Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Thomas Restaurant

After only a month or so in the food blogger's game, Anna and I were very excited to receive an invite to a 'bloggers evening' at Thomas in the Northern Quarter. This might be, to my knowledge, the first time a Manchester restaurant has done such a thing (if not, please do set me straight); undoubtedly a savvy move by the owners. To be sure, The Fat Duck it ain't, but who's complaining when you get to try a new menu, meet fellow food geeks, and give feedback.

Our hosts, and the proprietors, were Nicky and Yvonne, the team behind the Bay Horse and former owners of Soup Kitchen. The evening began with a tour and a cocktail - I went for a Negroni (classic combo of gin, sweet vermouth and campari) and Anna chose the 'Joan Collins' which is essentially a Tom Collins with the addition of muddled grapes and sage. And very nice they were too. Nicky and Yvonne were extremely welcoming and seemed genuinely enthusiastic about showing off the new menu.

Crab cakes
The tasting began with a trio of starters. A perfectly executed crab cake with mango and chilli salad; a deliciously salty and wonderfully textured goat's cheese tart; followed by potted ducked wrapped in prosciutto atop a chorizo and borlotti bean hash. Having only visited Thomas once a couple of years back, I hadn't been sure what to expect, but I wasn't disappointed. The crab cake was easily one of the best I've had and the tart was, if not original, very well made. However, the duck dish was not as well thought out - the duck didn't shine, being overpowered as it was by the smoky bean crush and prosciutto, and, overall, it was a little dry.

The menu has a definite autumnal feel and nowhere was this more evident than in the main courses. The Yorkshire lamb shank, meltingly tender and very hearty, made me imagine fattening up to see out a cold winter. The nutmeg in the gratin dauphinoise and the redcurrant and marsala jus almost sent me forward in time to Christmas.

Yorkshire lamb shank

It was nice to see plaice on the menu as I had only just seen Rick Stein extolling its virtues as a fish. The fillet lay on a perfectly cooked potato fondant (sigh of relief, as I've seen many an undercooked one in my time) and was finished with a delicate coriander bisque, asparagus and spring onions. The artichoke risotto, the favourite dish at the press review, was a bit of a let down. It was slightly overcooked and tasted overwhelmingly of tomato and vinegar in my opinion. The crumbed egg yolk that topped it was nonetheless delicious. The consensus was that the Lamb Shank won dish of the evening and is very good value at £15.95 considering how generous the portion is.
Whitby plaice

The desserts were all extremely moreish, devoured quickly by the bloggers, and will meet with no complaints from me. It would be worth going to Thomas on the strength of the tiramisu alone. Apparently based on one of chefs' family recipes, it is a perfect example of how light delicate a dessert it should be. The lemon tart and tarte tatin were both suitably rich and filling. 

Yvonne was keen to push the wines and came across as very passionate about pairing food with wine. The Thomas Bassot Macon-Villages complemented the starters well, cutting through the fat and salt with its minerality and dryness. The perfumed Aimery Viognier would be delicious as an aperetif wine, but is perhaps too pungent to be paired with a lot of the food. The Villa Domiziano Chianti was bold enough to stand up to the strong flavours in the lamb dish.

The team at Thomas have done well to create a menu which will appeal to everyone and it is certainly pitched very well at this time of year - sensitive to the approaching autumn and the lack of summer. In aesthetic and attitude, they have always tried to stand out from the crowd of bars that pepper the Northern Quarter and the solid food and cocktails are sure to keep customers coming back for more.