On a gilt trip: Vermilion, Hulme Hall Lane, Lord North Street, Manchester

Its opulent interior cost millions. But will Vermilion bring the crowds to an industrial estate in east Manchester?

Where the hell am I? Manchester is surreal enough at the best of times, but with Vermilion, the city's newest, largest and most ambitious restaurant, I have every reason to suspect I have fallen through a rift in the space-time continuum.

I am in a cab travelling east, through unprepossessing industrial estates, past gasworks and warehouses, before pulling up outside a three-storey building glowing disco-crimson from within. It is here that Iqbal Ahmed OBE (with his son Manzur) has just opened a £4.5m Thai restaurant, handily located – for him – right next to his Seamark seafood wholesaling warehouse.

A good proportion of that £4.5m must have been given to renowned Portuguese architect Miguel Cancio Martins, who designed last century's hottest Parisian nightspots, Buddha Bar and Man Ray. Again, Martins has created an upstairs bar overlooking a vast dining-room, with much use of Buddha heads, gold mosaics and orbs of coloured light clinging to the ceiling. Around the bar are six cocoons – semi-secluded lounging pods in which Manchester's most fashionable can recline like patricians at an ancient Roman convivium.

There is only one thing missing: people. The bar alone can hold 300, which means there is currently room for... 300. Nobody wants to be the early nerd, including me, so I step down the golden spiral stairs to the dining-room instead. It's another striking, glamorous room with a varnished timber ceiling, black lacquered floor and glossy red tree trunks gathered around a central tower layered with glowing Buddha heads like petits fours on a cake-stand. At 8pm on a Thursday, there are more Buddha heads than diners, however, with around 20 of the 200 seats taken.

Chef Chumpol Jangprai had a senior post with the globally successful Blue Elephant group before putting this greatest-hits menu in place for Vermilion. It looks big, but there are few surprises, running through classic Thai favourites from tom yam koong (spicy prawn soup) to crisp mee krob noodles, Thai fish cakes, and the usual array of curries.

The food is perfectly competent and unremarkable, which only serves to make the décor seem more hysterical. Best is pla yang ka min (£8), a simple, pleasing grill of skewered marinated salmon and wild trout fillets, lightly fragrant with fresh turmeric – a rare treat. I like the silky, juicy quality of marinated chicken fillets wrapped in pandan leaf (£8), and the tentative heat of the green chicken curry (£8.50), although the chicken itself is bland. Small spring rolls (£6.50) are cold in the middle, while a banana blossom, prawn and chicken salad (£8.50) is overpowered by strong, sweet, sticky sauce. Another promising dish of stir-fried rock lobster with fresh peppercorns (£18.80) lacks any sizzle and, again, the produce is bland. My biggest problem is that the overwhelming sweetness in most of the dishes is not balanced by any chilli heat or sourness.

The heavy-hitting wine list includes a range of completely unsuitable Bordeaux, but I find a 2006 New Zealand Huia Pinot Noir for £38 that is silky and fruity enough to cope with the sweetness. Dessert seems redundant.

If it were a buzzing Saturday night, this place could be great fun, but empty, it has an air of folly. I feel sorry for the Iqbals as I hear one diner proclaim, "I don't eat chilli, coriander or lemongrass." Apparently the chef is already working on a new fusion menu, with such things as salmon soufflé, caviar, and entrecôte with Thai flavours, to attract a more Bordeaux-drinking crowd.

I fear my instincts about the space-time continuum might be right, but at least if the rift heals and this anomaly simply vanishes, Mr Ahmed will have a very groovy warehouse for his frozen prawns.

12/20

SCORES: 1-9 STAY HOME AND COOK, 10-11 NEEDS HELP, 12 OK, 13 PLEASANT ENOUGH, 14 GOOD, 15 VERY GOOD, 16 CAPABLE OF GREATNESS, 17 SPECIAL, CAN'T WAIT TO GO BACK, 18 HIGHLY HONOURABLE, 19 UNIQUE AND MEMORABLE, 20 AS GOOD AS IT GETS

Vermilion, Hulme Hall Lane, Lord North Street, Manchester, tel: 0161 202 0055

Lunch, Monday-Friday; dinner, Monday-Saturday; brunch, Sunday. Around £110 for two for dinner, including wine and service

Second helpings: More Thai temptations

Sukho

855 Fulham Road, London SW6, tel: 020 7371 7600

This Parsons Green establishment goes beyond the usual Thai suspects to more exciting options such as soft-shell crab and duck confit with lemongrass and tamarind

Sukhothai

8 Regent Street, Chapel Allerton, Leeds, tel: 0113 237 0141

Owner/chef Ban Kaewkraikhot opened in Leeds in 2002 and quickly converted locals with her Thai fish cakes, pandan chicken and crisp mee krob noodles

Chaophraya

Chapel Walks, off Cross Street, Manchester, tel: 0161 832 8342

Pre-Vermilion, Chaophraya raised the bar for Thai dining in Manchester. The food is the real deal, from the Thai fisherman's soup to grilled seabass in banana leaves

Read Terry Durack's new column at independent.co.uk/eat

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine