The Princess Street entrance of Manchester’s new design-led hotel leads you directly into the neutrally hued lobby which serves as a ground floor dining area, a toned-down reception and a work/hang out space.
The industrial-chic interior shows some clever repurposing of existing materials; the floor is made from a patchwork of fragmented marble, brick walls have been left exposed, natural ropes form striking lighting features, plus plants and candlelight enhancing the zen warehouse feel.
The open plan bar area is to the left and there’s more restaurant seating to the right where you’ll find the open kitchen. If you want a closer look at the dishes in progress, you can hop on a bar stool and sit at the chef’s table overlooking the action. That’s where you’ll find chef Iain Thomas whose food you might have enjoyed before at Ancoats’ pub Edinburgh Castle or, going back even further, at Establishment on King Street (now Rosso.)
The Alan’s restaurant is open from 7am for breakfast, then it morphs into a brunch menu until 2pm – with a few strategically placed cocktails. A £15 day pass (Monday - Friday) for those looking for a chilled out co-working space is a decent deal that includes the use of their superfast Wi-Fi, unlimited tea and coffee (10am - 4pm) and a two-course lunch menu.
The main menu mirrors The Alan’s enthusiasm for championing local makers, artists and designers. Chef Iain is clearly passionate about discovering and using talented local growers and producers. We chatted with him as he stood there in his apron like a proud mother, beaming over microgreens from Aztec Farms (Manchester Science Park’s vertical farmstart-up), mushrooms from Altrincham based Polysphore, and meat from Butcher’s Quarter (who have their own impeccable local sourcing.) He even plans to supply some ingredients from his own allotment once the growing season gets going.
The menu, which changes regularly according to seasonal availability, starts with a few ‘light bites’ - perhaps to enjoy with a cocktail from the bar. Don’t expect your standard starters and mains here. Instead, there’s a selection of small plates followed simply by either Packington free range pork chop (£16), Gatehouse Farm Barnsley chop (£23) or sirloin steak (£28) from grass fed Cheshire beef and a few side dishes.
The small plates (between £5 - £6.50) seemed to be the best way to get a measure of the kitchen’s skills, so we ordered all eight of them to share - which I’d recommend. First to arrive was a crisp and buttery potato terrine – superfine layers of sliced potato sandwiching a layer of slow cooked oxtail, dotted with French’s mustard and pickle. Light, delicious, clever and really difficult to make at home – this is why we need restaurants.
This was swiftly followed by tartare of Cheshire beef with confit egg yolk on a block of sourdough. The chopped raw beef was perked up with its signature pickled accoutrements, but the sourdough was tough. Rethink that carb element and it’ll be a lovely dish.
If you’re going to try the sharing dishes between two, be aware that some are served in threes, so you’ll have to do some negotiating with your dining partner. Others come as they are so you can easily dig in. Halibut ceviche with chicory and onion was excellent. Fresh sour flavours perfectly balanced by the sweet char of burnt orange.
Next, arguably our favourite dish (we happily couldn’t agree on which our favourite one was.) De-boned Goosenargh chicken thighs, glossy from pomegranate syrup and soy, with mushroom ketchup and nasturtium leaves, atop a spring bed of mushy garden peas. How had Iain got so much flavour into the meat? He told us it was simply thyme and olive oil – hmm, there must have been some other magic in there.
Cauliflower Tikka is Iain’s nod to Manchester’s famous curry mile, but there’s no luminous orange sauce here. This was grilled, infused with cumin and coriander and scattered with fresh pomegranate seeds. I preferred this to another plant-based dish, salt baked celeriac with truffle and sherry vinegar. I’m usually a fan of this root veg but it must have been having an off day as it was a little watery and none of the elements stood out much.
A third meat free dish was a triumph; simply grilled and fantastically woody Polysphore mushrooms, which Iain confessed had only just been delivered by bike - lower carbon footprint is also part of The Alan’s ethos.
Lastly another contender for favourite dish – hispi cabbage braised in lamb fat speckled with melting pieces of lamb shoulder and served with an uber rich creamy sauce made from a base of even more lamb fat. It was comforting and incredibly rich, but the fibrous cabbage made you feel as if it was at least doing you some good.
The pudding menu is short, sweet and nostalgic (all £7). There’s a rich chocolate and candied peanut affair based on a Snickers, or nana Betty’s Yorkshire rhubarb and custard. But we couldn’t resist their more refined take on the classic Arctic Roll - a wheel of vanilla parfait surrounded by a light sponge and a layer of pleasantly sour bramble.
Eat and drink at The Alan and in turn you are supporting a whole economy of talented local growers and suppliers. In return, you’ll get a great value meal made by a talented chef team in a relaxed and stylish interior. Judging by this visit, hotel restaurants might finally be upping their game.The Alan, 18 Princess Street Manchester M1 4LG
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