On Wednesday evening we were invited to a sneak preview of Chris Farr and Jennie McAlpine’s new restaurant Annies.
Tucked away down Old Bank Street in the historic Royal Exchange building, Annies affectionately doffs its top hat to neighbouring St Ann’s Square, from which it takes its name. It is the result of eighteen months of planning and hard work to rejuvenate a space which has lain dormant for the last seven years.
Jennie, best known for her role as flame-haired Fiz Stape in Coronation Street, has said she wants Annies to provide a cosy, British, home-away-from-home feel.
Upon entering the blacked out doors, we certainly felt as though we had entered a different world. In contrast to the chill and bustle of the Christmas market only yards away, inside all was calm and welcoming, with the low lighting and dark wooden panels instantly setting a mood of relaxation and quiet reflection.
The ground floor will be open for lunch and afternoon tea, whilst the main restaurant is in the expansive basement, which has space for 100 covers, plus bar and a private dining room.
Our first impressions of the downstairs restaurant were of an old world, London pub crossed with the elegance of a traditional Parisian brasserie. The décor manages to feel homely without being too twee, with dark mahogany leather sofas sharing carpet space with mismatched armchairs that nevertheless invite you to come sit and stay awhile.
There are some nice idiosyncratic touches, too, like top hats masquerading as lamps suspended from the ceiling, and the odd Victorian era wallpaper or pink tasselled lampshade that many people may instantly recognise from their nan’s living room.
Jennie’s dad, Tom, describes the restaurant as “The Ivy meets The Rovers” and we think that’s a pretty spot-on assessment.
But does the food live up to Executive Chef Richard Moore’s promise to provide classic British cuisine to discerning diners? The plate of canapés we saw certainly looked promising: homemade sausage rolls with a sweet tomato relish; Welsh rarebit; sun blushed tomato risotto fritters with a sweet chilli mayo dip; cocktail Cumberland sausages with wholegrain mustard; chicken liver patė with Melba toast; and potted ham hock with homemade piccalilli. Unfortunately we only managed to sample of couple of small items before the plate was whisked away, but can confirm that the risotto fritters were excellent. Restaurant staff assured us their hotpot is something special too.
Before we left, flushed by the mixture of warm settees and free-flowing prosecco, we grabbed Jennie for a quick chat.
Can you sum up the ethos of Annies in one sentence?
Annies is a place where you can eat great food, meet up with friends and really feel like you’re at home.
What sets Annies apart from other establishments in Manchester?
I love Manchester. I live in Manchester. I’m a massive fan of Manchester and its bar and restaurant scene. But I know, through our research, that Annies offers something that is missing, something that’s needed, because it is different.
We chose the location because it is tucked away – it’s one of those places where you might have to know where it is to find it. And you feel quite safe down here, whereas upstairs it feels a bit like an Aladdin’s cave. It doesn’t look much from outside, but once you’re here you feel like you could be anywhere. That’s our hope anyway.
What’s your favourite dish on the menu?
The three cheese and onion pie is really good. The ham hock is gorgeous too. And there are the spring rolls with Bury black pudding.
There’s nothing else that’s like Bury black pudding. I can’t promise you’ll have the same experience in Annies having a black pudding as you would walking round Bury market: there it’s just in a paper bag, with a bit of vinegar, a bit of ketchup and a fork – that’s it, end of story. That’s how you traditionally eat a Bury black pudding. But I’m not sure that really goes with the surroundings here, so we’ve put ours on a plate.
Would you call yourself more of a sticky toffee pudding or a traditional Manchester tart?
I am most definitely a Manchester tart!
And a quick Corrie question to finish. Who would win in a fist fight? Fiz or Kirsty?
Fiz. Hands down. She isn’t scared of Kirsty. She’s probably had more fights than anyone else! Fiz is not all whiter than white. She’s had loads of boyfriends and dished out quite a lot of slaps – she whacked that Sally Webster a few times. So Fiz, definitely. Bring it on, Kirsty!
Annies officially opens to the public on Friday 7th December 2012.
Visit the website for more information, including bookings and menus.
By Alaka Prodhan (@EchoingBronze)
Photography courtesy of Sven Eselgroth