Climat, 8th Floor, Blackfriars House, Manchester M3 2JA (0161 710 2885). Snacks £4-£7.50, larger plates £7.50-£24, sharing plates £30-£70, desserts £5.50-£8.50, wines from £29
No one will ever write romantic poetry about the entrance to Climat in Manchester. Words like “blunt” and “austere” are never likely to make hearts tremble. As if Climat should care. Only restaurants dependent on passing trade need worry about their lip-glossed looks, and right now nobody is coming here accidentally. Climat, open for only three weeks the night I visit, is every kind of hot. Manchester is a big bustling city, but faced by a new venture that everyone agrees is doing all the good things in all the right ways, it behaves like the sweetest kind of village. The good news passes swiftly from digital ear to digital ear.
So tread down the hallway of this office block, located in a shadowed street some way behind Deansgate. Take the lift up eight floors to the purpose-built rooftop dining room, with its outside terrace for the summer months, and see for yourself. The long, sharp-edged space houses an equally long open kitchen fringed by a counter. Tonight, all the counter seats are taken, as are the tables, and there is a pleasing whiff of smoke on the air from the grill at the far end. A glass wall looks out over the skyline. The view recalls the touching illustrations from Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen, the outcrops of Victorian grandeur sitting shoulder to shoulder with the shinier modern blocks and their golden-lit squares of window, silhouetted against the ink-black sky.
Now look down at the menu, and clock that you’ve come to the right place. Chef Luke Richardson, who has time with Gary Usher’s bistros on his CV, describes it as “Parisian expat food”, which perhaps makes most sense to those who have worked there. They also describe it, more helpfully, as “food you want to eat”. That’s better. It’s hard not to fall in adult love with a list that kicks off with hash browns topped with whorls of taramasalata, and a vol-au-vent filled with lamb keema.
The name Climat references consciously the importance of weather to the nurturing of great wines and perhaps, unconsciously its importance to nurturing the stoic character of great Mancunians. It’s the second venture from Christopher Laidler, owner of the small wine bar Covino in Chester. Accordingly, wine is a major part of the deal. There’s a strong one-page list available by the glass and carafe, as well as a bigger document full of Burgundy’s finest at reasonable prices. Order a bottle from the Chablis list and they may bring it to you a few degrees above chilled, as is the fashion. Don’t be afraid to insist it be introduced to an ice bucket. As our waiter says, “It’s your wine.” It is indeed.
Now we need something to eat. Start with chewy slices of their focaccia bathing in ponds of the best olive oil. Follow that with the vol-au-vent, a 70s classic which has grown up and learned a few things about the world. The puff pastry here is golden and deeply enriched, like a puffy brioche, and stuffed with spiced minced lamb, topped with pickled fresh chillies and deep-fried curry leaves. Fight over the last lamb-fat-glazed crumbs. Follow that with a golden block of their hash browns, the crisp, textured exterior giving way to a maternal softness, with a back note of dill. Use it as a vehicle for their creamy take on tarama.
The dishes get bigger as you work your way down. A whole aubergine has been roasted until it has surrendered and slumped, the smoky skin bursting to reveal the pale flesh. It is dressed with a mix of tahini, buttermilk and handfuls of toasted pine nuts, topped in turn with a tangle of shredded radicchio to bring a bitter note to the proceedings. They like grown-up touches of bitterness at Climat. It’s there in a purée of lime pickle, which clings to the edge of a plate of spiced gurnard; a thick piece from the tail end that has been skin down on the grill until it is blackened. There are ribbons of pickled cucumber, folded over each other as if part of a dressmaker’s set, and a deep puddle of a rich, enfolding gravy they simply call “curry sauce”, littered with more fried curry leaves.
Not everything works. A risotto is so desperately sludgy, I find myself wondering whether it came from the same kitchen. There is at least a toffeed chewiness to the roasted Jerusalem artichokes with which it is topped. Push it to one side, because here comes something from the short list of grills to be shared, priced from £30 for the Tamworth pork chop with smoked beets to £70 for a Dexter sirloin. We have the duck at £55. It’s the whole crown. Both breasts have been slowly cooked over the coals until the meat is still a reassuring shade of pink with the skin the colour of amber, then taken off the bone. It comes with a light jus spritzed with clementines and a little more radicchio. It’s a witty take on duck à l’orange, which should indeed have those bitter notes.
What’s striking about the menu, which changes by the day, is its depth. There is so much more here to try. I very much like the sound of the braised carrots with whipped feta and hazelnut pesto, or the hake with barbecued leek, or the brill with seaweed hollandaise. Dessert is not just churned creamy things. There is a deep-filled frangipane tart layered with tart plums, with a snowy peak of crème fraîche on the side. There is a choux bun, as pert and golden as the vol-au-vent at the start, filled with a nutmeg ice-cream, dark chocolate ganache and cherries. The bill for all this is not small, but it feels justified. Plus, you can just come and sit at the counter, have a couple of plates and a good glass of wine, admire the view and leave with a less than ravaged bank account.
Christopher Laidler is here tonight, watching his team attend with grace to a happy room. He looks a little startled. This is a massive undertaking compared to the tiny mothership in Chester, he tells me. It is indeed a massive undertaking, but one which is also a raging success. Many in Manchester seem delighted by the arrival of a terrific restaurant serving food you really want to eat. Just don’t be put off by the front door.
Elsewhere in Manchester much-admired chef Mary-Ellen McTague, a driving force behind the city’s poverty food group Eat Well MCR, is taking on a new role. She will be heading up the offering at the new Treehouse Hotel, Manchester, when it opens this Spring. McTague, who closed her Chorlton restaurant The Creameries last year citing financial pressures, will oversee a casual café as well as an all-day menu ‘based on seasonality, sustainability, and a sense of place’. Visit treehousehotels.com.
Dan Cox, former exec chef of Simon Rogan’s Fera in London, is finally to launch a restaurant at the 120-acre Cornwall farm that he took over five years ago. Cox, who was also involved in setting up Rogan’s Cumbrian farm, says Crocadon will be located in a restored barn in the Tamar Valley and will serve six and 10-course tasting menus, priced at £65 and £95. Cox told industry magazine Big Hospitality that his food will be ‘as rooted in nature as it can be’ and ‘aesthetically pared-back yet technically complex’. At crocadon.farm.
Gary Lee, one time exec chef of the Ivy who parted company with theatreland landmark Joe Allen last summer, has announced his next move. He is joining the Middle Eight hotel in London’s Covent Garden to run the kitchen at their Italian-accented Sycamore Vino Cucina. See middleeight.com.
The Jay Rayner Sextet plays Albert Hall, Manchester, on 16 March. For tickets, visit alberthallmanchester.com
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