When people ask Lovin Manchester what we find so beautiful about Manchester, we tell them to look up.
The buildings that bear the history of this amazing city are often hidden by shopfronts and offices at street level, but above is where the magic happens.
But below the streets could be the best eateries around – and we don’t even realise it as we pound the pavements.
Stepping foot inside Abode Manchester gives that singularly lovely feeling of a good hotel – cool leather, polished brass and a contemporary vibe sweep you into a new mode of relaxation.
Even in the bar, it’s a calming, serene atmosphere, with stylish monochrome decor, smiling staff and large windows letting in the light reflecting off Piccadilly.
Drinkers are looking over one of the city’s busiest streets, but manage to keep their cool with a cocktail list of the classics.
Settling down with a couple of Martinis – of the French and Porn Star variety – we relaxed and enjoyed the tiny snacks which were delivered with the drinks, all brought on slender silver-painted trays.
The French was teamed with marshmallows and the Porn Star with popcorn – fun, quirky touches, but not sure if they brought out the flavour of the cocktails.
After some time to unwind, we were led downstairs to the lower floor of the Brassierie ABode.
Enveloped in navy hues with low lighting, the stylised decor seemed such a surprise just a stone’s throw from the city’s streets, a mirrored ceiling centrepiece, hanging centrally over electric blue velvet seating and tables.
It spoke of snatched moments, tete-a-tetes and the promise of a lover’s engagement. If I’d managed to bring a lover.
Still, my friend and I were showed to our seats in a discreet booth, brought water with a smile and a tasteful bread basket from the most pleasant waiter in Manchester.
He applauded our wine and food choices, of course, but he also kept us chatting about our night and ourselves, his opinions on the food and everything in between.
He was absolutely right – the wine was a gorgeous, a Marlborough Pinot Noir from New Zealand (£39) which was rich and warm enough for the surroundings, but not the sort of tipple that screams for a wintry coldness outside.
The food was, to start, a haddock scotch egg and crab bisque (£8) and smoked salmon with capers (£10).
The haddock flaked apart softly with a fork, giving up the runny egg inside for it to ooze into the bisque.
The whole effect was rich and smooth, and substantially better than a supermarket picnic treat of the same name.
My large plate of smoked salmon was simply presented and dappled liberally with salty, tangy capers and sweet shallot rings.
A squeeze of lemon juice and the fish came alive – not literally, guys – with flavour.
It was fresh and light and I adored every mouthful.
Main courses were grouped in somewhat odd combinations on the menu – meat, fish, pasta, I understand. But the ‘egg’ section was a little baffling.
I ignored the omelettes – as gorge as I’m sure they were – in favour of the spaghetti lobster (£18).
“It’s got half a lobster in there,” our amazing waiter pronounced, and I sunk deeply into the mammoth bowl of pasta.
The pasta was cooked perfectly – not actually al dente, but soft as the rich, buttery sauce demanded.
Each forkful was another sinful step towards finishing the meal, but the opulent bites were so packed with lobster I couldn’t help but devour every last bite.
My fellow diner was similarly well disposed towards the steak she ordered.
The ribeye (£24) came with tomatoes and mushrooms and the tiniest pot of béarnaise sauce that had a rich tang which only comes from being freshly made.
Buttered spinach (£3) and chips (£3) were the sides that she upended onto her plate, the whole lot bathed in the juices of the steak cooked so perfectly rare that the flavour of the meat was never in danger of being overshadowed by a smokey grill taste.
Packed to the brim, with every mouthful enjoyed, we nevertheless set our sights on dessert.
My lemon sorbet (£4) was so tart it made my lips pucker, and I loved it.
The heaviness of the lobster was wiped from my tastebuds, and the chilly serving revived me after our bottle of wine was all but finished.
Across the table, the sticky toffee pudding with salted
caramel ice cream (£6) was a definite winner, the fawn-coloured scoop sliding off the heated sponge before my friend had a chance to sink her spoon into its softness.
The idea of finding this sort of fine dining in a venue that is casual enough to relax in – situated in a darkened room below the entrance of 107 Piccadilly – is so far removed from what I imagine every time I walk past the stunning red-brick ABode Hotel.
This so-called ‘new concept’ from Andrew Brownsword Hotels is the first Brasserie ABode to launch in the UK, which means of course that Manchester’s first again.
But it’s been done with such an integrity and attention to detail that it doesn’t feel ‘concepts’ – it felt like the most unique boutique dining experience imaginable.
It was almost a shame to leave after dinner and pound those city streets once again. No matter how beautiful they are.