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01 February 2003

Chine Rouge, Manchester

Wine magazine (UK) February 2003 issue:
Chine Rouge, 54 Faulkner Street, Manchester M1 4FH.
0161 236 8998, www.chinerouge.co.uk
Restaurant 4.5/5 Wine list 3/5

(That website doesn't work anymore and, although I found the restaurant listed elsewhere, the link to it also didn't work. So I don't know if it's still open: anyone who knows more, please email me...)

This grand swish establishment is a newcomer to Chinatown and offers refinement, cosiness and high camp courtesy of Manchester institution Francis Carroll (of Lounge Ten fame). The interior is glorious: black painted and red padded walls neatly matching red benches, low black armchairs and red stained wooden floorboards. A giant Buddha sits observing amidst candles, Chinese umbrellas above on the roof, marble-affect pillars ornamented with kitsch oriental designs and a large painting of two Geishas or lady-boys drinking.

The menu aims for an ambitious French/Far Eastern crossover and certainly delivered in terms of freshness, variety and quality. Just two criticisms really: it’s a bit pricey, e.g. £3 for a bottle of mineral water, and a bit chilly (room temperature rather than atmosphere). However the food was delicious and beautifully cooked. For starters the idiosyncratic dish of Calamari & Frogs’ Legs in salt & chilli pepper (£6) was proclaimed “the best frogs’ legs ever” by a companion. Jumbo Prawns (£6) materialised as three large langoustine-like beasts, which were meaty, fresh and so hot I couldn’t peel them straight away. The moist yet textured Cuttlefish Cakes (£5) with Vietnamese dip were also flavoured with crabmeat and coriander; three small ones just didn’t suffice!

The sauce for the Pan-fried Halibut (£11) was a little non-descript but it didn’t matter, as the fish was superb oozing just from the sea flavour (although not so warm). The Pan Woked Chicken Chow Mein (£6.50) came in tender flavour-infused strips with lots of veg and noodles. Thai Stir-fried King Prawns (£11) sat comfortably in a tasty hot and sweet sauce. On the side we had very crispy thin noodles (£3.50) and two lovely vegetable dishes: garlicky smoky Pak Choi (£3.50) and ginger-laden Beansprouts (£3). Oriental restaurants often disappoint on the dessert front, so the wide choice here was welcomed. The abundant Fresh Fruit Platter (£6) was ideal to finish: piles of melon, raspberries, strawberries, pineapple, kiwi, cumquat plus mango sorbet. The pastry around the Banana Spring Rolls (£6) was a tad dry but the nice runny sweet centre compensated.

Chine Rouge didn’t score so well with the drinks. On our visit they had no Chablis or Sancerre and several wines were different to those on the list; also no Tiger or Chinese beer. “We’re between lists; we’ve changed suppliers,” was the apologetic but logical explanation. The house white (South African Sauvignon Blanc) and red (French Syrah) cost £3 per 175ml glass or £12 a bottle. 2002 Vistasur Sauvignon was dear at £16 (actually the price of the listed New Zealand SB) but charmed with its crowd-pleasing Chilean style, showing aromatic citrus fruit and soft acidity. The Delegat’s 2000 Hawkes Bay Reserve Chardonnay (£23) offered more weight and richness with toasty creamy barrel-fermentation notes. Confusion and omissions aside, the overall selection is OK and features several (rather expensive) Champagnes as well. The service was friendly and professional throughout.

Bordeaux: Pomerol "invasion of MW students"

Part 1 - Vieux Château Certan
Part 2 - Châteaux Le Pin and Gazin
Click here to read it...

01 January 2003

Kro2, Manchester

Wine magazine (UK) January 2003 issue: Kro2, Oxford Road, Manchester M1 (next to BBC).
Tel. 0161 236 1048.

Range: very good wine list, plenty of whiskies and decent continental beers. Atmosphere: spacious, very lively but stylish. Clientele: students with money, 20/30-somethings on the town. Bar snacks: good selection and well-priced, restaurant area too. Drinks list: 4/5.

This independently owned mini-group is churning out sequels faster than Hollywood. Kro Bar opened to acclaim a couple of years ago further down Oxford Road in the heart of the University, and a third is being constructed occupying part of the Manchester Museum nearby (Kro3 perhaps?). But who cares when they look this smart and offer good quality drinking and eating.

Clever puns aside, the name is actually derived from the Danish word for pub, and a glance at the menu confirms a Scandinavian twist: owner Mark Ruby has family origins in Denmark. Kro2 is a huge stunning space, housed in the right hand ground floor portion of the National Computing Centre. The ceilings tower above you, emphasised by simple but elegant hanging lights, tall chunky concrete columns and metal struts boxed around silver air conditioning ducts along the glazed frontage. Painted mostly white offset by dark brown wooden chairs and wall banquettes, the marble floor and occasional high tables also add a touch of class. There’s plenty of room for hundreds in here, plus heated canopied seating outside too (well, it is Manchester).

The wine list features a wide, even bold selection and isn’t expensive. The only criticism is the lack of wines by the glass: just the house red, white, Cava and Champagne in fact. Otherwise prices run from £12 a bottle – Bellefontaine Viognier from southern France and False Bay Pinotage/Shiraz from the Cape – to £35 for Vallet’s Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Cazetier, actually not a bad price for this silky charmer. There are ten whites under £15, including two from Alsace, and eclectic bottles such as Ninth Island Pinot Gris from Tasmania (£19). They offer even more reds: Pasetti’s Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (£13) was quite rich and very Italian, smothered in dried morello cherry fruit. Pity about some dodgy spellings – can any establishment get Taittinger right?

The after dinner drinks’ list has 12 malts from £2.50 to £7 for 21 Year Old Glenmorangie, taking in several island and Islay drams. The Scandinavian influence shows with a limited range of vodkas – only Finlandia and Absolut on view (the ones with the biggest marketing budget probably?) – and absence of a cocktail list (“we don’t really do cocktails”) could be a let down for some.

The food we ordered was decent enough, well priced and substantial: 3 types of marinated herring with a shot of Akvavit (£4.25); reasonable, generous salad Niçoise (£3.25); Danish Frikadeller (£4.95), tasty but salty pork and veal meatballs; and Spinach Cakes (£5.95), totalling one large one.

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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