Just before Christmas, Oliver Peyton, owner of two such London gaffs - the Atlantic Bar and Grill and Coast - opened Mash & Air in Manchester. Launches like this don't happen every month, or even year, here, yet a week after the opening junket, the number of customers was surprisingly sparse. Maybe Mancunians are harder to impress.
After all, there is civic pride and the tradition of dissent to uphold. And though eating lags well behind drinking, designer bars are two an Ecu in a city that's been transformed by EC funding. But, barely off the starting block, Mash & Air quickly impressed me. The design, by Australian Marc Newson, is in a similar Sixties-futurist mode to Coast. And it's beautiful. The large-windowed Victorian mill, in the middle of the gay quarter, is entered up steps and through glass doors with handles like jumbo orange taps. You arrive in a bar painted pistachio-meets-lime-green (even the floor), and furnished with Duplo for giants.
The name Mash & Air comes from stages in the brewing process, and a central well that appears to run from the top to the bottom of the building, visible through huge portholes, houses brewing equipment painted orange. When it's working, this brilliantly contemporary looking engine room - a canny tribute to a place that understands the attraction of manufacturing like no other - will pump out its own beer. Already, the range of drinks is astonishing: an energising cooler of papaya, apple, coconut, brewer's yeast and lime; classic and fruity cocktails; teas, from Himalayan to Sweet Harmony; pre- and post-dinner tipples and bottled beers. If the cappuccino is anything to go by, the drinks should be (pace Boddington's) the cream of Manchester.
Upstairs, amid more green and orange, is the Mash brasserie, with pizzas from a wood-fired oven scattered with a litany of Californian ingredients: winter mushroom with honey-roast parsnips, spinach and vegetable chips, for example, and salads and grills.
Air, the restaurant on the top floor, is all breezy blue, pale and royal. By day, it was so pure and new and light it appeared rather ethereal. Any satanic darkness the mill ever had has been effectively air-brushed out. "Typical that it opens the week I leave," said the friend I took, on her last day in Manchester after 15 years working there. We were rushing to finish a sensational panforte mousse, wobbling suggestively on a home made digestive. My baked chocolate pudding was dark and not too sweet, poised at that exquisite moment between cake mix and bakedness.
We'd started with a spiced pork terrine with caper mayonnaise, made with cleverly matching succulent meat with whole soft baked shallots. A fine caper mayonnaise and a lot of good-quality rocket set it off well. Smoked haddock salad, an unexpectedly whole piece of fish, undyed and barely cooked, was a lovely combination with pearl barley, diced apple and strands of rhubarb.
Although the description of my main dish - rump of lamb with a winter chard cannelloni of succotash (a stew of butter and other beans once eaten by the founding fathers of Massachusetts) and mustard oil - was menu babble, it was an intelligent advance on lamb with haricots. One or two dishes - roast cod and chips with sauce bois boudrin and the pud of pannacotta with a tomato confit - are straight lifts from Stephen Terry, Coast's new chef and deviser of the Air menu. Otherwise the menu, less out on a Pacific-Rim limb than Coast's, has a well thought-out balance of fish, meat and vegetarian dishes.
A man came in carrying a DKNY bag (from the new shop next to Armani). Labels, labels. And Mash & Air panders to a predisposition for designer tags, with nickable "mashtrays" and a bill that comes in a blue envelope with "the damage" written on it.
After lunch, we went back to my friend's office to be debriefed. "How was it? Not too London-snooty?" Not at all. The waiters were frank and friendly. "Go on, have a nosey around," they suggested on our way out.
How much? pounds 30 for three courses each including wine (only a glass each, though we were rather persuasively steered by the sommelier with an impenetrable accent - French, not Lancastrian - to the pounds 8.60 a glass New Zealand).
Even if it weren't for the food, Mash & Air would still be a triumph.
Mash & Air, 40 Chorlton Street, Manchester M1 (0161 661 1111). Open lunch and dinner, daily. Average Mash pounds 10-pounds 15, Air pounds 25-pounds 35. All major credit cardsReuse content