In a Word:
Girls and boys about town. Anyone who isn’t a vegetarian.
Northern Quarter Revamp
Manchester’s Northern Quarter has long been a popular stomping ground for creatives, for the hipster crowd and those of us just searching for good food and drink.
In the last couple of years, the city has seen massive change. More great venues popping up all over the city, cocktail bars and restaurants, burger joints and pubs. The Northern Quarter has seen it’s own fair share of change as it’s grown, expanded – more empty buildings now have occupants and some older venues are struggling to keep up.
Bluu is a bit of a veteran, having been in the NQ for 11 years and recently has undergone a distinct revamp – refurbishment, revised menus and new cocktail bar downstairs, the Smithfield Social, reopening it’s doors to the public in October 2014.
So it was with disappointment that we discovered the Smithfield Social – lauded for it’s innovative cocktails – was closed. A sudden sunny day meant it was busier than normal upstairs and all the bar staff were needed. The husband would have forgo his sample of the Queen Mary (a smoked bacon and black pudding filled Bloody Mary). One day.
Meantime, whilst the Smithfield Social promises all the vintage glamour of a 1920s speakeasy (yes, another one), upstairs is much more plush 1980s. Exposed brickwork, neon lights, blue leather and wood putting an industrial Mancunian twist on the decor.
The menu boasts British meat with a Southern twist, so we dove feet first into the chilli and caramel chicken wings – a nice sharer for the two of us.
These were addictive – the heat of the chilli and the lime squeezed on top stopped the sweet sticky glaze from becoming too much. These are the kind of wings you want to eat alongside a Margarita or two, though I stuck with a lightly dry Moonwalk with Grand Marnier, Prosecco, grapefruit juice and rosewater, while the husband sipped his way through a Chilli Mai Tai with Havana Especial rum, Grand Marnier, lime juice, orgeat syrup and red chilli. Both coincidental good matches.
There’s meat, meat and more meat. Being a happy meat eater, this was great for us, but there’s a single option for vegetarians, the spicy bean burger. Admittedly there are sides – mac ‘n’ cheese, and various fries, but it does seem like a bit of a carbfest.
We both opted for beef, but in two different forms. The husband opted for beef ribs in a honey and BBQ glaze with a side of red cabbage slaw.
These were slow cooked and delicious, the meat fell from the bones, and this is where Bluu have invested. The barbecue meats are rubbed with house spices and slow cooked for around 16 hours, resulting in tender, juicy flesh.
I opted for a burger, the bacon and blue to be precise and a side of the sour cream truffle and parmesan fries.
The bun is advertised as brioche, but doesn’t have that sweet cake like nature, it’s much more savoury, but the texture is definitely that of an enriched dough – buttery and slightly chewy, personally making it preferable to the overly sweet standard brioche.
The burger had a good texture and was solid and thick, but wasn’t as pink as I’d have liked, despite me being assured it was going to be. A minor grumble, but I think had it been pink, it would have been a tad more tender and juicy.
Those fries though. A little heavy on the sour cream, but the intensity of the cream, truffle and parmesan was addictive. I had to physically cover the tray with my napkin to stop be eating any more. I wasn’t hungry, but still…
Drinks wise, I again went for something fizzy, with the Windsor Garden – Bombay Sapphire, Luxardo Maraschino, Antica Formula, Prosecco and Maraschino cherry syrup. Lightly floral and edging more towards sweetness. The husband went for a Bluu classic with Tropic Thunder – Absolut vanilla, Sailor Jerry’s rum, Briotett lychee liqueur, guava juice, lychee juice, lime juice and Monin passion fruit sugar syrup. This should have been overly sweet, and yet it was so balanced, even I, with my dry as dust palate would have drunk a glass or two.
We were stuffed, but we persevered, and opted to share – the peanut butter whoopie pie.
I have to admit, it doesn’t look like a whoopie pie. It looks more like a cheese cake. The base was right, deep chocolate, soft, biscuity. The icecream was gorgeous too, a good solid creamy caramel. And the popcorn brittle was great, still crisp popcorn and brittle toffee.
The bit that was odd, was the peanut butter. It was dense, thick, fatty, but didn’t seem creamy. It needed a couple of tablespoons of a good crunchy, salty, peanut butter mixing in. The contrast would have been perfect – creamy, crunchy, sweet and salty. What we got was, kind of peanut flavoured. Nearly guys, nearly.
Given it was relatively busy, service was speedy, attentive and steady – though a few others were caught out by the Smithfield Social being closed and walked away disappointedly. I think a quick Twitter or Facebook update might have helped, but hindsight is a beautiful thing.
Value for Money:
The cocktails are on par for the Northern Quarter, around the £8 mark, burgers are a little more than a close rival, though I think I prefer the bun. The ribs and sides are slightly cheaper, so overall, it’s about average.
Overall, it’s close, so close to being really good. Make my burger pink, fix the dessert, and then I’ll move in. Deal?
Smithfield Market Buildings
Between the Corner of Thomas Street and High Street
Tel: 0161 839 7195