Tag Archive for: 20 Stories

A head for heights? Most certainly as long as I‘ve a cocktail in my hand or, better still, a series of small plates arriving against a panoramic backdrop. To satisfy my needs, every high rise development these days seems to come with a rooftop bar or restaurant. At the Manchester version of Soho House, due later this year, they are even throwing in a swimming pool eight storeys up below its bar and I note that the ubiquitous Gino D’Acampo has been getting in on the act over in Liverpool, opening an eponymous Sky Bar Terrace at the top of the INNSiDE by Meliá hotel.

It may be that city’s highest alfresco restaurant and bar, but at 270 ft it’s a mere molehill compared with the tallest viewpoint I’ve visited – Chicago’s Willis Tower, the Western Hemisphere’s third highest building at 1,730ft. One caveat, its Sky Deck with jutting-out glass Ledge is the same height (1,450ft) as the top of that old stager, New York’s Empire State.

Both dwarf our own Shard in London, which stands at a mere 1,020ft. One advantage is that the 72nd floor viewing gallery is partially open air, offering views of the pinnacle, as well as 360-degree views around the building. I’m still gob struck by how tiny Tower Bridge looked from 800ft above.

All of which brings us to Manchester’s 20 Stories, whose major selling point is its huge outdoor terrace and bar (with appropriate shelters for when the city’s weather lives up to its reputation). At 300ft, it’s a glamorous, stunning spot to take in the ever-changing skyline and cityscape (see main image). You can understand its appeal as a special place for a drink and a people watch. The wine list is arguably the best in town, but food quality has been variable with a constant change of head chefs since its inception in 2018. 

I dined there recently, road-testing their new five-course tasting menu, available Monday to Thursday, 5.30pm-8.pm. It started well with a vegan opener of broccoli steak with horseradish and lemon, but after that it didn’t live up to its £65 a head price. A better bet is to pick from the more casual Terrace Menu, perhaps mixing and matching tomato, basil and parmesan arancini, truffle fries and BBQ flat iron steak tacos with a tipple or two from their Aperol Cocktail Menu.

Black Friar, Salford – keeping it down to earth

Casual and al fresco is a good way to go in this sweltering summer and the maturing  ground-level garden of the re-born Black Friar is a choice spot, even if there is no view to speak of. Well, who would want to ogle the traffic hurtling down Trinity Way? By chance, it has chef connections with 20 Stories. Aiden Byrne, launch chef there, was scheduled to do the same for the Black Friar but pulled out around Pandemic time; his replacement Ben Chaplin came from… you guessed it. 

His 20 Stories fine dining pedigree was obvious when I first sat down to eat in the newly planted garden with its big fence two summers ago. A couple of dishes were over-elaborate for what was aimed as a gastropub. The menu has since settled down  from trying to balance all this with ‘pub classics’, maintaining high quality ingredients while  taking fewer risks.

It is good they are still making the most of their urban greenery, though when we went recently to sample their summer ‘Garden Menu’ gusty showers weren’t doing it any favours.This particular menu is served straight from the outdoor bars, so we benefited from its canopy and ski heaters. And a couple of goblets of holy Gavi to heal the soul. There’s a choice of three amply topped flatbreads, including an artichoke version for vegans, who can also dive into a Falafel Friar Bowl. Alongside the charcuterie and cheese platters sat our big extra temptation, definitely not plant-based: Honey-glazed Ham Hock with Welsh rarebit and pickled onions. The Black Friar is very generous with its pickles and, alas with a mountain of coleslaw that accompanied the hock. As a £17 sharing plate this was a meal in itself. We took the half-stripped bone home with us. Combined with yellow split peas and stock, it formed an un-seasonally  ballasting soup that lasted us all next day. As blazing sunshine reappeared.

Queen Bee with a red dot, signature vol au vents – it must be Climat

The other end of Blackftriars Street and Chris Laidler is showing off his stings on the rooftop terrace of Climat, now home to four hives and 40,000 bees, including a Queen, marked with a red dot. The wine-led restaurant’s founder and his exec chef Luke Richardson also brought back from Hampshire a further 50,000 bees that are now ensconced at their respective homes in Wrexham and Chester – all contributing honey to Climat and sister restaurant Covino in Chester, a place I also really love.

Chris tells me they expect the total of 90,000 bees will swell to 500,000 over the summer before reducing in size to weather the winter months. He’s resigned to the occupational hazards of bee-keeping – despite wearing the full gear to handle them. He’s more worried that there’ll be enough opportunities for his charges to pollinate in Manchester city centre, even though it’s leafier than you think.

And there is competition. Chris points across the road to the roof of the car park behind the brutalist former Ramada Renaissance, slowly being transformed into the Treehouse Hotel. Here Manchester Cathedral have installed a total of 10 hives in addition to the six already on the cathedral’s roof producing ‘Heavenly Honey’.

It’s amazing what your eye takes in from a great height. On the eighth floor of Blackfriars House, Climat actually benefits from not being up in the stratosphere. I prefer the more intimate nosiness of being level or slightly above rival rooftops, so you don’t miss intricate features. Seen from the outside terrace (well away from the swarms) or through floor-to -ceiling plate glass. Perhaps with a 500cl carafe of Bourgogne Aligoté at your elbow – ‘is that honey on the nose?’ – and a signature vol au vent while awaiting a small plates parade of what Luke dubs his ‘Parisian expat food’.

Twenty years ago Le Mont restaurant opened at the top of Urbis. Aspirational dining in the Manchester building that most symbolised renewal in the aftermath of the IRA bombing. I was a beneficiary of this bright new dawn, accompanying chef Robert Kisby and his team on a pre-launch photoshoot in the Bollinger Cellars and vineyards. The tie-in? Spreading the glitzy glad tidings that Le Mont was to host the first Bolly bar outside London.

It all came rushing back the other evening on the 19th floor rooftop terrace of 20 Stories, with its stupendous view across the city (Le Mont at half at the height was hindered by the architect’s choice of window frosting). In my hand was a glass of bubbly, but not Champagne. Nyetimber Classic Cuvée to accompany some canapés. Cementing the brand’s partnership with the glamorous restaurant/bar du jour. The link is due in no small part, I suspect, to the arrival of D&D London’s northern head sommelier Andreas Rosendal (pictured above), an English Wine regional judge for the Decanter Magazine Awards.  

The country’s sparkling wine has undoubtedly been spearheaded by Nyetimber, created by pioneering Americans who had made their fortunes in the dental industry. They saw the potential in a Sussex terroir not unlike Champagne. Did they also anticipate the boost climate change might bring to the ripening process?

The first Nyetimber vines were planted above Pulborough in 1988, the debut harvest was four years later and then Eureka! The first wine, the 100 per cent Chardonnay 1992 Premiere Cuvée Blanc de Blancs won gold at the 1997 International Wine and Spirit Competition. It was the springboard for a procession of awards as Nyetimber expanded to blend the full range of Champagne grape varieties – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier.

I sampled the current version of Blanc de Blancs (£18.50) during our visit to the vine-strewn terrace of 20 Stories. It was gorgeous. I concur with the tasting note of one of the sommelier team, Callum Black: “Aromas of citrus and honeysuckle lead into subtle brioche and vanilla characters. The palate offers generous yet elegant notes of baked lemon and white peach with the warmth of the vintage shining through. Subtle mineral notes accentuate the fresh, crisp acidity, leading to a long and complex finish.”

Over the years the Nyetimber operation has changed hands. There was an obvious chuckle to be had when it was sold to Andy and Nichola Hill, best known for writing the Eurovision winner, Making Your Mind Up, for Bucks Fizz (sic). But the real push towards Nyetimber’s current eminence came when ex-venture capitalist Eric Heerema bought it fr £7.4m in 2006 and soon installed Canadian duo Cherie Spriggs and Brad Greatrix as winemakers. They’re still there, sourcing grapes from over 260 hectares of vineyards (with on stream a further 70 hectares planted across various sites). 

It’s big business. Millions of pounds have been invested in a new winery and state of the art equipment with yearly production predicted to reach 2 million bottle by 2025. Yet when Robin Skelton, for his 2019 book, The Wines of Great Britain, asked Heerema if there was a profit on the horizon he replied: “Yes, but not yet within our grasp.”

Skelton admires this single-minded dedication to quality and so do I. Impressive though the early wines were, they are far more impressive now, underpinning classic bread and apples on the nose with a distinctive tinge of mushroominess, then freshness on the palate and great length, even at entry level (they also now offer daringly expensive prestige versions).

According to Jancis Robinson’s magisterial website the Classic Cuvée regularly gets better scores than non-vintage equivalents from Roederer, Pol Roger and, yes, Bollinger. So still more than holding their own against burgeoning number UK claimants for the UK sparkling crown – Gusbourne, Rathfinny, Wiston and the rest. My own favourite in The Trouble With Dreams from Dermot Sugrue’s boutique South Downs operation. He severed a 16 year connection with Wiston this year and was once winemaker at Nyetimber. Dynastic? Who would have ever have believed in such a wondrous world  of bubbles.

20 Stories is offering an End of Summer celebration dinner, four courses paired with Nyetimber wines

20 Stories’ Vineyard in the Sky promotion continues with the Classic Cuvée at £14.95 a glass with five other Nyetimbers right up to the Prestige Cuvee 1086 Rosé at £330 a bottle.

A good chance to sample the range and match with food comes on Thursday, September 29. Th venue is offering a four course ‘End of Summer Dinner’, wines included, for £70 a head. Book here.