If you’ve ever wondered what a £25m investment can do for a restaurant, then go check out The Refuge. Located in a grade II listed building on Manchester’s Oxford Street, the fancy restaurant and cocktail bar you see today is a far cry from the drab Refuge Assurance Company of yesteryear. Does the food live up to the dramatic interiors? Just about, yes.
From the exterior, the Gothic looking building looks like many others in central Manchester, but step inside and you can see where the money went. From the vintage tiling to the original high ceilings, plush leather seating and warm lighting, this place is a classic jaw-dropper.
Arriving a little ahead of schedule, we propped ourselves up at the busy bar and ordered a round of Espresso Martinis. The crowd was a real mixture of sorts, with some even bringing their dogs along for the ride. For somewhere so grand, it was reassuringly unpretentious. It’s striking and opulent but never ostentatious.
No sooner was our table ready; our friendly waitress was chatting away and ran through the menu highlights. She recommended ordering four dishes each, which turned out to be a little more food than we bargained for. No bad thing though considering most of them were worth ordering again.
The tapas style dishes take influences from around the globe, with plenty on offer to suit all tastes. First to arrive were the Tamarind-glazed chicken wings, which were drenched in a generous amount of deliciously tart sticky sauce.
The Spiced Lamb flatbread with pomegranate and mint was equally well-received, boasting a good balance of fresh and spicy flavour. The Slow-cooked beef short rib with red wine was probably the only forgettable dish we tried and didn’t quite pack enough oomph to warrant the additional calories.
The 6oz chargrilled picanha steak was a different story. Served with a beautiful smoked Café de Paris Butter, the tender meat was put to good use. Another fatty treat worth adjusting your belt for is the Gloucester Old Spot pork belly. Accompanied with apple, carrot, spring onion, and Thai seven spice, this is exactly what comfort food should be.
The lighter options too had plenty to shout about, namely the Pan-fried sea bass with fava beans, tahiniand lemon, which is designed to be enjoyed with a glass of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. The Curried Sweet Potato was the only dish we picked form the veggie selection, but it was all we needed.
Packing just a hint of spice, it was cooked with spinach and topped with crunchy toasted almonds to create a plate I’d love to recreate at home. The best dish of the evening for me had to be the Squid and Chorizo. A done to death dish that was elevated to greatness here with wonderful presentation and a side of homely piperade and crunchy corn.
Opting for a liquid dessert, The Hamilton cocktail was simply too irresistible and combines pecan-infused bourbon with white chocolate, cream and maple syrup. Need I say more? The more elegant Queen’s Peach is also worth seeking out, mixing up spiced rum with peach lime, mint and Prosecco to create a summery pallet-cleanser.
The venues ‘Come as you are’ strapline could be seen as throwaway if you were going to be cynical, but their sentiment seems genuine. The building is so full of style, character and history, that filling it with a half-arsed restaurant selling cruddy food would be a crime. Thankfully, the food is almost on par with the decor, making this a Manchester dining experience worthy of your attention.
The Refuge by Volta, Oxford Street, Manchester, M60 7HA. Tel: 0161 233 5151.