Cheese and Biscuits: Manifest, Liverpool

Some restaurants just make it all look so easy. From the moment you walk into the room to the moment you pay up and leave, everything about the experience at Manifest is just so effortlessly polished, professional and enjoyable, and pitched at such reasonable prices, that it’s impossible not to wonder why there can’t be a Manifest in every town in the country, in every neighbourhood, on every street corner.

Of course, you don’t end up with a restaurant as good as Manifest without a whole lot of people knowing exactly what they’re doing, and I’m willing to bet it wasn’t exactly a piece of cake to launch an ambitious Modern British bistro at the tail end of a pandemic and shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. I bet there were more than a few hairy moments, a few moments of doubt, a nervous rechecking of balance sheets.

But you wouldn’t know any of that eating here. The menu is short(ish), 5 starters – sorry, “small plates” and 3 mains (“large plates”) and a handful of very tempting snacks. There’s nothing wilfully obscure ingredients-wise, or any challenging presentations, just a list of tasteful, seasonal things offered in ways you’d always want to eat, for example these poached oysters (not natives, as the menu promised, but I’ll forgive them that) with fennel and cucumber, which had a lovely seafood-vegetal balance.

Also excellent were house crisps, dusted with a salt and vinegar seasoning, very much “still warm” as advertised and therefore even more ludicrously moreish than if they had been presented cold (which still would have been perfectly acceptable). This large bowl lasted about 30 seconds I think.

House bread was good if not brilliant – quite a thick, hard crust and a rather cakey interior – but doused with enough soft salted butter they still did the job.

All of the food at Manifest walks that very difficult line between inventive-without-being-weird and accessible-without-being-boring. Take their steak tartare, for example. The thing itself is conventionally, and classically, perfect – great (ex-dairy) beef chopped into a nice loose texture and studded with shallots and capers, little blobs of mustard mayo, shards of melba toast to provide crunch. All correct, all good. But alongside, an unexpectedly lovely dollop of black garlic emulsion – think aioli but made with smokey black garlic – which brought another note of umami earthiness to the game. Very clever stuff.

There’s no universe in which I wouldn’t enjoy trout in bisque with lovage and sea vegetables, a dish seemingly constructed from my own personal favourite things involving seafood. But with the fish torched to create a bit of crunch and colour, yet still soft and flakey within, and boasting a bisque so packed full of flavour it would have been worth the price of admission alone, this was an absolutely stunning bit of cooking.

Equally impressive in its own way was this neat lineup of confit beetroot with grapes and toasted hazelnuts. Beetroot wouldn’t ever be my first choice of starter, but I tried a bit and it was very good indeed, particularly the horseradish-buttermilk sauce which was another top bit of sauce work.

In fact, while we’re on the subject – a word about the sauces at Manifest more generally. Across 5 dishes, starters and mains, I counted at least 9 unique sauces, pestos and emulsions – a pretty notable achievement for any restaurant never mind one at this price point. And even if you put the effort that must have gone into achieving this variety aside, the important thing is they were all expertly done – emulsions were smooth as silk, sauces vibrant and precise, and they were all packed with clear, distinct flavours. There’s an awful lot of skill on display here.

The quality and effort levels continued with this, slices of venison loin in a fantastic game jus and kale pesto (yes, that’s two separate sauces, working brilliantly together). The venison was faintly mealy of texture but had a great flavour, but the crowning glory was a puff pastry venison pie made I think out of offal, with a beguiling dense, gaminess and lovely loose-mince texture.

All of the desserts were, you will not be surprised to find out, beautifully constructed and hugely enjoyable. A pretty swirl of chocolate mousse came atop a mound of boozy cherries and “cardamom shard”, a square of spun sugar.

Treacle tart was fresh out the oven (or at least cleverly warmed) with a quenelle of marvellous gingerbread ice cream and little bits of candied lemon. I’m not entirely sure you should be serving fresh raspberries in December but that’s a minor quibble – I loved this dessert.

But best of all, amid fierce competition, was this poached pear in custard. Like much of everything else it was a masterclass in technique and flavour, the custard having a wonderful light, smooth texture and the sorbet, clean and clear and bright, was a great foil for the warm pear.

The eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed that the above doesn’t quite read like a full 3-course meal for 3 people. In fact, we treated the snacks like a starter and two of us had ‘small’ plates for their ‘mains’, which didn’t seem to faze the front of house at all and just meant we had more room for warm pear and treacle tarts. And so despite adding in a bottle of cava and a couple of glasses of sweet wine to the mix, our relatively conservative order of savoury courses probably helped shrink the bill to a pretty minuscule £54 per head.

But even if we’d ordered all the snacks, all the desserts and a ‘small’ and ‘main’ each I doubt you could have spent more than about £70, and get this – Manifest don’t even ask for a service charge. We left one of course, but their leaving even a suggested tip off the bill is just another example of their wonderfully generous and warmhearted attitude which directs everything from the welcome on arrival to this beautifully appointed converted Victorian warehouse, to the skip in your step as you’re send on your way.

Manifest would be one of the most notable openings of the last twelve months had it set up shop anywhere in the country, but in Liverpool, where really only the very top-end (Roski, Lerpwl) and budget offerings (Rudy’s pizza, Maray) have had any serious competition so far, it slots comfortably alongside the brilliant Wreckfish as another mid-range restaurant doing more or less everything right. I loved every bit of it, and will go back as soon, and as often, as I possibly can.

9/10



#Cheese #Biscuits #Manifest #Liverpool

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