River rescue

One particularly rough night out in Manchester, Marco Pierre White saved Terry Durack's life.

Manchester is not at all united. A river runs through it, in fact, in a gleaming demarcation of where Manchester finishes and the neighbouring city of Salford begins. Manchester is divided into past and future, too; the cottonopolis of the past is making way for a sleeker, smarter, Star Trekky sort of city. There are futuristic shopping complexes, evocative Daniel Libeskind architecture, and a £100m stadium to house the XVII Commonwealth Games later this month.

Naturally, many of the country's top restaurants have kindly set up shop in Manchester – selfless contributions to the local economy. Paul Heathcote, Raymond Blanc, Gary Rhodes, Terence Conran and Marco Pierre White have all done their bit to beef up the local restaurant industry, along with popular food chains such as Wagamama, fish! and Livebait. Sadly, much of the city's once famous Chinatown is now reduced to all-you-can-eat buffets, and – worse – new-wave Oriental.

I feel particularly kindly towards the River Room Marco Pierre White at Rocco Forte's extremely swish Lowry Hotel because it once saved my life. Being the sort of person who can move seats up to four times in a cinema in order to avoid the smell of popcorn or the crunch of potato crisps – both of which are more offensive than smoking and should be banned from confined public places – I am also able to walk out of a restaurant when I feel it's only going to get worse and not better.

In Manchester one Saturday night, I paid in full and left not one but two of the city's leading Chinese establishments, unable to eat-here what I would normally consider take-away. The over-cooked, cornflour-glugged, sweet-sauced food that came in response to my careful ordering was a travesty.

It was late, I was starving, and my wife had that look on her face she gets when I want to move seats in the cinema for the fourth time. Flinging ourselves at the foot of the River Room's maître d', we were quickly restored to something like sanity with a magnificent daube of Aberdeen Angus, a muscly roast chicken with bread sauce, chipolatas and jus, and a bottle of velvety Burgundy. Night rescued, marriage saved.

Now, when I hear people complain about the predictability of Marco Pierre White's menus – the omelette Arnold Bennett, the roast chicken, the soup of mussels Billy-Bye, the parfait of foie gras en gelée, the potted shrimps and the confit of lamb printaniere – I tell them to stay home more often. Familiarity with a good roast chicken, as with a good old friend, should never breed contempt.

Now I'm back six months later, for both breakfast and lunch. By day, the dining-room is less romantic and moody, taking on that polite and spacious feeling of ocean-liner anonymity that seems to go with hotel dining-rooms. A gentle Art Deco touch puts bev-elled mirrors above smart booths, although decor is sublimated to the view of the river Irwell and Santiago Calatrava's sweeping white Trinity bridge.

The staff appear to be night people. Service is correct, but too remote-control to be personal, with one waiter bidding the steak-eating business group at the table "good evening".

The excellent breakfast costs £15, but the special lunch menu is £12 for two courses, a state of events that can only be described as silly. It also proves that all things good and cheap, are not necessarily cheap and good.

Parting ways with the MPW canon of classic-French-turned-modern-British dishes is a fairly scrappy salad of crispy duck with bok choy cabbage and Asian broccoli (gai laan); the duck over-caramelised and over-cooked. Why, when you are capable of producing superior European food, would you settle for sending out inferior Oriental? Next, a plain dish of three small red snapper fillets in an intense crab bisque studded with cactus-like cords of samphire is small and unremarkable.

Thankfully, other dishes ordered from the regular menu reinforce my belief in The Marco Way. A terrine of venison with sauce Cumberland (£11.75) is a beautifully crafted thing; moist, shreddy and dense. It tastes more of duck liver than venison, but it does that thing that all great terrines do: elevates rustic country flavours with sophisticated technique.

Grilled sole (£16.50) is a whole fish, though I wonder if it really needed to be be-headed and de-tailed. It is frosted, rather than sauced, with a rich creamy warm tartare sauce studded with capers. It is all a bit fiddly, and a bit reminiscent of that Lurex-like fish topped with oscietre caviar that appeared in MPW's 1990s oeuvre, but it is effective, without dismissing the exemplary freshness and sweet taste of the fish itself.

A small tarte tatin of mango (£6) ordered for dessert is a reminder to chefs everywhere to stick to apples and pears when caramelising fruit in butter and sugar. Good, soft, buttery pastry and vanilla bean ice-cream can't turn gluey, stick-to-your-teeth bits of seemingly dried or glace mango into anything at all interesting.

Before he succumbed to the false gods of bagels, burgers and gourmet sandwiches, Marco Pierre White put in place a classic restaurant formula. A restaurant like this – with a smart chef like David Woolf – is his true legacy. When the service kicks in, and they drop the Oriental stuff, then I wouldn't swap my seat for anyone.

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Life and Style
tech

Apple has been hit by complaints about the 1.1GB download

Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Life and Style
Alexander McQueen A/W 2014
fashionPolitics aside, tartan is on-trend again this season
Arts and Entertainment
Rapper Jay Z performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2008
musicSinger sued over use of the single-syllable sample in 'Run This Town'
Sport
Joel jumps over the board...and into a giant hole
footballFrom joy to despair in a matter of seconds
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC
tv

Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason

Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me
tv

Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama

Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife
film

Matt Smith is set to join cast of the Jane Austen classic - with a twist

Life and Style
i100

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

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week