SAD but eternally true, it has always been easier to find a better value lunch in the fine dining bastions of London than in Manchester’s middling destinations.
It’s been a year or two since we’ve tested that theory at Mayfair’s Le Gavroche, the first establishment in the UK to be awarded a Michelin star (and the first to get two and then three; today under Michel Roux Jr it still holds two).
For £69, inclusive of service, from Tuesday to Friday, you get a three-course lunch – with three choices in every course – plus half a bottle of quality wine from a shortlist, half a bottle of water plus coffee and petit fours. A bonus among the final course trio, one choice is from one of the UK’s great cheese boards.
Taking into account the level of service, bonus Michelin amuses and a chance to meet Michel as he works the room and that is a true bargain.
20 Stories doesn’t aspire to that degree of customer cosseting but in Manchester top end terms its latest lunch menu, devised by new head chef Brian Hughson, is an immaculate, well-priced offering at £27.50 (two courses £22.50).
Our bill shot up with the addition of a £60 bottle of Delaforce Touriga Nacional, a gorgeous Portuguese red, but this felt a bargain on a list that only boasts a few bottles under £50.
We already felt spoiled by being granted a table by one of the panoramic windows and so counted cranes until the first courses arrived. Like Le Gavroche there is a choice of three dishes for each course, but alas no cheese option incorporated.
A salmon terrine starter is elevated by being a combination of poached and smoked salmon, cut by a sharp dill yoghurt. Presentation here and throughout is splendid. My pert ham hock scotch egg comes with a mustard mayonnaise that is a real sinus cleaner.
Chef Hughson’s impressive cv includes the Grill at The Dorchester and the Savoy Grill, so he knows a bit about meat. Add in he has inherited his predecessor Aiden Byrne’s meat supplier Farmison and it haas to be rump cap beef for my main. The Farmison heritage breed herds, roam the Northern Fells, feeding on grass. The meat is then dry-aged for between 32 and 60 days.
All this shows in the generous helping, served medium rare as recommended, dressed with a wild garlic pesto and served with Sarladaise potatoes cooked Dordogne style in duck fat.
All lovely but eclipsed by the veggie option across the table – a pea risotto, topped with earthy slices of morel (main image), the contrasting flavours a thing of wonder.
Desserts lived up to the rest of this simple but satisfying lunch. I think my mega-wobbly rhubarb panacotta pipped my companion’s cardamom creme brulee, too much spice for me, but the custard below the caramelised sugar top was delciate and citrussy, to be mopped up by a side of orange shortbread. Le Gavroche it isn’t but Les Vingt Histoires, Mais Oui!
20 Stories, No 1 Spinningfields, 1 Hardman Square, Spinningfields, Manchester, M3 3EB. 0161 204 3333.