Since Adam Reid took over as chef-patron of the French at the Midland hotel following Simon Rogan’s departure last year, he’s been stamping his own personality on the restaurant. Katie Pathiaki reports
Chef Adam Reid is all about changing perceptions. Since Simon Rogan’s departure from the French in Manchester’s Midland hotel last October, Reid has been focused on revolutionising the restaurant to appeal to the local market.
He’s reimagined fine dining by reducing the number of dishes on the menu, introducing a lively music playlist and giving the restaurant a new look. The menus are even embellished with a perplexing ambigram – a word that reads the same when upside down. “That says everything there is to know about me – it’s simple, but there’s something more to it.” Reid says.
The £100,000 makeover of the French saw the introduction of a chef’s counter, new lighting, wall art and elegant grey paintwork, with the new look launching in February.
“We had a little interim period where Simon had gone and I had taken over, but until the refurb it wasn’t really Adam Reid at the French. If you are going out to a restaurant with a name above the door, you want to get the feeling of what that person is about and the personality of it.”
The 50-cover restaurant is nestled in the corner of the Midland hotel, located in the city centre of Manchester. It’s cordoned off by large, grey curtains, separating the restaurant from the bustle of the rest of the hotel.
“When you step into the restaurant you don’t feel like you’re inside a hotel; it just feels like you’re in a nice restaurant. If you are going to be an independent restaurant then you need to show demarcation. You need to offer a different experience to what the other elements in the hotel are,” says Reid.
He is proud of his £35,000 chefs’ counter. He curses that, as the room is 114 years old, he will never be able to have an open kitchen and the sociable chef wanted to have the opportunity to meet his customers. “The first thing I wanted to do was take customers away from the idea that you sit in a stagnant room and wait for your food to arrive. I don’t like that; I want interaction.”
The seven-seat counter gives the room a focal point and chefs are stationed there throughout service. They invite diners to sit on the surrounding stools to watch them create dishes in the co-preparation area.
Taking over from Simon Rogan
Rogan stepped away from the four-AA-star, 312-bedroom Midland hotel in Manchester, three years into a five-year contract. The news came days after the publication of the 2017 Michelin Guide, which had once again starved the Manchester dining scene of stars. Rogan’s desire to gain a star had been documented in the 2014 BBC TV series Restaurant Wars.
At that point, Reid had worked with the acclaimed chef for three-and-a-half years. “What we’ve been doing has always been great. It’s got better over time, but we needed pushing forward. The hotel group [Q Hotels] wants this restaurant to be everything it possibly can. That wasn’t the idea in the beginning but as this has evolved and grown, they’ve seen the potential in this restaurant and they want to achieve it,” says Reid.
“Simon had so much on his plate and expanded so quickly.” He continues: “Fera [at Claridge’s in London, which Rogan has now also stepped away from] took up so much of his time and he still wants to push L’Enclume further – something had to give on his side and expectation levels were always going to grow rather than lower on the hotel’s side.”
During the discussions between Rogan and the hotel, Reid was winning hearts on the BBC Two programme Great British Menu, where he made it all the way to the final banquet with his dessert – the Golden Empire.
“The takeover was natural. It tied in very well with Great British Menu, which was the perfect platform for me to then take on the restaurant. It was a big risk for the hotel; they could have just said to Simon to stick it out and leave his name on the restaurant, but they wanted it to be more than it was.
“I’ve been doing it for over three years. I felt I knew where it was lacking, and I knew the bits that needed looking at as I was the one that was here on a day-to-day basis. This restaurant needs a figurehead to appeal to people off the street.”
One of Reid’s first focuses was to rethink the menus to make the French more accessible to diners. The restaurant was quiet during mid-week service and lunch trade was a struggle.
“People aren’t coming from far and wide to stay in Manchester on a Tuesday and Wednesday to have dinner.” Reid explains. “I looked at what was going on in London, at all the independent restaurants that are opening down there and the chefs that are running them.”
Reid soon realised that not only did the menu need a spruce up, but the atmosphere in the restaurant did, too. “In Manchester, people come out for an enjoyable evening. Your average Mancunian will go somewhere that does a below-par product if the environment is enjoyable. If you are not packed on a Saturday night in Manchester then you might as well pack your bags and go,” he says.
So as a first step toward modernising the restaurant, Reid created a playlist of his favourite music, whereas before diners ate without a soundtrack. Artists include Arctic Monkeys, the Stone Roses and David Bowie.
“I get more compliments about the playlist than I do the food, because we are in Manchester and that’s what people are interested in!” he laughs. “Come at the weekend and it’s bustling in here, just the way I want it; everyone’s talking and you feel comfortable and relaxed – you don’t feel like you are sat in a stale room where you are too scared to talk. The regulars have definitely taken to it and like it.”
The French now offers small plates at lunch, which allows people to come in, eat and leave within an hour. Reid has already seen the benefit of offering a smaller menu: “We do have random days where we do 30 for lunch because of the conference centre across the road. We are able to accommodate them now because before these guys wouldn’t have come for a six-course, two-and-a-half-hour lunch, so it’s all about setting it up so that we are never overstretching ourselves.”
Reid’s style is different to Rogan’s, but the latter’s influences still remain at the French. Reid grows his own produce on the roof garden, for example. “For years I worked with the guys at Simon’s farm, but that all went with him and I didn’t want to lose that element. The roof garden has 20 raised beds now and we grow herbs and flowers up there. I’ll probably push that even further this year. I started it because everyone else in Simon’s group was doing it and I wanted to show that I could do it. But now it’s essential to my cooking.”
Reid prioritises the preparation of every dish in order to deliver powerful flavours. “My mise en place is all technique; we do lots of stuff to everything to enhance it, then when it gets on the plate I don’t want to lose that, so I try and present things quite simply.”
The heather-smoked duck with beetroot and cherry sauce takes two weeks to create. Reid sends the ducks to speciality food supplier Udale to put in its Himalayan salt chambers for two days before they are sent back to the French. The ducks are then stuffed with hay and hung in the fridge for five days, brined and hot-smoked over juniper branches. They are then glazed with a honey, sherry and vinegar reduction and roasted.
“It’s all about depth of flavour for me.” Reid says. “Build from the bottom and then right at the end do as little as possible. I like a bit of preserving. I make a wild garlic sauce like a mint sauce, so when lambs come back around, you can just grab a jar out of the fridge that you made last year and put a dollop on the plate.
“If you’ve only got a one- or two-year plan you are never going to get anything out of your ingredients; you’ve got to build something that’s going to last you over a period of time.”
When Reid and his team were working under Rogan, they were awarded four AA rosettes. Reid still wants to hit those heights. “What I’m cooking now is better than what I was cooking before. Whether or not the concept works as a whole, I don’t know, but that’s up to people to decide. The quality of product is better now than it was, so our goal is to get those accolades and push for more,” he says.
“In 10 years I don’t know what I’ll be doing. The ideal would be to have my own business, but you’ve got to look at the bigger picture and, going forward, if the opportunity arose then that would be my ideal choice, but I’m not going to jump ship. This is a long-term project. This is my restaurant as I see it.
“Six months ago I knew what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know how to get there. Where we have come since Christmas is phenomenal; probably where we will be in six months’ time will be different. We are not changing; just evolving. There’s still a long way to go.”
The 34-year-old chef began his career aged 16 at Paul Heathcote’s School of Excellence in Deansgate, Manchester. His first kitchen job was at Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, where he started as commis chef, progressing to chef de partie. He left in 2005 to take on the role of chef de partie at Le Mont, also in Manchester.
Reid’s first Michelin-starred job was at Mallory Court in Warwickshire. Between 2006 and 2009 he progressed from demi chef de partie to sous chef. He then took a position as chef tournant at the Michelin-starred Chester Grosvenor and was promoted to senior sous chef. After two years, Reid moved to Brockencote Hall in Worcestershire as senior sous chef. In March 2013, Reid took up his first head chef role when he joined Simon Rogan to launch the French at the Midland hotel. In that same year he was given an Acorn Award by The Caterer.
Reid took over the role of chef-patron at the French in November 2016.
Artichoke, smoked eel macaroni, hazelnut, chicory
Steak blue, nasturtium, celeriac, mushroom catsup
Cornish cod, brown shrimp butter sauce, asparagus
Salt-aged duck, beetroot, mushroon, pickled cherry juices
Kalamansi, white chocolate, sorbet
Custard tart with nutmeg and pink rhubarb
Lunch Wednesday to Friday – à la carte snacks, £3-£5; mains, £7-£10; desserts, £4-£15; or six-course tasting menu, £60.
Saturday – six-course menu only, £65
Dinner Tuesday-Thursday – six-course menu, £65; or nine-course menu, £85 Friday-Saturday – nine-course menu only