SEA buckthorn’s off. Chef’s apologising over a no-show for these hard-to-forage coastal berries. Their vivid flavour should have complemented the chocolate fondant with hazelnut and tonka bean ice cream (below), but there’d been a blip in the supply chain.
Not the usual cause for regret in a midrange hotel restaurant, but then The Laureate – named in homage to Manchester University’s 25 Nobel Prize winners – is determined to forge its own culinary path, from the hedgerows and foreshores of our own sceptred isle to the Aussie-meets-Asian cuisine dubbed Pacific Rim.
Exec chef Nathaniel ‘Tan’ Farrell has obviously absorbed a ton of influences in his travels, though there is no sign of any reindeer moss or sea snail broth inherited from his four years in Copenhagen. He worked for the Hilton, not Noma.
But it is a Laureate broth that signals to us there’s a delicate ingenuity going on in the open kitchen. A limpid liquid crafted from kombu (kelp) is strewn with red sea chicory and wakami seaweed, in the middle a single, delicious wild mushroom dumpling (£7.50). Next up, an egg-topped disc of beef tartare (£9) ought to be more straightforward but there’s heady lemongrass, coriander and chilli in there, veering away from the printed menu. The word ‘eclectic’ is flashing up.
The 120 cover restaurant itself offers no decor surprises, though the curved leather banquettes are smart and there’s lots of light through floor-to-ceiling windows; let’s call it a blank canvas for the kitchen’s creations.
That kitchen boasts brick oven and a dedicated pizza chef to go with it with a budget for San Marzano tomatoes and Fior Di Latte cheese to load onto dough that is more flatbread springy than Neapolitan saggy. We’d happily pop in to order a few of these plus a bottle of their softly elegant Te Kairanga Pinot Noir from New Zealand.
A torched salmon with avocado, bok choi and citrus fruits didn’t quite single a middle order collapse but the fish was salty, its texture wooly.
Importing grass-fed beef from Australia goes against the grain with air miles-conscious me and there was a suspicion this grass-fed 28-day aged sirloin (£25) had been given a sniff of the sous vide but it was full of flavour. The wine waiter is Portuguese and a Quinta dos Murcas Reserva red he came up with from a strong list was an intense, spicy partner to the steak and to a plate of UK cheese, accompanied by a sloe and elderberry membrillo.
Such an attention to detail puts to shame so many of the city’s more high profile hotel restaurants, which in recent years have been dumbing down with obvious exception Adam Reid at The French inside The Midland and, remarkably fine newcomer Andrew Green’s Mamucium at the Hotel Indigo, near Victoria Station.
Both Adam and Andrew are creatively locked into Northern sourcing, whereas Warrington-raised Tan obviously relishes a wider flavour palate that might prove a fusion too far for corporate hotel guest expectations.
I hope that’s not the case and he gets a wider audience. He’s a big presence in the kitchen and his cooking sets the Laureate apart from our traditional expectations of a Crowne Plaza. It’s only a Magic Bus ride away down Oxford Road.
The Laureate, Crowne Plaza Hotel – Oxford Road, 55 Booth Street West, Manchester M15 6PQ. 0161 359 7037. Full all-day menu here.