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Manchester food reviews

The Bishopsgate Table Table, GMEX

The Bishopsgate Table Table, GMEX

Lower Moseley Street, Manchester

Reviewed by Simon Belt August 2012


Ever since I posted Helen Nugent's review of the Table Table pub restaurant near the GMEX in Manchester back in March, I've been meaning to pop in and see for myself if it really was as she described. You see, Table Table is a brand of Whitbread, and as I'm of a certain age, I associate Whitbread with their great Trophy Bitter adverts from the 70's.


I used the official opening (by the Lord Mayor of Manchester) of their redesigned bar area, to live up to the ethos of the Manchester Salon, and try and capture something of what's new and happening with city centre pub restaurants, and Whitbread's Table Table brand. Whitbread's beer producing days may be over, but their business acumen does give the distinct impression of being head and body above the rest - as those adverts used to pun home.


For those unfamiliar with the renamed Bishopsgate Table Table (previously Table Table Manchester Central GMEX), it is at the side of the Midland Hotel, on Lower Moseley Street, towards the Bridgewater Hall from St Peter's Square. It's underneath the Fitness First and Premier Inn, and next to Costa Coffee - low key in its signage and presence, though I did think that it was rather conveniently placed with all those brands around it, which I now realise is part of the quality branding as they're all Whitbread brands!


The renovation work Table Table has just completed was to open up the bar area at the front of the restaurant by removing the dividing walls, and turning it into a pub version of the Central Perks cafe in Friends. The space is now very open and functionally flexbile - ideal for families with kids by day and hen parties by night, with the furniture and decor offering a subtle self-selecting approach for customers, based on the table height, chair design and fabric, number seated at each table, shade of wallpaper by each area with individual pictures finishing off the mood. And all driven by a regional manager with a passion and good handle on the city centre market for eating and drinking around Manchester.


The Bishopsgate Table Table bar areaIn the middle of the space is now low level open seating with booths at the side, immediately inviting the family focussed customers with prams perhaps, whilst nearer the bar are the higher tables with taller chairs drawing in the adult only audience. Complementing the occassional and subtle Costa Coffee signage is an inviting corridor door into the Costa Coffee cafe, separate to the bar area but blended into the space so you know you can flow between the spaces. With some high chair seating area just inside the doorway and immediately viewable to the street, this is a prime location for those sophisticates en route to the Bridgewater Hall to do some talent spotting as well as being noticed, or for that hen party to set themselves up for a night on the town.


The reason why I mention all this in a review ostensibly about the restaurant, is that the the whole setup is such a clever and tight integration of the Costa Coffee cafe drawing you into the bar seating area where restaurant food is also available into the chillaxing restaurant area, onto the flight check-in into the Premier Inn room, including the complimentary use of the Fitness First gym. And as you do all that, you maybe book to return to one of the meeting rooms in the Touchbase suite, from where you'll have complementary Costa Coffee from the freshly ground coffee machine, going through to the restaurant for your buffet lunch, and thinking you'd like to return for a meal before going to your theatre.


Such a smooth and subtle blend of Whitbread brands working seemlessly together, and mutually reinforcing each other, there's a lesson for all aspiring entrepreneurs and their competition to learn here. This is corporate integration working well, yet without the heavy handed corporatisation, very web 2.0 customer focussed offering choices, albeit powerfully nudged and yet delivered with grace and a down to earth immediacy it's no wonder Whitbread is doing so consistently well.


After having a look around the Whitbread empire in microcosm and seeing the staff switch attentively from one functional role to another, including a bit of DJ'ing front of house by one of them, it was through to the restaurant and decision time on which table, chair and decor setup suited our mood from the variety on offer. We chose the velvety deep purple alcove with its feeling of sophisticated dinner party dining at home - quite a funky space for a city centre pub fronted restaurant. And waiting staff that were extremely attentive and refreshingly relaxed about offering their view on the selections available.


After much debating over the extensive menu options, I opted for the sticky chicken goujons which were tender and moist, sealed in breadcrumbs, whilst my wife, Yvonne, selected the duck parcels. We shared these like teenagers on a date. Both were presented and garnished gracefully, a credit to the kitchen catering for a variety of customers and locations, were piping hot, and whilst the duck parcels may have appeared small they were packed with succulent duck, accompanied by a delicious chilli dip and surprisingly filling. The standard was set for the main to live up to.


I plumped for the Beer battered haddock and chips, as I wanted to compare against the standard set for me by Liz Longworth, the catering manager at New Mills Golf Club who prides herself on selecting the fish from market and delivery with a light touch batter. I went for the mushy peas option as recommended by our extremely friendly and helpful waiter Callum. Yvonne eventually succumbed to the Turf and Surf with chicken and chips as the main course, after what seemed like an eternity of deciding from the wide menu offerings.


The Bishopsgate Table Table, restaurant areaThe main course was delivered to the table shortly after I was caught looking at how a new waitress, Apple, was dealing with some other customers. She obviously thought I was looking for service or my next course when I was actually checking out the consistency of service to another table - attentive staff or what? Delightfully presented with some wholesome chips separated in a cup with and peas in a bowl so as not to impact the fish, I was very impressed and a clear challenge to the standard Liz has set at the Golf club. And all piping hot, full of fish and lightly battered, perfect!


Yvonne soon polished off her meal of perfectly cooked medium-rare steak, large breaded prawns, and a piece of succulent grilled chicken, all accompanied by chips and a little garnish. Although we also shared the main courses, both plates were well and truly cleared all round. Unfortuately we were both too full after to fit in a sweet as there were a few that jumped out asking to provide some finishing delight. Next time, maybe. A problem for the restaurant may be getting people to leave after selecting the seats they'll be most comfortable in, as we could happily have stayed in our comfy alcove all afternoon, resulting in an unscheduled sleep over upstairs. I guess that's a credit to the setup there.


All in all, this was a very pleasant surprise, especially as city centre pub restaurants don't have the best of reputations - it was elegant, relaxed, accomodating, subtle low-key branding, including subtle signage, attentant and responsive staff, great menu, great food and service and all at very competitive prices. It's well worth a visit when out and about in town, visiting nearby theatres or the Bridgewater Hall. The seeming lack of centralised branding and decentralised decor could so easily give an impression of a confused or incoherent approach to business, but this delivery does nothing of the sort.


The bar, restaurant, cafe and hotel all blend seemlessly in a coherent flow of offerings, and the varied table and chair furniture along with its own localised decor gives the customer some useful choice within a small space. Hats off to the planners, designers and implementers of this setup as it was a refreshing change to see the corporate number cruchers express some personality.


Editor's Note: Food is such a personal and political issue. To discuss the wider context of debates about food, including the issue of feeding a growing world and the aesthetics of unusual food sources, the Manchester Salon have organised a discussion as part of the Manchester Science Festival and the international Battle of Ideas festival - see Feeding a growing world, Monday 29 October.
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