Wednesday, 12 April 2017


It's funny how you can walk past somewhere fairly regularly and not even notice it's there. When we travel up to Manchester for concerts and theatre visits we often get off at Oxford Road and we'd never noticed Refuge before. We spied this offshoot of "Volta", a successful Manchester restaurant by chefs Justin Crawford and Luke Cowdrey (also know as the Unabombers - according to their website anyway!) online when planning a birthday meal in the city and we loved the sound of the menu so we decided to give them a try. Off we popped on the train to Manchester once more ready for a delicious celebration meal.

Entering through the door of Refuge is like entering another world. It's massive inside and it can be quite disorientating to navigate to the dining area but once you find it then the fun begins. A large mural at the far side of the room mentions "The Glamour Of Manchester" and the dining area screams just that. Not sure if it's taking inspiration from the neighboring Oxford Road train station but the interior certainly reminded me of the likes of Grand Central Station in New York in terms of scale and "wow" factor. It's gorgeous and the perfect setting to bring someone for a special treat.

The menu is mainly made up of small plates (big sharing platter affairs are on there too for those happy to share but Matty don't share!) and our lovely server Rachel told us that three plates each would make up a good meal for one so obviously we ordered 4 each (well it was a birthday dinner!). First up to the table was this mutabal and flatbread. I thought it was humus but it's actually an aubergine based dip but you should think of it like the best humus ever, it was delicious. That flat bread too was perfect for ripping chunks off and dipping. Round 1 was a win to Refuge.

Round 2 was also a winner. Sticking with some the dips on the menu we decided to order the beetroot, feta, dill and hazelnut dish. I've made a beetroot dip at home before but this one was on another level. It was so moreish! The beetroot in the dip had a slight sweet edge to it which is balanced by the sharp saltiness of the crumbled feta cheese on top. The crunch of the hazelnuts add some needed texture and the dill (which I'm not always a fan off!) was added in just the right quantity to add a bit of freshness but not overpower. Brilliant; I want the recipe!

Next up was this dish titled "Volcanic Tomatoes". Now this dish is normally served with goats cheese but we aren't really fans of it so Rachel was more than happy to ask the kitchen to swap it for some more of that delicious feta instead so points all round for customer service. Those multicolored volcanic tomatoes, dressed in basil and black vinegar were so fresh and vibrant and it's also the first time that we have ever really enjoyed melon on a main dish too. Not sure what the crispy thing over the top is but it was yummy. Such a simple dish that really lets the ingredients shine!

The simple use of fresh and vibrant ingredients continues with the next dish that we ordered, the fattoush. A classic middle eastern salad consisting of more of those fabulously vibrant tomatoes but this time they are tossed together with some sliced cucumber, red onion, radishes and some cute teeny tiny cauliflower florets, all flavored with sumac as is tradition with a fattoush. Dotted around the plate were crunchy chunks of toasted bread adding another textural dimension to the dish. So far, I was totally impressed, Refuge certainly know how to make good vegetarian dishes.

The final vegetarian dish of our monster of a meal was another simple little meat free treat. Described briefly on the menu as pak choi, chili, soy, that is exactly what you got but it was done to perfection. The pak choi was cooked just right so it had a good amount of bite to it (pak choi can sometimes be a soggy mess if overcooked!) and the classic Asian flavor combination of garlic, chili and soy jumped right off the plate and danced across our taste buds. Quite simply another small plate of perfection which cements the fact that if you are vegetarian you just have to come to Refuge!

But what about the meat eaters out there? I tried a trio of the meaty dishes on the menu and I'll tell you right now that they were equally as amazing as the vegetarian options. First up I went for these salted cod croquettes with parsley aioli. Pretty straightforward looking when they arrive at the table but once you stick a knife through that golden brown exterior you get through the most delicious filling stuffed to the brim with generous chunks of perfectly cooked flaky fish. Dip it in the little parsley aioli on the plate and you have the perfect treat for a fish lover.

Next up came the crispy lamb shawarma. If lamb could be like a mixture of pulled pork and crispy burnt ends then this it it. The lamb was cooked so that it had a nice bite to it yet still managed to be moist and full of flavor. The harrisa that comes served on the side compliments it well but does pack a good old punch but luckily there is a dollop of yogurt on the side for when things get a little to spicy. The three components work in complete harmony with other, this would be ideal on a flatbread at the end of a night out in town instead of a dodgy kebab.

Finally along came our eighth and final small plate of the evening and for me it was the star of the show, my ox cheek. Hiding under a gorgeous fried egg with a gloriously runny egg yolk, it was the most melting in the mouth, moist and unctuous bit of meat I've ever had the pleasure of inserting in my mouth. Just incredible. That egg yolk creates an amazing sauce that works with the chimichurri (it said it was Sriracha but I'm not sure!) smothered on top of the egg. Step away from your regular meats people and try this ox cheek and I promise you, you are going to love it! 

You would think after all those yummy plates of food that there would be no room left for pudding but this was a birthday celebration so it had to be done really. I decided to go for the orange blossom and honey polenta cake. The cake was moist and delicious but I didn't really get much orange flavor coming through (this is my only niggle from the whole night!).  The crunchy little bits of pistachio add some delicious crunch and the blueberries a nice burst of freshness whilst the creamy ricotta on the side helps to tie everything together in a pretty little bow of pudding goodness. Just more orange in the cake please!

The second dessert we chose on the other hand was pure excellence. It wasn't what we were expecting to arrive at the table when we ordered an apple tart. What we got was kind of an egg custard with apples at the base all housed in a case of crumbly buttery pastry goodness. It totally works and is something I'm going to try recreate at home. What really makes the tart a work of genius though is the top which we describe as "creme brulee-esqe". Thats not saying it was crunchy but it has a wonderful sugary, caramelized sweetness to it. Served with a delicious dollop of Madagascan vanilla ice cream, I couldn't of asked for a better finale to our meal

Finally we were full so it was time to leave and head off to enjoy the rest of our birthday night out. I wasn't really expecting that much when we booked to go to Refuge but my word I was highly underestimating them. The venue is stunning, the staff are friendly, helpful and knowledgeable of the menu and the food for both meat eaters and vegetarians is amazing! That ox cheek is one of the nicest things I've ever eaten and will certainly be something I talk about for a long time to come. I'm already planning my next trip to see them (I've got my eye on the Sunday lunch!) and it can't come quickly enough. Refuge is incredible and those Unabombers have created something that is going to blow everyone's socks off!

What are you waiting for? Check out Refuge's menu and book yourself a able by clicking over to their website here! Do it now! Now!!!!

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