Browns Manchester is one of the most beautiful buildings in the city. Housed in an awe-inspiring Edwardian building and former banking hall, its interiors have always been something special. I would frequent it often as a young twenty-something and have many happy memories there so I was delighted to see that it has been given a refurb, a new menu and I hoped that it would live up to the hazy memories of my prime.
Upon entering it is still the gorgeous room I remember but with a much cleaner, modern touch with imposing high ceilings, original marble, wood panelling and exquisite art nouveau details. Beautiful teal, velvet chairs mixed in with gold details in the cutlery and lighting, it’s dark colours mixing with the natural light streaming in on this early evening visit. I remember it always being busy but on this Tuesday evening it was rather quiet, great for my companion and I to have a conversation but not the most atmospheric considering the amount of space there is to fill. But let’s be honest, we’re still somewhat in a pandemic so the less people around the better in my opinion!
We’re asked for our drinks order before we’ve even removed our winter coats but thankfully I had looked ahead and had my eye on a Spring themed cocktail. The Passion Fruit Mimosa; Cîroc Mango Vodka and Chambord shaken with passion fruit, lime and ginger ale, topped with Moët & Chandon Impérial Champagne, wasn’t quite what I had envisioned and the taste lacked that sweetness you’d expect with a passion fruit based drink.
I also ordered a loaf of hot sourdough to nibble at whilst we browsed the menu and waited for our starters but unfortunately this never arrived until I had to remind staff half way through the starters. But on arrival it was hot, and delicious and enjoyed with plenty of butter.
We selected three starters to share. The first was Devon Crab & Avocado with crab mayo and sourdough toast. Although presented beautifully it was very bland and lacking in texture, it could have done with a squeeze of lime and seasoning but was nice if you want to start with something light (mind you at 673 calories I wouldn’t call it light on the waistline!). Then it was the Salt & Pepper Crispy Squid with charred lemon and aioli. As a former chef in a Greek restaurant I can tell you I’ve cooked hundreds of thousands of pieces of squid in my time so I am quite fussy when it comes to eating it elsewhere. But I don’t think experience matters when it comes to the lukewarm strips of tentacle in a thick batter that I suspect came from the freezer. The starters were saved however by the Garlic Prawns and Chorizo, with garlic butter, chilli and dipping sourdough. I of course ordered the extra bread to mop up every last bit of the sauce from this as I knew it would be good. The prawns were plump and fresh, the chorizo was tasty as well as delightfully chewy and hot and the sauce was made to be soaked up into crusty bread. I’d have been more than happy with just that and the hot bread but you’ve got to try a bit of everything right?
I’d ordered two glasses of Pinot Grigio Rosé to come with our mains but they came even before the starters, nevertheless we enjoyed its light, delicate taste with notes of strawberries and it went well (what was left of it anyway) with my pork main. I chose the Slow Cooked Pork Belly with Toffee Apple, wholegrain mustard mash, cider sauce and buttered greens. I have to say I absolutely loved this, the chunk of pork you get is huge and I was so grateful that it was one big slab and not 3 little cubes you often get presented with at restaurants. This was a proper portion. The meat fell apart easily and the crispy crackling propped up like a javelin was superb. The wholegrain mustard mash was smooth and well seasoned and the cider sauce was delicious and the perfect addition. I didn’t really think it needed the toffee apple, which was nice but didn’t really add anything to the dish, same with the green veg, just give me the meat and carbs!
With the arrival of the dessert menus it was time for another cocktail, I went for The Bespoke Black Book essential, Espresso Martini and my companion had a Margarita on the rocks. They didn’t quite hit the mark either, the Margarita especially had no zing, no bite to it and the espresso martini didn’t have that depth of flavour that makes you say ‘OOoh that’s good’ after you taste the first sip. The cocktails certainly aren’t as good as I remember. Maybe my pallet has been refined since I was younger? Or maybe this night the barman wasn’t so sure of the menu? I can’t be sure.
For dessert we had the Browns Dessert Trio consisting of Vanilla crème brulée, chocolate fondant with caramelita ice cream and mango & passion fruit torte. The star here was the vanilla crème brulée, with a thick sugar lid that took a few cracks to get through and the deliciously soft centre that was light and delicately flavoured. I wish I’d got the full version of this and the other parts of the trio just weren’t on the same level. But then after all that food we were struggling towards the end anyway.
The restaurant scene in Manchester has come on leaps and bounds in the 10 years I’ve lived here. With several places in the city and surrounding boroughs in the Michelin guide and plenty of hidden gems and incredible restaurants there is certainly a lot of competition. It’s not just good food or fabulous interiors that are enough to impress anymore, you have to have the whole package, you have to be doing something to set yourself apart. It seems in Browns’ case not much has changed for the better apart from the décor. But perhaps if they made a few tweaks to the service, cocktails and food, it could one day be the place I thought of so fondly all those years ago.
1 York Street