Deep-fried squid with garlic mayonnaise, £6.95
Roasted shallot and plum tomato croustade, £4.24
The wall of Flame
Maple-basted smoked pork loin with home-made piccalilli, £11
Half a spiced crispy duck with ginger, mango and peach chutney, £12.95
Seared tuna steak with roasted pineapple salsa, £13
Portobello mushrooms with fresh Parmesan, served open on ranch-house toast, £9.50
A giant wall of flame greets diners at Manchester's new Arts Bar & Grill. It was the idea of Charles Prew, a director of Jarvis Hotels, and the restaurant is his baby.
Take the lift up three floors from the lobby of the Jarvis Piccadilly hotel and you'll walk past a customised wine trolley complete with lights (another Prew brainwave), offering 10 reds and whites by the glass. Next comes the "wall of flame" - its official name - strung up with sizzling ducks and crisp-skinned chicken, infusing the dining room with a whiff of smoke.
The idea isn't entirely new - there is an Arts Bar & Grill in four Jarvis hotels and the restaurant concept has been around for five years or so. But it's only now that Prew and his team are confident about rolling it out in at least 28 of the 64 Jarvis hotels across the country.
The "wall of flame" is new, and so is the restaurant's funky interior - at a cost of £1m. It has a completely new menu too. At the core are the "arts signature" dishes - the classic Caesar salad (£5.50), the chunky fish soup with bullet chilli and saffron mayonnaise (£5.95), the meat off the "wall of flame" (duck, pork loin, herb and spice-rubbed chicken, peppered rib of beef, from £10.50 to £12.95), the grilled salmon with courgette and sun-dried tomatoes (£12), and the sausage and mash dish - Barrie Kershaw's famous prime pork and leek sausage (£10).
The sausages have a bit of a story attached. Each hotel is allowed to source its own local sausage, and can credit the supplier on the menu. The Jarvis hotel in Hemel Hempstead, for example, uses Gibson's of Watford, and the hotel in Norwich has gone for Palmer's cranberry and turkey number. The suppliers get a credit elsewhere on the menu too - Manchester declares that it uses "Cheshire's award-winning Faccenda poultry farm".
The Manchester Arts Bar & Grill is the hotel chain's flagship. It is also the biggest, at 220 seats. "Everything has come together here," says Prew. "Carveries are dead," he says. "Our customers want fun, informal surroundings." Customers, in fact, were mostly lone-travelling, middle-aged middle managers. Jarvis wanted a hotel dining concept that appealed to outside trade too, and decided to jazz things up a bit.
Even though the restaurant doesn't have its own entrance, Manchester's dining-out crowd has found its way in. The normally quiet weekends are now buzzing with fortysomethings having a bit of a knees-up, he reports.
Pulling them in, too, is the open kitchen. Head chef Robert Brimmell does his stuff with two other members of his brigade (there are 11 kitchen staff altogether) in front of the customers. Popular dishes, other than the "signatures", are the grilled salmon, and the red mullet with tomato and fennel butter and ratatouille (£14.50). "Funny really," says Prew, "because the further north you go, the less fish they eat." The menu changes every three to four months.
Arts Bar & Grill, 3rd Floor at the Picc, Piccadilly Plaza, Portland Street, Manchester M60 1QR. Tel: 0161 234 6060.