The Fish and Chips Are Grand, But Where's Me Mushy Peas?

Wednesday 5/1/2005

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Diary and Notes

While my chum Laurie's girlfriend, Rachel, is off at her choir practice (I think that's a euphamism for something, but I've never found out what exactly), he I are going into Manchester for dinner and some beer. I suggested curry (as I always do on occasions like these) but Laurie is a bit of a tufty and always want to do something healthy involving fish or vegetables or both. It is a sad burden I have to bear, having friends who can never manage more than five or six pints, can't fight for toffee and know nothing about football or boxing, but I shall bear this burden with a smile and eat whatever sad, woofter concoction he manages to force on me. I know it's going to be fish, it's always bloody fish.

"I know this great fish restaurant." He pipes in, "Me an Rachel went there two weeks ago, it was great." Oh dear thinks I, for there is a history here. Laurie is the man who dragged me to Fishworks in Bristol for which he will one day pay a heavy price. The centre of Manchester is less pretentions than Whiteladies Road in Bristol however, and the standard of food is usually OK, so I shall follow on happily. Unfortunately, Laurie can't remember where the restaurant is exactly and a walk about town on a cold January night seems on the cards, until Laurie stumbles on what he believes is the place and we go in. It is deserted.

The place is called Figaro's (King Street, Manchester) and it's quite a big bar with a restaurant upstairs. Both bar and restaurant could seat over two hundred and we are the only poeple in the entire place. I know it's just after Christmas and things are normally quiet, but this is just eerie. We order a pint of guinness and head upstairs to look at the menu. Upstairs is just as quiet and we are nearly knocked over by a tumbleweed, as it rolls down the stairs in a desperate attempt to escape and avoid the loneliness.

Forino's is one of those places where the fish is on display and you point out what piece you want and what you want done with it and then they cook it for you. The special of the day is monkfish wrapped in Parma ham and that sounds fine and dandy to me. There's a salad bar, some excellent bread and they have beer on tap. Strangely (though not for Manchester I suppose), whatever seafood you choose, be it scallops, oysters, skate wings or tuna, you get either chips or a jacket potato as well. there's no rice, pasta, couscous or vegetables, just potatoes and salad. My monkfish was good and I managed to negotiate a half/half swap with Laurie and his excellent gambas (a Spanish fiesta band which was playing in the background in my imagination). There was some pretty tasty cream sauce with the monkfish, the prawns were superb and even the chips weren't bad, for a fish meal I wasn't complaining.

About half way through eating, one of the chefs came out and gave us a bowl of fish masala he was experimenting with and asked us for our thoughts. It was also pretty good (though the one at the Sanam was better) and we said it needed some lemon juice and fresh corinader (which it did).

The chef having departed, the manager then sidled over for a chat as well (everyone was obviously very bored). It turns out that the restaurant only opened yesterday (so this wasn't the one Laurie had come to two weeks ago at all) and hadn't actually built up a client base yet. Opening in January seems like a mad idea to me, but apparantly the place wasn't ready for Christmas.

Figaro's isn't bad at all and I've no doubt, if it doesn't go bankrupt from opening in January and not making any money for six months, it will be a success. There aren't many fish restaurants in Manchester and one in the centre is a good idea. I would however suggest they add to the chips or jacket potato option, or at least offer some mushy peas and gravy on the side.


A note on Fishworks Bristol, before I finish:

Fishworks believes itself to be one of Bristol's finer eateries. I personally find the place over pretentious, cold and impersonal, over priced and generally disappointing. The last time I ate there I had some oysters for a starter, a crab thermidor for main course and a creme brulee for pud. The oysters were good, but anyone can serve good oysters and the creme brulee was fine. The crab however was horrid. It tasted of nothing but fennel (this being the only flavouring), was tiny (really tiny) and served only with two very thin, supermarket bought breadsticks, for a main course. The crab was also served on a plate covered in rock salt (to keep the shell from toppling, so they said). However, it was impossible to eat the crab without the salt spilling everywhere and making everything almost inedible. When the manager came to ask if our meal was OK, I pointed this out to him and he became rude and started saying things like "Well nobody else has complained." implying that it was my fault and I was incapable of eating properly. Needless to say, I have never and will never, go back there again.

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  • Monkfish with Parma Ham
  • Chips
  • Assorted Salads
  • Bread