What’s it like? Currently a stand-alone restaurant and bar in Manchester, with aspirations to expand, Vermilion and Cinnabar serves gourmet Thai-Indian fusion cuisine. Designed by Miguel Cancio Martins, the man behind Paris’ Buddha Bar and London’s Opium nightclub, it combines a cosmopolitan ambiance with Far Eastern grandeur. The venue is divided into Vermilion (the restaurant) and Cinnabar (the bar and nightclub).
Situated down the road from the Etihad Stadium, Manchester City’s football ground, Vermilion and Cinnabar’s location in a non-descript car park, a ten-minute drive from the city centre, is rather ironic. Following a red carpet to the welcome desk, where dark woods and red tinted windows give a sense of the experience that will follow, a lift takes you up to the main dining area on the first floor.
The sheer size of the place is the first thing that hits you, followed by an overwhelming feeling that there is a lot to appreciate design-wise. “Asian escapism” is the concept of Vermilion, and the drama of the décor plays a large part in creating this. There’s a sultry atmosphere, thanks to the low lighting paired with more cherry-red windows and candlelight – which perhaps lends itself more to an evening meal than a lunch. Shining brightly is a centerpiece; a tower of fibre optic Buddha heads, glowing in different colours and stacked high enough so that they reach the second floor (where Cinnabar is located).
Mahogany frescos partition the vast space into more intimate sections – there are some secluded spaces, one has an enormous Lazy Susan “Maharajah table” with gold leaf thrones for guests of honour. In the main section of the restaurant, white tables and black comfortable swivel chairs adorned with a gold cherry blossom motif surround what appear to be scarlet tree trunks. Chilled out house music plays softly, enhancing the relaxing yet sophisticated vibe.
The decadent design continues upstairs in Cinnabar. Different sized fibre optic orbs hang from the ceiling, and cushion-clad alcoves that look like gigantic ball chairs that could seat about eight people at once are dotted around the space. At one end there’s a DJ booth beside the long light-up bar, and at the other is the VIP “pagoda” section with a central large flatscreen TV showing muted Anime cartoons.
The food and service I was seated in the main part of the restaurant. The menu is extensive, offering a range of authentic Thai and Indian recipes inspired by indigenous street food and adapted to a gourmet standard. As well as à la carte options, there are many different-themed set menus (including vegetarian, Asian Fusion, Classic Indian, Royal Thai Himmaphan, Royal Thai Benjarong and one for the Maharajah table) ranging in price from £17.95 per person for three courses to £46 per person for five courses.
The wine selection was also quite daunting, so I asked for a recommendation, which was Knappstein Three, Clare Valley, Australia (£5.75 per glass). It was to my taste – a light wine that complemented the fiery flavours of the food and followed with a delayed kick of berries. As well as a wide selection of wine, there were cocktails (from £7.50 -£9.50) such as “Samed on the Beach” – lychees, pandan leaves, lychee juice, Absolut vodka, Cointreau and lychee liquer – and “Eastern Lungka Magrita” – Don Julio Blanco, agave nectar and jackfruit blended together and served in a frosted glass with a cinnamon salted rim.
I sampled a selection of starters. The Vermilion Signature dish (£19.95) seemed like a good place to start; it consisted of “grilled ocean tiger prawns accompanied with a spicy Papaya salad. I was informed that my prawns were caught by Vermilon and Cinnabar’s parent company, Seamark (a multinational seafood production company) and had travelled all the way from the Bay of Bengal. I was quite astonished when I was presented with a prawn significantly larger than my hand, and the buttery, substantial bites blended well with the sweet, sugary salad. I also tried a Thai Fish Cake (£8.50), which was made with a generous ratio of fish mixed with a red curry paste and delicious hints of lime. Finally, I tasted the Achari Chicken Tikka (£8.50), which had a lovely smokiness to it, a medium spiciness and a tender texture.
On to my main courses. I sampled the “Masaledar Dhaba Murgh” (£13.95) – home-style chicken cooked with hot spices, onions, tomatoes, pepper, garlic and ginger, and served with steamed rice and naan bread as sides. The sauce was made mild on my request, and was beautifully creamy with a subtle, earthy, coriander flavour. I also tried the “Rock Lobster” (£19.50) – stir-fried rock lobster with black pepper sauce perfumed with truffle oil. The peppers and asparagus in the stir-fry were nice and crisp, complementing the firm texture of the lobster pieces, and the sweet truffle oil was given a spice edge by the black pepper sauce. The other dish I sampled, and my favourite, was the “Pla Yang Hor Bai Tong” (£18.50) – grilled whole seabass wrapped in a banana leaf, served with both tamarind sauce and chilli garlic sauce on the side. The soft texture of the fish paired with a creamy coconut taste with hints of garlic, all marinated within the banana leaf – which also kept it hot for ages.
Finally I tried one of the desserts: Vermilion Chocolate Mousse served with white chocolate ice cream (£6.90). The sweet ice cream was full of pieces of white chocolate and the velvety mousse was subtle rather than rich, which was much appreciated at this point in the meal. Other dessert options on the menu include Warm Gulab Jamun (£7.90) – Indian dumplings of cottage cheese served with vanilla ice cream, and Sweet Sticky Rice (£8.90) – steamed with coconut milk and served with mango.
Throughout the meal, service was extremely polite and intuitive – the waitress was very passionate and knowledgeable about the food. She was of Thai origin herself, and could tell me a lot about all the dishes, and recommend wines to pair with them. Staff members also chatted with regular visitors.
Private dining The restaurant’s private dining area is the Abacus Gallery on the second floor, reached through a discreet door by the VIP section. Its walls are lined with black abacuses, and statement black and gold oriental wallpaper. The space can accommodate 100 for a seated dinner (buffet dining can also be arranged) or host up to 250 people for a drinks reception – it has a bar and a dancefloor. Alternatively, the space can hold 40 delegates theatre-style for a meeting – it has free wifi plus a projector and screen.
Verdict A luxurious dining experience in a spectacular setting. I can’t fault the food – the generously sized and carefully prepared dishes contain satisfying combinations of tastes – and the service was both efficient and charismatic.
Opening hours Vermilion Restaurant is open for lunch Mon-Fri 12pm-2.30pm, for Sunday brunch buffet 12am-4pm, and for dinner Mon-Sun 5pm-11pm. Cinnabar is open Thursdays 6pm-2am and Fri-Sat 6pm-3am.
Contact Vermilion and Cinnabar, Hulme Hall Lane/ Lord North Street, Sport City, Manchester, M40 8AD; tel +44 (0)161 202 0055; vermilioncinnabar.com