• Review: School For Scandal, First Street

Review: School For Scandal, First Street

13 October 2018 by Neil Sowerby

A BIT of culture first. Richard Brinsley Sheridan was an Anglo-Irish dramatist whose classic plays are still a hoot. For obvious reasons this ToM reviewer’s favourite is ‘The Critic’ and there’s a soft spot too for ‘The Rivals’, launch production at The Royal Exchange Theatre back in 1976 (hence the name of the revamped bar and restaurant there).

Now School for Scandal has arrived with no dramatic backdrop. Just named to inject a whiff of naughtiness to the First Street site which didn’t work out for Laundrette. The concept plot here centres around tattoos, transferred to the walls in a swift and rather jolly makeover, with a light corner spot in contrast to the rather gloomy canyon that is the Jack Rosenthal Street main drag. I don’t quite engage with a decor that supposedly evokes a sense of Manhattan cool alongside wood panelling finishings reminiscent of an English boarding school.

Aagh. Sounds like The Living Room circe 2000. And, yes, its creator, Danny Fox was one of the early Living Ventures team, his own eponymous bar project, The Fox, in Hale, closed recently, and now he has been enlisted by this building’s landlords to create and roll out the S for S brand across the land. 

So far so worrying with a launch spiel that promises: “The tempting food menu sees flavours from all over the world to satisfy all cravings, providing an abundance of healthy options, alongside some naughty home comforts. From mouth-watering, hearty tacos, burgers and steaks off the charcoal grill, pizzas fresh out the oven, to refreshing salads and small plates.” 

And yet School for Scandal delivered. I roamed across the menu from its flagship black cod dish through to its catering for the vegan persuasion and was quietly impressed. Beer isn’t a strong point but the Yealands Sauvignon and a better than usual entry level Malbec hit the spot. I’m sure the cocktails were a hit with the Manchester United  squad’s private function there the next day, but it was mid-pm for me, not a happy enough hour. Though I chuckled at the playful punning on the list. Anyone for a ‘Dame Judi Quench’?

For the food I avoided the Botanist territory evoked by skewers and lollipops and tempura. I took my prawns pil pil style, firm and not over-chillied (£9). Tandoori tofu bites similarly subtly spiced and  the accompanying, chicory leaf, pomegranate, carrot an apple made for a fine healthy bowl. A fresh feel, too, to oven roasted beets, goat cheese, pistachio, grapefruit (£6.50).

Not what you’d call scandalous, though? Two dishes then featuring succulent flesh. Tuscan style grilled lamb chops with confit tomatoes, roasted red peppers and aubergines (£19.25) – nicely pink, slightly chewy meat, the veg standard ratatouille. Fire-roasted, flattened chicken (£12.75) was better. It had benefited from the herb marinade; maybe it didn’t need the tomato ‘ragu’. Both dishes, simple, done well.

Front of house David (ex-Rabbit in the Moon) steered me towards the chicken and the miso black cod (main image). So last year? Think again. The Nobu old stager, handled well (as at Australasia) is still a treat. At £19.50, not cheap, but with a perfectly matched ginger soubise, the real foodie treat here.

Only just pipping the oddest sounding tacos I’ve every ordered. Yes, but we’re all vegans now. Well, closet flexitarians. Back in the day you wouldn’t be finding at the Living Room Vietnamese Crunch Tacos (for £7 avocado, quinoa, sweet peppers, coriander, Thai basil with lemongrass dressing. Quite lovely. almost worth staying in Detention for. 

As are, for the sweet-toothed scandalmongers among you, the daily changing signatuiree crullers. Cruller? It’s a rich fired, sugared doughnut. Temptation for some.

School for Scandal, 13 Jack Rosenthal Street, First St M15 4FN. 0161 236 1616. De-ten-tion hours will run from 5pm-7pm on week days where 10 selected cocktails will be available for £5.