By Elena Gibbs
So the customer uniform is a sleek mix of grey, black, gold, generally swanky attire and as usual I’m in my plaid shirt.
Perhaps this is less of a student hangout and more of an I-have-a-career-and-money-to-spend kinda deal. WHICH IS FINE. Just new for me, and not quite right for me. However, this doesn’t rule out the possibility of students fitting in here. It’s more of a date location or a sophisticated drinks with the girls thing.
It’s located in Spinningfields, so definitely fits in with the whole vibe around that area–post-work drinks, living for the weekend, business people letting their hair down after work?
If you know Spinningfields you’ll know what I mean.
Atmosphere aside, I am here to talk about the food, and the food I shall talk about:
I’d had a look at the website prior to my visit, and as it claims that ‘fire is at the literal heart of Artisan; handmade, rustic dishes served straight from the flames.’ I veered towards dishes that would hopefully show off the use of the acclaimed wood oven. To start we ordered Mussels Marinière: ‘mussels baked in bread’. This was quite an exciting starter, as it arrived in a cast-iron dish behatted with a warm and doughy flatbread. I liked this as a sharing plate, the presentation made it feel slightly special and upmarket, although the simple garlic cream sauce was nothing I hadn’t tried before. Even so, the dish was well executed and ideal for a light sharing starter.
From scouring the menu in advance I’d had my eye on the skillet of smoked salmon, poached eggs, green vegetables, hollandaise and crushed potatoes. This is the kind of thing I would make for myself at home so I was interested to see how others approached it. Its manifestation was a little underwhelming. I’d imagined the skillet to be of a similar to size to the mussels’ cradle, with Jamie Oliver-style pan fried and crushed potatoes – crispy and soft. (As in the ones from 30 minute meals, they’re ‘squashed’ potatoes but potato potato). However, they were crushed into more of a mash, and a mush. The whole thing was a bit of a mush really due to the amount of oil and liquid going on. Smoked salmon is soft and moist, so coupled with a soft poached egg, mashed potatoes and hollandaise sauce, the dish leaves you desperately savouring the crunchier pieces of broccoli just to balance your mouthful. I also feel that the addition of the hollandaise with the egg made this reminiscent of a breakfast; swap the veg for an English muffin and it’s basically eggs benedict.
I think this dish could work with more rigid carbohydrates and without the rich sauce. At £11.50, it also feels a little steep for something that can be compared with a morning meal.
A further opportunity to sample the wood-fired offerings, we opted for the mushroom pizza. Topped with rosemary, thyme and truffle oil, this was an authentic version of an Italian classic. The thin, soft yet crisp base was perfect for folding into quarters to make each slice into a calzone (it’s the way to eat fresh pizza). My only criticism is perhaps it’s over-authenticity–it really felt like we were sat outside the Colosseum–in that it was over a tenner for a reasonably small and scarcely topped pizza.
Satisfied, but not quite full up (I wonder whether this is the purpose of the serving sizes), we chose from the dessert menu. It was no contest to choose a winner as chocolate fondant took place on the list, a personal favourite. With fond memories of this dessert from a very special meal with my Mother in Casa Marieta, Girona, I think perhaps my hopes were too high. The pudding was hot and gooey with unarguably good vanilla ice cream, but it lacked that rich depth of cocoa that one desires from a chocolate dessert.
This being said, the service was faultless and Artisan did demonstrate everything their menu maintains to be. However, with the dim lighting not bright enough to capture the food *sob* and clubby music at a similar volume to the venue its designed for, I get the feeling that Artisan’s philosophy is not all about the food. As the bitter-from-the-bill couple next to us aptly remarked, “you’re paying for the ambience”.
Artisan strikes me as the place you should go to with people that you don’t know very well: the volume ensures there’ll be no awkward silences, and the elaborate cocktail menu is a great conversation starter in more ways than one.
People want to show off that they’ve been there, take an insta and tag it. There’s even a ‘bitchin’ lounge’ otherwise known as photo opportunity, as well as a booth to print snaps of you and your mates looking all pretty. Personal comments aside, the restaurant was buzzing and every table booked, people were enjoying themselves–Artisan is doing it just right for their demographic and I’m not recommending they change.
18-22 Bridge Street,
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0161 275 2930 University of Manchester’s Students’ Union, Oxford Rd, Manchester M13 9PR