Malmaison, Manchester

Anyone who messes with the English language to help market a new restaurant usually gets points knocked off but for Manchester Malmaison’s Smoak Grill I can forgive – just.   Sm’Oak by the way is their interpretation of the dining experience which begins with the smoked wood chips on the Josper grill.
Just so you know, you don’t come away from the restaurant as if you’ve been tending the family barbecue, they have a great extraction system and I didn’t smell burning at any point.
There’s something about the Malmaison chain which makes me feel like I’m coming home, wherever I visit, so when I was invited to try out the recently refurbished restaurant in Manchester, I couldn’t resist.
The night began with a cocktail in ‘Ember’ the hotel’s private bar.  As we’re not massive fans of cocktails, I had no idea where to start but once we spoke to Nathan Williams (the mixologist) about our likes and dislikes we discarded the menu.    Dry gin is my tipple so he mixed a short citrus blend with Roses lime marmalade and it was superb.  Mr had a whisky based gin with a Macadamia nut syrup and a lemon twist.  A really rather nice, a peaty mix of Islay scotch with the nuttiness and creaminess of the Macadamia was a super pairing and not at all sweet.  A great start to the evening.
As we moved into an incredibly busy restaurant I saw what looked like Lady Gaga’s wardrobe.  Of course, it wasn’t it was here where the Scottish beef is hung and stored.   The fiery Josper grill takes pride of place in the open kitchen – there’s nothing quite like the taste of meat cooked on a grill with such intense heat and of course a steak and burger would definitely be on the cards to try.
A quick look down the A4 menu and there was plenty for every palate.  Our starters arrived promptly and a lovely chutney full of plump fruits was served with a smooth chicken liver and foie gras parfait, more foie gras than chicken liver (which is fine by me) with lightly griddled brioche (£7.50).  As usual, there is never the right spread-to-bread-ratio and bringing more was no problem.  Usually, in restaurants you ask for more and one measly piece arrives and you’re charged for it.  Not here, a plate full of hot brioche arrived in no time so there was no awkward hiatus in the meal.
Mr had the three sausage sampler (£7.50) which was served with a smoaked mash, hot mustard and caramalised shallots.  They must have been beyond brilliant because I was offered just one bite of a Toulouse sausage.  The others smoked Cumberland and a Merguez.
For wine, we looked at the house red but the trainee sommelier, Matt,  was incredible and suggested a couple of options.  It was evident he had a passion for food and wine pairing and he made the right choice.  On his instruction, we opted for an Australian Shiraz, Grenache Mourvedre red which was divine.  A soft red with fresh berry fruits, spicy and with a subtle oakiness.  The wine was well kept and at a decent room temperature before the lid was twisted.  I also loved that the water was served in aluminium cups which reminded me of my school days.  Whilst not aesthetically appealing maybe for some, it kept the water incredibly well chilled and I could forgive not having a glass.
There’s no other word to describe just how busy it was – the restaurant was heaving, the bar packed and the atmosphere was buzzing but the staff were rushed off their feet.  Locals and visitors alike clearly enjoy coming here, since there’s an aBode hotel literally opposite (with Michael Caines in the restaurant) and a host of other eateries a walk away.  We asked for tap water twice and were brought bottled twice.
The mains were immediately easy to order.  I had the signature Smoak burger (£14.00) a 225g handmade ground beef patty with Gruyere, bacon and skinny chips and Mr ordered a Galloway and shorthorn cross fillet weighing in at 250g (£29.00).  A menu of sauces on offer from Bearnaise to Garlic Butter came with the steak and with it, arrived an unexpected but welcome hunk of marrowbone.  The steak did not come with any side dish and skinny fries were ordered.  Burgers are my absolute all-time favourite and I’ve eaten many – some of the best in most capital cities and what could have been a winner was in fact a massive let down.
It look great, but it had clearly been sitting on the pass for some time.  The cheese had hardened and the bacon began to show it’s cooked fat.  The chips which were once crispy had turned into a ball of soggy worms.    The steak however made up for it.  Perfectly cooked and really couldn’t have been better with the chosen peppercorn sauce on the side, the whole dish was delicious.  The marrowbone was the piece de resistance and a cheeky taste enhancement and excellent touch.
 The staff cleared the plates and saw the majority of the burger and chips left.  Within seconds Eve came to the table, she had conducted a CSI investigation of my plate, and in an effort to get me to eat more asked me if I wanted another main.  Mr had finished.  I had eaten all of the rich parfait and so I opted for a dessert.
I had the egg custard tart (£5.75) served with a ball of vanilla ice cream, so delicious that I tucked in without a second thought for a photograph.
The rooms here are pretty much like any Malmaison, comfortable, of a good size and well furnished, moody lighting, satellite television, naughty nibbles and a well stocked mini bar.  .  Toiletries are plentiful and smell divine, and you’re encouraged to take them home with you so you don’t feel like you’re stealing them!
There’s also a gym although I didn’t haul my overstuffed backside down there to try it out.  We had a bath and power shower both were clean and the water hot when it came to using both.  Mini-bar and complimentary water are standard.  Fluffy slippers and bath robes are always a great addition to any room and the bed was comfortable with a choice of pillows.
Even though I stayed as a guest, I can’t really knock Malmaison as a brand or as an experience.  I always have a fabulous time.
As we checked out, there was a note on my account about the burger.  That £14.00 could have ruined their chances of having me back as a repeat guest and they were genuinely sorry about it.  Rest assured even the mediocre burger won’t put me off eating or indeed staying with the chain in the future.
And, here’s a tip for the New Year when you’re feeling the Christmas squeeze.  If you join ClubMal you can take advantage of dining deals.  From January 4th you can enjoy 50% off all food.  Voucher or smartphone required.
Grill Opening Times
Monday to Saturday for Lunch 12:00 to 1430
Dinner Monday to Saturday 1800 to 2300
Sunday brunch 1100-1500
Sunday dinner 1800 to 2230
Cosy doubles from £109.00