Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Artisan - Manchester

I am unashamedly middle class. I'm not going to make excuses for my up-bringing, values and identity. I'm not going to pretend anymore, or make a mockery of where I fall in society - yes I worry about minor infringements of manners and I really like aspirational magazine; there's nothing wrong with being in the middle sometimes.

And that's why I like Artisan, the new-ish Spinnigfields offering from Living Ventures (Australaisa, Oast House, Alchemist). Artisan is not trying to be fine dining, it's not trying to be hipishly down-at-heel, it's not trying to push boundaries and it's not jumping on any bandwagon. It's just a comfortable, relaxed space, with great food and good drinks.

We visited mid-week and were pleasantly surprised that a) it was pretty busy for mid-week and b) that the vast, 12,000 ft space seemed really rather cosy. As with other Living Ventures concerns, there's been a conscious and very obvious effort to ensure the design encapsulates everything this space is about - comfort, cosiness, chatting with your friends, with a touch of something special to make you feel great being there.

As with all Living Ventures places, the staff have been expertly trained - we were met, welcomed and seated by genuinely friendly people and the staff knew most of the curve ball questions we threw at them (bar the whiskey question, but they were good enough to go and find out from the well-stocked bar).

The premise at Artisan is to relax and order food to share - we took advantage of this attitude and ordered a phalanx of nibbles and starters:
  • Olives; you can actually go wrong with olives, but Artisan have been clever enough to ensure they're bloody fresh and bunged a load of herbs on top.
  • Focaccia with dips; the bread was super fresh and straddled the just salty enough line with aplomb - the accompanying dips could have been a little more punchy, but we made up by dipping it in the camembert.
  • Baked camembert; melty cheese, what could be better? Artisan sprinkle said melty cheese with pine nuts and rosemary - simple, but inspired.
  • BBQ pork rib; a massive hunk of meat, soft and succulent in a pretty good BBQ sauce. The sauce could have been a bit more zingy, but was tasty enough for us to lick our fingers afterwards.
  • Wood baked sardines; out of the starters, this was the bum dish. The salsa
    that accompanied the fish had a great kick, but the sardines were dry and served on an over sized piece of wood. Now I understand Artisan's schtick is to cook stuff in the wood-fired oven, but the fish to wood ratio was ridiculous and we couldn't see how the wood had affected the taste of the fish.
  • Baked mussels - we thought these would be horribly chewy, having been in the oven, but this dish was amazing. Moules marinares steamed to perfection under a dough duvet - I'm not sure if you're meant to eat the crust, but it made a great plate to mouth transport devise for the sweetly, garlic rich sauce.
As we reached mains, we decided to save our waists a little and order only one dish apiece. The pulled pork burger was a solid, comforting dish with plenty of salty, soft meat. The salt baked sea bass was a star of a dish; perfectly steamed and seasoned in its salt crust, with the added theatre of it being hammered out of said crust by a member of the waiting staff, whilst we watched, goggled eyed.

Unfortunately my dish of pork tenderloin, let the side down. The dish itself was a great contrast of sweet and sharp tastes; apples and a mustard sauce cutting through the sweet fattiness of the pork. However the pork itself was over cooked, dry and slightly chewy - a shame, as if it had been spot on, this may have been the winning dish of the evening.

We were stuffed, but salted caramel baked bananas was too much like yum for us to turn down, so we
managed to find space - glad we did, simple yet delicious, the gingerbread ice cream was a perfect match for the warm, gooey, savoury-ish bananas.

Artisan is a great space; the food is mostly excellent, the staff are brilliant and it's not too heavy on the pocket (unless you try and eat the whole menu, like us gluttons). For a simple, laid back and definitely better than middle-of-the-road meal, go visit.

Price for five starters, three mains, two sides, three puddings, two cocktails, three beers, a whisky and two glasses of pudding wine: £139.85

Food - 7/10
Atmosphere - 8/10
Service - 9/10
Value for money - 7/10

Total - 32/40

Go again - yes, it's a great place to hang out with friends.

Artisan, Avenue North, 18-22 Bridge Street, Spinningfields, Manchester M3 3BZ - - 0161 832 4181 - Twitter - Facebook

Please note, I was given this meal gratis, but as you can see from my varied review of the dishes, I wasn't under any obligation to say anything nice.
Artisan on Urbanspoon

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