Readers I have a confession to make - I've visited Vermilion before and I had such an awful experience I swore I would never cross the threshold again. However, Best Friend wanted to spend her birthday there, and who was I to tell her the food was awful, the music was too loud, they refused to serve me tap water and the attitude of the staff would make Gandhi go postal.
In the belief of second chances, fair trials and being grown up about things, I promise I will leave that experience at the door whilst reviewing this time.
Vermilion and Cinnabar (to give it it's proper name) is situated out near Sports City in Manchester. From the outside Vermilion looks exactly like a warehouse, and the surrounding area is a mix of industrial, council estate, new housing and the City football ground. It was initially built in anticipation of the super casino, the plans for this have been shelved.
Vermilion Cinnabar outside - with thanks to the dailymail.co.uk
I have never entered a Bond Villian’s den, nor a Wag’s bedroom, but would not be shocked if they were identical to the décor inside Vermilion. Walls are decked out in black veneer with low level orange lighting and intricately carved wooden patterns. The greeting staff seem to be comprised of mysterious, long legged, beautiful East European ice maidens who, with minimal interaction, immediately whisk parties up to the bar in an incense laden, silent lift.
Walking out into the bar area you are greeted by a long bar made to look like ice opening out into an even lower lit seating area comprising bookable fibre glass pods and other seating. A large column of up-light Buddha’s heads breaks through the floor and drops into the dining room below.
Cinnabar - with thanks to mrdaz.com
The bar was as silent as the staff save for the thudding dance music, I must note we were there early Saturday at 6pm.
Without a word we were immediately taken down to our table without the offer of a drink, once more in the over powering lift – even though the dining room is a mere floor below. We did ask to walk down the stairs, however we were declined.
The dining room is again decked out like an upper class tart's boudoir; low lighting, swivel chairs, marble, black veneer and strong incense. We had booked in for the early menu (I wasn't paying what I had previously paid for a meal that had the potential to be bad).
Vermilion Restaurant - with thanks to Trip Advisor
It was not until the rest of our companions arrived (about ten minutes later), that we were offered drinks - here was the test, would they refuse tap water as before, even after I had got the manager involved? Birthday girl looked on in trepidation as I dared to ask for a glass of corporation pop; and to my relief (and that of the rest of the table), my order was taken and brought back without any quibble, I even got ice!
The early bird menu does not offer much choice, offering just five starters, five mains and three puddings compared to the fourteen pages of the a la carte/set menus.
After placing our order we hardly caught a breath before an amuse bouche arrived; a tiny samosa. Unfortunately it didn't amuse much – although presented mostly well the pastry was a bit thick, soft and with a spiced middle with the underlying taste of stale meat.
With quite a few vegetarians in the group we politely asked if the samosas were vegetarian and were reassured three times, by three different staff members that these were vegetarian - 'a type of pea, madam.' I must say it was the meatiest pea I had ever eaten.
Luckily, us carnivores in the group had started first, we complained twice, and finally a small plate was thrust in front of the veggies. This was a motley collection of flame sultanas, croutons that tasted of stale oil, soft cashews and a sweet, cloying mango chutney that tasted very much as if it had come out of a well-known, green labelled jar. A confused and unamusing concoction if I ever saw one.
Starters came out quite quickly and I was glad I ordered the Yam Ped (grilled duck breast salad with roasted herbs, served with chicory petal). Beautifully displayed, though I could see no chicory petal or roasted herbs (with the level of lighting in the restaurant this wasn't surprising). The dish packed a sour punch with a contrasting crunch from the tamarind dressing compared to the duck which was meltingly soft, if not pink enough for my taste.
Just as I was finishing my dish was whisked away from me whilst my companions were still dining; maybe Bond Villain was becoming bored with our presence, or maybe the restaurant was filling up and us early diners were not welcome any more?
Mains followed swiftly, unlike the starters these weren't presented in any delicate manner - school dinner-esque as I think Birthday Girl mentioned. Whereas I was very satisfied with the Yam Ped, my dish of Pad Thai Khoong Sod - stir fried rice noodles with prawns and tamarind sauce - was lacklustre, under seasoned with tough prawns and greasy noodles.
Course Mate's Veg Thai Green Curry (Kheang Keiaw Waan Jay) was an overly hot dish with a watery sauce - indeed the heat seemed to make up for the lack of flavour and depth, accompanied by awfully disappointing rice - claggy, cold and over done - I won't go on.
Pad Thai Khoong Sod
Token Boy's Nue Pad Nam Hey (Stir Fried Beef and Oyster Sauce) was best described as flabby. I've had better from the greasy chinese round the corner at the end of the night, when drunk, and after I've left it to go cold.
The only redeeming main was Birthday Girl's Chicken Karahi - succulent, aromatic, deep flavoured, wonderful.
Again plates were cleared from the table whilst most of the party were still eating. We asked the waiting staff to stop but they carried on until Birthday Girl very firmly asked them to stop (she can be quite firm!). We relaxed and thought this was the end of premature plate clearing, however Bond Villain’s minions once again swooped in even though three were still eating – at this point we’d been in the restaurant for a mere 35 minutes, hardly out-staying our welcome.
Pudding came out quickly and some who had not ordered before the meal asked if they could in fact order some now, 'you should have ordered at the beginning,' was the courteous answer. Thankfully they were saved the boredom of the puddings: the fruit salad was just fruit in a bowl and the mango cheesecake could have come out of a packet.
To sum up Vermilion it seems to be all looks and no substance - a place where people go to be seen rather than eat the food. Yes the restaurant was designed by Miguel Cancio Martins (Buddha Bar, Man Ray and Opium) and is described as ‘the most luxurious and opulent restaurant and bar in Manchester…(a) lavish hidden gem.’ But like the Wags of Manchester City and casino goers it seeks to attract it is nothing more than style over substance and I wish it would stay hidden.
Please visit this place if you really enjoy flashing cash to impress, spray tans, leopard print, cleavage on show coupled with short skirts, high prices and bookable pods that come with thudding music and Verve. If you enjoy good food, courteous service and substance then please stay away.
Pre-theatre early bird menu everyday between 5 and 7pm –
2 courses for £12
3 courses for £15
Described as ‘for those in a rush…luxury food, service and atmosphere before the theatre..’ Indeed rushed, but in now way luxury in any category.
NB - although which theatre you will be attending near to Sport City I have no idea, unless you believe football to be the theatre of the masses.
Value for money: 4/10
Vermilion and Cinnabar, Hulme Hall Lane/Lord Street North, Sport City, Manchester M40 8AD – 0161 225 0055