When a friend came up to visit Manchester for the weekend, our choice of eatery was dictated plainly and simply by the vouchers we had! We're not proud of this, well actually, maybe a bit, something for nothing is always a good thing, but I would generally try to eat at independant places, or at least smaller chains, who don't necessarily offer discounts all the time. Although when a voucher presents itself, it would be rude not to use it. The voucher in question was free birthday champagne. You now see why we chose to use this! Anyway, I digress.
We'd booked Cafe Rouge on Deansgate for 4 people for 8 o'clock. There were some small concerns from my friend over this, as their website (or at least their voucher website) didn't seem to say there was a branch there. However, after checking the reservation was OK by telephone, the manager for the night introduced himself and promised that we would be looked after when we arrived.
We arrived to join the rest of the party, who had already ordered a bottle of wine for the table. We chatted for a while, and were given menus. I requested the gluten-free menu, which we were told was just being printed out. It was then delivered to the wrong table. After it finding its way into the right hands I was delighted to see that the dishes I had spotted from the main menu were also on the gluten-free menu, with hardly any adjustments. The gluten-free menu print out was also a print out of the lactose-free options. Something I've not seen before, but then again, I've never had the need to ask for this! Further reading of the menu, and I was a little disappointed. The steaks were listed as gluten-free, but not with every sauce. Only the mushroom sauce (I think, don't quote me) was fine, but not the others. To me, that sounds like all the sauces are bought in, as surely it doesn't take that much effort to substitute the flour (or in fact thicken with reduction) when making it fresh.
Our party ordered the baked camembert to share (with celery and carrots for me instead of bread) and the Goats Cheese Crouton salad for starters. And then two portions of mussels, a steak and the Poulet Breton. We did cause a bit of confusion with the side orders and which was going with which, and who was swapping with who, but the waitress coped fine, and knew exactly what we wanted.
The starter came, and was nice. I thought the size of the camembert was a little small, but it was meant for 2, and there were 3 of us eating it and I do love my baked camembert. So to be fair, that is just me. No-one else seemed left wanting more.
Then the confusion started.
The starter plates were cleared away and the mussels were brought. We sat waiting. And waiting. And waited some more. There were quite a few waiting staff - not waiting, but busying around. Doing what exactly, we're not sure. Our waitress spotted us and scooted off to find out what was going on. She came back to explain that mussels are often ordered as a starter so they came out before the other mains.
When the remaining mains came out, they were fine. My main dish was quite a large portion, and rather nice. The flavour of the tarragon and parsley coming through the sauce. The mash was creamy, and again, there was loads of it.
The side orders of fries that were supposed to accompany the mussels arrived half way through our mains.
We did order deserts. I had the "gluten-free" creme brulee as it was described as placed in front of me. But I suspect that it was actually identical to the "other" creme brulee we ordered. And the Tart Tatin seemed to be appreciated.
All this led to a discussion about service. My friend used to work at a restaurant where the waiting staff were responsible for making sure all the people at the table were served together, whereas here, that seemed not to be the case. We felt the timing of our meals was not acceptable, but the way our waitress explained how things had gone wrong, and the way she was very apologetic seemed to diffuse the situation. She dealt with us all night, and was faultless, even when we couldn't decide on who was eating what. The amount of staff around the restaurant, which wasn't actually very busy, shouldn't have led to the delay and the mix up, but the service from that one member of staff was very good. We were in two minds whether to leave a tip. We may not go back again given our experience, but the food was good enough (would be even better with a buy one get one voucher), but was the actual "service" received, the bad enough to not leave a tip?
Oh, and the Champagne? Not a branded bottle, but the bubbles did go down well!