20 Stories, Manchester: ‘This will doubtless be one of my favourite dinners of 2018′ – restaurant review

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “20 Stories, Manchester: ‘This will doubtless be one of my favourite dinners of 2018′ – restaurant review” was written by Grace Dent, for The Guardian on Friday 30th March 2018 12.05 UTC

As I booked 20 Stories in Manchester, it was with some concerns. 20 Stories claims, at its root, to have 20 stories. When all I want is dinner, I have slender tolerance for restaurants that mither me with “concept”. If the ethos is inspired by Shakespeare, a fictional villain or, worst of all, the chef’s nonna’s kitchen in bygone Sicily, for God’s sake don’t send the servers to my table to “talk me through it”. Ella Canta at the Intercontinental in London, for example, is a “modernist expression of customary cuisine and colour”, but I found that a swift karate chop to the maître d’s windpipe stopped him explaining further. I’ll work out the story myself, thank you very much. It won’t be hard: most chefs have more words written on their forearms than in actual books they’ve read.

20 Stories is also a sort-of pun. It’s way up in the sky, on the 19th storey of No 1 Spinningfields, and overlooks all of Manchester. At night, the panoramic views of the city feel rather magical. The north-west, lit up, breathing, bustling, going about its business, is a lovely thing to behold, particularly as this entire floor, with its midnight-blue banquettes and sparse lighting, makes you feel as if you’re drinking chablis on the Death Star.

I ended up liking Aiden Byrne’s new place a lot. I should possibly have told him this, as for 20 minutes he sat, oblivious and on his laptop, next to me at the cocktail bar. A multimillion-pound Manchester fine-dining restaurant, by those giants D&D London, serving wild turbot with peas for 32 quid and deconstructed Manchester tarts for £8.50, ought to be triumphantly heinous. Most food served at the top of very tall things transpires to be expensive and loveless, trading on a lemming-like clientele who just want a pretty view. There’s also an outdoor terrace with living greenery and fire pits, and a less expensive grill restaurant for people who fancy only a burger, but the prices in the main restaurant will obviously attract the city’s football set and its fragrant coterie. I can hear the restaurant snobs clutching their pearls from here.

Abtemious: poached john dory with langoustine velouté
20 Stories’ poached john dory: ‘It’s hard not to be won over by thoughtful plates of non-cynical loveliness.’ Photograph: Shaw & Shaw for the Guardian

But this will doubtless be one of my favourite dinners of 2018. The concept – OK, I will relent and explain – is that the 20 Stories experience is hewn of many “stories”, from the sourcing of the john dory, to the fields in which the Herdwick lamb gambolled, to the distant quack of the Yorkshire Wolds duck. I warned you these things were silly.

Three of us vanquished almost all of the single-sheet menu. We shared squab pigeon with cherries and a vibrant puddle of violet mustard, and plump roast scallops on an earthy pearl barley risotto flecked with a distillation of rioja. Vegans will struggle without going off-menu, but for vegetarians there’s a wonderful leek salad with goat’s curd and a confit egg yolk festooned in truffle.

Byrne’s cooking treads a fine line between hearty and dainty. There are grand, punchy flavours – dishes strewn with blackberries, morels and port sauces – and side offers of excellent beef-dripping chips and butter-heavy mash, but you could still spend £200 with wine here and leave hungry. However, service was so lovely, prompt and non-intrusive, and the dishes so relentlessly excellent, that it’s hard to quibble.

The bar at 20 Stories: ‘Makes you feel as if you’re drinking chablis on the Death Star.’
The bar at 20 Stories: ‘Makes you feel as if you’re drinking chablis on the Death Star.’ Photograph: Shaw & Shaw for the Guardian

The poached john dory comes on a velouté of langoustine with an abstemious portion of white asparagus. That Herdwick lamb arrives three ways, with fat potato gnocchi, pine and chanterelles. I adore my butter-poached salsify with burnt leeks on a sticky parsnip puree, but then, it’s hard not to be won over by thoughtful plates of non-cynical loveliness. Also, the atmosphere is chatty and tipsy, and the music is at a level that allows you to talk openly without anyone overhearing a word. And lord did I try to, because the man at the next table was in a bow-tie and I’m sure he was trying to propose.

If you’re having pudding, which you should, order the chocolate, peanut praline and caramel mousse. I’ll break this down for you: it’s basically a gigantic Ferrero Rocher lying on the booziest banana ice-cream imaginable. We thought it might be cognac. We didn’t think a great deal more after that. There’s a cocktail called the Midnight Martini that smells like a Terry’s chocolate orange and tastes a bit like a singed terrier that’s caught its tail in a three-bar electric heater. I noted that down in my jotter after drinking two of them. We all have our stories.

20 Stories No 1 Spinningfields, 1 Hardman Square, Manchester M3, 0161-204 3333. Open lunch, all week, noon-2.15pm (2.45pm Fri & Sun). Dinner, Mon-Sat, 6-10.15pm. About £45 a head à la carte; set lunch £22.50 for two courses, £27.50 for three, all plus drinks and service.

Food 9/10
Atmosphere 9/10
Service 9/10

Grace’s week in other dishes

1 Celebrating St Patrick’s Day with champ, soda bread, brown butter tart and lots of other Irish loveliness at Nuala in Shoreditch.
1 Celebrating St Patrick’s Day with champ, soda bread, brown butter tart and lots of other Irish loveliness at Nuala in Shoreditch.
2 Deep-fried cheese with hot Valentina sauce at The Spread Eagle, Hackney - outstanding vegan Mexican comfort food at a fantastic vegan boozy boozer. Tell landlady Sherri-Lee I sent you.
2 Deep-fried cheese with hot Valentina sauce at The Spread Eagle, Hackney – outstanding vegan Mexican comfort food at a fantastic vegan boozy boozer. Tell landlady Sherri-Lee I sent you.

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