Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Smoak, Malmaison Hotel - Manchester

Smoak is Malmaison Manchester's new restaurant; a big, bold brasserie marketing itself as an homage to the grill, good provenance and plenty of meat.

Situated on the ground floor of the hotel you're greeted by friendly staff dressed down in jeans and converse, in a bid by the hotel to tell you that this isn't a stuffy old hotel restaurant; it's got mixologists and stripped zinc and house wine served in tumblers - it's cool don't cha know it?

Smoak's sunken bar

This theme carries in to the bar area; all leather, neon and vintage accessories, bumping out the we're cool, gritty and industrial vibe - which I suppose is what a grill feels it should be, rather than starched table clothes and silver service. There's at counter dining with a short bar menu for the pushed business man and there's a cocktail menu with the house signature, the Smoak Stack. Served a little impractically in a kilner jar (the lid kept dripping on my leg), the Smoak Stack is a very drinkable mix of buffalo trace bourbon, pear juice, caramel liqueur and smoked apple wood smoke from the 'smoaking' gun - it's a big cocktail, with a big price (£9). Lifting the lid off the smoke rises out, a wonderful scent and piece of theatre hammering home the message that all their meat is cooked on a josper grill and meat needs wood smoke, yadda yadda.
Smoak Stack

The restaurant's a two tier affair of well spaced tables - the pared back theme runs through with rough grey walls, bare faced grey columns and zinc tumblers for your water. We had a great seat opposite the meat fridge; a glass fronted affair with steaks stacked high and hanging carcasses - it was total meat porn and is worth a trip to salivate at this alter of the beast.

Meat porn, er I mean fridge...

As with all hotel menus, Smoak's is a bit of a mismatch, pleasing all punters rather than concentrating on one direction; therefore there's salads, a curry, fish fingers and pasta - we decided to order off the grill; why come to a restaurant so keen on marketing this aspect to have a dish we could get somewhere else?

Sausage sampler

The starter of steak tartare was presented elegantly and simply; a large portion of achingly tender, superb quality beef with a heady mix of shallots and capers cutting through the sweet, deep umami flavour of the beef. There's a choice of mild or spicy, however I felt the mild was lively enough, letting the top quality beef sing loud rather than end up as a backing note. A sausage sampler was all there with the flavour, but the portion was small for the £8 and the overly fiddled presentation jarred with the industrial, meaty image Smoak is trying to conjure.
Steak tartare - truly divine, best dish of the evening

The boy felt it rude not to order a steak for mains; the menu lists provenance of each cut including meat from Donald Russels and breeds such as Belted Galoways and Short Horn Cross. The fillet was perfection; exactly as medium rare should be. A tender, well flavoured and obviously quality piece of meat that had been granted the care and attention it commanded.

Side of bone marrow

The baked half shells was an impressive dish - half a lobster, crab, a fat juicy scallop, prawns, crayfish, razor clams, clams and mussels galore; all coated in a buttery garlic sauce richly flavoured with the aniseed kiss of fennel. The sauce was brilliantly and expertly tasteful, and lashings off it too; most of the dish was cooked to absolute perfection, however the lobster claws and razor clams were chewy and overcooked - a gripe I would usually overlook when the rest of the dish was so sublime; were it not for the £35 price tag.
Half baked shells
Expert cooking and flavouring followed in to the puddings; a fruit terrine, wafer thin slivers of fruit in a champagne jelly, was as excellent, light, sublime creation; an inspired bright flash of mint creating a fresh, delightful end to a meal. The baked alaska was a very sweet treat, but didn't stand up to the height standard of the terrine - the sponge weirdly tasted shop bought and was very hard and the small garnish of strawberry sauce could have been larger adding an interesting, sharp edge to a very sweet dish, rather than the red dribble it was.
The food at Smoak is, overall, very good - it's large plates of food, given the time and quality of cooking it affords with excellent, attentive and well informed service. There's a large selection of drinks and a good choice of wines by the glass from a well stocked cellar, rather than the ubiquitous vinegary pinot grigiot. The only real issue is the price; Lounge 10 is offering a fillet AND plenty of sides for £22 and Smoak's is £30 for a fillet, a small piece of bone marrow and a mushroom - whether this is a calculated ploy aimed at those on expenses or the need to recoup the installing of a josper (£18k just for the grill I've heard), I'm not sure; but don't they know there's a recession on?!

Price for one cocktail, one beer, four glasses of wine (all different), two starters, two mains, two puddings, two sides and one port (service not included) - £141.85

Food - 8/10
Service - 8/10
Atmosphere - 8/10
Value for money - 6/10

Total - 30/40

Go again - I'd go back, but only if someone else was paying! (Or I'd not order a steak as some of the other mains are pretty well priced!).

Smoak, Manchester Malmaison, Piccadilly, Manchester M1 1LZ - 0161 278 1000 - smoak.manchester@malmaison.com

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