Smoak bar and grill at the Malmaison Manchester provides a casual vibe and a strong, retro Americana feel to the menu. Janet Harmer reports
In launching Smoak bar and grill, chief executive of Malmaison Robert Cook said he intended to create a totally new eating and drinking experience for Manchester. Having witnessed the buzz throughout the place on a Monday evening, it would seem that both the guests staying at the Malmaison hotel in which it is housed and the locals warmly welcome the opportunity of eating somewhere different. Cook himself is thrilled, saying that it is doing exceptionally well - "well beyond all expectations".
The general vibe of the space, which can accommodate 95 throughout the restaurant and at the bar, is casual. It is somewhere to go for a relaxed lunch or a fun evening out. Seating for 22 at the bar and eight alongside the Josper grill - intending to replicate the success of counter dining at sister brand Bistro du Vin, which now numbers two outlets in London - adds to the informality.
Manchester's industrial heritage has inspired the design with original brickwork surfaces and concrete walls exposed alongside steel girders and columns, and oak beams and flooring. High-backed oxblood red leather banquettes and bar chairs upholstered in Midwest American blanket wool and Ghanian Asafo flags, enliven the starkness of the backdrop, while quirky touches include the casual roller blinds made from vintage coffee bean and grain sacks and waiters' stations fashioned from apple crates, distressed metals and reclaimed oak sleepers.
Overseen by executive head chef David Sharp, Smoak - an amalgamation of the words smoke and oak, which is a nod to the grill and the predominate use of oak in the design of the restaurant - offers a menu which is largely inspired by the steakhouses of Arizona.
"We have a strong, retro Americana feel to our menu, old classics reworked using the best produce available," explains Keith Shearer, Malmaison's group executive chef. "We want our guests to have great, simple classic dishes, prepared with only the best produce with pride, quality and fun."
Steaks, burgers and lobster cooked over the Josper grill are the key focus. Ranging in price from a flat iron steak (£12.50) up to a whole baked lobster (£50), the selection of nine cuts are served with a choice of peppercorn, bearnaise, gascon, café de Paris or garlic butter sauces.
While the American flavour of the menu continues throughout with the likes of corn chowder (£4.75), jumbo shrimp cocktail (£10.50), and even the salmon gravalax given a US-twist with the accompanying bourbon and sour cherry (£5.75), elsewhere the choices are eclectic. Coconut prawn and salmon fishcake, green tea Thai sauce (£6.75), and aubergine and goats' cheese curry and roasted cumin potatoes (£6.50/£12.75) reflect an Asian influence, while European tastes are catered for with the likes of poached loin of lamb, fine onion tart, broad beans, English peas and nutty morels (£17.50) and collops of monk fish, smoked garlic mash potato and tarragon tomatoes (£16.50).
Desserts - such as jam roly poly with jam syrup and custard and egg custard tart with nutmeg ice-cream (both £5.50) - tend to be of the British comfort variety, but very often are served up in more than generous American-sized portions.
It is the high-quality steaks sourced from Taylors of nearby Sale, though, that are the big hit at Smoak, with the Josper grill providing a unami-inducing crust on the outside of the meat and a deep red, succulent interior.
The success of the concept in Manchester has encouraged Cook to draw up plans for a second Smoak at the Malmaison Edinburgh, due to open in the New Year. However, it remains to be seen if Cook's successor - due to replace him when he leaves the company shortly - will expand the brand throughout the entire 12-strong Malmaison portfolio.
Sample dishes from the menu
Steamed gnocchi, spring onions, chestnut mushroom and Parmesan shavings £6.50 Three sausage sampler, smoked mash, hot mustard and caramelised shallots £7.50 Smoked duck salad, Bourbon roasted almonds and butterscotch vinaigrette £6.75
Pan-fried hake & chorizo risotto £13.50 Tuscan brick chicken breast, roasted sweet potatoes and bourbon mayonnaise £12.75 From the Smoak & Josper grill: 400g 35 day aged rump Longhorn, £25; 350g rib steak Belted Galloway, £27; 250g fillet Galloway & Shorthorn cross, £29
Egg custard tart with nutmeg ice-cream £5.50 Peach melba with vanilla ice-cream £5.50 Pineapple pannacottta £5.50
Smoak bar and grill Malmaison Manchester, Piccadilly, Manchester M1 1LZ
Tel: 0161-278 1000
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