The Refuge at Kimpton Clocktower Hotel – Sublime contemporary food with an international twist

words Lee Taylor

I was keen to visit the Kimpton Clocktower Hotel and see what the new owners had done to the place. The former Refuge Headquarters was built originally as on opulent expression of Victorian largesse for the Refuge Assurance Company and lay sadly empty in the 1980s before being resurrected as a hotel.

It’s a big landmark building with a vast space on the ground floor. Previously this seemed bare and lifeless in its first incarnation as the Palace Hotel. The name Kimpton Clocktower Hotel is a vast improvement on its previous guise as The Principle which just sounded cold and dull and didn’t suit the building or the era.

I was then a bit taken aback as I first entered the space. The music was pounding in the bar area which was packed out with Saturday night revellers. The band, A Certain Ratio were being played as we walked through, making me feel right at home. We made our way to The Refuge eatery where we were greeted and led to a cosy looking booth. Our waitress settled us down in a friendly and helpful way, and we were left to ruminate on our choices.

Okay, so it wasn’t as obvious as many menus. It was split into Food for Thought (basically starters and nibbles) and then Plates. We wanted to make sure what we were playing with and so asked our host who talked us through it. Basically this was somewhere between a normal menu and tapas. Some of the Plates were smaller or bigger and so it’s best just to have an idea what you want and ask the person serving your table. We British though are not very good at this but we’re getting better thankfully. This kind of menu also encourages you to share which I think is a good thing. It means you get to try lots of different foods and flavours.

The style was contemporary British with an international twist. This suited me fine. It’s great to see we’re learning from the vast array of styles we have on offer in this country and using those influences to enhance our own new British style.

So of course we opted for Chicken Tika with Minted Yoghurt Sauce as one of our plates. As predicted we all loved that one  The Jungle Mussel Curry was different to how I imagined. It was not in a traditional creamy coconut sauce. This was whole mussels in the shell cooked in a Thai influenced liquor. Again, very nice. The Octopus, saag, burnt tomato was exceptional. The Octopus was tender and crisp on the outside and the saag was more like a thickened under layer of sauce bursting with spice and flavour.

With the 8oz dry-aged sirloin, zhug, Shatta there was some controversy. The person who ordered it thought it was a bit overcooked but others really liked it and the sauce it came with took it above and beyond plain steak. The Fattoush was a middle eastern inspired salad which complimented the other dishes well.

Yes, we had chips of course. We’re northerners after all. But we also got the chargrilled sweet potato with Shatta crème fraiche. It was slightly charred which help the flavour and texture and the spicey sauce was moreish.

I’m not a great one for dessert myself but tried the two we got. The sticky toffee pudding was a bit underwhelming as they often are. Why can’t people make them darker, more flavourful rich and moist? It wasn’t bad – just a bugbear. The chocolate, harissa and rose torte, raspberries, cream on the other hand was rich, dense and dark with some sharpness in the raspberry. Very nice indeed.

All in all, the food was a cut above most places in Manchester and the prices were reasonable. You could go there for a quick casual bite to eat or have a long leisurely dinner until they had to roll you out to your taxi. The service was timely, attentive and friendly which is the best kind. Let’s hope they continue to innovate and evolve as I think it’s a welcome addition to the city.

For more information and to book a table visit the website

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