Medlock Canteen Review: Inside Manchester’s New Restaurant

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Medlock Canteen entrance, in Manchester.

Medlock Canteen — named for the river that weaves its way through South Manchester — is a new venture from the business partners behind Madre, a modern Mexican eatery in KAMPUS. The restaurant officially opened in late March 2024, and I was there for the opening week.

I wasn’t walking into the experience blind. From various press releases, I glimmered that Medlock Canteen is particularly proud of its rotisserie chicken, a major marketing focus. It seemed the venue was focusing on honest, robust, hearty meals. What I didn’t realize is that means sidelining anyone with dietary restrictions.

Since visiting, I hm-ed and ha-ed about publishing a critical review. The online consensus seems beyond receptive — I’d describe it as glowing praise. I can only assume Medlock Canteen caters better to omnivores than vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free diners, as nothing else explains the distinct lack of thought and effort put into the respective menus, not to mention the worrying execution.

Medlock Canteen Review: The Ambiance

The atmosphere at Medlock Canteen is relaxed and casual. All tables offer either booth-style seating or bar stools overlooking the open kitchen.

For large gatherings, just one table is available. It’s separated from the main dining room by a partition (see second picture) and appears to seat 12.

Overall, the space is small — tables are situated too close for comfort on busy nights, but the high industrial ceilings save the restaurant from feeling claustrophobic.

The decor is vintage-inspired; half late 60s, full of warm woods and burnt burgundy seating that almost seems like part of a space opera hotel, and half industrial 1920s train station. It’s odd, but it works to bring together a cohesive theme.

The open kitchen is a pleasant surprise, although there’s no view of the cooking — just the chef’s heads.

Medlock Canteen Review: The Service

Service was warm, friendly, informal, and decidedly personality-driven. Servers crouching at the tables to take orders seem a common sight.

Service was quick, although there were issues with the temperature of the food — more on that later.

Mostly, however, I have deducted points on the basis that a server attempted to convince me that a stone in my food was not, in fact, a stone. I understand it’s uncomfortable to deal with complaints, but I appreciate it when I am believed, and not led into retracting my criticisms.

Medlock Canteen Review: The Food

Vegan, Vegetarian, and Gluten-Free Options

The hospitality industry has come a long way in recognizing allergies and dietary requirements. However, when visiting Medlock Canteen I was disappointed by the complete lack of information on the menu, meaning you need to ask a server about each dish on the menu. Are the French fries cooked in lard? Does the salsa verde contain anchovies? There are no hints on the menu. This is very frustrating and honestly, means extra (unnecessary!) work for the servers.

Medlock Canteen offers a separate vegan menu, but it has limited options. Discouragingly, many of the options are the same as the main menu, but with items removed. For example, take the roast carrots, which are served sans honey (dandelion honey/syrup would be great here). It’s possible to make great plant-forward vegan dishes (like my vegan mushroom wellington), but Medlock Canteen doesn’t seem particularly interested.

An added issue I discovered later was I ordered a dish from the vegan menu but was charged for the main menu dish. This leaves you with confusion and mistrust about the handling of orders.

Furthermore, there seems to be mislabeling on the menus. The salsa verde sauce isn’t listed on the vegan menu. This, combined with the point above, made me paranoid about accidentally eating something non-vegetarian. However, contact with the restaurant on two separate occasions confirmed the salsa verde is vegan.

I’m left hesitant and would not recommend eating at Medlock Canteen if you have dietary requirements or preferences.

According to online reviews, there is a separate gluten-free menu but it’s not available to order from yet.

Coal roast squash, braised Puy lentils, salsa verde

Medlock Canteen coal roast squash, braised puy lentils, and salsa verde.

Priced at £16, this seems steep — even for central Manchester. After all, this is a straightforward vegetarian dish with minimal ingredients and a laid-back, rustic presentation. While the portion size is quite generous, one questions whether it offers enough value. My opinion? No; £16 in Manchester offers plenty of choices, many of which are better quality.

There were positives: The lentils are nutty, earthy, and slightly aromatic. It’s a well-balanced dish, with the flavors of the lentils, squash, and sharp, zesty salsa verde melding well.

However, this was by far the most problematic dish. Firstly there are two versions of the dish: one on the vegan menu which is £3 cheaper, and one on the regular menu (which implies there is something on the regular menu that is not vegan). I ordered from the vegan menu but was charged for the regular menu dish. I found this particularly worrying and reached out to the team retrospectively, worried the salsa verde contained anchovies. While they assured me this wasn’t the case and there was no difference in ingredients between the two dishes on different menus, I remained confused. This is the biggest reason for my low “trust rating.”

Perhaps most shockingly, I discovered a small stone in the lentils. Only when I felt it crunch and break on my teeth while chewing did I realize how fortunate I was, as I didn’t sustain tooth damage or swallow the stone. While I understand stones in lentils are relatively common, restaurant chefs must be held to a higher standard during the preparation stage.

In full transparency, the dish was removed from my bill at my request, after speaking to a manager. She was apologetic and also wanted to stress that this “indicated the freshness of ingredients.”

50/50 brown butter mash potato

Medlock Canteen brown butter mashed potato.

Mashed potato is a humble dish, but can be delightful — if prepared with love. The Medlock Canteen rendition was fine but fell short of good.

While it came with ample butter poured on top, the promised brown butter flavor (distinctively rich and nutty) was decidedly absent. It could be elevated by a “genuine” brown butter and herby garnish.

Similarly, the texture was slightly too grainy and lacked the smoothness of comforting and creamy homemade mashed potato.

As it was, the Medlock Canteen mashed potato failed to stand out in taste or texture, landing firmly on “average.” Ideally, you want more, especially at £6.50.

Also worth noting is the temperature of the dishes. They were presented to the table lukewarm and quickly turned cold while eating.

Roast carrots, honey, wholegrain mustard

Medlock Canteen roast carrots, honey, and wholegrain mustard.

Let me start by saying this was my favorite dish by far.

Perfectly cooked, the carrots retained a slight crunch and boasted a delightful sweetness enhanced by the buttery honey dressing. Despite the apparent onslaught of mustard, its flavor was surprisingly subtle, providing just a hint of peppery heat.

Furthermore, the honey-roasted carrots would complement almost any main dish on the menu, making them a great sharing option. However, much like the mashed potatoes, the carrots were virtually cold when served — to give the benefit of the doubt, hopefully, this was a teething issue.

Earl Grey Mille Feuille, whipped honey

Medlock Canteen earl grey mille feuille with whipped honey.

If you want to get my attention, offer a mille feuille. This is a dessert full of promises, and I’ve not been disappointed yet. The Medlock Canteen mille feuille is markedly rustic, much like the rest of the food. It lacks the finesse and precision I picture from French desserts, especially as Medlock Canteen draws from Parisian bistros. It’s rough and ready around the edges, and I can’t help but think the whipped honey looks rather unfortunate — it needs some edible flowers, more structure, or spicing to avoid the regrettable connotations.

As for the flavor? It was pleasant. Earl Grey in a dessert is not something I’ve experienced before, but it married pleasantly with the honey and puff pastry, offering subtle nuances of earthy, nutty, citrusy, and floral flavors.

Texturally, the pastry could be improved. It’s not so much a puff pastry with clearly defined layers as a light crisp.

Medlock Canteen Review: The Price Range

Medlock Canteen is pricey. Manchester — an “up-and-coming” foodie destination that’s seen plenty of regeneration over the last couple of decades — is no stranger to expensive eats. But there’s one caveat: it has to be worth it.

In the case of Medlock Canteen, nothing screams luxury. The interior purposefully evokes a mess hall. The plates are simple; all white with an orange border and branding (this seems to imply austerity to me, rather than working to establish a brand feeling or deliver a luxurious presentation). The food, meanwhile, is uninspiring at best — and at worst, disappointingly dangerous.

Expect to pay on average £4-14 per snack and starter, £15-20 per main, £6.50 per side, and £8-12 per dessert.

Medlock Canteen Review: The Location

Surrounded by skyscrapers — the restaurant sits at the base of one — Medlock Canteen can be found in Deansgate Square, opposite the in-progress New Jackson development. Although grand, this is a very imposing environment with little warmth or life … and I suspect half the reason for the sky-high (excuse the pun!) price tags.

To its benefit, the area has many advantages: access to Deansgate station in less than 5 minutes of walking time, proximity to the culturally and historically important Castlefield area, and nearby car parks, to mention but a few.

Medlock Canteen Review: The Final Rating

📍Location: New Jackson, 5 Owen St., Deansgate, Manchester M15 4YB
🍽 Cuisine: American Parisian
🌍 Sustainability:⁣⁣ No information
👨‍🍳 Owners: Chris Edwards and Sam Granger, white British
♿️ Wheelchair friendly: Step-free entry. However, the glass doors were so heavy I struggled to push them open; it required my whole body’s strength. There’s no disabled access button, so staff will have to help.
🐶 Dog-friendly: Yes

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