Think fine dining is just for meat-eaters? This tasting menu will prove you wrong…
Vegetarians are now spoiled for choice when it comes to eating out, but fine dining remains an exception to the rule. How often have you seen a meat-free meal that’s surprising and innovative, that truly pushes the boundaries of culinary creativity? Us neither.
it’s of a calibre you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in Manchester
That’s why Restaurant MCR’s vegetarian tasting menu is such a rarity. Conceived by renowned chef-owner Aiden Byrne (who was the youngest chef to win a Michelin star, at just 22), it’s of a calibre you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in Manchester.
We know this because two of us, both hardened carnivores, visited recently to try it. And it wasn’t just the menu that made for an exceptional evening: service was warm and friendly, no pretensions whatever, and the interior just as welcoming; a mellow space of chilled music and comfy booths, with industrial accents and a dramatic theatre kitchen. There’s even a tranquil roof terrace.
But back to the vegetarian tasting menu, which comes in two versions: six-course and nine-course. Naturally we chose the latter, resisting the optional £60 wine flight and instead plumping for a cocktail to start and three wines to accompanying some of the later dishes; all very well chosen by the affable sommelier.
After an initial surprise of caramelised butter and homemade bread, the odyssey began with baked potato mousse and Girolles mushroom. Served in a quirky wooden pot, this is made by infusing baked potato with milk (to put it very simply) and comes topped with potato crisps and wild grains for a little welcome crunch. Girolles throughout and a broth at the bottom add an extra punch of flavour.
Next up was cauliflower cheese croquette with truffle emulsion - a bit like mayo, and made with three different cheeses including crispy grated Parmesan. Croquettes also hit the spot, slightly crunchy outer giving way to a creamy inner…ooh yes.
Time for a palate cleaner in charentais melon, pine honey and pickled green strawberry; a dish that uses lots of produce sourced from Lymm, near Byrne’s pub The Church Green. Elderflower is turned into both pickling vinegar for the strawberries and a refreshing sorbet, while honey comes from a local producer in Bowden and is infused with pine spruce for a pleasing floral complexity.
Baby artichoke, artichoke fudge and umami broth was next - appearing like something from Outer Space on its striking Asian-inspired dish. Crispy tapioca and nori seaweed cracker, creamy Jerusalem artichoke fudge and a sea kelp and mushroom broth poured from a glass teapot…it’s a dynamic medley of taste and texture.
Roasted peach, sweetened chicory and gingerbread was equally unexpected; a sweet-savoury combination that worked a treat. Roasted peach with Sichuan peppercorns sits atop a piece of gingerbread, enhanced with mulled spices; accompanied by white chicory cooked in coffee and sugar, plus black cardamom for a little smokiness. Peach sorbet, meanwhile, adds a cleansing lift.
After a little surprise (we’re keeping schtum) came avocado, spirulina and beetroot: an earthly blend of salt-baked beetroot, spirulina and avocado puree and avocado balls for bite. Skyr yoghurt provides a welcome creaminess, much like whey sauce in the following dish. Slightly cheesy but subtle at once, this is the perfect accompaniment to a medley of Tokyo turnips, asparagus, braised salsify and onions; contrasting flavours that here work in harmony.
Finally, it was time for the first dessert - a chocolate sponge base and brownie with cherries and sweet woodruff; a wild herb, picked from Byrne’s back garden and steeped in cream to make panna cotta. The second pudding, dainty macaroon-like Manchester tarts, were no less satisfying; topped with freeze-dried raspberries and desiccated coconut, and hiding a creamy centre.
Dessert brought its own surprise but, again, we’ll leave that to you to discover…
Now well and truly full, we had to turn down the optional £15 cheese selection. Reluctantly finishing our Dow’s fine ruby port (ingeniously served cold for extra flavour), we bid Restaurant MCR farewell. What an evening.
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