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Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Malmaison hotel and Smoak and Ember, Manchester

It was typical that as I stepped off the train at Manchester Piccadilly station, the skies opened and fat menacing raindrops began pelleting down, a miserable welcome but one that I would expect after three rainy years at University here. Luckily my destination, the Malmaison is located only a few minutes walk from the main train station. We were relieved to step inside the warm hotel, appetising culinary scents wafting over from the new Smoak restaurant, tempting us in.

We were greeted by the enthusiastic manager and escorted up to our superior room where we were pleased to find seductive and pretty décor, a massive bed, inviting chaise longue and useful desk; it was fully equipped and more. The bathroom was the real piece de resistance: a smart black and white chequered floor, large mirror and huge bath. Our bathroom was fully stocked with the customary lovely Mal toiletries. I’ve stayed in several Malmaison hotels and am refreshed each time by the new exciting flavour of each destination, reflecting its location.

This building is a converted Victorian warehouse, with a red and black theme and gorgeous hemp cloth blinds, sheltering the downstairs reception, a combination of old and new. It has an indulgent feel, with individually designed boutique bedrooms and downstairs a large sumptuous spa for all your relaxation and pampering needs. We treated ourselves to luxurious aromatherapy back massages on Saturday morning, and had fun in the calming lounge playing with the massage chairs in our fluffy white towelling robes.

The expansive new restaurant, Smoak and the bar, Ember look flashy and chic alongside the hotel reception on the ground floor. This new restaurant hopes to entice non-hotel guests in from the street, and it was amazing to see the place completely full on a wet Friday night. I was disappointed with the service at Smoak, despite only being three months old I expected more. On the floor they were massively understaffed and service was slow and inefficient. Our young waiter was very sweet, but just a bit clueless, not offering any expertise when we asked about the cocktail menu and delivering everything very late in a clumsy way. There was one comical moment when he thought he had brought us the wrong starters so ran back to the kitchen only to discover that in fact it was our food, and returned all flustered with the same plates. My small Caesar salad was very overdressed, the poor leaves wilting under the strain of the thick vinaigrette, my friend tried the Tuna Carpaccio with aniseed cress, soya and lime dressing and left most of it disappointed with the flavour and the excess of soy sauce.

With steaks and the epic grill as their speciality, we both opted for the fillet steaks and these did not disappoint. Wonderfully smoked and rich, good quality hunks of meat arrived, cooked to our exact specifications. There is a big selection of sauces and chip varieties to accompany the meat, I decided on peppercorn sauce with garlic chips and my friend chose béarnaise sauce, and paprika chips.

The retro inspired dessert menu gave us a difficult choice, I couldn't resist my favourite Pannacotta and here served with delicate pieces of pineapple and a red fruits coulis. It was suitably creamy and tasted freshly homemade thanks to real vanilla sprinkled on top. My friend chose the selection of light sorbets, and seemed satisfied with the Mal's homemade passion fruit sorbet, though the texture was more like granita. We retired to bed taking our fresh mint tea with us. I was relieved to snuggle up with the fluffy duvet after a long and tiring day.

I am always amazed by the Mal breakfasts, guests seem to relish the continental selection, and the classic take on the English Breakfast. With the early morning sunshine streaming through the restaurant, it was a very pleasant and open place to enjoy the start of the day - we chose from the lovely fresh fruit and pastries and ordered big mugs of tea and coffee to wake us up.

As always, I left the Malmaison feeling energised and refreshed, ready for the day ahead.


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