The opportunity to head down to The Refuge has been heavily on my mind since it opened, and it was definitely worth the wait. I met a fellow food loving twitter friend for the first time for a “blind date” to put the world to rights over some cocktails and good grub. We honestly couldn’t have picked a better place.
Recently having had an extensive refurbishment, the space is impressively opulent, being respectful of the original features and vintage glitz and glamour but with a sneaky twinkle of a nod to modern day. Think chandeliers, bold prints, and beautiful attention to detail. Which several different spaces to explore, it’d be easy to get lost in there for an entire evening. In-between cocktails, before moving through to the restaurant we went for an explore, finding ourselves in a room known as The Winter Garden. Gorgeous glass panelled ceiling and walls, like an aviary in the middle of the building, elegant furniture, and fairy light covered trees. This space would make for the perfect date venue – truly breathtaking!
We started off with cocktails from the menu – myself opting for Fresh and Rested; Reposado tequila, rose hip, quince, lime, mint and hibiscus soda. Served long over crushed ice with wonderful bold hints of the Tropical flavours with the distinctive tang of the tequila shining through. Next I opted for one of my favourite classic cocktails a sweet Manhattan. Normally served straight in a martini glass, on this occasion it was served on the rocks and in a rocks glass. Despite the presentation and lack of garnish, it still hit the spot.
Without booking, we managed to sneak our way onto a table for two and impressively landed a spot under a huge tiled Manchester themed work of art (perfect photo opportunity!); being one of many unique pieces around the venue. The menu is simply laid out, with a wide selection of small places to chose from. It’s enticingly split into sections for meat, fish and more vegetable based dishes with a recommendation of 3 plates per person as a good starting point; logically we chose 2 dishes from each section.
We started with “smoked feta, beetroot, hazelnut, dill” which is a wonderful fresh and earthy beetroot ‘hummus’ with salty smoked feta crumbled on top, the hazelnuts adding a sweet crunch and the dill lifting the entire dish. We’d ordered this with a selection of freshly baked breads which included focaccia, crackers, and flatbread.
Shortly following that arrived our hot dishes: Crispy lamb shaw area with harass a & yoghurt, Lebanese lamb chops, Salt cod croquettes with parsley aioli, Seared tuna with grilled pak choice & chilli and Sweet potato mash. Both lamb dishes were sensational. The chops were pink in the middle, the fat perfectly rendered for optimum flavour, charred and lightly spiced, with the smooth sweet potato mash making the perfect accompaniment. The crispy lamb shawarma is everything pulled pork isn’t. Perfectly tender, juicy, with the delight of the odd bit of crispy skin; no sickening sauce, just pure, un-meddled-with meat. More heavily spiced with harissa but this is cooled with the tangy plain yoghurt its served with. Fortunately we had some flatbread remaining to really make this dish sing! The tuna served pink, with a crispy skin was faultless. With delicate oriental flavours coming through from the pak choi and chilli allowing the flavour of the tuna to shine through. Finally the salt cod croquettes were a delight to eat. Simply popped in the mouth, bursting with flavour and a faultless crispy casing, they melted in the mouth and were well complimented with the parsley aioli. Only fault with this dish was there weren’t any more of them!
Our server for the evening was attentive and chatty. Things tailed off towards the end of the meal and we were left with empty plates for a little while; not a big issue at all. She had engaged with us so well and was very enthusiastically telling us it was her first restaurant shift after previously being a member of the bar team. The bartender who’d served us throughout the evening unfortunately seemed to have a case of the Sunday night blues and looked like he needed a cuddle; eye rolls were given when we ordered cocktails. Hopefully these are hiccups after a busy weekend and will be smoothed out as the venue becomes more settled but this certainly won’t be a deterrent.
A truly wonderful night. I’ve not been able to stop thinking about the food and what dishes I’d beeline for next. I’ve also been imagining seeing it in full swing on a bustling Friday or Saturday night with their DJ on…I think a good night of dancing is on the cards. Already making my plans for a return visit. Sorry Refuge, you’ll be seeing me again very soon!