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Mythical feasts of Mykonos as Fenix lands by the ‘wine dark’ Irwell

Remember Fleet Foxes, Seattle-based purveyors of glorious indie folk harmonies? Eventually they broke up…  like the waves against the pine-fringed shores of Mykonos. The Greek island gave its name to one enigmatic b-side, offering “a vision of a gentle coast/and a sun to maybe dissipate/shadows of the mess you made”.

Its echoes oddly haunt a shimmering Mykonos-influenced lunch in the very different surroundings of on-the-up, post-industrial Manchester. The ‘wine dark’ Irwell flows nearby with Factory International aka Aviva Studios on its banks, making its eye-wateringly expensive cultural statement. Soho House, come spring, is set to provide a playground for the well-heeled colonisers of the former Granadaland. Shall we all sport something Chanel for the opening?

Shiny new £7m Fenix is, of course, feeding off this vibe. If you thought, Tattu, debut restaurant of brothers Adam and Drew Jones, sprinkled gold dust on the dining scene, this new project is pure platinum – a dreamy homage to the destination that has become the ‘Cycladean Ibiza’. Curvy, sea cave surfaces, an ‘olive tree’ naturally and lighting that glows like an Aegean sunset. The bar is dark and moody, the upstairs restaurant, in contrast, boasts “ash-toned driftwood dining chairs paired with decadent marble tables and refined tableware.”

There is no Zorba, Demis or Nana soundtracking our visit. Less bouzouki, more ambient beats. Whatever, I’m not paying much heed. The quality of the small plates arriving grabs me. Starring roles for taramasalata, octopus, lamb and the fluffiest of pitas, all taken to a level way beyond the vacation tavernas of Shirley Valentine (filmed on Mykonos).

I haven’t quite expected this, having sniffed at the presence of Cantonese spiced ribs, wagyu, ceviches and Andean antichucos on the menu (thankfully no Nobu-esque black cod). Then again Tattu never set out to be totally ‘authentic’ Chinese. 

Let me quote the Fenix ‘story’. Every restaurant has to have one these days.“In Greek mythology, the Phoenix represents triumph over adversity, cyclical regeneration and rebirth. Only one of these rare creatures can exist at a time, and each lives for 500 years. As that lifecycle ends, a nest is built and set on fire. From those flames new life arises, and the process continues. Fenix was born into uncertain and challenging times, and its character is its destiny — breathing fresh energy into a Manchester dining scene when it’s most needed.”

Key players in all this are the two chefs they have hired with strong Mykonos links. Executive Head Chef, Ippokratis Anagnostelis and Head Chef, Zisis Giannouras worked together at the high end Kenshō Ornos suites hotel on the island. Anagnostelis’s CV reads like a roll call of Greece’s finest dining spots, including the Michelin-starred Hytran in Athens, putting a contemporary spin on traditional dishes. The influences are obvious at Fenix, but it feels more relaxed than most destination restaurants with service especially impressive just a week in.

So which dishes did I particularly like?

(Once I‘ve decided to pass on the Wagyu Stifado (£85), one dish that has made it over from Kenshō. A treatment where striploin is glazed with wagyu jus, then served with braised onions, spices and cumin potato emulsion, seemed a deconstruction too far.)

Sea bass off the robato, to share (£95)

For a tenner more, a dish that isn’t strictly traditional but feels heart-stoppingly Hellenic – the boned fish stuffed with spinach and shiitake is served with a lemon-yuzu dressing. Oh, and it looks amazing.

Athenian Tartare with Caviar (£19)

No apologies for hitting a bass note again so soon. Fenix offers it ceviche style with a South American dressing of tiger’s milk, avocado, kiwi fruit and jalapeño, but this fresh treatment serving it with saffron, citrus and Ossetra caviar surpasses it.  

Grilled Octopus (£18)

Can’t resist tender cephalod and this comes with an earthy split pea cream and parsley vinaigrette that’s so powerful.

Orzo with langoustine and feta (£32)

A glorious take on a risotto with the rice-like pasta suffused with a rich bisque cut through with the sharp cheese

Broken Down Tart’ (£14.95)

Meat at last. I presume the presentation is an affectionate homage to the Greek taverna tradition of plate smashing (somewhat suppressed nowadays by health and safety issues). This is basically slow-cooked lamb shank and parsnip cream baked tarte tatin style in delicate pastry.

All this came off the a  la carte, which can soon add up, but there is a variety of set menus, including an attractive lunch deal for £31.50. The wine list is a well-balanced, global offering, straying off, as you’d expect into some mega-expensive ‘trophy’ choices. I’m a huge fan of Greek wines and there is representation from quality operators such as Gaia, Thymiopoulos and the late great Haridimos Hatzidakis, who put Santorini on the map as a cult wine spot.

There’s also an inevitable cocktail project, celebrating the four elements that shape the mythical Greek Isles; Water, Earth, Air and Fire. One example: ‘Whirlpool Fizz’ inspired by Charybdis the sea monster that sucked ships to their doom, combining gin with “a silky backbone of stone fruit and tonic”. Down in one then.

Fenix, The Goods Yard Building, Goods Yard Street, Manchester M3 3BG. 0161 646 0231.

  • I was a lunch guest of Fenix’s owners, the Permanently Unique restaurant group. My main image is of Wagyu Stifado.