In its out of town location, a short walk from the home of Manchester City, Vermilion is not somewhere you would stumble across by accident. I also think it would be fair to say that’s not the only way the venue is a little out of the ordinary. Offering up an mix of Thai and Indian food with the focus on seafood is already attempting a bit more than most restaurants, but add to that a glamorous bar-come-nightclub in the shape of Cinnabar and you start to see the scale of the project over in Eastlands.
As we are let in on the story behind the ambitious venture, and time spent scouring Thailand for the most skilled chefs in each area, by restaurant manager Adrian, it’s hard to not draw parallels, in my mind at least, with the cosmopolitan team of ‘Galacticos’ over at the City of Manchester Stadium. The question then, does Vermilion share the same title winning credentials?
An eclectic mix of ancient artefacts, mosaic tiled tables and red tree-like pillar structures compete for attention within the mood lit setting of the restaurant dining room. There are some nice pieces such as a wall-sized antique Thai wooden carving, but I also spot a golden Egyptian bust on the way to the toilets and I think it would be fair to say it does feel a little incoherent. That said it certainly creates an atmosphere,; albeit I can’t imagine you would see much in there you’d want it your front room.
With Cinnabar unfortunately closed (I was there on a Sunday) I nevertheless had high hopes for the cocktails and they did not disappoint. A classic margarita was as good as they come, sharp and strong on the back of the throat, and the raspberry martini a more delicate affair, smooth and fruity.
And so on to the starters, with the seafood pedigree of Vermilion I was probably ill advised to go elsewhere but I’d been eyeing up the Pudine ke Chops and couldn’t resist. Lamb on the bone marinated in lime and some earthy spices, served steaming and sizzling on a hot bed of onions. There’s a tasty yoghurt dip on the side that adds another element but in truth they don’t even need it, they’re wonderfully succulent and flavoursome. My companion goes for Tom Yam Khoong, the ubiquitous Thai hot and sour soup with huge king prawns. It’s one of Thailand’s most recognisable dishes and lives up to the reputation.
Shrimp are one of the staple products of parent company Seamark, and so with that in mind for mains I go for the Prawn Bhoona. Those same fat king prawns that featured in the soup, this time enveloped in a rich and smoky, spicy tomato curry sauce; the flavours match well and are accompanied with fluffy jeera pilau rice. More seafood in the shape of seabass in banana leaf is similarly well thought out, garlic, chilly and Thai basil share the leaf wrap with the catch and it comes served with fish sauce and a tamarind dip. The fish itself comes as two generous fillets, perhaps slightly overdone but ever so fragrant.
Reading the sweets menu it all seems a bit dessert by numbers, there’s a cheesecake and a chocolate fondant as well as profiteroles, not much of a south Asian theme. In my experience puddings on the whole aren’t taken as seriously in Indian and Thai restaurants as their western counterparts and Vermilion doesn’t buck the trend. I choose the fondant and it’s ornately presented but the Malai kulfi is better, a traditional spiced Asian ice cream that provides a more fitting end to our meal.
I think that dessert choice probably sums up the menu quite well in the sense that while there are definitely coherent directions you can take with the courses, in spite of the dual cuisine approach, it can be easy to go off track. As it happens, probably more by accident rather than design, I ended up choosing an Indian meal and my accomplice Thai and in that I suppose showed that the two can sit alongside each other on a menu.
Suffice to say there is definitely some really great food on offer, and if you like your seafood spicy, Vermilion is well worth a visit.