A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but how about the food at a restaurant formerly known as Prada?

The Lock, 7a-9 Deansgate Locks, Whitworth St West, Manchester M1 5LH

The Lock, 7a-9 Deansgate Locks, Whitworth St West, Manchester M1 5LH

You'd be surprised what goes into naming a restaurant. Next time you walk past Heel, Chelsea's new style bar, or dine in Crouton, one of Hoxton's trendy eateries, take a moment to pay tribute to the sweaty machinations over how these places were christened. The name of each restaurateur's baby can seal its fate, affecting how much attention it gets, what company it keeps, and what future it will have.

Attention is a funny thing, and putting your foot into your publicity-hungry mouth is a sure way to get you noticed, if only for the goof itself. When the Royal Pharmaceutical Society accused Notting Hill's Pharmacy restaurant of being too easily mistaken for, well, a pharmacy, it responded by regularly rearranging the letters. "Army Chap", and all the other anagrams, ingeniously made people better remember the original name. Similarly, in July, the Prada Society Café opened in Manchester, hoping with one particular word to bewitch the moneyed and the modish. The very same day, it was notified of legal proceedings by the fashion house. Prada's lawyers apparently even came to the launch party.

If nothing else, the owners demonstrated a rare quality in the increasingly hard-nosed restaurant-spinning business - awesome naivety. They didn't realise, they claim, that it would get them into such hot water. Still, get noticed they did. The restaurant has now changed its name to The Lock - an improvement any way you look at it - after Manchester's canals, on one of which it sits. It is part of the regeneration of Deansgate Locks, where it occupies the once-rotting space beneath the grand railway arches.

Stylistically, Manchester is still head and shoulders above the rest of the country. The city that gave birth to the style bar and kicked off Britain's club scene also initiated the country's adventure with post-industrial design; to use the old for the new. Around the town centre, ultra-modern clubs, galleries and bars peek out from the basements of grand Victorian monoliths. But the drug culture that underpinned much of the city's nightlife in the Eighties and Nineties has passed, and the accompanying violence has gone with it - Manchester's only sense of danger today comes from crossing the roads. The drivers here are maniacs but, there again, the streets are all but empty.

As was, initially, The Lock. The first customers of the evening, we stood around waiting for attention to no avail: perhaps I should have yelled "Prada". Eventually, one of the chefs offered to locate a waiter.

Seated outside in the downstairs restaurant, you get a view of towering Victoriana above and rippling water below on one side, and on the other, flashes of the industrial design that has brought the area up to date. Petula Clark, from the upstairs bar, vies for airspace with Jamiroquai downstairs. The decor features multicoloured art-nouveau lamps, and a mosaic theme that carries over from the tables outside to the floors within. Adjacent to the bar, outside the toilets, is a chrome sink the size of a small table studded with taps and soap dispensers, where guys and gals can flirt with each other as they wash their hands.

The menu is extensive and the food generous, with a couple of real flourishes. A starter of chicken liver parfait was ordinary, particularly alongside its delicious fig jam accompaniment. Red chard salad with smoked chicken ravioli offered earthy flavours, somewhat frustrated by its sweetish barbecue-style sauce.

Mains fared better - the pan-fried sea bass was tender, with perfectly crispy skin, and teamed with an excellent lemon salsa. Loin of venison came in a bitter chocolate sauce, which, while living up to its claims, was yeasty enough to make you think of Marmite.

A dessert of rum and raspberry sorbet was commendable - scarlet and delicate, like a grown-up Slush Puppy. The Mont Blanc was fluffy and well made, with a nice fruit compote.

After the initial gaffe, the service was exemplary. We were told before we left that staff shortages meant our waiter was attending to the entire clientele of thirtysomething couples and groups of girl diners - something we'd never have guessed. The three-course meal for two with a couple of cocktails, coffee and tip came to a not outrageous £80. The bill arrived in a leather folder emblazoned with the Prada Society Café logo. Just don't tell Miuccia.

Comments