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01 December 2002

Choice bar & restaurant, Manchester

Wine magazine (UK) December 2002 issue:
Choice bar & restaurant, Castle Quay, Manchester M15 4NT.
0161 833 3400, www.choicemcr.co.uk
Restaurant 4/5 Wine list 4.5/5

Its short and sweet name gets the juices flowing: so is the selection worthy at Choice bar & restaurant? This smart and clear-cut establishment has been open for a year but is perhaps overlooked, tucked away under Castle Quay by the canal in Manchester’s redeveloped Castlefield area. The restaurant elegantly oozes exposed old brick, cream and dark wood; the bar is similar with wines on display in a glass cabinet.

Having frequented the place once before, I’d noted the excellent wine list. This time we were told it had been “stream-lined,” but nevertheless the choice is still wide reaching with all wines available by the glass, although it can work out rather pricey thus. There are five house wines, ten whites and ten reds – covering France and Australia primarily with offerings from Spain, Italy, New Zealand, Chile, South Africa, Argentina, California and Lebanon – plus reasonable options on sparkling, sweeties and Ports etc.

For starters I ordered green-lipped mussels (£3.95) served on fresh tasting sun-dried tomato bread with olives, roquette and decent olive oil dressing. The mussels were savoury and meaty but cold; I’d have preferred them warm. We decided to drink different wines by the glass with each dish. With the above I matched Bethany Riesling 2001 from Barossa (£16 bottle, £5.50 250ml, £4.50 175ml): its ripe lime, oil and mineral notes with zingy acidity worked quite well. My companion chose 2000 Pouilly Fumé Domaine des Berthiers (£20, £7.50, £6.50) to go with a salad of smoked trout and quails eggs drizzled with a splendid piccalilli sauce (£3.95), whose pungent but ripe gooseberry fruit and dry mineral length charmed the fleshy and not too salty or smoky fish; the only criticism was “a little overdone.” The starters were speedily delivered on huge plate-cum-bowls, beautifully presented as were all the courses.

For main I had lovely succulent slices of duck breast (although the skin could’ve been crispier) in a tangy blackberry sauce (£12.95). These were stacked on top of very buttery spinach and crunchy red onion. The Tyrrell’s 2001 Pinot Noir (£19, £7, £6) was OK, showing aromatic cherry fruit and a bit lean in its youth, but not as good as the Oregon Pinot on the previous visit. Across the table a glass of Château Musar 96 (£26, £8.50, £7.50) seduced with gorgeous rustic sweet berry fruit, full body yet soft tannins. This coped admirably with a generous pile of juicy pork chops on herby potatoes and creamy sauce (£11.95), although the latter was made dairy-free as a special dietary request.

The attention span of the (only two) staff had lessened by this stage, as it took a while to get the plates cleared and dessert menus in hand. We settled for one sweet as the low-on-dairy options had gone: Manchester tartlet (£3.95) coupled with Bonterra Muscat from California (£1.75 per 50ml) seemed appropriate. The pastry was a bit tough but the custard, jam, coconut and banana filling stayed with me.

More HOT... or hotter still?

A couple of bar reviews first published in 'Harpers On-trade' (November and December 2002 issues): The Player, Ashton-Under-Lyne & Cosmopolitan Spirit, Manchester. More articles published in HOT and Harpers Wine & Spirit here (on 'French Med Wine'). And another couple of short posts: More HOT here (sushi & licensing).

Cosmopolitan Spirit, 19 Brown Street, Manchester M2 (0161 834 7690).

Bar Manager: Nicola Copeland.
Opening hours: bar 11-23.00, restaurant 12-15.00 & 18-22.00, takeaway 8-15.00.
Capacity: bar 100+, restaurant 50 covers.

Despite being a stone’s throw from Market Street and the lovely Arndale, this site has potential given the surrounding offices and proximity to hip King Street. This is no ordinary establishment: brandishing the Cosmo trademark, here you can drink, eat and visit their beauty spa downstairs. How glamorous, just like the two chicly dressed women who also frequented the place on a wet Sunday afternoon.

Funky music and the sensuous smell of new leather proved welcoming: a row of comfortable beige leather benches occupies the centre, parallel to the light wood bar. The raised section stands out in sunset orange dotted with wilder orange, cute pouffes. The bar was well-stocked to service the very good cocktail list: this features 5 ‘Signature’ drinks including Sunshine Cosmopolitan (lime, mango purée, Pölstar Sitróna) and 30 ‘Martinis’, ‘Classics’ and ‘Contemporary’ (all £5.90) plus 5 ‘Champagne’ (£6.90). A decent wine list offers reds priced from £11.50 to Amarone at £45 and whites from £10.25 to £55 for Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru. The choice of bottled beers is also fair including Freedom Organic (£3).

The Player, 21-25 Old Street, Ashton-Under-Lyne, tel/fax 0161 339 0929.

Bar manager: Nina Wood.
Opening hours: 12pm – 11pm, applied for 1am extension Thurs-Sat and 12.30 Sunday.
Capacity: 300.

The Player is located just off Ashton’s old market square cum 70s-style hideous shopping centre. The bar was formerly Revolution and Chester’s now knocked into one and is owned by the former group. It looks meticulously new with highly polished, dark-stained wooden flooring and elongated bar counters. Add to this brown leather-look settees, stylish Japanese wall lights and pretty déco window above the pool table, which create a comfortable roomy atmosphere. The multiple TV screens rather jar with this and inevitably will offer live football.
Few surprises behind the bar: an uninspiring workmanlike selection of beers fills the fridges alongside the usual colours of mixers. However they do propose six cocktail pitchers to share such as ‘Chambulls’ (£12) – vodka, sparkling wine and Red Bull – and a full cocktail list is coming. Wine is limited to two whites and two reds (good value at least at under £10 a bottle) plus two Champagnes. Overall the Player has a whiff of chain marketing about it but feels smarter and cosier than many despite its size.


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