FOOD & DRINK

Manchester Evening News - - CITYLIFE - By EMILY HE­WARD

MANCH­ESTER’S din­ing scene has changed al­most be­yond recog­ni­tion over the last decade. En­tirely new neigh­bour­hoods have sprung up, and trends like the burger boom have come and gone, mak­ing way for a new wave of restau­rants cater­ing to a more health-con­scious crowd.

Take FoodWell, which landed last year at New Bai­ley, the re­gen­er­a­tion scheme where the nightlife of Spin­ning­fields has be­gun to spill across the Ir­well into Sal­ford.

The health and fit­ness-fo­cused restaurant prom­ises an LA-in­spired ‘mind­ful’ din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence along­side a well­ness stu­dio host­ing yoga and pi­lates.

A palm-shrouded ter­race twin­kling with fairy lights does its best to set the scene, but it feels a long way from Cal­i­for­nia as the din from nearby con­struc­tion sites clangs out into the damp and chilly Jan­uary air.

In­side, ev­ery sur­face sprouts with more fake fo­liage and dis­creet, vase­shaped dif­fusers spurt mist into the air; the ef­fect it cre­ates is of an ar­ti­fi­cial but­ter­fly house in a chain ho­tel lobby.

This is a place where the juice se­lec­tion is as long as the cock­tail list, where the menu has a sec­tion de­voted to ‘detox bowls’ named things like ‘sooth’ (sic), ‘nur­ture’ and ‘cure’ - which is to say, I thought I’d loathe it.

First im­pres­sions don’t do much to per­suade me oth­er­wise. Our book­ing’s gone AWOL on ar­rival, and the host­ess has to hand me a key­board to type in my de­tails again to claim its half price Jan­uary of­fer.

Our waiter’s con­fused about which dishes aren’t avail­able when we go to or­der, lead­ing to a com­i­cally awk­ward in­ter­change where we chant words like ‘power,’ ‘charge’ and ‘vi­tal­ity’ back and forth at one an­other like we’re at some new age af­fir­ma­tion work­shop.

Ser­vice con­tin­ues in this man­ner: spacey, but sweet (“Free your soul,” he later laughs, sug­gest­ing we stay for yoga later).

And then the food ar­rives, and I stop rolling my eyes.

Meals here are stealth­ily healthy: no food groups are cut, no por­tions scrimped, no calo­ries counted, no lec­tures given.

For ev­ery ‘detox bowl,’ there’s a burger, a curry, a pizzeta, a pasta dish - and not a spi­ralised cour­gette in sight.

A bowl of roasted aubergine (£7), richly spiced and stewed un­til sticky and dark, to be piled onto crisp shards of flat­bread, has echoes of the ver­sion I used to or­der visit af­ter visit at Heaton Moor’s bril­liant Bras­sica Grill (now un­der new own­er­ship as Black Olive Grill).

A side of crunchy ten­der­stem broc­coli daubed with a spiky romesco and tum­bled with smoked al­monds (£5) re­mind me of an­other go-to or­der at Al­trin­cham tapas bar Porta. Both fa­mil­iar favourites are done jus­tice here.

A buck­wheat and bul­gur grain bowl stud­ded with sweet potato (‘Charge,’ £9 at full price) and driz­zled with a miso and sesame dress­ing is a sub­stan­tial, sat­is­fy­ing lunch, with colour and crunch from spears of ten­der­stem broc­coli, pops of pome­gran­ate and crushed peanuts.

A bowl built around za’atar roasted squash (‘Vi­tal­ity,’ £9) doesn’t hit quite the same spot but is an­other colour­ful cre­ation, com­bin­ing chunky cour­gette, petals of roasted red onion, snappy green beans and hazel­nuts with a sharp kim­chi and ume­boshi dress­ing.

A por­tion of hal­loumi pop­corn (£7.50), crispy cubes driz­zled with a honey and truf­fle dress­ing, are the un­health­i­est thing on the ta­ble and, inevitably, the best.

A por­tion of cauli hot wings (£7) never ar­rive, but we don’t no­tice un­til it’s too late to protest, and we’re not billed for them. Dessert menus aren’t of­fered un­til a while af­ter our plates are cleared, by which point we’ve al­ready run out of time for lunch.

We make do with our cold­pressed juices (£4.50) in­stead, a Sweet Green (ap­ple, fen­nel, mint, spinach, aloe and lime, £4.50) made weak and wa­tery by too much ice, and a dank, muddy-tast­ing Hy­drant (beet­root, acai, lemon, gin­ger and co­conut wa­ter) that my friend doesn’t bother fin­ish­ing.

Per­haps the booze is bet­ter: by night, the restaurant comes alive as Fire­fly, a new late night of­fer­ing of ‘Cal­i­for­nian tapas,’ cock­tails and DJs.

Launch­ing the con­cept last year, owner Chris­tian Coates said he wanted to of­fer ‘a bal­anced ap­proach to well­ness... to en­cour­age peo­ple to nour­ish their bod­ies and souls dur­ing the day – but to feel free and let their hair down at night.’

For the most part, FoodWell is hit­ting that sweet spot nicely - and prov­ing ‘well­ness,’ what­ever that is, needn’t come at the ex­pense of eat­ing well.

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