From Le Manoir to Maya - Gabe Lea brings French classics and Michelin hopes to Mash & Air site

The new restaurant and brasserie is one of the most hotly-anticipated openings of the year

By Ben Arnold | Last updated 7 March 2024

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In an industrial estate on the edge of Stockport, magic is happening. For the past year, chef Gabe Lea has been holed up in a development kitchen in this most unassuming location, above R Noone and Son’s fruit and veg wholesalers, testing, tinkering and recalibrating the dishes that will go on the menu of his first proper restaurant.

Over the past year, a few people have been invited over to this not particularly rarified part of town to try some particularly rarified culinary sketches.

There have been hand-dived scallops with pickled white grapes, suckling pig black pudding, wild turbot with a chestnut ‘bonne femme’ sauce, glazed duck crown, bass with brown shrimp butter. Classic cooking with a light touch.

It’s about time. Gabe, from Stretford, has done his time working for other people and helping them shine. Those other people happen to be the likes of Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons’ Raymond Blanc, holder of two Michelin stars for nearly 40 years.

And Simon Rogan, who was awarded his third at L’Enclume last year, and who restored The French at the historic Midland Hotel in Manchester to its former glory. Northcote’s Lisa Allen, Simon Rimmer and Aiden Byrne also feature on a glowing CV.

Let’s get this bit out of the way though. A star is ‘a lifelong dream’, but not something he’s aiming for. “I don’t want to build that up,” he says. “If it comes, it comes. But you never get them by accident.”

At Maya, which will open later this month, he’ll be in charge of the brigade. Next door to the swish LEVEN hotel in the Village, it has been built in the space that formerly housed the pioneering celebrity magnet Mash & Air, restaurateur Oliver Peyton’s bar-cum-club-cum-brewery that paved the way for bars to make their own beer and serve wood-fired pizza.


He showed Manchester’s Finest around what was still largely a building site at the beginning of the year – there have been some predictable and not-so-predictable issues with planning in this historic old warehouse, so the project has suffered some significant delays. 

Basically, just as work was about to start, the building was designated a heritage site, so plans and designs went out of the window.

“I joined the project in August, 2022, with the idea that it would open in Spring, 2023,” he says, with a just-detectable roll of the eyes. “Then we had to make changes to all of the designs. But it was such an iconic restaurant. The first place in the UK to have wood-fired pizza ovens. It changed a lot of things.”

It will be worth the wait. Whether it was a blessing in disguise or not (financiers would disagree perhaps), what it has done has given Gabe time to finesse his menu.

“The concept has changed a few times, and I’ve had a few epiphanies,” he says. He’s planning to buck the trend for Japanese or Nordic-inspired simplicity (‘Very classical, cutting back to the basics, big flavours’), and going back to his French roots, informed mostly by his training as a teenager with Blanc.

He arrived at Le Manoir aged 17, barely out of catering college. “I just emailed and said I’d work for free,” he laughs. “I saved up for about six months from my other job, to get by for two months, and then they offered me an internship. I was picking spinach for about 12 hours a day when I started.

“So I thought, ‘if I do it fast enough, they’ll give me another job’, so then it was mushrooms for six hours a day. [Blanc] is a legend. Just a super-nice guy. The stigma of these old fashioned chefs being hard and tough, he was the opposite. Nurturing.

“He was a bit harder on his experienced chefs, but the younger ones, very caring. The first time I saw him, I was prepping lamb sweetbreads, but I wasn’t doing it properly. So he came over and carefully showed me how to properly clean it, and then left. He’s just a dead nice person.

“But it’s sink or swim. You see a lot of people come in and realise it’s perhaps not for them. You end up seeing these people more than your family.”

He worked at Le Manoir for 18 months, living in the nearby village with a ‘family’ of other chefs, lodging all around. He wasn’t even old enough to get served at the local pub. 

Home called him back, and he went to Northcote next in the Ribble Valley with chef and Great British Menu judge Lisa Allen, also a Michelin starred kitchen, but one that was seeking its second. Then it was a year-long stint at The French under Simon Rogan who Gabe says was in an ‘experimental’ stage of his cooking. 

“We had a 44 ingredient salad,” he recalls. “I’ve never run around so much in my life. Still a very good experience. Simon doesn’t mince his words.” Should it have got a star?

“Yes,” he says, firmly.


He then went to work with chef Mike Shaw at The White Hart, outside Oldham, also an alumnus of Raymond Blanc, and now chef-patron at high-end Asian-inspired restaurant Musu on Bridge Street, which Gabe helped launch too.

“Not a bad chef himself,” he jokes, having crammed all this enviable experience into just a few years (amazingly, he’s still only 26). It was at the White Hart that he started ‘cooking’, he says, actually at the stove rather than labouring at the prep stations and being given the odd dish to finish.

Though he set up brief BBQ project in Urmston (which was put paid to by lockdown), Maya will be his place. The restaurant has been backed by a team which notes Isabel in Mayfair, Soho House and the celebrated Petersham Nurseries in Richmond on its collective resumé. Upstairs will be brasserie classics, while downstairs will give Gabe free reign to be agile and creative.

“I’ll take a classical dish and see how far I can run with it, though not too much,” he says. “If I love it, I just hope the customers will. We’re lucky to have a brasserie, so we can be mincing down our own burgers, and steak for tartare, classic bistro dishes, and a bit more relaxed. Good steaks, good sauces.

“Downstair will be determined by our suppliers, so whatever’s good that they send me, that’s what goes on the menu.” Is there a better way to construct a menu? Probably not.

But the dish he’s mostly looking forward to seeing on his menu is a humble one. A tarte tatin.

“A sharing apple tatin,” he says. “I hope we’ll become known for that. With rum and raisin ice cream, made all in-house. I feel that will be our dessert. Who doesn’t love a tarte tatin?”

No one. That’s who.

Maya opens late March.