IT’S an extraordinary sight – a trio of glowing pineapples hooked in the rotisserie and yet search the Store Street Exchange menu and the fruit doesn’t figure in any dish. They make a big deal, though, of their more locally sourced, slowly sizzling neighbours.
Who can remember a world before corn-fed Goosnargh chickens? Dear Reg Johnson may no longer be with us but the Johnson and Swarbrick brand remains our quality answer to Poulet de Bresse.
Yet this poultry’s presence no longer signals anything out of the ordinary in a dining climate that clings to sourcing and seasonality like a Brexiter clings to some misty-eyed vision of Blighty. The website for the revamped restaurant inside the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel trumpets: “Exchange the ordinary for something more extraordinary”.
Well, sitting down to an early evening dinner I just don’t see that. On a to-be-expected quiet Monday evening what I see is a succession of lone diners, obviously hotel guests, maybe in town on business, undoubtedly benefiting from a food offering a cut above the usual chain fare – and a genuinely warm staff welcome.
It’s a smart improvement on when the dining room fell between two stools – catering for that bread and butter clientele while aspiring to fine dining. Abode along the road achieved serious restaurant status but, post-Michael Caines, it too has gone down the casual route with a menu now less impressive than Chez Mal, latest incarnation of the Malmaison Brasserie. Stepping off the Pendolino, then, Store Street would be the one among the three to aim for.
A word of warning, the hotel’s allied Store Street Craft Bar, which you reach first,is not the temple to the thriving craft brewing market it sounds. So eschew the likes of Lees MPA for their signature cocktail, Spanking Roger (the history’s explained here). We couldn’t resist partaking of this chewy cousin of the Bloody Mary, a mix of Absolut Peppar vodka, tomato juice, Tabasco, chimichurri sauce, thyme, bayleaves, rosemary, bay leaves, fresh chiilies and bitters for £9.75.
The spicy cocktails lasted into the starter courses and complemented them well, more than a match for the chimichurri that came with the shell-on grilled tiger prawns (£8.50). Fish comes from Neve, always reassuring, and these had a fresh firm texture.
I worried there might be a coarseness to the spiced Cornish crab on toast, but it tasted gentle and fresh with the perkiness of pickled cucumber, alongside the inevitable smashed avocado.
So onto the blessings of a good rotisserie, on the surface less exciting for a chef for your very own Josper Oven boy’s toy, but making something of a comeback. Newcomers Randall & Aubin boast one over on Bridge Street and Heaton Moor’s Roost (in the former Damson premises) is churning out whole chickens from theirs, both charging slightly less for whole birds than Store Street (but yes, provenance is a factor).
Best rotisserie chicken in town, by a way, though, comes from Emy Brémond and Amaury De Neury’s Nationale 7 in the Mackie Mayor.
The half chicken, on a previous visit to Store Street, had been put in the shade by a superb 10oz rose veal cutlet (£27.50), proof indeed that sourcing your meat from premium butchers Aubrey Allen does give you the carnivorous edge.
I graciously allowed my dining companion to have it on this occasion and it didn’t let me down. Maybe a more medium 'medium rare' would have served the flesh better but a minor quibble for a superb cut handled well.
In contrast, my house burger (£14.95), its patty’s ground beef presumably benefiting from AA’s standard 21 day dry ageing, was a pallid creature despite the alluring presence of Ramsay Ayrshire bacon and Montgomery Cheddar.
The Ramsay worked well, though, in a side of peas, bacon and little gem and rather than fries for flavour I’d go for rotisserie potatoes cooked with bone marrow (£3.75).
Store Street is not a wine destination. The list is short and to the point with no bottle over £32. That was the Vivanco Rioja Crianza 2013, violets on the nose, vanilla on the palate – slightly steep mark up on it but it was meat-friendly.
We were half expecting ‘Pineapple Surprise’ but both our ordered puddings – chocolate with salted caramel ice cream and steamed ginger parkin sponge with custard, £6 apiece – were fine enough but lacked playfulness and adventure.
Which is a fault that could be levelled at the menu as a whole. So it’s hard to see Store Street Exchange becoming a destination restaurant. Still I hope it escapes the fate of just being a hotel dining room. A lot of extraordinary corporate effort has gone into loosening it up.
Store Street Craft Bar and Store Street Exchange, Doubletree by Hilton, 1 Auburn Street, Manchester M1 3DG.