Smoak Malmaison, Piccadilly, Manchester

Manchester's Malmaison has spruced up its brasserie; but does the food live up to the look?

There's no smoke without fire. And there's no Smoak without fire, either. It's just a shame that the fire here comes in the form of a three-storey illuminated billboard promoting this restaurant on the building opposite, which flickers distractingly all the time.

Smoak is a big deal in Manchester; or so the bods at Malmaison want us to think – that many LED units don't come cheap. The hotel has revamped its brasserie and it now comes tricked out with glass-fronted chiller room with great chunks of raw beef on display, in that fetishised way we have come to know.

The décor is vintage Americana, all dusty Coke crates and leather banquettes (although from outside all one can see are lengths of chain and rope, slightly offputtingly. I'm not sure what message the hotel was sending with that one).

I'm in Manchester to meet readers of The Independent on Sunday's sister paper, i; a group of engaged, smart folk who are not backward at coming forward on a wide variety of subjects – not least where to eat out in Manchester. None has yet been to Smoak; perhaps I've misjudged the appeal of the steak shrine here. Or perhaps Malmaison has?

The menu is big in both dimension and range. There are the expected smoky sections of Josper-grilled cuts of beef, and a Smoakburger; there are five varieties of chips; there is corn chowder, shrimp cocktail, buttermilk chicken, ribs – all the usual diner-deluxe standards. But hotel restaurants must keep half an eye on the returning guest, I guess, so there are also fishcakes, curries, risotto and noodle soups. It's a bit muddled.

There's no arguing, however, with the provenance of what's on my plate. A spanking-fresh shrimp cocktail is £10 . (From here on, I refuse to use the fraction affectation. It's all across Smoak's menu, like a Key Stage 3 test paper.) The gargantuan crustateans drape over the sides of the dish like the tassels on Ariel's cocktail dress.

Rebecca, my long-suffering office wife, is drawn to goat's cheese and apple hush puppies with red-pepper jelly (£5.50). This is mainly out of curiosity, since she has never before had these Southern cornbread balls. Three humungous boulders arrive on a rough-hewn wooden platter; another modern restaurant trope ticked off, I note wearily. They're a bit pappy, we agree, but the flavour is good.

The duff dish is Archie's steamed gnocchi with spring onions, chestnut mushrooms and Parmesan (£6.50). I'd never have ordered that lacklustre line-up anywhere. We find it stodgy and bland.

By sticking to the standards, I've done best: my rib-eye steak (£28 for 350g) is superb. The cut is excellent – marbled and thick – and they've not messed it about, just Jospered it so the exterior caramelises and the meat inside is tender and a deep pink. Could have done without the slightly charred and greasy bone marrow on the side, though.

Accompanying onion rings and a mac and cheese are no match for the high bar set by London's Meat Liquor, but they're decent enough and assist manfully in soaking up the Bloody Marys.

My companions are kind enough to order from round the edges of the menu to test the scope, but a pan-seared duck breast with oyster sauce and citrus-sesame noodles (£17.50) is only just passable: undercooked skin, uniform grey colour, challenging texture. I should have let poor Rebecca order a steak, too, but since she is standing in for the equally long-suffering Mr M, she understands her duties. Archie appreciates the size of the fried buttermilk chicken (£11¾. STOP WITH THE FRACTIONS, ALL RIGHT?), but once past the heavyweight batter, the meat is, says Archie, underpowered and almost dry. He's a fan of the paprika skinny chips, though, so that's all right.

We're defeated by the portion sizes and can only pick at a shared peach Melba (£5.50). By now the half-empty room has completely emptied and a trip to the loo turns surreal as I tune in to what's playing over the PA – a live recording of a comedian doing stand-up, complete with loud guffaws of the audience. Just, why?

We could have gone on to Ember, the lounge privée, where "the fire never dies", but – one suspects – the atmosphere is going to take some serious fanning to get going. As we leave, the virtual flames from across the road illuminate the empty tables. Would the last one out please turn off the lights?

6/10

Scores: 1-3 stay home and cook, 4 needs help, 5 does the job, 6 flashes of promise, 7 good 8 special, can't wait to go back, 9-10 as good as it gets

Smoak Malmaison, Piccadilly, Manchester, tel: 0161 278 1000 Lunch and dinner daily. £100 for two, with wine

Grill thrills

Cheyne Walk Brasserie

50 Cheyne Walk, London SW3, tel: 020 7376 8787

With its fabulous Gallic food – much of it cooked on an open grill – this romantic venture can seem a find – though you might feel the experience is no match for the bill

Grill on the Alley

5 Ridgefield, Manchester, tel: 0161 833 3465

A place to suit all ages – this buzzy, slick city-centre surf 'n' turf outfit has a great location (just off King Street) and its amazing steaks are a highlight

Le Monde

62 St Mary Street, Cardiff, tel: 02920 387 376

The city-centre venue of choice for those in the know – a sawdust-on-the-floor, first-floor operation, where you choose your steak or fish from the chiller-cabinets

Reviews extracted from 'Harden's London and UK Restaurant Guides 2012' www.hardens.com

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
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

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Restaurant Manager / Sommelier

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Receptionists - Seasonal Placement

    £12500 - £13520 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced Hotel Receptionists...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Receptionists - Poole

    £12500 - £13520 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Recruitment Genius: Lifeguards / Leisure Club Attendants - Seasonal Placement

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Qualified Lifeguards are required to join a fa...

    Day In a Page

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn