Tag Archive for: The Alan

Meat is Murder, Morrissey’s prescient plant-based message, remains a strident soundtrack to veganism, in harmony now with the methane-blamers in the battle against global warming. And yet to yoke mass-produced, factory-farmed supermarket protein with enlightened sustainable animal husbandry yielding remarkable, healthy produce is a travesty.

Read my piece on the farming practices supplying Higher Ground, in the running to be Manchester’s restaurant standard bearer, then eat there to see what all the fuss is about. At the moment it is just acorn-fed free range pork (I hugely recommend the pig’s head terrine) on the menu. from Jane’s Farm in Cheshire but soon its grass-fed beef will feature too, not a scrap of the animal wasted. Higher Ground is sharing the first Dexter cross carcass with fellow newcomer Climat.

They are not alone in championing beef. These days few retired milkers can look forward  to a long retirement, just a few years’ extra grazing to mature their flesh for the grill or pot. At the recent launch of Stock Market Grill – formerly Tom Kerridge’s Bull & Bear –in the Stock Exchange Hotel head chef Joshua Reed-Cooper served us ex-dairy Friesian rib eye steak (substantial, so £55).

Excellent as that rib-eye was, it was trumped at another hotel dining room I’d almost written off after the departure of exec head chef Iain Thomas,who had launched it to acclaim. His permanent replacement at The Alan is James Hulme, as meat savvy as any chef around. When he ran his own restaurant, The Moor, in Heaton Moor he struck up a working relationship with a farm near Buxton, he told us across the chef’s counter.

“I used to take three ewes at a time, drive them to the abattoir. I didn’t kill them myself but I think you should be able to kill stuff if you want to eat it. Many chefs, even at top places, have no idea which part of a cow different cuts come from.” 

With such knowledge he embraces the farm to fork ethos, extracting the maximum use of a beast. It took half an hour to prepare our 800g of retired dairy cow, James’s sous chef treating it first to a dose of searing flames. In all its final crimson glory it’s a wonderful mouthful with enough left over for three days of doggie bags for Captain Smidge the chihuahua. £85 the cost, but there’s ample and beyond.

Our little dog was never going to be brought back any of the Pomme Anna style confit beef fat chips – glistening gold  slabs of carb crisped in fat from the animal’s beef cap, which also fuels the best beef tartare in the city, lubricated by whipped bone marrow. It’s made distinctive by chopped gherkins and cured egg yolk plus breadcrumbs toasted with beef fat. What else? 

The vegan option is never paramount with this chef who honed his talents working for Gordon Ramsay, Jason Atherton, Marco Pierre White, Tom Aikens and our own Aiden Byrne when launching 20 Stories. Still his plant-based offering is better than most. We enjoyed poached and roasted salsify with apple and red wine but, seasonality decreed that was about to depart the menu, its replacement another off the mainstream radar veg, kohlrabi. And, of course, with that fine dining cv, he can’t resist undermining any vegan potential with a dash of life-enhancing butter. Grilled hen of the woods with ancient grains and whey butter is definitely a dish de nos jours.

But easily our favourite among the small plates was again meat-led. My favourite lamb breast dish is the classic French version, Sainte-Menehould. Slow-braised, then strips of it baked with a mustard and breadcrumb coating. This is simpler, the product of pressing with the addition of that most un-Gallic of tracklements – kimchi. The most delicate of kimchis turned into a ketchup. 

There’s an improved wine list arriving at The Alan and we suspect this chef will not hesitate to up his menu game, too. For the moment it’s good to see one of the city’s coolest venues consolidating its immediate impact despite big changes.

So many Manchester homages to exposed brick are just plain grubby but this wide open space of muted pastels and cute design quirks really sings. With  food to match from James Hulme. Grab a seat at the counter and watch an unsung master at work.

The Alan, 18 Princess Street, Manchester M1 4LG. 01612368999.

The unlikely spectres of Cliff Richard and Paul Kitching haunt my imagination as I dine (magnificently) in a new Manchester hotel that restores my faith in exposed brickwork and small plates. Both the 81-year-old former poster boy of British pop and the one-time enfant terrible of Michelin tasting menus are still going strong. So this is no elegy.

My whimsical connection is The Alan’s former incarnation as the Arora hotel, in which Sir Cliff was a stakeholder, and the cv of current chef Iain Thomas (below), who learnt his trade under Kitching, once of Juniper in Altrincham, a restaurant that married wackiness with true one star quality. A bit like Cliff?

All this was back in the early part of this century and Manchester has moved on. Well, not always. Many incoming hospitality operators feel the need for bee motifs, Hacienda colour schemes and gratuitous homages to Emmeline Pankhurst, Alan Turing or Tony Wilson. 

That could have happened to the old Arora, later the Princess Street Hotel, which had long shed its star appeal. I can’t ascertain when the five Cliff-themed rooms were consigned to history – there ought to be a plaque.

Briefly in the basement the Arora was home to a ‘destination restaurant’, Obsidian. How dated neon-raked images of that doomed project look now. What a contrast to the sustainable core of the refit from the new owners, which strikes you as soon as you enter off Princess Street. The outside sign is so discreet that the ambition of the opened-out lobby/bar takes you aback. Welcome to a relaxed, Shoreditch vibe that continues across the 137 bedrooms of this six storey Grade II listed edifice, all vibrant brickwork and distressed paint.

Congratulations (and jubilations) to the raft of designers name-checked on the website. I was particularly smitten with the lobby floor made from a collage of fragmented and discarded marble pieces, and a bar front “inspired by the M62 that runs round our city” (do they really mean the M60?) consisting of cigarette butts, weeds, flowers all set in a resin.

It is all a playfully welcoming surprise. Yet my object in visiting is to check our Chef Iain’s all-day seasonal menu, with more ambitious small and larger plates in the evening. I first met him when he hosted a game dinner at reinvented old boozer The Edinburgh Castle in Manchester’s Ancoats neighbourhood. As with his predecessor in the kitchen there, Julian Pfizer (now of Another Hand) he was given his head and then the owners seemed to get cold feet about culinary ambition.

The Alan strikes just the right balance. From the off it seems just the kind of relaxed setting and offering if you are a hotel guest but there’s plenty of well-sourced interest on the menu to make it a destination in its own right. Ah, the sourcing. Iain name-checks the city centre Butcher’s Quarter for his meat, while mushrooms are from Polyspore, and  microgreens from Aztec Farms, the vertical farming start-up based at Manchester Science Park. On the drinks list there’s beer from the city’s own Pomona Island and Cloudwater with caffeine input from Ancoats Coffee. The wine list, understandably from further afield, is uninspiring, alas.

Then, provenance one-upmanship. As spring gathers pace expect a very special vegetable input from the chef’s own allotment in Tameside’s Hattersley Projects. I trust him to make the most of it all on the evidence of his impressive track record – in kitchens since 16 with stints at Establishment in Manchester (where Rosso now is), at the “amazing” Paul Kitching’s Michelin-starred 21212 in Edinburgh and s sidekick to Davey Aspin, one of the iconic chef names in Scotland.

At The Alan we asked to try all eight small plates on the menu, all priced around £5 to  £6.50. Attractive looking snacks and meat could await another visit. The plan was to sit at the chef’s table with a perfect eye-line onto the open kitchen, but old bones dictated we retrenched to a booth. 

The dishes came in pairs and were a well-judged mixture of plant-based and flesh. No  duff note with either direction but we were most impressed with the vegan salt-baked celeriac with truffle and sherry vinegar and the cauliflower tikka with cumin, coriander and pomegranate, both managing to be earthy and yet delicate at the same time. Punchier was what threatens to become a Thomas signature dish – lamb fat hispi cabbage. Here lamb trimmings are rendered down and the fat is used to sous vide the cabbage, which is then warmed up in a lamb fat cream emulsion with braised shoulder.

There’s an equal richness to a potato and ox cheek terrine, an elaborate confection where 10 butter-brushed layers of finely sliced potato, a layer of ox cheek and a further 10 spud layers are sandwiched together, and served with blobs of French’s mustard and dill pickle gel.

Undoubtedly there’s an Ottolenghi influence going on. The likes of Confit thighs of Goosnargh chicken are glazed with pomegranate molasses, soy sauce aand mushroom ketchup and, also garnished with nasturtium leaves, that simple Turkish aubergine and tomato dishImam  Bayildi, that translates as “the Imam fainted”.

The Levantine spice palette of cumin, coriander, along with pomegranate arils also permeate Iain’s otherwise classical Cheshire beef tartare, but it’s all lightly handled. Ditto a ceviche of Scottish halibut, where chicory and but orange partner the fish rather than overwhelm. Is any hotel dining menu in Manchester (the obvious exception of Adam Reid at The French apart) better than this?

The Alan, 18 Princess Street, M1 4LG. 0161 236 8999. All rooms feature Emperor sized beds dressed in 200 thread count Egyptian cotton, 50” Samsung Smart TVs with Google Chromecast and pay-per-view movies, superfast Wi-Fi and Audio Pro Bluetooth speakers. The tech-forward hotel is also one of only four in the UK to offer Google Nest smart concierge in all its rooms. There are a variety of rooms on offer, the affordability of which gained The Alan a place in the ’40 UK Hotels For Under £100’ list in the latest Sunday Times.