GARY Neville ‘stole’ my table. Talk about the new pecking order in an old favourite. I should have complained to the metaphorical fourth official, but the gyoza and laksa starters had arrived, the ‘Letfield’ Albarino was opening up nicely in the glass and there isn’t really a bad seat to be had in the dreamy new Grand Pacific.
If you ever frequented Room or Reform before it, you’ll know the choice spot I mean, the one I invariably requested – tucked into the window alcove looking down King Street. A discreet table to talk business at. Imagine being a fly on the wall next to the United legend turned property developer/restaurateur and his two oppos: “Do you think the work on Stock will be finished this decade?” “What shade of brown shall we aim for next on those lovely St Michael’s skyscrapers’?” “Why is Rabbit In The Moon not quite as fully booked as the hype has it?”
There has been a fair amount of hype generated about Grand Pacific, too. Understandably for the final project of Living Ventures chief Tim Bacon that he never lived to see in all its expensively transformed, imperial-style glory. I asked our waitress why one of the side dishes was called ‘Forbidden Rice’. “It’s what they serve in Raffles,” she replied insouciantly.
Just like the Singapore Sling then that opens a cocktail list that concludes, for £30, with The Grand Pineapple (Bacardi Carta Oro, Domain De Canton, Benedictine, Pineapple Juice, Lime Juice and Chocolate Bitters). ‘The pineapple (below) is yours to keep or return it for £20 refund.’ Well, old fruit, it would go spiffingly with your collection of Christmas Market Gluhwein mugs.
You have to be a major chutzpah wallah to pull off this all-cliches-blazing sort of stuff – self-styled Bohemian pleasure palace Albert’s Schloss manages it playfully. Here it feels a muddle, reflected in an eclectic Asian-led menu which through the 'Golden Age' trappings is trying to distance itself from the perfectly realised fusion food of Living Ventures sibling Australasia.
With its equally splendid bar it is obviously aimed at a similar audience, yet trying to be a bit of a tease. Why else proclaim on the menu “To Eat – A mesmeric voyage of tastes from distant lands”, while the lunchtime sandwich offering is “Delicious fare from a far-flung paradise!”
This kind of guff The two Fat Ladies used to roll off their plummy tongues, seasoned with a large dash of sardonic. Still, like me, I’m sure the dear departed gals would also be blown away by Michelle Derbyshire’s redesign of the city’s best proportioned dining room. I especially like the laquered tables, the porcelain, even the pineapple motifs “symbolising prosperity, generosity, and hospitality”.
Our trio of starters was, of course, a mesmeric voyage – to Japan (gyoza), Malaysia (laksa), the latter with a nod to the Levant (citrus labne) and back to Japan for sushi, in this case Chirashi Sushi (£8.75). Chirashi mean scattered, so basically you get a bowl of tuna and salmon sashimi, pickled mackerel, avocado with soy and wasabi, but mostly rice. Every fancy place in town is essaying sushi and sashimi, sometimes better than this (think Cottonopolis, Australasia).
The noodly laksa broth (£7.95) was delicately spiced, again not over-generous with its prawns and mussels. Those chicken and spring onion gyoza, though, were crispily spot on, four for £6.
Would I could have said the same for the flabby tempura batter that encased a Szechuan sea bass main (£17.95). The fish was fresh and flaky and came in two ample tranches, a tangle of crispy noodles with a curl of pineapple of cucumber merely a nod to the oriental. What made it Szechuan I’ve no idea – I couldn’t even detect numbing peppery hints.
A cucumber salad also accompanied my tea-smoked salmon (£17.95), which was a touch dry, but the delicate smokiness came through and it found a perfect companion in the Te Awa ‘Leftfield’ Albarino (£36), a gorgeous mouth-filling Kiwi version of the Galician white.
It’s a well-thought out wine list that might have struggled to partner some of the dishes on offer if they had delivered more spice. On a pre-launch visit I really enjoyed their take on lamb massaman curry (it came with ‘forbidden rice’ – really a chewy black/purple type – and Colonially spiced ‘gunpowder potatoes’).
An Asian spiced duck cottage pie with pork crackling (above) was a more curious concept.
All dishes are beautifully presented on a par with the place itself. This was true of the puddings we shared – one of the best chocolate fondants in town with salted caramel sauce and honeycomb (£5.95) and a nursery flashback treat, a lovely, flower-flecked lemon creme fraiche dotted hibiscus jelly trifle (£5.50, main picture). Oh, how we used love it when Nanny infused our jelly with hibiscus!
Teasing aside, and it is early days, but the Grand Pacific feels more a place to graze than count on a balanced three-courser. Bizarrely the food still has echoes of unrelated Room, whose shtick was ironic, deconstructed versions of classic dishes, so coq au vin or shepherd’s pie would defy your expectations. Eclectic oriental also figured – the likes of tikka masala sea bass, lentil dhal and coconut, while the prawns in the de rigueur cocktail came in a light tempura batter.
Plus ca change? Well I’m no longer guaranteed my favourite table.
Grand Pacific, 50 Spring Gardens, Manchester, M2 4AH. 0161 839 9365. Open from 12 noon every day.