MAYBE it was Ryder Cup fever that led me to eat above the city centre’s prime golf simulation range. Or perhaps, since I can’t tell my wedge from my niblick, it was curiosity about how the fine dining bar/lounge had developed nine months on from the opening.
Being of the “golf is a good walk ruined” school of curmudgeonry, I still swung by the opening of The Range late last year and went away impressed only by the superior canapes that came out of the kitchen.
The cynic in me wanted to discover a themed menu full of ‘Buttermilk Birdie’ or ‘Corn Kernel Bogey’. You name a restaurant Albatross & Arnold after the term for a three under par on a single hole and US golfing legend Arnold Palmer and it sounds more a shot in the foot than a hole in one.
But chef Oliver Hampson’s small plates were serious stuff. Ollie’s now gone. Jonathan Green arrived in June, Northcote-trained and three years as head chef at Tattu, an impressive CV slightly at odds with being virtually a one-man band in what must be described as a well hidden gem. So how’s the food? Still serious stuff.
Jonathan’s aspirations are confirmed by last week’s seven course collaboration with AA Welsh Restaurant of the Year, Machine House. Alongside the a la carte A&A normally offers five course and seven course tasting menus (£45 and £65 respectively, £75 and £105 with wine pairings). I went for the five courser with just a couple of modest glasses.
Dining alone, I was more than usually attentive to my surroundings. The room is uncannily like an upmarket airport lounge, even with its attention-seeking 13ft polished concrete, oak and brass bar and suspended light installation featuring 1,000 golf balls.
‘Only five courses but still a fairway to go’, ‘every course needs its greens’ – your ‘no mates’ mind wanders. Then I was rescued by the arrival of the Snow Crab (main picture). They are called that because of their dazzling white flesh, but they are indeed plucked from the depths of Alaskan and Artic waters. This one had been treated delicately by chef Green. Crab fronds were perfectly paired with charred sweetcorn, a sun of bisque behind, a whisper of sea purslane on top.
Next up was the chef’s star turn on Masterchef as he reached the quarter finals. I missed that moment but concur with the judges that his crispy potato skin filled with cauliflower four ways and pickles is a superb conception. Dish number three where compressed cucumber, fennel and apple tangoed with monkfish fillet felt fresh – a last breath of summer as the nights set in.
The menu faltered slightly with roast duck breast, confit duck breast and blackberry. Broccoli cooked in lamb fat definitely didn’t belong on the plate.
Blackberries rolled up again along with raspberries to garnish an insouciant puff pastry ‘ice cream ‘sandwich’. It summed up the meal – accomplished throughout but lacking a challenging identity. Much like the surroundings. It doesn’t feel like a standalone culinary destination.
The neighbouring tables were occupied by a family group for whom the food was a (very enjoyable) addition to the main event, the ‘golf’. If only food crits were as measurable as golf simulation.
In the words of The Range website: “We use the industry leading simulator and launch monitor from Foresight Sports. The GC2 with Head Measurement Technology collects data direct from the golf ball, giving you exceptional levels of accuracy in both simulation and swing analysis.”
Albatross & Arnold at The Range, Spinningfields Leftbank, Manchester, M3 3AN. 0161 325 4444.