Casual dining is a massive thing for me.
Having spent years, living and working in countries all around the world, there is nothing better than sitting down for a bite to eat in a relaxed environment and very often, on my own.
The pleasure of being able to get great food, in a lovely environment, that is not too formal, is probably one of the greatest things for me, in fact, food is one of the main reasons that I love to travel, alongside experiencing cultures and of course grabbing some great weather!
When I heard about the opening of a new ‘Food Hall’ in Manchester, which was to combine three well known and award winning restaurants, I couldn’t wait to head down and try it for myself.
Exhibition Manchester is located in St George’s House, on Peter Street in Manchester, with their Restaurant Floor bringing together the kitchens of Baratxuri, Osma and São Paulo Bistro.
The building itself is stunning, originally built as a museum over a hundred years ago, the large ornamental windows are not only beautiful, but also make the space light and airy.
We were originally shown to a small table for two set inside a small alcove which appeared to be one of the best seats in the house. Unfortunately the space was extremely small and after a few dishes had started to arrive, it quickly became apparent that the 6 or 7 dishes that were due to appear, were never going to fit on the table.
Thankfully we were able to be moved to one of the larger booths next to the windows, which not only gave us more space, but also better lighting to enjoy the delights that were being served.
The menu has been specifically put together to allow you to combine dishes from the three kitchens, taking you on a journey from Spain, Norway and to Brazil.
Baratxuri (Based in Ramsbottom) brings you flavours of the Basque, with its dishes inspired by the kitchens of Bilbao and San Sebastián
Their Spanish dishes include a selection of Pintxos, Charcutaria, and a selection of seafood dishes or if you’re feeling very special, a 1Kg aged rib steak.
We ordered a few dishes from here, Including the Tortilla, Bacalao Pil Pil (Salted Cod in a chilli and garlic emulsion) and Costilla de Vaca (Braised Short Rib).
All three dishes were great, the Bacalao was perfectly cooked and had a great flavour from the chilli and garlic.
The Short Rib was soft and falling apart, cooked lovingly, low and slow.
The standout from this kitchen for me was actually the Tortilla though. Made Bilbao style, it was just as a tortilla should be, soft and oozing in the middle with a flavour as good as the texture.
Osma (Based in Prestwich) was named in the Michelin Guide, within a year of opening, and brings the concept of small Scandinavian plates to Manchester. The name itself is a combination of the home cities of its two founders – OSlo and MAnchester.
Dishes from Osma include open sandwiches, salads and soup.
We only had one dish from here, named on the menu as ‘Crispy Chicken Thighs’
Unfortunately this was the one dish I didn’t enjoy. It first turned up and was incredibly greasy with a soggy coating that was stodgy and the only thing I could taste was salt.
When i mentioned that it was very greasy and not at all crispy as described, they took it away to make another batch, unfortunately the response from the kitchen was more disappointing than the dish. ‘It’s not meant to be like KFC’ i was told. Well to be honest I would hope not!! Although I haven’t eaten in a KFC for a number of years, I would expect a £9 snack dish to be somewhat better than a fast food outlet, but maybe they just thought that their food was too good for my palette?
Finally there is São Paulo Bistrô, from Caroline Martin, a former Great British Menu Chef, she is a champion of Brazilian food in the UK and recently had a successful residency in Ancoats, with her São Paulo Project.
With a trip booked to Salvador in Brazil in just a couple of months time, her dishes of Brazilian Beef Croquettes and Cheese Bread Rolls (Pão de Queijo) immediately jump out. These sit alongside other small plates as well as the only dessert dishes on the menu.
From here we had the two dishes mentioned above, plus a dessert.
The Brazilian Beef Croquettes were just as I remember them. They were something I used to order in a small bar in Praia do Forte, Bahia. Listening to live music, sipping a Caiprioska and nibbling on a few bar snacks.
What I would really have loved to have seen here, were some Coxinha or Pastel de Queijo/Carne.
Then we came to the Pão de Queijo, the little beauty’s of cheesy bread, made with tapioca flavour. We sometimes have these at home and its something I used to buy as a snack from little stalls in Salvador.
The ones served here were probably the best I’ve ever tasted and along with the Tortilla, make a visit to Exhibition worth it just to try these.
Finally I ordered a dessert, despite being full, I just needed to check out the chocolate mousse dish from São Paulo Bistrô. made with local chocolate producer Dormouse chocolate, the dish is frozen using liquid nitrogen and served on swirls of caramel sauce, basil custard and coconut yoghurt.
This was another great dish, if only I hadn’t eaten so much already as I only managed to finish half as its a lot bigger than expected.
The experience was what i had hoped, some amazing dishes (mostly), served in a relaxed environment which made the dining an absolute pleasure and I will defiantly be popping back in, maybe for a quick drink and some Pão de Queijo and Tortilla