IT used to be a football truism about fickle foreign imports: ‘Can they hack it on a wet Tuesday night in Scunthorpe?’ It was taken as read that the teak-tough wee tanner ball players down from Glasgie would adapt to the conditions better.
Odd thoughts to assail one in the gloriously slick surrounds of the Dakota Hotel, perhaps the best arrival from Glasgow since Sir Alex (a chum of Dakota founder Ken McCulloch). Just the one lone diner in a corner as we were seated in the 100-cover Dakota Bar and Grill – its darkly beautiful brasserie a far cry from the killing fields of Scunny.
And pretty soon it was just the two of us making up this Tuesday night’s entire attendance. Not the norm, they had been busy since its launch in May, our server told us, herself a Glaswegian but loving Manchester despite the downpour we’d trudged through.
We had not been alone in wondering whether the location in the lee of Piccadilly Station might affect footfall. On the evidence of a couple of visits this deserves to be a destination dining experience. The well thought out bar, too, ought to attract more than just the hotel guests.
This time we concentrated on fish, counting on the Scottish supply chain to deliver the goods. We were not disappointed. Presentation is not a strong point but flavour is.
When you’ve just been drenched you need some culinary TLC and it came in the shape of their signature complimentary appetiser – a bowl of pomodoro sauce, amply streaked with goat’s cheese, with a hot mini-loaf to mop it all up. We were already purring over our server’s fish-friendly wine recommendation. With some strong flavours to come the ripe and smokey Paringa Estate Pinot Gris (£44) from Victoria would prove to be spot on.
Quirky pottery cradles swaddled our amuse-gueule of celeriac puree dotted with nuts and then it was time to tackle the seafood.
]Our starters offered Scotland on a plate. Argyll smoked salmon (£12) came surprisingly as a cigar rolled around an avocado puree with three plump, shelled langoustines on the side with salad and orange segments that were a touch redundant. Across the table oriental spiced ribs and smart crackling worked well with just seared scallops (£15).
Salmon was market price catch of the day and line-caught stone bass and monkfish curry all contested for our fishy affections, but lemon sole and halibut won out.
Halibut (£25) came under a blanket of diced ceps, allaying any potential dryness, with cauliflower two ways. It tasted far better than it looked. Lemon sole (£23) was equally substantial, scattered with brown shrimp, samphire and slightly aggressive capers.
The dessert list is unfussy and satisfying like the whole of the a la carte and comes with canny optional wine pairings. So with my lovely combo of chocolate delice with raspberries and pistachio ice cream (£8) a glass of a Hampshire sparkler, while a classic Sauternes enhanced a vanilla creme brulee with cinnammon shortbread (£7).
Thankfully the rain had ceased pummelling the Piccadilly Basin as we stepped out (past Manchester mascot Chester in reception) into the night. And it was good to see the Dakota’s decadent bar populated.
Dakota Bar and Grill, 29 Ducie St, Manchester M1 2JL. 0161 674 9180.