Artisan is the brand new Kitchen and Bar by Living Ventures, Manchester’s most successful restaurant group. This is surely the most ambitious of any of their ventures so far though. It’s seriously impressive when you first walk into the space over the bridge from the reception area. First of all it’s absolutely massive. It was buzzing when we went yesterday evening, there were loads of staff milling around being trained and generally looking busy. We were shown the private dining area, a very long table that sits well over 20, with views over Bridge street.
The thing that struck me first was that this is a really big professional operation as you’d probably expect. The style has been perfectly realised with stripped back walls and artistic touches. Whereas Neighbourhood is all shiny glitz and glam, this feels different, like a cool NY loft apartment. It’ll be interesting to see if the clientèle are similar to their brash noisy neighbours.
We settled into our booth (of course). We both felt really privileged to be invited to somewhere like this, for us it’s still really exciting, and the nervous energy of the place as hundreds of people get ready for that evenings service is really infectious. As we weren’t paying, naturally I went for the most expensive beer they do; German Wheat beer Erdinger. Are people in Manchester really happy to pay £5.75 for a bottle of beer though? We’ll see I guess.
To start with I ordered a portion of Salt & Pepper Pork Crackling with apple sauce (£3.50). I have to say that these were pretty much the best pork scratchings we’ve ever had. Crispy and crunchy, not dry and dusty, and actually proper moist and meaty in parts, the hot chilli Thai inspired elements really worked adding a very pleasing spiciness. An absolutely flying start, and a very generous portion as well.
Next, Sticky Pork Rib with chilli and garlic (£6.95). Nothing wrong with this either, perfectly pleasant, sticky tender meat that fell off the bone. For £7 though I could have done with two though (had I actually paid for it). But it was big, easily enough to share.
I also tried the Stevens Point Pale Ale (£4.95). This was a fairly decent enough American craft beer. (Nowhere near the best you can get by any means).
But it’s a strange choice, in fact the beer menu is down right weird, they have 8 bottled beers, nothing on tap (as far as I know), including the Flemish Duchesse de Bourgogne. This is an extremely sour red ale, that people will either love or hate. (I cannot drink it, although it has it’s few select fans), but if you have only 8 beers on, to include it is total madness! There’s also the really dull choices of Stella, Brahma and the annoyingly ubiquitous Peroni.
The menu is a really interesting one I think, I could have ordered so many things, but I settled on the Artisan burger with crinkle cut chips, (£10.50). Totally excellent, really juicy and medium as I asked for it. It was big as well. I was just confused by the crinkle cut chips. I mean they were ok, but I’ve not had crinkle cuts chips I think ever in a proper restaurant. Although it used to excite me as a child going round my granny’s house and eating them there with runny fried eggs. (Unfortunately I’ve always been really obsessed with eating). But I wanted the chips to be proper thin crispy frites like at the sadly closing Le Relais de l’Entrecôte.
The Smoked Salmon in a can, (£12.95) was good, although I’m not sure what the can actually brings to it taste wise, but it’s entertaining enough seeing them opening it up at the table. We also enjoyed dipping our chips in the Hollandaise sauce.
As they’re specialising in pizzas, I thought we should order one of those too. Now I’m not normally a purist for food rules, my only rule is if it’s good I’ll eat it. (I’ll probably eat it if it’s not so good either to be honest). But pizza I think is different, there are many things that shouldn’t be put on a pizza; pineapple, sweetcorn, well the list goes on. But here they’ve thrown away the rule book. Well I may as well go the full hog and order something that’s totally wrong in so many ways. I’m glad I did though, the Lamb Donner Kebab (£10), was exactly as I wanted it to taste, err like a donner kebab on a pizza with all the fixings. Brilliant!
Neither of us could actually eat the side Salt baked new potatoes, (£2.95). I know they’re salt baked but they were way too salty for us. We both quite enjoyed the Garlic field mushrooms (£3.50) though.
We also relished the pudding of Champagne jelly with an ice cream sandwich (£5.95). Great fun, like a grown up version of a kids dessert. I’m old enough to remember when you could buy ice cream sandwiches like this in shops.
Also two scoops of ice cream (gingerbread was the best) and a cocktail, a soothing Cucumber and Elderflower Cooler, Beefeater gin, elderflower liqueur, mint, cucumber lime juice and lemonade, (£6.50). The cocktails are reasonably priced at around £6 which isn’t bad for the town centre. Some of the other prices I have to say may be off putting to some though.
We had a really enjoyable evening at Artisan. I think that’s the key. There are some who criticise Living Ventures and their omnipresence in Spinningfields. People will always knock success won’t they? But I think they’re always interesting restaurants to visit at least. What makes them work? They’re not really ‘foodie’ as such like The French, the food is never really the star, it’s the combination of all the elements combined that make them as successful as they are. As I always say, most people are not foodies, they’re not obsessed with eating (as perhaps bloggers are), they just enjoy it as a part of their night out. Living Ventures obviously know this and cleverly give the people exactly what they want. (Or they wouldn’t be as profitable as they are). Besides which, the food at Artisan was good fun, a well designed menu with perhaps a touch of nostalgia. All the usual bang-on-trend suspects were there (burgers, ribs, etc). Although it didn’t totally blow us away, it’s not really there to do that.
As MD Tim Bacon (no relation) himself says of Artisan; “It’s the people, the art and the food, you should always leave with a story.”
We did, and for us it was a happy one.