On the Plate: The Mexican Standoff

So last week was dry, in between migraines, magical trips* and work based weariness, my few hours set aside for writing were scuppered by mac maintenance. And it’s not like I don’t have anything to say, I have see, done and reflected on matters worthy of note. A least for on here anyway.

In some ways this next review could be considered a magnum opus of food critique as I detail experiences of not one but three Mexican restaurants. I’m at risk of overselling this if I waffle on any longer so here it is:

El Capo
Where: Northern Quarter, naturally
Price: ££
Tastiness Factor: 4 pints of drool
Return Custom: Most certainly

The Beagle
Where: Chorlton
Price: It was an expensive lunch but had it been dinner it would have been OK
Tastiness Factor: Heightened by severe hunger
Return Custom: Already been back

Taco Bell
Where: Arndale food court, wherever you can fight to get a seat
Price: Cheap
Tastiness Factor: Haha
Return Custom: Unlikely

I think that it’s best not to delude ourselves before we go into this, most experiences of Mexican food we will have in this country are imitations of the USA’s interpretation of the cuisine. Despite Danny Trejo’s endorsement, Old El Paso fajita kits aren’t a tradition of the Mexican diet, in fact they come under the branch of Tex-Mex. The fusion of northern and southern continental American flavours. But I’m keeping the title. Love a little drama.

I love burritos. They are a whole meal, with each tasty food group, wrapped up in a soft carby blanket. It’s satisfying and comforting while making you feel vaguely metropolitan and exciting the buds with a variety of textures and complementary flavours. To say that at Taco Bell ‘I had the worst burrito I have ever eaten’ isn’t too strong a statement as it was still a burrito. Kind of like the saying ‘bad pizza is still pizza’ and therefore good compared to other foods – although slight tangent, I have been served some inedible takeaway pizza before – a bad burrito is still kind of nice. There was soft meat, rice, cheese etc. But none of it was that good. The tortilla was cardboard-y, the cheese was that pre-grated powdery stuff that didn’t really melt, the salad was sad and the only saving grace was the juicy chicken that there just wasn’t enough of. I ordered a Big Bell Box, so even though the burrito wasn’t all that satisfying I had some fairly decent fries (coated in what was probably a bit of paprika, salt, pepper and maybe a dash of cayenne), a very miserable taco, a drink and some churros. The churros were surprisingly decent. It turns out making sweet deep fried dough tasty isn’t too hard.

Churros are perhaps the most obvious Northern Americanisation of Mexican food, elongated crispy donuts; they actually have origins in Portugal. But I have now come to expect them on a Tex-Mex menu and although I’m not a dessert person I get moist in the mouth at the thought of them. I’m at risk of becoming a little graphic now but I have no other way to describe the churros at The Beagle in a way other than orgasmic. I don’t want you to read that in the way someone might groan over a chocolate fondant pudding on MasterChef because this was much more than that. As the French say ‘la petite mort’, I did in fact die momentarily that day at The Beagle. As a sweet crispy cinnamon fried shell gave way to soft warm fluffy insides upon my tongue it was, only what this humble atheist may hope, a glimpse of what heaven feels like.

The Beagle

The Beagle has many other delicious offerings. Working backwards: ice cream from Affleck’s palace establishment Ginger’s Comfort Emporium is available but there was no Chorlton Crack when I was there, mains are various burger/taco/burrito options with tasty sides, and starters come in the wing and nacho variety. Fairly similar to the El Capo Offerings. To set the scene, my tall friend and I arrived at The Beagle, weary after a 2 mile walk to Chorlton in promise of the 20 inch pizzas and poutine by Brewski only to be fork-blocked by a kitchen without power. It’s fair to say that we were hungry. Which may be why we ordered wings, tacos, a burrito, loaded fries and then dessert. Excessive but does put me in a good position to review a range of the food. The tacos were a bit mealy, dry and over siriracha-ated. The wings were big and tender but the seasoning wasn’t to my taste, there was a herb in the mix – maybe thyme – that didn’t quite work for me. The fries loaded with Bovril and beef brisket had the thumbs up from my meat-eating friend as did his juicy and well stuffed burrito. In whole pretty enjoyable but I would be going back for the churros and good selection of on tap beer rather than the main menu.

El Capo is a beast. The restaurant is below the bar in a basement. Typically Northern Quarter with exposed red brick and solid wood tables but don’t let me misinform you, this isn’t a Mexican Home Sweet Home, El Capo serves great big dirty portions and hundreds of different tequilas under red lights. This is the place to commit your dietary sins, I recommended starting off with the Almojabanas which are gooey fried balls of cheese seasoned with chilli. The nachos are a good call too, real cheese not the goopy orange sauce, and pleasingly well-dispersed fresh, plentiful toppings. A couple of cocktails and crisp beers are good accompaniments to the fattening delights. Even if, like I did, you go for the chicken breast and avocado salad you still get the option of a side and like the weak person I am, at the mercy of cheesy goodness, I had some mac and cheese. My tall friend, on the other side of table, not having much of an appetite ordered the Big Ass Chilli Burger. Of the few times I stop to take pictures of tasty food, this was one. He ate most of it with the exception of the bun and the fries that I helped him with.

At the end of the meal we were both so full that we needed to be shovelled into a cab hugging leftovers. I didn’t even think about the possibility of churros until I got home. I loved everything I consumed and after a totally healthy Instagram browse I think that, after being underwhelmed many a time, I am ready to trust in tacos again. I can’t wait to go back, the only things stopping me are the fluctuating ability to comfortably button my jeans and having an available night.

So there you have it, the good, the great and the meh. Not in that order but I was trying to do a bit of a thing. Thank you for reading On The Plate. I hope that you feel informed and entertained. See you next time!


Gossip Girl


*Re-visited the Harry Potter Studios



Graduating to Adulthood

So, last summer a pretty big thing happened to me, I graduated from University. It was the closing scene on years of hard work, post-it-note planning, stress-induced anxiety attacks and, most importantly, caffeine. It was the highest of the highs! Perhaps mostly because I spent the day with the people I love most in the world and had some very tasty Italian food from Don Marco. But also due to the relief of not having any more deadlines.

Now, here’s the thing. Once you graduate, there isn’t a thing anymore, there’s nothing. You graduate but are then thing-less. My life was writing essays, reading books, amending my scripts then all of a sudden I was torn form the city and plopped back to the house and the village I grew up in. The place I also grew out of.

Initially, nothingness is good. It was a time to play video games and binge watch those Netflix Marvel shows. But with your heart in another place, and no longer living off the student loan cheese, the craving for the opportunity to move forward and suddenly prove yourself the success that piece of paper says you are builds to desperation.

You don’t suddenly get the dream job you studied for. That isn’t a big statement, most people are aware of this. But you won’t get the backup either, or the backup to the backup. In fact there will be a struggle for the zero hours jobs that being a graduate you’re both under- and over-qualified for. You will end up scrounging for anything. I don’t know if this is because of the economy, the increase in graduates or simply having studied English and not wanting to suddenly become a teacher (maybe a professor, one day). I don’t have those answers but I do know that to get anywhere you just have to keep pushing. Drag yourself to the job centre and take the job in the toy shop. Learn things about people and that if their daughter doesn’t get a Hatchimal that you have ruined Christmas for them forever. Grow in unexpected ways from these challenges.

I’ve managed to move into the realm of full-time work. Career style. It’s not the career I was looking for. But right now it’s what I do and I find that it challenges me every day. Through it I’m starting to shape the life that I want in my fledgling adult years. It’s also giving me the chance to evaluate what I do want. Part of me keeps dipping a tentative toe into the pool of returning to university. To return to the place that made me. Partly in hope to get further into the career world I wish to be a part of (and by further I mean at least being able to see its hazy form on the horizon), but really I think it is because I miss my thing. My thing is writing.

So, graduating is hard, being an unemployed graduate is hard and then finally getting a job is hard, that’s life and whatever. But it’s not really the titles that matter. I am what I do and that should be what I want. So here I am, writing.


On The Plate: Bundobust

This week’s dish comes to you from an inner city basement! Which is a surprisingly lovely locale for a more than lovely dinner…


Where: In a basement next to the Subway that’s opposite Piccadilly Gardens
Price: Reasonable
Tastiness Factor: 110%
Return Custom: Mentally planning another trip to eat the other half of the menu

Apparently not everybody does like chicken. Those people are called vegetarians. Even if you do love chicken and meat, not eating those things isn’t a bad thing and in some ways good. Particularly if not eating meat means that you get to sample the delicious offerings of Bundobust!

The words ‘small plates’ may induce fear in some. Experiences of pricey tapas, having to order many dishes to feel full and the obvious hazards and woes that come with sharing food spring to mind. Bundobust does small plates (more accurately small card tubs), there is no pretence of sharing unless that’s what you fancy and a single larger dish of £6 paired with rice £1.50 is plenty for a tasty lunch or lighter dinner. My tall friend and I ordered 6 dishes all together, sharing a few and just having a taste of others, with a couple of beers totalling £43. Now I’m not obsessed with price, but I’ve been stung before by the lure of ‘small plates’, so a little over £20 for a very tasty, filling meal and some unique beer is a decent price.

It is important to take a line or two here to mention the beer as they only have about 5% of what’s on offer on their menu. Bundobust’s ‘thing’ is modern veggie curries, a relaxed setting and a surprisingly large variety of beer. There are other drinks including Indian inspired cocktails like the Mumbai Mule, having not tried any yet I can only recommend the Bombay Dazzler, Bundobust’s signature beer. It’s light, refreshing and slightly savoury in taste, an excellent palate cleanser as you try the different rich and aromatic dishes.

I’m not really sure where to start with the food because it was all so good. Perhaps one of the more important points to make is that this is a different style of Indian food that you will get on the Curry Mile or from a takeaway. It’s really nice to try food that isn’t a meat in a different style of spiced sauce with rice and a naan. I love a traditional curry but I can have that at home in pyjamas; if I’m making an effort to leave the house I want to experience something new. The best comparison I have for the food is to Mowgli in the Corn Exchange, minus the pretentious setting, but a little more on the comfort side of food. The Vada Pav burger, for example, is a spiced soft ball of mashed potato fried and sandwiched in a brioche bun. Like a fancy chip butty.

I feel I’m at risk of boring you because I could quite easily describe each menu item I tried and what I liked about it. You may not love everything about all the dishes on the menu but they are full of flavour and made with passion. And as I mentioned the plates are small, so if okra fries aren’t your bag get your friend to finish them.

A brief dining experience evaluation: Food is served in card tubs street-food style, the cutlery is plastic but the fancy biodegradable sort and it feels nice. You do go up to the till to order food but the till is at the bar so it really just incorporates picking out a beer. Along with the big tables and squishy benches, this makes for a pretty chilled out atmosphere. Somewhere you could quite easily come with a group of mates for the night, ordering beers and dishes as you like. There aren’t many things that Northerners collectively love but beer and curry can bring them together, so take them to Bundobust.

Post-work day beer and very serious food evaluation.

On The Plate: Nando’s

In this first, and weekly if I’m feeling dedicated, food review round-up I begin our culinary journey across Manchester. Or more accurately to places near work and in town because I don’t go too out of my way for food unless I’m expecting something spectacular.

Just to set your expectations, I don’t have many pictures because when food arrives at my table I’m usually too excited to actually be eating it that I forget to take a pic for Instagram. However there is a lot to learn from pictures that can be better conveyed than in words e.g. portion sizes, dinnerware quality and drool-ability. So this month’s pictures are not the prettiest or as informative as one may hope from the debut article – in fact I don’t even have any for some of the places – but I guess that gives me the opportunity to grow.


Where: Up the road (Opposite the Lowry Theatre and 279 other branches across the UK as of 2013)
Price: A little more than one may like from such a big chain with minimal service, and don’t order an avocado salad because you will be mugged
Tastiness Factor: Satisfactory
Return Custom: Not rushing to but sure, it’s fast and convenient; like most chains you will usually have your expectations met

Let’s assume you have never been to Nando’s. It’s not unlikely, but perhaps you’re not the bantering lad you’d always thought you were. A cheeky Nando’s is almost a rite of passage for young people today. I mean, where else can sixth-formers go on dates? But that’s not to say Nando’s isn’t for everyone – everyone likes chicken, right? Nando’s is a bit of a paradox by both trying and not trying to be a more upmarket chain. Imagine Pizza Hut and Pizza Express had a lazy chicken of a child, that’s Nando’s. The food quality is good, fresh, tasty, and they offer a number of flavour and side options so that you may customize your dinner to suit you. (If you are like my tall friend that means double carbs and extra hot peri peri, with extra extra hot sauce.)

While this may sound exciting, this actually gets pretty dull. As someone who has been to Nando’s a grand total of three times in her young life, getting to pick a different spiciness of sauce or whether I want chicken in a bun or with rice doesn’t set your world on fire. The flavours are very one-note, a little tang and spice, and it’s nothing to tell your mum about. Having different combinations of unimaginative and mundane foods makes for an unimaginative and mundane meal.

Pair this with ordering your food at a till, paying before you eat, setting your own table and no check up on if your food is OK -because OK is the only thing the food ever is- the ‘dining experience’ is severely lacking. Perhaps even non-existent. There is nothing to hate or love about Nando’s. The matter of style and ‘did I go to a restaurant or a KFC that grills their chicken?’ is both a little perplexing and hollow. It’s soulless. But yes, I probably would go back. Perhaps hopefully, as though to a reliable old lover who you remember as being ‘alright’ or maybe, and more likely, out of convenience and lacking more inspired options as The Quays currently does.

The only picture I have to commemorate the moment. I believe that my tepid smile and subtly uncertain eyes reveal my lukewarm feelings.