Posh restaurants intrigue me as I have never really dined in one. I have read the reviews in local and weekend newspapers and slathered over the descriptions of divine sounding dishes. However I have also tutted over the prices commanded by these prestigious establishments. I do know the chefs have more experience and the ingredients used are generally better but is the mark up on meals actually justified?
I got my chance to find out when Duskman became Dr Dusk and graduated with his PHD. To celebrate we went to Stock in Manchester City Centre for a no expenses spared meal and what a delight it was.
Stock is an Italian restaurant but it is not any old Italian restaurant. Do not go there expecting pepperoni pizza or good old spag bol!. Instead Stock is one of the finest Italian restaurants in Britain with one of the finest wine lists to match. The owner Erizo Manao is also the head chef and his menus are simply sumptuous. The restaurant specialises in fish, seafood and traditional regional cooking from southern Italy and is a treat for all your senses.
The Visual Aesthetics
For me the building the restaurant is housed in is very much part of the whole dining experience. I am a sucker for a really nice building. Stock is housed in a domed ornate Edwardian building which used to be the Northern Stock Exchange hence the name Stock. You enter by a wonderful vestibule into the large single dining room. I liked it as you really got a sense of opulence and scale from the dome down to the tiled floor. The dining room had enough tables to give the place atmosphere without being too overcrowded. I felt there was enough space for us to talk without getting other people's conversations. The table was dressed nicely with quality linen tablecloths and napkins. The only slight problem I had with the restaurant was the lighting. At times I found it just that little bit too dim to have a good look at what I was eating!!
The Aural Delights.
Our booking was for a Thursday at 8. Pm. The restaurant was neither quiet nor jam packed. There were perhaps another four or five parties of diners. Parties did seem to be a good word to use as it seemed most of the diners were there for a very special occasion. This made it a really nice atmosphere. To add to it there was a live jazz band with piano and double bass who were quite adept at playing light music including rou8nds of happy Birthday. It was nice to have proper music and added to the ambience of the place.
The scene is set so now onto the main act the meal. Stock's ala carte menu is divided into antipasti, pasta and main courses. The pasta can be eaten as a starter or for two pounds extra the portion can be enlarged to become a main course. There were about seven starters including avocado and crab, snails and melon with a grapefruit and rosemary sorbet. The prices ranged from £6.40 to £8.50. There was also the special of the day, a seafood platter to share which consisted of lots of yummy morsels from the deep including calamari, lobster, prawns, whitebait and mussels. This was for two and I did not hear the price. I quite fancied this but nobody else particularly liked the full range of delights it offered. I was thinking of going for the melon but thought £6.40 for a bit of melon and grapefruit was a little bit steep. Someone else in the party did have it and it looked really attractively presented in a sundae style glass. I had also toyed with the idea of trying the snail; however I had not tried this delicacy before and felt it might ruin my meal if I did not like them after all. Instead I perused the pasta menu. There was a similar size past selection at similar prices to the antipasti. Delights included pasta with squid, and the ravioli of the day (which was wild mushroom on that particular day). I plumped for gnocchi in a tomato and pesto sauce. This was wonderful. The gnocchi was soft fluffy and melt in the mouth and the sauce had a lovely taste of basil with shavings of parmesan cheese on top. If I was to dine at Stock again I would defiantly choose this dish.
The gnocchi had set a standard. Would the main course live up to this high standard? There was a choice of about eight main courses including two chicken dishes, roost boar, steak and veal. The price for a main course was from £15 to £18. There did not seem to be any main dishes for vegetarians. Luckily a couple of the pasta dishes are vegetarian. I think this is one of the criticisms I would have of the restaurant along with putting veal on the menu. I do not eat red meat myself and did not fancy wither the citrus or cheese stuffed chicken. Luckily Stock is well known for its market fresh fish. There was a choice of four or five fishes including monkfish and sea bass. I chose to have monkfish in a plain lemon sauce. This would test the cook as it is harder to do a really good simple dish without garnishes and clashing flavours. So what was my verdict? It was good, really good. It was a nice firm, meaty texture and perfectly cooked. All you could taste was the fish. There was an unnecessary bed of lettuce though. A portion of vegetables was served to the table. This consisted of small new potatoes, roast parsnips (a favourite of mine), carrots and fennel. The fennel was divine. I am not sure if it was roasted or battered (the lighting was too low at that point) but the aniseed flavour really lifted the dish. I was a stroke of genius.
Stock is renowned for its wine menu. It has won the annual Manchester Food and Drink award for best wine list in a restaurant recently and boy is it a wine list. It has 99 wines on it/. However this is not bargain booze. The cheapest wines cost around about £18.00 and go up to £122 for a bottle of champagne. The only house wines seemed to be the champagnes. I noticed that they were selling dessert wine by the glass for "£7.25. That is normally what I would pay for a whole bottle of house wine in a restraint. However it is good wine. We had a couple of bottles of Italian Merlot at the bottom end of the price range. I am not really a red wine drinker but this particular one was mellow and smooth and very drinkable. They also do a range of brandies, malt whiskies and other spirits and liqueurs. Unfortunately for Dr Dusk they were too posh to serve cider.
At this point in the meal I was getting rather full but everyone seemed to be having desserts. most desserts cost £5.50 and were fairly traditional including baked lemon tart, panacotta n that nice one with all the mixed peel!! For those who prefer a healthier sweet there were fruit platters or peaches with raspberry sauce. I did not fancy anything too heavy. The melon and grapefruit sorbet on the starters menu would have gone down nicely so I asked if there were any sorbet or ice cream. There seemed to be a decent selection and I selected a honey ice cream as I thought this sounded nice. It was a nice creamy ice cream but n I had tasted better. I was disappointed that the honey came from chunks of honey comb rather than from a honey flavoured ice cream.
The service was not too bad. There was a wait between courses but we were expecting that as all food was cooked to order. The waiting staff were pleasant and helpful bug most of them were Polish and did not always understand. It took DR Dusk a bit of time to explain cider. I also felt the time they took to take our dessert order whilst not sloth like was a wee bit slow considering the amount of people in the restaurant.
I thoroughly enjoyed my meal at Stock. It was some of the best food I have ever tasted especially the Gnocchi and the fennel! I still feel they do take liberties with the pricing of some of the less prestigious ingredients though. It is a lovely restaurant and I would recommend it for those who do have a special occasion. It's no for every day. Our meal cost £229 (including an obligatory 10% service charge) for a three course meal with alcohol for five people. That is rather pricy. However for those on a smaller budget there is a lunch and pre theatre menu which costs £12.80 for tow courses or £15.80 for three.
So all in all Duskmaiden has been converted to posh nosh once in a while but for other times there is always Weathersppons and the local Italian restaurant!!!
Beautiful setting made us anticipate an exeptional meal. But beware there is no separate area for non-smokers and this alone is enough to spoil non-smokers' taste in this modern world. The food was suprisingly indifferent for a restaurant of Stock's reputation with a pudding reminiscent of Angel Delight with meringue instead of chocolate mousse, interrupted by the next table being dismanted and enlarged with a huge piece of MDF! We love going out for long leisurely weekend lunches this failed to meet our expectations.
This is a special occasion restaurant - and not just that intimate anniversary meal, either, as it's ideal for a larger groups, too. It's named Stock because it is in the old Stock Exchange in Manchester, so it's very central - not far away from the Arndale Centre, but in the upmarket part of town - in a very fine old building, with a magnificent 50ft domed ceiling. There's plenty of room, as the restarant seats around 125. The tables near the walls have plush bench seating, and I guess you could fit at least six people around each table. But it's still a suitable venue for a more romantic evening, if that's what you have in mind. There's great attention to detail. The chairs with the lattice backs were apparently imported from as small Italian village. Many of the staff working there are Italian, too. It's run by father and son team, Enzo & Alex Mauro. I believe that Enzo arrived in the UK in the late 60s, opening the first Italian restaurant in Cornwall, and then making a name for himself with Mauro's, in Bollington, Cheshire. Stocks is a bit different, though - it's more of a city centre eaterie, fashionable if that's what you're after, but upmarket enough to be classy as well. But apart from all that, let's concentrate on the food, as it's really worth it. Many claim that Stock is Manchester's best Italian restaurant, and I for one wouldn't argue with that. The menu has a southern Italian emphasis (Enzo is from Capri). As you walk in you can see the antipasti, lined up in the display, with an amazing choice of things like smoked salmon, olives, salad, all very tempting. Everyone gets delicious herby olive oil and some lovely bread to dip into it. My friend and I shared our starters - a pasta dish, and simple mozzarella cheese and tomato. The fish and steak dishes are renowned. I had a seafood conconction which included squid, monkfish, mussels, oc
topus, crayfish - all in a gorgeous garlic tomato-based sauce. I ended up with a very messy chin, but it was delicious. My friend had a chicken dish which looked superb. The desserts looked extremely tempting, with things like pear tarte, but we were just too full to try them. The restaurant has won "fine dining" awards, and I can't recommend it highly enough. But? it comes with a price. To give you some idea, my fish main course was just under £15.00, and you should expect to pay around £6.00 for a starter. We paid around £40.00 for 2, for 2 courses. Well worth it, for the quality of the food, the service and the surroundings, but let's face it, not (for most of us) for everyday eating. I notice that they have jazz evenings, and it seemed like the perfect venue for such things. I imagine the acoustics are really good. They have a website address - www.stockrestaurant.co.uk - but there doesn't seem to be very much on there at present. Telehone number 0161 839 6644