EVERY child’s party dream is a chocolate fountain with marshmallows; so why does this grown-up cocktail aficionado’s heart not sing when confronted by a ‘Negroni Fountain’? Maybe I don’t like my favourite tipple ‘on draught’, sacrificing much of its mixological mystery.
Inspired by traditional drinking fountains found across Spain, azuelo tiled and garlanded with Seville oranges, this elaborate Negroni dispenser is being wheeled out by global drinks giant Diageo to promote their new Tanqueray Flor de Sevilla premium gin’s role in the classic Italian cocktail. It’s orange infused, so right up Negroni’s strada.
After its London debut the ‘Fountain’ will be set up in new St Peter’s Square bar/restaurant The Anthologist from July 30 to August 12. The ‘Rosy’ Negroni is available across all 22 Drake & Morgan bars across the UK but Manchester is the only outpost to get the gushing ‘Fountain’.
I mulled over this special treatment as we sat down to test the food menu and surveyed a fit-out described by one colleague as “the restaurant equivalent of a mid-range Audi”. Perhaps he’s a shade unkind – it is a solid and generous fit-out if on the global generic style. And the terrace with its expansive views across to the Central Library vies to be the city’s best.
Certainly an improvement on D&G’s initial foray into Manchester, The Refinery on Spinningfields, an all-day all-things to all men – and ladies who lunch – venue we’ve always found characterless. Here at the Anthologist (which keeps getting stuck in my head as The Apologist) there’s a warm welcome and a degree of dog-friendliness unusual in such an establishment.
Our furry friend was to be donated a considerable share of my companion’s lamb main but first he had to sit through our three fish-led starters to share, a water bowl and treats his consolation.
It’s a large all-day kind of menu with burgers, salads and grazing plates very much to the casual fore. Prawn lollipops (£7.95) with a sweet chili-soy sauce were flabby and gloopy, crab bruschetta (£7.95) more substantial and satisfying, ditto a smoked trout salad, though the jury’s out on what an under-spiced ‘nuoc cham’ dressing added to limp leaves.
The mains were better. I ordered roast monkfish (£13.25) from the specials menu. Two medallions that came wrapped in toughened bacon survived the treatment well, abundance of spinach soaking up the savoury juices.
There was a lamb chop among the specials, but the choice across the table was the rump (£13.95) from the main menu. Samphire and whole roast tomatoes were an odd garnish, but another surprise, a shallot and currant salsa worked well with properly rare, tender lamb. A side order of parmesan and truffle fries was a mistake.
The puds section feels like a footnote to an expansive menu. Toffee roasted pineapple on a passion fruit sorbet and dark chocolate torte with a sorbet (each £5.95) were unexceptionable. Which probably sums up the whole offering.
With the meal we drank a Pencarrow Pinot Noir from New Zealand’s Martinborough region (better for Pinot than Marlborough). At £32.95 it’s three quid cheaper than at Alston Bar & Beef and supplies light, slightly raisiny fruit, so a perfect red for our heatwave summer.
It would have been good to have seen local beers on the kegs; instead it’s a standrad parade of corporate cool – Meantime, Camden, Peroni and the like. Cocktails look better. There’s even a standard Negroni, not on tap, for £8.50.
The Anthologist ticks loads of boxes and despite my reservations that visiting Fountain does have its attractions, like the terrific terrace, but this is a bar that adds nothing distinctive to Manchester’s rich contemporary food and drink mix.
The Anthologist, One St Peter’s Square, Manchester, M2 3DE. 0161 509 5085.