Michelin memories: The French classic menu of 1974 is revealed
The legendary Gilbert Lefevre (pictured) was executive chef at the time. Escargots were £1 a dozen, caviar cost £4 and foie gras £3.40 from the hors d’oeuvres choice.
House specialities included Cote de Boeuf Vigneronne (beef rib served with burgundy sauce) which was priced at £4.70 for two people.
Restaurateur Liam Berney joined The French in 1974 as a £24-a-week commis chef and has kept the menu since then.
“Because it was the first time the Michelin Guide had been published in this country, it wasn’t considered a big thing,” he told the MEN. “It was more important in those days to be in the Egon Ronay Guide – and The French held three stars in that.”
Liam recalls the “formal and exclusive” ambiance of The French back in the Seventies, with its gilt-edged fixtures and fittings and opulent paintings, and the gourmet menu.
“Thus, more ‘up market’ restaurants used French. Looking back, it was bizarre to present your products in a foreign language. But there was a status/class thing.
“In the Seventies all of this started to be challenged, but it was a formal and exclusive ambiance that was losing its appeal as eating out grew as a social activity.
“The specialities on the right of the menu were Lefevre’s dishes. Most hotels offered very similar menus with all the old favourites Sole Bonne Femme, Chicken Chasseur, Tournodos Rossini.
“The a la carte menus were very long and one menu very much looked like another – part of the appeal of the French was the originality and creativity of his specialities.”
But while £1.85 might sound cheap for Steak Diane, Liam says it was considered “very expensive” at the time.
“I remember Bamber Gascoigne storming out of the French fuming that ‘these prices are ridiculous’, so yes it was considered very expensive at the time,” he recalls.
Liam has gone on to win his own awards for fine dining, owning the acclaimed three AA Rossett Cottage in The Wood restaurant with rooms in the Lake District,.
And he says that charismatic head Chef Lefevre was the inspiration for many young chefs to go on to great things.
“On my first day he showed me where my locker was. In those days that was unheard of, in restaurants like The Savoy, the head chef would hardly talk to you and the kitchen was very divided.
“But at The Midland it was a young brigade, and everyone was very helpful and people trying to give you a hand.”
Lefevre had joined the Midland in 1962 as chef de cuisine at the age of 32 with an impressive CV and a vision for the future of fine dining.
His solution was to inspire and shape a group of young apprentices and trainees, moving them into key positions in the kitchen. The team that he shaped was made up from young working class boys from the Manchester suburbs and beyond with no culinary heritage to draw on.
Liam says: “With his commitment to training, his young charges rose to the challenge in a way that could best be compared to Manchester United’s class of ’92.
“The reputation of the Midland’s French Restaurant grew and by the mid 60s was considered to be one of the country’s leading restaurants, holding the highest accolade of three stars in the Egon Ronay Guide. In 1974, the award of a Michelin Star was perhaps inevitable.
“The kitchen operated with a remarkable confidence, delivering creative and inspired food consistently, day after day.
“Michelin is a mystery to me. I’m mystified that The French Restaurant under Simon Rogan hasn’t got a Michelin Star. If we’re in Manchester and want fine dining that’s where we go to.”