By Jo Cooksey
After visiting The Anthologist in St Peters Square, we were asked to check out their sister restaurant, The Refinery in Spinningfields. Both restaurants are part of the Drake & Morgan group. The Refinery is at the Salford end of the area, just opposite the Royal Bank of Scotland’s offices.
Open the doors, step inside and you are met with a very smart Manhattan style bar and restaurant. All dark and light wood, concrete, industrial fittings and geometric patterns. The lighting is subdued and there are a mix of high and low tables in the bar area. Everywhere there are cosy, faux fur and wooly throws to cushion your chairs and wrap yourself in. Not that it was cold in there, just a nice touch of Hygge and it was a particularly damp and dismal day when we visited. I could feel myself relaxing whilst looking around.
The dining area is a bit brighter than the bar area, with little splashes of colour here and there. We were shown to a table in front of the open kitchen, quickly served water and the menus and an order was taken for our cocktails. We had both looked at the menu before we came so had made our minds up pretty quickly. We then waited an age for someone to come and take our food order. No one appeared and in the end I had to flag down a passing staff member. He took our order without writing it down. I had a bad feeling.
The menu is much the same as The Anthologist but with slight tweaks at each venue. Having said that we had really enjoyed the food at The Anthologist and there were other dishes I wanted to try, so the familiarity didn’t put me off.
Our starters arrived but our cocktails still hadn’t, so I again I had to hail a passing server and ask for them. A San Fran Soda, of bourbon and Maraschino cherry liqueur with lemon and ginger beer, served in a cute little pop bottle for my daughter. It was a little sweet for me, but she loved it. I had a very tropical serve in the shape of a Morgan Caribe. Rum, banana liqueur, cardamom & bay leaf syrup, banana puree, lime and pineapple. I was worried it might be toe curlingly sweet and sickly, but it was very refreshing. The perfect tipple to brighten up a drab Manchester afternoon. If I hadn’t been driving later that day I would have ordered a second.
To begin I had chosen the Burrata. I love this meltingly, creamy cousin of Mozzarella. It was scattered amongst an unusual but deliciously sharp salsa of Romanesco cauliflower and Padron peppers and topped with peppery watercress. T’other one had Tempura Sweet Potato Skins with crispy sage leaves and a sweet potato and smoked paprika rouille for dipping and scooping. She really enjoyed the flavours and textures of this dish.
Next up were our mains but all did not go to plan with this course. My daughter ordered the Pumpkin & Shiitake Mushroom vegetarian pie, that incidentally was developed by Michelin starred chef, Chris Harrod. I asked for the Roast Chicken Breast with shallots, prunes and Armagnac. When the plates were delivered the food looked great. However, when my daughter teased the top off her pie to let the steam out she discovered that it wasn’t the vegetarian pie she had ordered, but a Chicken & Oyster Mushroom pie. Someone had mixed their mushrooms up. We called the waitress back and she apologised profusely but said it would take 20 minutes to cook a new one as they were frozen. Oh! I had my food in front of me, assailing my nostrils with lovely aromas. I didn’t want to send it back and wait for both dishes to come back again 20 minutes later. My daughter isn’t a vegetarian but is trying to eat a more plant-based diet, so on this occasion she decided to keep the chicken pie. If Frankie was a committed vegetarian, we would have had no choice but to wait. However, I have to say it was a very tasty pie. My chicken, in its rich, creamy sauce was absolutely delicious and certainly a dish I would order again. Grown up comfort food.
We also ordered some sides of Halloumi fries for my girl and Roman fries with Parmesan, truffle and rosemary for me. We ordered these because the menu didn’t mention that the dishes came with any accompaniments, nor did our waiter tell us when we ordered them. In the event, the pie came with a big dollop of mash and my chicken came served on a bed of new potatoes. So, the extras were rather a challenge and we ended up leaving most of them. Which was rather a waste.
On to the desserts. Claps hands together in glee. When I ate at The Anthologist there was a Toffee Roasted Pineapple sweet that I wanted to try but my lunch partner had wanted it too, so I acquiesced. I was delighted to see it on The Refinery’s menu too and thankfully Frankie wanted the Apple and Blackberry Crumble with vanilla ice cream, so I was free to order it. Oh dear. I think someone had forgotten to caramelise the pineapple plus it was face screwingly under ripe. The passionfruit sorbet was tropically divine and refreshing but overall, I was disappointed. However, the crumble was delightful. Plenty of fruit and the addition of pumpkin seeds to the topping gave a lovely, nutty crunch.
Would we go back? Yes, but perhaps not on a Saturday afternoon and if I had to choose between the two, I’d go back to The Anthologist first. The food, atmosphere, décor and playlist at The Refinery are worth going back for, but the service needs some refinement. In themselves, the staff were friendly and welcoming, but it all seemed a little chaotic, even though only half the restaurant tables were occupied. Maybe we just caught them on a bad day but first impressions are the ones that colour future decisions.
We were guests of The Refinery but as always, the review and opinions are our own and unbiased.