Restaurant Wars: the Battle for Manchester, BBC2 - TV review
A no-nonsense battle of the chefs whets the appetite
Ellen E Jones
Ellen is The Independent's TV critic. She writes a daily review of Last Night's TV and a weekly 'Inside TV' column for the i paper, as well as a column on general topics for the main paper most Wednesdays. Ellen is a former Hollywood correspondent and a contributing editor to Little White Lies, she's written on TV, film, lifestyle, travel and politics for publications including the Guardian, The Times, The Sunday Times, Esquire and Total Film.
Tuesday 15 April 2014
Mancunians cemented their claim to be the most no-nonsense people on Earth in the first episode of Restaurant Wars: the Battle for Manchester (BBC2) last night.
Ignore the game-show suggestions of the silly title. This three-part documentary is a straight-forward study of the restaurant trade, following two of Britain's best chefs as they open rival restaurants in the North-west.
The city of Manchester might be one of Britain's great cultural and creative hubs, but it hasn't had a Michelin star for 40 years – and is proud of it, judging by some of the gruff anti-foodie comments in this documentary. "I'd sooner sit down to a plate of cabbage and ribs," said a doorman at the Midland Hotel, after being treated to a 10-course meal of haute cuisine that would usually fetch over £100 a head.
Then again, they said similar in Cartmel, before chef Simon Rogan came along, launched L'Enclume (which you may remember as a destination restaurant in the first series of The Trip) and transformed the small Lake District village into a foodie destination.
He's hoping to repeat the trick at the French restaurant at the Midland Hotel, a fancy, but stuffy venue founded in 1903. The maître d' once famously turned away the Beatles for being "inappropriately dressed" and his successor looked like he'd happily give Rogan the same treatment.
Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Aiden Byrne is sweating away in a test kitchen, designing the menu for his own new venture, Manchester House. At 22, Byrne became the youngest chef ever to earn a Michelin star while working at Adlard's in Norwich, but he's been struggling to recapture that early success.
His latest humiliation involved being forced to cook pub grub – the horror! – at his own restaurant in Cheshire, when a fine-dining menu proved unviable. Now, he's been rescued by his very own Daddy Warbucks, a multi-millionaire restaurateur called Tim Bacon.
Aiden is our underdog, but that's not the only reason I wanted him to win the (entirely TV-producer concocted) "Battle for Manchester". He also just seemed like a nice, easy-going kind of guy. I know rudeness is often equated with perfectionism in the restaurant trade, but is it really necessary for Simon Rogan to be quite so mean to his staff?
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