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OPULENCE IS THE KEY WORD AT VERMILION. ROYAL, REGAL AND DIVINE ARE THE OTHERS. MAKING AN ENTRANCE ON THE RED CARPET BETWEEN TWO HUGE STATUESQUE LIONS, A MOAT OF STILL LIT-UP WATER AND A THREE-STOREY RESTAURANT GLOWING WITH REDS AND GOLD, I COULD’VE THOUGHT I’D JUST STEPPED INTO THE SHANGRI-LA. BUT AS WE PASS THROUGH THE MAGNIFICENT ENTRANCE INTO A WORLD OF ASIAN CHARM, I AM GREETED WITH A SENTENCE THAT DRAWS ME STRAIGHT BACK TO MANCHESTER. “GOOD EVENING,” HE SAYS. “WELCOME TO VERMILION AND CINNABAR.”
Set outside of town, in Manchester’s Sport City, Vermilion and Cinnabar have made a name for themselves as the ultimate ‘destination restaurant’. If you come all this way, you most definitely do it for a treat. And at Vermilion, they have a few of those tucked up their sleeves. Ascending our way to the second-floor restaurant, my senses are imploding from the abundance of architectural and design features, the exotic scents that wisp delicately through the perfumed air and the charming ambiance of the low-lit room.
To really appreciate this 200-seater restaurant and 400-standing cocktail bar, Vermilion and Cinnabar first needs explanation. Set in, what can only be described as an industrial site, opposite the Manchester City grounds, this palace most definitely stands out. Fusing ultra-modern chic design with traditional Asian antiquities, Miguel Cancio Martins, famous for designing Paris’ Buddha Bar, definitely left his mark on Manchester with this effort.
The £5.2million project includes a majestic display of huge Buddha heads, a plethora of statues and exquisite screens, a central Buddha tower that runs through each floor, a temperature-controlled wine-cellar, two huge kitchens, one for the Indian cuisines and one for the rest; and of course, the spectacular private top-floor bar complete with footballer-friendly VIP sections.
Painted with a Vermilion red stain, the entire building succumbs to the opulence of its mystical Asian theme. Together with dim lights and candle-lit tables, the restaurant glows with a magenta sheen, adding warmth and fire to this spicy establishment. Flat pewter-hammered plates on circular mosaic tables give Vermilion its Indian authenticity, whilst jet black screens laced with spotlights, hanging lanterns and giant bamboo sticks merge this with a truly Oriental mystery.
Black chairs painted with Chinese water coloured flowers lends itself to Asia’s misty green waters and the plink-plonk music gives Vermilion a chilled-out ‘Beach’ vibe that Alex Garland would be proud of. Yet, the bright rich colours, amber tiles and wall of floating flowers transports you to praying on the Ganges River in India. These detailed references to Oriental and Indian images makes for quite a difficult combination, but its fusion in the food is where it works best.
Choosing the Christmas Party Menu (£20pp), we were able to taste a wide range of Vermilion’s dishes from its thick, spicy Indian curries to its Chinese starters and famous Thai cuisines created by Chatchai Jamjang – “Thailand’s answer to Gordon Ramsay,” so we were informed.
And we were here to taste the legend. Sweet nutty chicken Satay, sharp fresh salmon sushi and succulent strips of rich chicken tikka cooked in a separate clay oven, succeeded as the first remarkable attempt at combining these incredibly different Asian flavours. The strong spices and smoky chicken contrasted surprisingly well with the fresh and light sushi rolls.
The next selection of dishes proved to be the ultimate in culinary combinations. The thick tomato curry of Deshi Lamb, the sweet chill kick of Phad Thai Prawns, a Vietnamese-tasting selection of Seasonal Vegetables in soy sauce, and Chinese stir fried Turkey Kra-Praow provided a brilliant apprenticeship in the best of Asia’s fine food. Nutty crunchy textures contrasted with crispy dried spinach, slick Chinese sauces, delicious lentil-thick curries, and soft sticky Jasmine Rice; sugary sweet flavours sat next to the chilli kick of the Pad Thai; citrus and basil blended effortlessly with the warm spicy curry; and thick succulent lamb accompanied the juicy prawns deliciously.
Combinations that might be deemed a hotch-potch of flavours seemed, for some peculiar reason, to work. I guess combining the finest in Asia’s shared ingredients was bound to make a perfect blend
For an after-dinner sup, head to Cinnabar. At the top of the spiral staircase that encircles a column of illuminating ‘floating’ Buddha heads, you will find the intimate and stylish cocktail bar.
Contrasting with Vermilion’s rich traditional features, decadent scarlet and burnt oranges, Cinnabar welcomes a more contemporary design with a giant bubble-ball ceiling, bright coloured seats and six steel pods where guests can recline next to each other at a cool £500 minimum-spending bar tab.
Cinnabar most definitely lends itself to a totally different vibe than Vermilion, looking more London 1960s than Indian or Thailand. But then this is probably quite a welcome scenery change, for a visit to Vermilion and Cinnabar, on the very outskirts of town, means that after a drink, you won’t be going anywhere else.
Totally chilled out, complete with a separate open-plan VIP cushioned area, the restaurant and bar together, have created the perfect package for the complete night out. Good because it’s a more than a trek back to the City Centre.
Everything at Vermilion and Cinnabar is carefully crafted and superbly detailed. You welcome the breaks in between courses just so you can go for a bit of a wander through the labyrinthine building. Its huge luxurious furnishings give the building a decadent edge that still emanates distinctive Asian designs, without the garish presence of billowing waterfalls and giant fish tanks.
It has thought of everything – a grand palace to absorb the interest of passersby and send intrigue running through restaurant sites; a huge car park to invite guests, guests and more guests; a wallet-friendly menu; private banqueting suites and function rooms for the all-inclusive parties and staff dos; an expensive and elite bar where premiership footballers squander their money, but most importantly, delicious authentic cuisines that combine the rich spices of India and the fresh flavour of East Asia. To me, by far, its selling point.
But then again, leaving on the red carpet in between two impressive stone lions, symbols of not just royalty, but also of England, Vermilion and Cinnabar proves that it’s its metaphoric fusion of just about everything that makes it a destination restaurant worth making the trip for.
And I guess, at a push, I could get used to hobnobbing with millionaire footballers, if I had to.