There’s such a buzz in Manchester about food at the moment, with new restaurants popping up all over the place, all very exciting but sometimes all very hit and miss, especially if initial expectations are set too high. I don’t mind when we eat out if it’s in the fanciest of venues or the middle of a trading estate, as long as the food is up to scratch, there’s service with a smile and there’s good company to be had. Unfortunately our visit to Mr Cooper’s only resulted in a one out of three and it was the one they had nothing to do with. I did SO want to enjoy it. Having eaten at the Midland before in the French and been suitably impressed, I wanted their new, more affordable and accessible venture to tick all the boxes. It started off well. It was Christmas, so we were all three in good spirits, the service at the bar was impeccable, the cocktails interesting and packed a punch. The decor in the bar area was ok, linens and taupes with dark panelling, some ubiquitous book wallpaper, a good layout of tables and overall a nice place to sit for an aperitif before eating: I wasn’t a huge fan of the interior, which I read somewhere had been designed with the vision of bringing the outside in, to be light, airy and ‘quirky’. The general consensus from our very design led gang was that it felt like we were dining in a Sunday supplement conservatory, with teak seating, faux vintage dressings and possibly the worst overuse of Andrew Martin’s timber log paper I’ve ever seen. Stone block tiling above wood panelling? Umbrellas up indoors? Bird houses randomly on the walls. Plastic hedges. Timber latticework and gold chandeliers. There are some fabulously put together schemes in restaurants at the moment and it’s not all about money, but about innovative use of materials, styles and unusual ideas. It didn’t do it for me, but lots of people have love it, so taste is all about the personal I guess. On to the food. The food. Oh dear, the food. One of the party had the smoked lamb shoulder croquettes, kohlrabi & biriyani sauce, which went down very well, no problem there. Two of us had the vodka cured salmon, oyster cream and pickled vegetables. The salmon was fine but as vodka is known for it’s taste free properties I’m unsure what the curing actually achieved, besides which any taste was drowned out by the too strong pickling of the veg. Nothing was strictly speaking ‘wrong’, however, so we ate without complaint, hoping for better mains. Lucky old Mr M struck lucky with his seasonal turkey schnitzel, crushed sprouts, potatoes and cranberry condiment, enjoying it immensely. Two of us had the grilled plaice with tabbouleh and tamarind prawns. The prawns were delicious, succulent and delicately fragranced, but I found the plaice too salty and the whole dish a bit bland. Far worse were the sides, which is when we decided to send them back. Greasy, overcooked, soggy courgettes with not a hint of mint were was sent back with not a hint of apology or recognition of a complaint, the the replacement tough partly inedible kale wasn’t any better. Hmmmm. From that point on, the service declined. We got the distinct impression that complaints were most definitely not welcome. No more drinks were forthcoming, the friendliness level was turned down several notches. Never mind, we thought, you can’t go wrong with puddings! Hmmmm. It appears you can. Caramelised rice pudding, hibiscus jelly and pavlova crisps sounds like an extravaganza of wonderfulness, not the sloppy pile of school dinner stodge which arrived, see top image below. As for the waffles, what a disaster. What does the word waffle conjure up? A soft on the inside, crispy on the outside crimped slice of sugared heaven. Not the limp, tepid pile of floppiness which arrived. You can even see the flop on the picture! With a slapdash addition of butter pecan syrup which looked like a three year old had thrown it on, apologies to any talented three year olds out there with culinary dessert skills. It was pathetic. I was actually quite annoyed by that point and when we finally managed to get someone’s attention I asked for the manager. I could literally wave my waffle to demonstrate it’s floppiness. I expressed my utter disappointment that a restaurant of Mr Cooper’s standards could send out such substandard dishes and said it was so bad I didn’t want to exchanged it for anything else. And that was that. They didn’t come back. At all. We virtually had to stand on our seats to get the bill, never mind any more service. I asked the waitress nicely if we’d upset them by complaining and was that why we’d been ignored, but there was no real answer other than awkwardness. Then the bill arrived. The full bill. With not a dish removed, nor a concession made for our quite valid complaints. I found this rudeness inexcusable for such an establishment.
To deliberately force customers into what would be for some the highly embarrassing position of demanding a reduction on a full bill for dishes uneaten and sent back is the height of bad manners. I spent years working as a waitress in hotels in Manchester through my teens and twenties, to treat customers in this way, from a service perspective, is unthinkable. One of our party was forced to get up and take the bill back to the front desk, glared at by staff all the way, to ask for it to be reconsidered. The manager then brought it back, with one side and one pudding removed. I asked him, quite reasonably, why there had been no feedback from the kitchen about the dishes, no apology, no communication at all. His reply floored us. He curtly said that out was because the chef considered that the waffles were absolutely fine, there was nothing wrong with them. He then told me that the reason no one had come back was because it was quite clear from my emotional attitude that I didn’t want anything else. I think we all laughed from absolute astonishment. I asked him to clarify that he was actually saying that they had made the decision to cease all communication with our table because I had been ’emotional’ about a waffle, I think I was laughing as I asked, so unprofessional did I find the whole situation. He confirmed this was the case. I confirmed I thought that was a bit of a shocker. More so was the staff actually turning away as we passed them on the way out….
Interesting we spoke to some of the staff we know well in the hotel ‘proper’, who said they weren’t at all surprised at the evening’s events and that it was generally felt the customer service in Mr Cooper’s was somewhat hit & miss, with a level of arrogance quite the norm. So, £150 lighter, we waved an *emotional* farewell to Mr Cooper’s, very disappointed and a bit sad really, having read some great reviews and looked forward to our visit. Always a shame, when somewhere doesn’t live up to expectations.