"Sorry about the noise," Aiden Byrne says as he weaves his way around his new restaurant, 20 Stories. The site, which he has opened in collaboration with D&D London in Manchester's No 1 Spinningfields building, is a hub of activity, full of builders, project managers and staff preparing for the city's most-anticipated launch of 2018.
Striding through the 15,260 sq ft restaurant, Byrne describes the different sections: a 104-cover fine-dining restaurant to the left, a more laid-back, 80-cover grill on the right, and a 50-cover standing bar running down the middle of the room. There's also a 14-cover private dining room.
"Dishes in the grill will be executed as well as they are in the restaurant, and there's no difference in the products we're using - it's just that the entry level and prices are going to be different," Byrne explains. "If someone wants a dish from the grill menu in the restaurant, they can have it - we're not going to say no. I don't want to feel like there's a class divide. Our general manager, Kim Sin Tae, is working with the staff to make sure that doesn't happen - all of our customers are the same; the ones eating in the grill just want something a little more informal."
Initially, Byrne anticipates that the restaurant will be the main source of income as the grill area is smaller and will attract a lower average spend per head. Then, when the 200-cover outside terrace opens it will triple the space. "Come the summertime I imagine the terrace is going to go ballistic. There will be firepits, it'll be heated and completely covered over," he says.
The restaurant will offer seasonal dishes that showcase local produce, with some using ingredients from Byrne's own 'farm' in Cheshire. "A friend of mine who is a dentist has a plot of land, and he asked me what I was going to do for my vegetables. I said I'd probably find a good supplier, but he asked if I fancied growing produce with him. We've started with indoor growing modules with UV lights for our salads and herbs, then as the year goes on the restaurant can become sustainable."
Dishes on the menu at 20 Stories include roast pigeon with cherries and violet mustard to start, grilled turbot with savoy cabbage, Morteau sausage and rosemary for main, and yogurt parfait with rose and lemon and
candied salt pistachios for dessert. The grill will offer meat, sharing mains and home comforts, such as fish and cottage pie.
"I think a lot of chefs would say to their team, 'I'll look after the fine dining, you look after the grill', but I don't want to do that. I love throwing myself into experimental and exciting dishes, but at the same time I love macaroni cheese and a burger.
"At 45 years of age I like to think I've got a pretty good oversight on my guests and what Manchester wants. We're bringing another level of dining to Manchester. We aim to be a lifestyle destination and accessible for the majority of Manchester to join us."
This seems to have borne out: the soft launch target of 1,600 bookings was achieved and beaten without any advertising. "It's great to know there's a need for something like this here," Byrne adds. "Usually, after the soft opening it slows down a bit, but our bookings have shown that's not the case. I think it's going to bring another level of excitement to the city. I don't think we are here to knock everybody out of the water; we are genuinely here to add to it. I think Manchester can cope with it."
Byrne, baby, Byrne
Byrne was the youngest chef in the UK to be awarded a Michelin star at the age of 22, and he moved to Manchester in 2012 to open Manchester House in partnership with Living Ventures - the restaurant company founded by Jeremy Roberts and the late Tim Bacon.
"Since Tim passed away, I was thinking about moving on, but didn't want to move away from the north," says Byrne. "I heard that D&D was coming back up to Manchester and about its plans for 20 Stories. It is one of the biggest projects that Manchester has ever seen and I thought that it was something I'd love to be involved with. The more I got to know D&D, the more I came to see it was a reputable bunch of guys who do things properly."
D&D London, owned by Des Gunewardena and David Loewi, was born from a buyout in 2006 of Conran Restaurants, where they were both employees for 15 and 11 years respectively. Today, D&D London has 37 restaurants and one hotel in the UK and four restaurants overseas.
"Though we opened our first restaurants outside of London in Leeds [Angelica and Crafthouse in 2013], we have had our eye on Manchester for a long time. Spinningfields in the early days didn't look quite as successful as it does now, and we are now going into Manchester off the back of what Living Ventures have done. We've been given more confidence - not only by our success in Leeds, but also by the restaurant scene that has been established in Manchester," Gunewardena says. "We are very motivated to grow outside of London, and why would we not be?"
Room with a view
D&D hope to bring "something where not only the views outside will be good, but inside too" to the £1.5b Spinningfields development, which houses Carluccio's, Comptoir Libanais, Zizzi, Gourmet Burger Kitchen and Tattu. Branded the highest restaurant in Manchester, the £4m restaurant located on the 19th floor (though it is double-height, which explains the name) offers sweeping panoramic sights complemented by design from New York-based CetraRuddy - the design company behind London's Sushisamba in the Heron Tower.
Alongside 20 Stories, D&D will also be expanding its Bluebird brand to London's White City and to New York. However, Gunewardena says 20 Stories "is the most exciting restaurant" they've opened since German Gymnasium in King's Cross in London in 2015.
"Manchester hasn't yet got a Michelin star," he says. "We aren't the type of people to chase stars, but if one comes along, that's great. We think Manchester has not started developing near the level of London, but there's the beginnings of a really interesting food scene."
Initially, Byrne will look after 20 Stories himself, but the agreement with D&D will see him involved with all current and future northern restaurants. Byrne says: "It's going to be a case of me getting stuck in where my attention is required. D&D will put everything they've got into it. It's great to know I've got support from a company with such a phenomenal track record."
From the menu
From the restaurant menu
- Roast scallop, pearl barley, Rioja distillation £14.50
- Leek and truffle salad, confit egg yolk, goats' curd £8
- Poached John Dory, lobster consommé, horseradish £24
- Yorkshire Wolds duck, blackberry, gin, kale £24
- Manchester tart £8.50
- Toasted meringue, yuzu, pink grapefruit, ricotta £7
From the grill menu
Pork cheek bon bons, smoked apple purée £5
Veal carpaccio, crisp parsnip and pear salad £8
Cottage pie, roasted celeriac and garlic purée £10
Poached haddock, curried cauliflower, pickled raisins £12.50
Duck egg custard tart, roasted plums £6.50
Pecan praline and pear choux bun £6.50
About Aiden Byrne
Aiden Byrne grew up in Kirkby, Merseyside. A summer job at the Stanneylands Hotel in Wilmslow, Cheshire, inspired him to choose a career as a chef, and his experience includes the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington and Adlard's in Norwich, where at the age of 22 he was appointed head chef and awarded a Michelin star.
He went on to work at a number of Michelin-starred establishments, including the Oak Room and Orangery restaurants at Danesfield House Hotel and Spa in Buckinghamshire, and the Commons restaurant in Dublin. He also spent two
years in London as head chef at Restaurant Tom Aikens before joining the Dorchester as head chef of the Grill Room.
In 2008 he purchased the Church Green in Lymm, Cheshire, which won the AA Restaurant of the Year in 2012. In September 2013 Byrne opened Manchester House with Living Ventures and in January 2016 the restaurant received four AA rosettes.
He left Manchester House in November 2017 to launch 20 Stories with D&D London, with the aim of overseeing further openings as chef-director of the north of England.
Byrne says he's seen Manchester grow from strength to strength during his time in the city, and that 20 Stories will bring another level of excitement to the dining scene. "It is a site with a great view and phenomenal potential. This is one of the most exciting things I've ever done."
About D&D London
In 2006, Des Gunewardena and David Loewi bought Sir Terence Conran's restaurant company, and in doing so took ownership of legendary sites such as Bluebird, Orrery, Quaglino's, Le Pont de la Tour, Blueprint Café, and Butlers Wharf Chop House, which are all still open today.
Initially, D&D London - the new name for Conran Restaurants - acquired Image Restaurants' three sites: Avenue in St James's and Kensington Place and Launceston Place, both in Kensington. It has since launched Skylon in the Royal Festival Hall and Old Bengal Warehouse and the South Place Hotel, both near Liverpool Street.
Outside of London the company opened Crafthouse and Angelica in Leeds, followed by two additional sites in 2017, Issho and East 59th. International venues include Alcazar in Paris, Guastavino's in New York, and Botanica and Iconic restaurants in Tokyo.
w ventures have included German Gymnasium in King's Cross and Aster in Victoria, both in London. The company has also announced two new restaurant openings in New York: an outpost of Bluebird in the Time Warner Center and a new modern brasserie in Hudson Yards.
In November 2016 Gunewardena lost a High Court battle with Sir Terence Conran in which he claimed he had been "short-changed by more than £3m" when he parted company with Conran Holdings. Gunewardena, who had joined
as finance director in 1991, said he was owed the money for shares he held in the business, for which he claims he was only paid £1,254.
Loewi, who completed a postgraduate hospitality degree in Switzerland, has worked for the Savoy and Hyatt hotel groups. He says: "I've always been involved in restaurants and hotels. I love them. I used to enjoy going to restaurants, but the food scene was uninteresting in London. Now it's such an exciting market. I left hotels because the speed of change in restaurants was so exciting, whereas hotels are a big investment and are slower to grow. It's a dynamic business to be in and I love food and people."
No 1 Spinningfields, 1 Hardman Square, Spinningfields, Manchester M3 3EB www.20stories.co.uk
Chef-director of the north Aiden Byrne
Head chef James Hume
General manager Kim Sin Tae
Bar manager Stuart McLachlan
Designers CetraRuddy and DesignLSM
Seats 484, including the terrace
Average spend Grill: £25; restaurant: £60
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