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Manchester restaurant famed for ‘inflexible’ tasting menu completely flips the script

For the first time ever, diners at District can just pop in for a couple of dishes with cocktails

Georgina Pellant Georgina Pellant - 11th August 2022

Since its arrival in Manchester, Michelin-recommended new wave Thai BBQ favourite District has staked its reputation on two things: fantastically surreal, delicious food and an extremely inflexible tasting menu.

Until recently its diners have had two choices, opt for the ten-course tasting menu or spring for the twelve, and whilst everyone I’ve ever known to go has swooned in delight over the whole experience, there’s no denying it hardly makes for a cheap night out (or an easily organised one).

Deposits have always been required up front, and adaptions have famously never been made for a customer’s dislikes, or even religious needs. It’s for this reason, and this reason alone, that until last week I’d never made it over – despite wanting desperately to go.

Simply put, I’d just struggled to find anyone prepared to give up a whole evening (and a shed load of cash) to come with me. Amazing, I know, but thankfully, that’s all now changed.

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Image: The Manc Eats
Image: The Manc Eats

Read more: Chefs refusing to cater for dietary issues listed as hospitality trend for 2022

Last year, the kitchen made headlines after getting embroiled in a ‘religious diet’ row with a Jewish customer who’d taken umbrage with its refund policy.

The whole affair culminated with District posting the entire altercation to its social media pages, alongside a caption stating it ‘will not be bullied or threatened into returning deposits’.

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During the row, the customer had asked, “why not shout loud on your homepage ‘We don’t cater for Jews’”. Still, they held firm.

A year on and it seems that external pressures may have caused that iron will to buckle, because for the first time ever the Michelin-acclaimed restaurant has moved to offer dishes individually.

Image: The Manc Eats
Image: The Manc Eats

In a complete change of direction, diners can now pop in off the cuff to enjoy a few plates and a couple of drinks. Personally, I think it’s the best news ever, but then I would. It’ll be much easier to get my friends in now.

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Suddenly one of the best restaurants in the city has become so much more accessible, and its timing couldn’t be better. After all, we’re all getting poorer, and whilst not everyone has £100 to spend on dinner, everyone deserves a taste of the magic happening in the kitchen here.

Whilst the restaurant maintains that diners can either curate their own District experience or simply pop in for a few dishes, on our visit it is very much a small plate, tapas-style service, with everything appearing on the table in front of us in quick succession.

Read more: Manchester’s tiniest tapas bar has found a new home in the Northern Quarter

Translucent stone bass (£9) floats alien-like in its dish with crispy purple yam antennae suspended above a shimmering nam jim, whilst a pinky-purple pigeon satay (£9) is rich and gamey, dressed with sweetcorn, pumpkin seeds and crisped turnip all unfolding on the plate like a flower in bloom.

Every dish here is a surprise, ranging from a beautifully fresh salad of peach, pear, ginger and shrimp floss, to chicken fat rice, which comes showered in a generous helping of crumbed crispy skin.

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Image: The Manc Eats
Image: The Manc Eats

That rule extends into the desserts too. Homemade ‘tangfastic’ tamarind and chicken fat fudge sweets appear, suspended, on their own white marble platform like some sort of futuristic offering.

Elsewhere, a calamansi curd pavlova with sheeps yoghurt and passion fruit reinvents any preconceived notions I might have had about Thai food – or pavlova for that matter.

As Marina O’Loughiling wrote in her review of District for The Times last year, this is “Thai, but not as we know it”.

Read more: Chefs refusing to cater for dietary issues listed as hospitality trend for 2022

Speaking on the change of direction for the restaurant, owner Ben Humphries said: “We are passionate about creating the highest quality experience for our customers.

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Our aim is to capture the essence of Thai flavours whilst maintaining the highest quality produce, suppliers and dishes.

“Changing our service style will give us creative freedom in the kitchen. We can develop dishes that don’t have to fit into a tasting menu format. We will also have the opportunity to offer daily changing special dishes.”

The new menu is available now with bookings being taken under ‘New Wave Thai’ on District’s bookings page here.

Feature image – The Manc Eats