A few weeks back, we headed out to what seemed like a rare Manchester restaurant outing.
Having been away on our usual January sunshine trip, I had been watching all the great January specials on social media. It’s when I always see what great deals we are missing out on due to needing to be in the sunshine somewhere.
One offer however really stood out – James Martin Restaurant in Manchester was offering a free wine flight with their taster menu. Sounded good, however when seeing that the taster menu was priced at only £30, I couldn’t help but think that this was too good to be true. Well there was only one way to find out.
Ive always admired what James Martin accomplishes on TV, but for some reason have never felt that compelled to check out this restaurant, that was at least until after seeing Exose do so well on Masterchef and seeing that he worked there.
So with just a few weeks back in the UK, we booked in and headed up to Manchester 235 – the casino which houses the restaurant. Turning up at the front door, we walk in and go up the escalators through the casino floor.
I’m not a frequent casino goer, with my main try’s at the table taking place in Las Vegas, Australia and a few trips to the Sky Tower casino in New Zealand.
While Las Vegas was all about the casino and hotel, my visits in Australia and New Zealand have always been of a social bearing. Visiting with family and friends, enjoying some drinks with a little flutter along with a meal in the restaurant.
Unfortunately the journey through this casino felt somewhat uncomfortable, with lots of sideway glances from those sitting and enjoying a gamble at quite tired looking tables. Still we weren’t here for the casino but for the food.
At the back of the casino we spot the bar and a staircase heading up to the James Martin Restaurant. We head up and wait at a welcome desk, unfortunately without the ‘welcome’. After standing for five minutes or so and with every staff member avoiding any kind of eye contact, someone who I assume was part of the management team eventually heads over and asks if we were being looked after.
I explain that we had a booking for 8:15pm – it was now 8:05pm. You’re a bit early she reply’s – you can come back in 10 mins. I glanced around at all the empty tables and my face must have looked somewhat confused. ‘You can have a drink downstairs and come back in 10 mins’ she reply’s.
Well I didn’t really want a drink, but with little choice we headed back downstairs without any offer of coming to fetch us once our table was ready.
I order a beer and find a table, by which time its now 8:15, so we head back up the stairs, only this time there are around 20 people all waiting, who like us had been sat at the bar as I’m sure they were also told they couldn’t have their tables until exactly 8:15.
Had the restaurant been busy I could fully understand, however it now took nearly 15 mins for them to sit people at tables that had been set up and empty the whole time – surely staggering people arriving, rather than getting every single person to come up at the same time would make more sense.
We sit down and are given a copy of the set menu, the staff member was friendly and polite and it wasn’t long before the first course is bought out.
An Onion Mousse with Westcombe Chedder was full of flavour and hit the spot – served with a Ponte Prosecco which was a perfect way to start the meal.
Next up is a Braised Pork and Apple Faggot, served with a potato purée this is a nice dish, but a little ordinary
The matching South African Chardonnay is drinkable at best, but I keep reminding myself that we are paying just £30 a head for the menu and the drinks in total, so my expectations should be set accordingly.
BBQ Miso Glazed Hake again is a pleasant dish, cooked well and tasty, but as yet nothing really makes me go wow. This course comes with a matching Sauvignon De Touraine that I could happily leave.
Courses continue to come, however it appears servers are just grabbing whatever table number comes next when at the pass, with no consistency of who was serving us – this was most evident at dessert, when one server asked if we were ready or if we wanted a short break, despite saying we would like a short break, someone else still bought us the course 2 mins later, which meant the accompanying wine course was missed until after we have eaten it.
For me eating out is all about the experience. A great service makes you feel good about a place and want to come back, that even a venue with average food can wow you through the level of service they give.
Unfortunately James Martin was the opposite, the food was ‘good’ and for the price it was outstanding value for money. Having said that, the wine flight wasn’t the greatest and on this occasion I would have preferred a great glass or two of better wine instead.
What was lacking however was any kind of customer experience. From the avoidance of eye contact at the outset, to the miss-mash of servers, that while they did nothing wrong, created a lack of personalisation through the system.
It’s for this reason that I wont be looking to head back anytime soon.