When people say that The Bull & Bear, Tom Kerridge’s new restaurant in Manchester, is odd – or when they say things like, “I like it, but I’d be keen to know what you make of it” – the thing they’re talking about is the televisions: the large, mute, widescreen tellies fixed high on the walls of the carefully and beautifully restored former stock exchange, which is now a restaurant within a luxury, 42-room boutique hotel. Kerridge’s grand dining room – one of the most elegant in the north-west, certainly – is all dressed up in shades of calming sage, bottle green and rich camel, and the Edwardian baroque architecture is made all the more joyful by its revamped brass and marble features.
There are bowler-hatted doormen, a polished chessboard reception hall floor, Relais & Chateaux luxury boutique hotel membership, Ruud van Nistelrooy hocking up phlegm on the pitch after blasting one in past Everton during a montage of classic goals, exquisite cutlery and a bold, far-reaching wine list. Sorry, pardon, wind back: one of those things isn’t at all like the rest.
“Are the TVs ever turned up?” I asked a waitress during one of at least six attempts to accept The Bull & Bear’s decision to play Gillette Fusion 5 razor advertsas I looked at the special menu that features a baked potato with caviar for £74. I’m all sports, all of the time. “No, the sound is never on,” she replied, smiling the same bright, “I have literally no idea what you’re getting at” smile that all the staff wear. No amount of poking broke them.
The Bull & Bear’s front of house, I should say here, are wonderful – Manchester’s finest. Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs, the ex-footballers who funded this project, should be rightfully proud. I stayed alone in the hotel for one night, ate twice at Kerridge’s restaurant, and checked out with some regret at leaving behind the cosseted ambience, the wine cellars with their fantastic tasting room, the communal hallways scented regularly with some sort of sweet, light, tasteful patchouli. You are a million miles from the Arndale centre, but at the same time just 500 metres away.
The food, currently, is not excellent; it is good, and beautifully presented, but somewhere along the line, the urge to turn honest, decent pub grub such as chicken kiev, scotch egg and Manchester tart into fine-dining small plates becomes a little uninspiring. Edible, likable, at times delicious and certainly served with absolute aplomb, yes. But a small, quite dry chicken kiev is what it is, no matter how much blood, sweat and tears were poured into its provenance and execution.
Weirdly, a chicken kiev cooked by Neil “Razor” Ruddock, man mountain and former Millwall defender, on Celebrity MasterChef was one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten. No, that is not a sentence I expected me to write, either. Ruddock’s enormous kiev, which he claimed was chicken but may well have been emu, was stuffed with so much butter, garlic and chopped parsley that for the rest of the month my breath entered rooms before even my breasts. And it was totally worth it.
The Bull & Bear’s kiev, on the other hand, is polite, perfectly rolled and comes on a tablespoon of crushed wild garlic potatoes. That’s a sort of lumpy mashed spud, I say uncritically, because all types of mashed spud are valid. A side of pommes boulangère (sliced spuds and onion baked in stock) arrived a little lukewarm. Salt cod scotch egg was a little lacklustre, the egg’s casing being not especially fishy, and the red pepper sauce mainly a puddle of redness that delivered nothing. It was as large as a golf ball, cost £10.50 and was saved only by a slice of chorizo, although almost anything can be lifted by the salty, paprika-y porkiness of chorizo, which must be to the chagrin of pigs worldwide.
The loveliest thing I ate was a delightful bowl of Cornish monkfish with a Keralan moilee curry sauce filled with generous handfuls of sultanas, pine nuts and capers and served on Tenderstem broccoli: outstanding. I ate this while watching some adverts for shaving balm and betting apps. With the sound turned off.
Leave it, Grace, leave it. The television scenario reminds me of the time in my early 20s when I had my nose pierced, and the more everyone said that the diamond stud absolutely did not suit me, that it jarred with my style, my poise and my demeanour, the more determined I was to keep it, even though at one stage it got infected, streamed pus and looked vaguely bubonic. I kept it for far too long because I knew I was right. But I wasn’t.
• The Bull & Bear 4 Norfolk Street, Manchester M2, 0161-470 3902. Open all week, noon–2.30pm (3pm Sat & Sun), 5.30-10pm (9.30pm Sun). About £35 a head plus drinks and service.