Encased within the bowels of Manchester 235, a whacking great multi floor casino that makes up part of the Great Northern Warehouse and ideally located just across from the lovely champagne bar Épernay. We were never really that interested in this side of town but with the recent additions of BrewDog, All Star Lanes, Gorilla and the re-opening of The French it's all become a little more palatable. Taking that in to account Linen is in a good spot for some pre dinner drinks and entertainment.
Stepping through the doors of casino it wasn't clear which way to go to get to the restaurant but we were quickly assisted by a lovely door chap who pointed us in the right direction. I'll get this out of the way now and I have to be honest, walking through a casino at 7pm on a Wednesday night is not the most uplifting of experiences. It felt a little bit like we were entering a Cineworld multiplex cinema except the few people that were around didn't seem to be having as much fun as the teenagers queuing to see the most recent movie featuring an undead love triangle (what is there left? skeleton/mummy/zombie? leprechaun/genie/mermaid?). Luck was not in the air and we scuttled across the gambling floor and up the stairs to the elevated restaurant. That said it didn't really impact on our dining experience and I'm sure the atmosphere is a massive positive later in the night.
I'd only heard good things from a couple of other Manchester bloggers but I did read one review before I came along and that particular reviewer had been quite harsh about the decor of the restaurant. At first glance the ever changing multi coloured illumination of the central pillars and the mineral water that is delivered in giant capsules might come across as a bit naff BUT they are just two elements of what is actually, on the whole, a very classic dining room. The lighting above the tables is crisp and illuminates the pristine white table cloths arranged with simple tableware and glassware. The space is uncluttered and the tables nicely spaced to give each table its own island of privacy without being isolated. There are also the luxurious bottle store and private dining room which can be admired from afar. I'll say it again, I loved the lighting of this restaurant.
Before getting on to the food the cocktails are worth a mention. I went for the Manhattan and Jules selected the Bartender's Breakfast. It took a little while for them to arrive but they were worth the wait. The Manhattan was pretty good and I happily slurped through mine. The Bartender's Breakfast was a much more exciting affair featuring gin, Aperol and marmalade as well as being accompanied by a slice of toast. Jules loved this fruity drink, suited perfectly to her palate as it was on the sweeter side. The toast remained unused, fearful that it would ruin the drink, until we were goaded into dipping it by the friendly restaurant manager. It should have been dipped earlier as it was a novel and nostalgic treat. Jules said that it perfectly reminded her of her Nan's home made marmalade on toast without taking anything away from the drink itself.
For starters I kept it nice and simple went for the charcuterie board. There isn't a great deal to do with a plate of meat and breadsticks and bits and bobs but Linen did everything they possibly could. It was a treat to look at (despite the fact that one of the breadsticks was broken and pointing right at me, if I had fallen on it my jugular would surely have been pierced, health and safety nightmare) and everything had been provided in the right proportions, the cured meats that had been provided were top notch as was the mozzarella. A great start!
Jules went for something a little bit more exciting than me, a tuna tartare with aubergine confit, cumin mayo and harissa oil. This sounded like an exciting set of flavours to combine to me and Jules confirmed that I was right, this was an exceptional dish that was really well executed. despite the generous portion size it was still a soft and light plate of food with the cumin mayo being the master stroke. An even better start than mine!
Looking back I've realised that I've been on a bit of a steak binge recently and it occurs to me that it is a great tactic for two reasons. Firstly a steak is one of those plates of food that is so simple but can tell you so much about the skill and care involved in the cooking as well as the quality of the produce that the restaurant is splashing out on. Secondly I love steaks. I went for the 8oz rib eye steak served with a red wine jus, hand cut chips and sauteed spinach. How did Linen sit in the steak rankings? Pretty good I'd say. Plenty of flavour, nice slab of steak cooked bang on and quite pretty to look at. The mushroom and tomato also weren't just there for eye candy, they had a real good meaty flavour of their own going on.
Sadly the sides didn't quite match up to the steak. The chips were pretty under cooked making them a bit of an effort to eat and while both the jus and spinach were nice to taste the portions they were served in were humongous. If I had applied even half of the sauce to my steak the plate would have been completely ruined. It's not often I criticise restaurants for being too generous but in this instance these sides need to made much more dainty to complement the steak.
For the main course Jules had plumped for the crusted filet of hake with smoked tomatoes and borlotti beans with an anchovy and herb butter. Again Jules was more than happy with her dish. The fish was very well cooked, the beans were soft and the crust was so significant Jules compared it to a thin layer of bread. It felt like a very naughty and indulgent fish dish, a nice change as restaurants usually use the fish dish to offer a more 'angelic' item for the menu. Again the sides were a minor disappointment as the potatoes were just as undercooked as the chips.
I probably didn't need to eat a dessert but there is a rich theme of indulgence in the food of Linen so why not indulge a little further. I was glad I did stretch the bounds of my stomach as the tobago chocolate hazelnut praline tart with cappuccino mousse and nut brittle was the second absolutely outstanding dish of the night. It looked perfect as it arrived at the table, faultless. Each element of the dessert was fantastic and delivered bags and bags of flavour without any one flavour dominating. I absolutely loved this dessert but my favourite thing about it was that although it was rich it certainly wasn't sickly, instead it was moreish and the bitterness of the mousse refreshed your palate. The one thing I would change on this dessert would be the heavy duty nature of the nut brittle, it was so hefty that I feared for my teeth as I tried to gnaw through it. If it was reduced in thickness by about 80% to a more dainty brittle wafer rather than the brittle brick then it would be a perfect dessert.
Dessert wise Jules decided on the much lighter vanilla and greek yoghurt panacotta with rhubarb and honey compote topped with a poppy seed tuille. Jules also loved this. Labelled as 'one of the best puds in ages' mainly due to its great flavour combination, despite being sweet the overall feeling was that it was a healthy dessert (perhaps a great deception!).
Service was excellent throughout with all members of the floor staff being professional, friendly and confident when talking about the food and drinks on offer. They also had a real knack of appearing at exactly the right time that shows that the manager and the team had a really good understanding of where each diner was up to so they could anticipate their needs. Obviously we had been invited in so we would expect to be looked after but we absolutely observed the same great service being delivered to all the tables that were in at the same time as us.
Linen is a great restaurant. The food, the service and the setting have all been carefully put together and the end result is that the work being invested in to the dining experience really shines through. It feels like a classic restaurant offering classic dishes as well as the odd exceptional dish that deals with a slightly more original combination of flavours but those two categories of food sit well on the menu together, there is no conflict and the menu is well balanced. Yes there were minor issues with sides and the very odd element of some of the dishes but really we are talking very minor issues and should they be fixed these plates of food are all going to be of the same standard as the stand out plates we have highlighted. We will be coming back to Linen but this time we are going to make sure we get involved in the casino action. Where Linen was probably built to encourage gamblers to eat, instead I find it more likely that Linen will encourage eaters to gamble. No mean feat.