Review: Tattu, Manchester

Home for the holidays, I went along to Chinese restaurant Tattu in Manchester to sample their first anniversary menu. Read my review for Northern Soul below.

Manchester’s Spinningfields is a great place to just be, especially in summer. Live music floats away from the Oast House and chatty – generally tipsy – people while away the evenings over cocktails and good food. On the cusp of this youthful, sophisticated bubble sits the blacked-out home of Tattu, almost inconspicuous to passers-by.

Step inside and the exterior’s minimalism fades away in an instant. This is a restaurant with a clear concept and complete dedication to it. The walls are adorned with scantily clad – but heavily tattooed – models, giant anchors dangle from the ceiling, and a cherry blossom tree sits proudly in the corner. Even the cocktails are served with pinch of salt and an ode to body art by the likes of Everlasting Regret and Brewed, Screwed and Tattu’d. I start to wonder if it’s a prerequisite of working here that even the arms swooping in to retrieve dishes and refill glasses are adorned with ink.

This Saturday marks a year since Tattu first opened its doors to fill the mouths of Manchester with its contemporary Chinese cuisine. To celebrate, the restaurant is launching a brand new menu, designed by executive chef Clifton Muil.

Given that Muil only joined the Tattu team two months after launch, this is the first chance he’s had to imprint his vision on the menu. Boasting around 27 new dishes from dim sum to dessert and a new cocktail menu to boot, the South-African born chef hasn’t held back.

The menu promises to fuse celebrated Chinese flavours with contemporary influences and cooking methods to create a dynamic and unique set of dishes. Diners can expect a range from traditional fillet of beef ho fun noodles to rich sweet potato gau and king crab salad. Muil says of the dishes, “our aim is to demonstrate the restaurant’s progression and the diversity that can be found within Chinese cuisine”. A reasonable aim, but was it met?

The mixed dim sum basket, while exquisite in appearance, offered little in the way of diversity. Bold ingredients like wagyu beef and black cod were lost in a sea of heavy parcels. Given the excitement conjured up by spying wasabi scallop and truffle chicken on the menu, the product itself was a little disappointing.

I sometimes question whether I would enjoy a meal more if I weren’t there to review it. As the man sat opposite me said, if it tastes good, why does it matter that you can’t tell what you’re eating? But for a restaurant promising unique flavours and a price point that only seems moderate in Spinningfields, you would hope for more distinction.

This failure to let natural flavours shine continued into the small plates. A beautiful tray of tuna ceviche was drowned in a chipotle, lime and coriander dressing – each wonderful tastes in their own right, but put together they formed an unfortunate imbalance.

Thankfully, the following dishes swooped in with a new wave of potential. The salt and pepper aubergine – part of a move to make the restaurant more accessible to vegetarians – was one of the standout dishes. Similarly, the whole seabass – served head, tail and all for maximum visual impact – was in a league of its own. The heat underpinning the Szechuan pepper and Shaoxing wine sauce woke up my taste buds after the mediocre starters. If the other dishes can be tweaked to match the balance achieved here, then Tattu is onto a winner.

A tattoo at its finest looks good and lasts forever – this Tattu has the first part down, and the basis for the second, but if it wants to leave a lasting impression on Manchester’s culinary scene, it needs to make the substance match the show. That said, you’re unlikely to regret a visit the next day.

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