars will be glad to hear, the popular Creamed
Kale Spinach with Bacon remains on the menu.
The service had
been superb throughout the meal - we actually judge what
is going on at the surrounding tables, as well as our own
- and each of the waiters displayed great knowledge of
the dishes being served up, all having tasted the
new dishes ahead of the menu launch, the previous night.
Using that as a guide, I ordered the Lamb Rump (£15),
which our waiter couldn't recommend highly enough. He was
spot on. I can't remember tasting as good a lamb dish in
Manchester before. Accompanied by spiced green lentils,
minted courgettes, and drizzled with a lamb and garlic
sauce, I would not be surprised to learn that this dish
had originally been created at L'Enclume, it was that impressive.
On earlier visits
to Mr Coopers, we had often complained that the desserts
did not match up to the rest of the dining experience,
although it is obvious that the new menu addresses that
complaint. The Macerated Plums and Flapjack (£7.50),
served with buttermilk custard and sorrel, was the highlight
and a great way to eat our way into Autumn.
Warm Pear Cake (£7.50), served with a delicious chamomile
ice cream, was another autumnal edition that succeeded,
although we can't really describe the Douglas fir ingredient
in more detail, having never tasted a Christmas Tree before.
One can only presume it had been used in flavouring the
Another new addition to the menu, is the Pineapple Tarte
Tatin (£7.50), topped with spiced ice cream and
pepper caramel, a great dish to end a great meal. With
the plums, pear and pineapple desserts amongst other
dishes containing fruits as diverse as bananas, grapes,
apples, coconuts, lemons, raspberries, paw paws, mangos
and apricots, you get the idea of how many different
influences go into the dishes. In fact, the restaurant
is named after Mr Cooper, a coach maker whose house and
famous gardens, filled with strawberries, gooseberries,
apples and flowers, sat on the site back in 1819. It
is therefore fitting, and probably intentional, that
the 33 choices on the menu contain so many varieties
of fruit, vegetables, plants and spices. Call that "baffling" if
you will, however they don't all appear in the same dish
and, if you can't choose a three course meal here that
suits your tastes, then you either have a very fussy
palate and/or a very closed mind.
A special mention
should be made of the wine list, compiled by the amiable
Portuguese restaurant manager, Fernando Marques. With more
than 50 bottles to choose from, with 12 available by the
glass (175ml is counted as small here too) - there's also
a special organic wine menu, reflecting his passion -
the price list is in line with that of the value-for-money
food. The house wines are good - a bespoke Chenin Blanc
or the Australian Bonavita Merlot (both £19 a bottle)
although we can highly recommend the delicious Argentinean
Bodega Atamisque Serbal Malbec (£34 a bottle), the
revelation that was the Chilean Tierra Unoaked Chardonnay
and the Austrian Gruber-Roschitz Gruner Veltliner (£28.50),
one of the best Gruener's I've ever tasted, and very highly
regarded by my wine making friends in the Wienviertal wine
region, where I lived last year.
Whilst the cost of them will push your bill up, we can't
recommend the dessert wines enough. Fernando has excelled
himself with his offering. It's the first time we've seen
Eiswein in Manchester; a hard-to-produce sweet wine with
the grapes having been frozen while still on the vine.
The Austrian Willi Opitz Welschriesling (£10 a glass)
offered by Mr Cooper's is the perfect introduction to the
variety. If you can afford it, we recommend the incredible
syrupy sweet Sicilian Donnafugata Ben Rye Passito di Pantelleria
(£15 a glass), recognised as one of the most outstanding
dessert wines in the world.
Overall, Mr Coopers scores very highly and thoroughly
deserves its place high up in our Top
10 Best Restaurants in Manchester list. The food
is exceptional, even if the choices are somewhat "random";
the cocktails arguably the best in town and the wine list
is excellent; prices are reasonable - especially for food
of this level of cooking; service is attentive, informative
and friendly (the 10% service charge actually goes to the
team too); and the decor is inviting, despite areas of
it being compared to an upmarket garden centre. Based on
our experiences, you'd have to be a serious grump to find
issue with the place. It's definitely our choice for the
"Eating at Mr Cooper's feels
like playing ‘ingredient
"One thing is clear, Rogan doesn't do
"This is inspired food cooked wonderfully
for a bargain price"