It had been a while since we last took advantage of an offer from Groupon and with a voucher to The Banyan Tree in Manchester fast approaching it's expiry date we had to make the effort to head into town on a Wednesday night to see if it lives up to the impression it gives on it's website.
I have had discussions with people local to The Banyan Tree about whether it is a bar with a restaurant or vice versa. I was told primarily it was a bar but the website certainly does not give that impression and in fact describes itself as a Restaurant and Bar. For me this may be the root of the slight issues I had with the set up and service we experienced on the night.
First impressions were a little disappointing as we were expecting a restaurant and on arrival there was no area to wait for our table. There seemed to be very few staff and had to wait at the bar behind people ordering drinks to ask for our table. Normally if I book a table I would expect to be shown to the eating area and seated without having to queue awkwardly at the bar. I feel it would be easy to introduce a small waiting area near the door where restaurant reservations can wait to be seen. It would probably only need a small stand in the porch area. That said, it didn't take long to be seen at the bar and the few staff we came into contact with were very pleasant and we soon settled down to browse the menu.
The restaurant was very busy for mid week which may have been due to the Groupon voucher coming to an end. The waitress even asked if we had a voucher so do not expect we were the only ones. One big plus was that the waitress remembered our telephone booking when we explained again that we would need to know which options were gluten-free. It was great she remembered us but again we were a little disappointed to discover that the only option available for Fran was the Duck. It was a good job this was the dish Fran would have chosen anyway.
We ordered a bottle of Spanish White which was very pleasant as I looked through the rest of the menu. The voucher we had was for 2 starters and 2 mains.
In summary we would say that the food was excellent but our experience suffered a little bit as we feel they were a bit understaffed for the volume of diners that night. The service was by no means bad but it did seem the waitress was run off her feet all night. We would also like to see more gluten-free options on the menu. There were some dishes that really should or rather could be gluten-free with a little bit of thought. For instance, I am sure the chervil and turmeric veloute could be made by reduction and not flour, if in fact it was as we couldn't find any other reason why it was out of bounds. We were also a little confused as to whether the place is primarily a bar or restaurant. A system for meeting diners at the door could easily solve this. As for prices, the specials seemed reasonable at around £15 and the main menu is all under £10 a course so cannot argue with that.
We don't want this post to sound too negative as we would recommend it, however we are unlikely to return given the limited choice of gluten-free options. We are aware, however that the specials do change from day to day so this might not always be the case, although it is a little out of town to just drop in and check what is on the menu.