Manchester’s latest – and most anticipated – opening calmly steers a luxurious á la carte menu of small plates with delicate precision.
As you enter the lobby of the Stock Exchange Hotel, little time is wasted in setting the scene. Luxury is on tap: the checkerboard tiled floor, hues of what I could only imagine Pantone listing as ‘Rich Person Green’ and an aroma best described as all the aftershaves I can’t afford (is that… oud?).
With smiles beaming in my direction, I have some strange urge to just lie on the ground and be left alone. We float towards the host stand, give our reservation details and are hurriedly denuded of our cumbersome coats and handed a strip of tan leather that feels a good step above the usual raffle ticket.
We are guided through the airy, domed dining room to a table for two topped with swirly, Turkish marble. Cutlery is couched in a block of wood. The serviettes are basically folded up pillows and menus are yet more bits of wood. At last, my friend speaks:
“Proper fancy in here, innit?”
“Well fancy” is my susurrated reply.
As you may have noticed, The Bull & Bear, the latest opening of Tom Kerridge – the King of comfort food, ruler of the rotisserie, maestro of Michelin, purveyor of all things pub (I’ll stop) – is a luxe, heady experience of a space, brandishing a menu of tried and true mainstays from Coach, one of Kerridge’s other ventures.
We begin with a Japanese barrel-aged Boulevardier, a sort of Negroni-Manhattan portmanteau that has soared in popularity this winter season. The bitterness of the Campari is tempered wonderfully by sweet Mancini Rosso, all underpinned by the rich smokiness of Yamazaki whiskey. Actually being a Boulevardier would also be helpful if you’re ordering this rendition, seeing it costs £12.
Bread arrives: a warm sourdough that seems to have its own cave system of pockets, served beside what looks like a thick disk of Carmex, but is actually hypnotically yellow, supremely soft butter.
Promptly, more or less the entire menu is ordered. Knives glide through unctuous duck liver parfait, strewn with plum chutney and spread thick against a light, crisp brioche – each slice arriving in its own personal acre of rainforest.
Potted salmon – decorated with glossy beads of caviar – stands out as a revitalising revelation. Dill-spiked cucumber chutney and soothing apple jelly artfully restrain its breezy richness as it overwhelms wafer-thin, lightly-scorched flatbreads.
The small plates arrive in waves as and when they’re prepared, resulting in an onslaught of food that I wish my entire life could mimic.
The crispy pigs head is a golden-brown puck whose featherweight coating surrenders to reveal a galaxy of porkiness, elevated when dredged through a spiced date sauce that tastes like HP, if HP voted Tory. A creamy celeriac remoulade cools the whole affair, as well as injecting a welcome hint of mustard.
Conversation becomes a myth. We accept we are not and never will be as interesting as food, and that’s okay.
A diminutive baked potato arrives, a moment I’ve been anticipating as my life’s peak. The flesh is laced with créme fraîche, creating something redolent of the sort of casual decadence you would wallow in on a Wednesday night in your dressing gown with a £5 bottle of wine. The velvety mash is capped with gummy nubs of raw steak, which cry out for the saltiness provided by a golden jewel of confit egg yolk, cooked in beef fat and piped on top.
As my knife and fork tear at the potato’s earthy skin, a combo move of dishes ambush the table.
A steak and blue cheese demi pie is the Baby Yoda of the pie world: an adorable orb of pastry with a little bone chimney. A viscous onion and ale gravy certainly delivers on the ale – smelling like we just tapped a fresh barrel as we pour it – infiltrating the previously inextricable tangles of densely-packed beef with silky lusciousness. It’s comfort food mastery.
Sides from the rotisserie exceed expectations. The pomme boulangére is a utility player if there ever was one. Jammy, reduced onions coat roughly chopped hunks of potato, which also appear as a deep fried lily pad balanced on top. The dish is addictive in its own right and concomitant with the other plates.
Notes of aniseed infuse the rotisserie celeriac, toothsome at first and then fluffy and sweet – heavily sprinkled with winter truffle, which provides further comforting succour.
The B&B burger is listed on the menu as dressed with smoked bacon and dill pickle, the latter of which should be capitalised, underlined and italicised. The hulking, verdant breeze-block increases the burger’s precariousness tenfold and is daubed with yet more dill-swirled mayonnaise – I resign to just eating it separately.
The burger itself is impressive. The patty, swarmed in a diaphanous blanket of cheese, is robust with a rosy cross-section and the umami porky-ketchup mixture on top takes the dish to the next level. However, the bottom bun is virtually 2D and soaked in grease, slippery against my thumb as I try to coax the burger in to my mouth.
The evening’s highlight is the cassoulet of tarbais beans, riddled with cepes and thick enough to coat the tongue but loose enough to not become too heavy. Its richness is compounded by the laces of black truffle sitting on top, measured still by flickers of citrus. This is a must order – whether you’re meat-averse or not – I could eat buckets of the stuff.
Desserts are ordered as we sip wine and look up at the domed ceiling – well, at least I do – my friend’s facing the wrong way, so I guess he just looks at the window behind me? Tough luck either way.
The glow of a gaggle of television screens are a curious distraction amongst such ornate surroundings. The dining room seems to try to exude luxury in a sort of ‘Yeah I’m rich, but you can still sit with me’ way; think those well-off kids that go to art school and start dressing like they don’t have trust-funds. Like, I see through your tracksuit, Monty.
Desserts arrive and suddenly the entire dining room, never mind the TV’s, becomes a trivial matter.
Beef suet sticky toffee pudding are, for me, a combination of words that trigger nothing short of delirium. The pudding is a perfect little hill of sponge, beset by a moat of toffee sauce and crowned with a toffee tuile that supports a rapidly melting scoop of vanilla ice cream. What has been achieved here is best described as such: you know that super-chewy corner of the average sticky toffee pudding that you eat towards, to save it for last? It’s that, all the way around. Magnificent.