Restaurant review: Urban Cookhouse (Manchester)

Food 0/5     Atmosphere 0/5

What is commendable, and indeed ‘unique’, about this place, is that everything they put in front of you tastes of nothing at all; and when I say ‘nothing’, I truly, from the bottom of my heart, mean no-thing.

With a mind-boggling array of new dining experiences seemingly opening up at the rate of one an hour in Manchester, the city is currently in the throes of an eating revolution. Although with abstract names like Artisan, Scene and Poop (that last one’s mine) the casual eater can be forgiven for being somewhat confused even after they’ve paid the bill.

So, once you get over the initial ‘What does that mean?’ and ‘What is this?’ – then comes the even more difficult soul searching question of whether you like any of it. Because it used to be easy didn’t it. Deciding whether you like Fish and Chips. The fish is moist and succulent. The batter light and crispy. The chips nicely seasoned. Or a steak – was it juicy? Cooked just how you like it?

It is of course more difficult deciding if a Japanese twist on Spaghetti carbonara sates your palate; or whether drinking a cocktail with a burger is a good idea; or indeed, whether forking out a tenner for fusion street food, in a restaurant, inside, is really worth the hassle.

Anyway, with a new menu, Urban Cookhouse, located on Princess Street, on the fringe of the Gay Village, definitely falls into the ‘baffling’ category. Baffling, because it claims to bring: Inspiration from New York’ and ‘a taste of downtown Manhattan to central Manchester’. Yet does nothing of the sort.

As you’d expect the place is nice enough and has the sort of urban feel that we’ve come to expect – shiny Meccanoesque patterns; ghostly, slightly camp purple haze with the occasional hint of classical Greece; shiny grey everywhere; high stools you’ll need a stepladder to access; purple candles and dangling energy efficient lights. It’s lunch hour on a Thursday and the place is almost empty.

In fact, it is so dim that we opt for a window highchair. The menu is grey and bleak and surprisingly contains very little. I opt for the Gin Cured Salmon for starter. If it was ‘gin soaked’, then it soaked any flavour out of this sweet delicate fish. It is mushy and bland. (And I’m guessing defrosted about a half hour before we arrived.) The pecans, being earthy and crunchy, make no sense at all, the same with the accompanying pancakes, which were dry and added nothing to the dish. My companions choose the Potato Gnocchi – which was drenched in oil – and the Sweet Potato Soup, which was bland, way too grainy, and came with two dry half bitten morsels of coconut.

For mains I went for Rhode Island Chowder, which contained no clams and tasted – when push comes to shove – of tinned vegetable soup. It came with a side order of cock and bollocks, that is: two balls of some tasteless starchy substance and a burnt stick of streaky bacon stuck in the middle. We also had the Seared Duck Breast, one piece of which was raw, the dish was covered in a sickly sweet marmalade sauce; a burning cinnamon stick completed this uninspired dish – the ash gracefully fell all over the meat.

As I said the menu is sparse, but the dessert option contains almost nothing. With three options, none of which was slab of New York cheesecake, it doesn’t look promising.

Now, I don’t know what the chef was smoking when he came up with Mexican Rice Pudding, or whether I was high when I ordered it. But, it was undercooked and went doolally on the cinnamon. The lovely waitress – hands down for staying positive throughout the whole experience – informed us that the tequila in the accompanying chocolate paste made it Mexican. Maybe, but I couldn’t taste it; and besides, I was expecting something with chili anyway. The Midnight Manhattan, strawberry soufflé, was nice, but the Pumpkin Panna Cotta, you’ve guessed it, missed the mark, and didn’t taste of anything.

Even more baffling than the food, is that the kitchen seems intent on arranging your food into various phallic symbols – possibly a talking point – but personally I only found marginally funny.

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