Entering Room in Manchester, it would seem that it is not inappropriately named, and that the stunningly ornate room, previously of the Manchester Reform Club, is the centrepiece of the whole experience of the restaurant. To a certain extent this is true; at the top of a sweeping staircase an imposing statue of William Gladstone, who originally opened the Club in 1871, guards the entrance to the vast, high-ceilinged dining room and bar, where venetian gothic windows and beautifully masoned fireplaces adorn the walls, contrasting with the giant modern lampshades hanging from the ceiling and the crisp white table cloths in lines across the room. However, the food and drink at Room does a worthy job of living up to such stunning surroundings.
With the restaurant being renowned as an excellent cocktail bar in its own right, we ordered a couple of Room G&Ts to start with, especially considering that on weekdays before 8, they are almost half price. This twist on the traditional gin and tonic was inspired, with muddled sage accentuating the herbaceous nature of the gin, and crushed grapes adding some balance of sweetness to the splash of tonic. As we were dining early evening (before 7, so keep lunch light), we could take advantage of the ‘All inclusive’ set menu; three courses and a glass of very decent house wine being exceptional value at £17.50.
The concept of Room seems to be to re-conceptualise classic British fare in a modern and elegant manner, so the dishes are well presented, often on long rectangular plates, there are smears of sauces and deconstructed versions of traditional hearty fare. Those who salivate and marvel over dishes on the Great British Menu will recognise the style immediately. We started by ordereing the mackerel salad and the coronation chicken. The salad was a beautifully delicate set of leaves and broad beans with small pieces of very fresh raw mackerel and a sharp dressing that made the dish a petite and appetising start to the meal. The coronation chicken came as something of a terrine, garnished with ‘homemade curry Quavers’ which, while being affably tongue in cheek, were almost tasteless, the majority of the curry powder ending up on the table cloth and in our wine rather than on the reconceptualised-reconstructed-potato crisp. While this was perhaps style over substance, the dense terrine did not suffer from the same problem, proving a delicious take on the classic formula.
I always somewhat resent paying supplements in set menu meals, it seems to defeat the object of it all, but the only supplemented dish was the rump steak (add £2), and the quality of the substantial piece of meat, accompanied by a delicious peppercorn sauce and nice hearty chips seemed to justify the increased price tag. The other main, a deconstructed pork stroganoff, was equally delicious and substantial. Two piped mounds of smooth and creamy mashed potato stood like bookends on the rectangular plate, with pork belly, morsels of soft pork, a pile of spinach and a rich stroganoff-style sauce dotted between them. The belly pork was very tasty, though could perhaps have been crispier on top, but the richness of the sauce and the creamy perfection of the mash gave a deliciously fatty and full-flavoured dish, hearty and generously portioned, though surprisingly delicately presented. The spinach was under-seasoned, but this was not a problem when eaten with the salty pork and the rich sauce, as presumably was intended.
Pudding was perhaps the most traditional of the dishes we ate that evening, perhaps wisely, as no amount of presentation or innovation can improve on a well executed sticky toffee pudding, which was difficult for either of us to resist. It was certainly well-executed, but I prefer mine a little more soaked through with sauce, and found it ever so slightly on the dry side. The sauce was excellent though, and the ice-cream clean and refreshing, but I was not sure about the chocolate smear that ran across the bowl, both for aesthetic reasons and that chocolate seemed unnecessary with such a complete pudding.
When the bill came we were once again bowled over at the price, as such quality and quantity of food, and a glass of wine, was deserving of a higher tag. Of course, the a la carte dinner menu is much more expensive, with most of the main courses weighing in at the same price as the whole set menu, but if you are willing to arrive early or eat at lunchtime when the offer is also available, it would be difficult to find better value anywhere in Manchester.
Room, therefore, is a restaurant made up of many agreeable contrasts. The magnificent grandeur of the architecture contrasts with the understated modern furnishing, and it works. The traditional dishes of the menu contrast with the innovative and playful nature of the food they serve, and it works. And the daintiness of the bill contrasts with the quality of the meal that it represents. And this works a treat.
Two people for the ‘All inclusive’ lunch or early evening menu: £35
0161 839 2005