Manchester means....

Sophisticated, cultural, trendy, exciting, glamorous are all adjectives one might use to describe London, but Manchester? Absolutely, which comes as no surprise to Mancunians, who are bursting with pride over their newly fashionable city which has two of England’s best football clubs, spit-polished grand old stone buildings, the award-winning $200 million Lowry Center filled with exciting galleries, theaters and eateries, upscale loft developments, the inspiring Museum of Science and Industry, etc.

The grand old Midland Hotel

Sleep

The Midland Hotel, a four-star, historic railroad hotel opened to great acclaim in 1903, when it was described as a “twentieth century palace” due to its opulent décor, sumptuous fabrics and sparkling chandeliers. Over 100 years later it still offers superior city center accommodations for discerning girlfriends who require tasteful surroundings.  Not only was it good enough for Queen Elizabeth, who dined here in 1959 after attending a show at the  Palace Theatre (the first time a crowned head had ever dined in a public restaurant) but it was also where the Honorable Charles Rolls first met Henry Royce, which resulted in their creating the legendary Rolls Royce cars.

Rolls & Royce plaque

Our two-room junior suite (one bedroom plus a large living room) was tailor-made for sharing, with two of almost everything, so for once my sister and I didn’t have to fight over the TV, vanity, mirror, or hairdryer.

There is no more civilized way to get your Girlfriend Getaway started than to don your best hat and gloves and head down to the Octagonal lobby for a grand Champagne Afternoon Tea. Nah, just kidding…no need to dress up. As a matter of fact, our vivacious server, Samantha, was actually quite irreverent. Sweets and savories were all scrumptious and we loved that there was no need to choose between Madeira and champagne since Sam brought us both. The freshly baked flaky Sultana Scones that came with Cornish clotted cream, organic strawberry preserves and a fruits of the forest compote were stellar.

Most Memorable Meal

Get ready, Manchester, there’s a new chef in town, whose game plan is not only to raise the bar for luxury dining, but also to recapture a lost Michelin star (or two) for The French at The Midland.

The French at the Midland

Simon Rogan is no stranger to the star mentality having received two Michelin stars for his restaurant L’Enclume in Cartmel, Cumbria, so I wouldn’t place odds against this culinary genius scoring again at The French.

The recently renovated dining room, with an upscale/casual décor is hard to describe but actually it kind of works- think Palais de Versailles-ish crystal and gold rococo meets Ikea with austere Scandinavian furniture and a quirky “wooden” carpet. It obviously worked for David Beckham who wooed his Spice Girl here.

We went for the 6 course tasting menu, too hungry for the 3 course, but not wanting to be a complete piglets with the 10 course offering, although with several amuse bouche and extra desserts it added up to well over ten courses.

We were captivated after the first amuse bouche. The nibbles of Rice Crackers with potato mousse, celeriac emulsion and a dusting of onion ash could be a riff on the beloved American potato chips with French onion dip.

We were curious about the highly touted Ox in coal oil, which easily surpassed my favorite Parisian steak tartar.

Ox in Coal Oil was unforgettable

We were mesmerized by the still life beauty and intense flavors of the Asparagus with salty duck skin scratchings, then intrigued by the one of the simplest dishes, Reg’s chicken topped with earthy root vegetables

We were slightly disappointed by our first dessert of Pear, meadow sweet and rye, buttermilk & linseeds, which was missing the “it” factor, but giggled over the sassy pink Sarsaparilla soda with a sarsaparilla meringue on the side.

At the end, we were utterly seduced by what is arguably the best cheese platter in the U.K.

The evening was made even more pleasurable by the attentive, yet never overly so, care provided by the entire wait staff (who graciously to answered our endless stream of questions) as well as by the superbly paired wines, enthusiastically described by the passionate somm.

And Rogan is just getting started at The Midland.  This September he will open ‘Mr. Cooper’s House & Garden’.  Not only will this be his biggest operation yet, at 150 seats, but it will also provide an interesting departure from Simons current British repertoire to a more “the world is my oyster” international menu.

BritRail Travel Tip:

Traveling there really is half the fun when you take the BritRail train from London, particularly if you opt for First Class. Shortly after I settled into my first class, spotless seat, piled all my maps and notes on the table, and got on the complimentary Wi-Fi, the train attendant offered me coffee or tea. Later, another attendant rolled a cart through, filled with tasty salads, assorted sandwiches, crisps, sweets and wine or beer-all included. About two hours later we pulled into Manchester, well fed, refreshed, and all of my notes were neatly organized.

Note: BritRail Pass offers a wide range of convenient, economical, hassle-free passes allowing flexibility for exploring over 2,500 fascinating destinations in England, Scotland and Wales, BUT these are not available in the UK. You will need to purchase your tickets in advance from ACP Rail International, BritRail’s exclusive global distributor.

For help in planning your visit go to Visit Manchester.