Where:The Corn Exchange Price: Expensive for what it is, but won’t actually cost too much Tastiness Factor: ★★★ Return Custom: Nah, I’m good thanks
Shopping for specific clothing items can be exhausting. Particularly when one has monetary, shapely and time constrictions. Sitting down to have a bite is a point of relief from this. A moment to chill, where you buy what takes your fancy and don’t have to worry whether or not it suits you, only maybe if it makes you look fat. Cabana is alright. Not as chill as I was looking for, the music was a bit loud for a quiet Wednesday afternoon and with this came a pressure that I should be having ‘fun’. I was having a nice time but it was Wednesday, not Friday, I’m here to eat rather than let loose.
I’m going to start with the drinks. With a ‘girly’ shopping trip comes a desire for cocktails. I blame Sex and the City and possibly some kind of feminist power derived from drinking a sweet but highly alcoholic drink from a small straw known as a ‘cocktail’. It was unimpressive size-wise, but very nice. Not really worth the 2 for 1 offer and certainly not a worthwhile purchase full price. I followed this with a pint of Brahma, it was nice and more reasonable. Plus I was able to then establish myself as the alpha/butch one at the dinner table between myself and lady friend.
There isn’t too much that I can say about the food. Partly because I ordered fairly simple things and also because there just wasn’t that much. I went for a ‘street food’ dish option of fried calamari. Quite nice, not the best I have ever had but perfectly enjoyable. It was light and crisp, with a sharp bit of lime. It came with a garnish of sad greasy leaves that I ate out of spite due to the disturbingly small portions. Speaking of which, I paired this dish with a side of sweet potato fries, quite nice, but there was a happy meal-sized portion of them. I paid £4 for these. I would have been more satisfied by folding a fiver into a crane, setting it on fire and watching it drift off in a murky pond. But no, I had about 3 fries instead. Potatoes don’t even cost anything! The coleslaw was of a better size and perhaps the most interesting of the offering, it had a slightly mustard hint. But there wasn’t anything to really eat it with, there not being many fries or leaves, so it was kind of rich on its own. The guac was lovely, good and fresh, and warm having been made recently with ripened avocado.
This is a hard one to really go at and drag the receipts on because it only cost about £23, considering I had two drinks that isn’t loads. But I was unsatisfied with the portions, which in turn attributes value to the food. I really am bitter about those sweet potato fries. And honestly it is pretty stingy for a chain to cut back in such a way. My friend had a ‘meal-sized’ dish and that was pretty scrawny-looking. The food was nice, the staff were friendly, but I wouldn’t go back. It was nothing special. There are better places. And I deserve them.
A few days before my 19th birthday I moved from a village of a few thousand to a city of several million. Once goodbyes were said I was alone in a dingy attic room on the eighth floor of never-ending corridors. I could try not to be dramatic and describe the situation in any other way than like the opening of a young adult novel of a heroine plunged into scary and unknown circumstances–but that’s what it was. (Spoiler alert, the girl overcomes obstacles, learns about herself, gets the guy and is currently living in the happily ever after.) I have never been one to crave company, not in such an acute sense of the word. Introverted by nature, aloneness equated to ‘me time’, doing what I want and not worrying about other people. But then there wasn’t an option, being alone was no longer a respite in a house full of family or a school of old friends, it was the default. I could hear a thousand voices a day but not a single one familiar.
This is softened by a little by routine, the same faces in your class once a week, the girl who cooks dinner at a similar time to you, the guy working the evening shift at the Spar but these aren’t relationships. I can not name a single person I lived with for nine months three years ago. I could make a lucky guess as they were white, female and born in the 90s. Sarah? That sounds right.
One place it is hard to feel lonely is at the cinema. Some people wouldn’t dream of doing this alone, I know that there is a certain anxiety around this but once you get over the suspicions that people will judge you for being alone it is pretty great. You can go see whatever you fancy without needing to convince someone or worrying about them being late or needing to get there at a specific time yourself. Plus once you are there, it is dark and there’s no talking so you don’t need anyone. Doing things like this are important, not just if you are lonely but also so that you become comfortable with yourself. It’s an aspect of confidence to be happy making your own plans and taking yourself out for dinner. You can find out what you really like without outside opinion.
Not one to go too far out of my comfort zone I chose the Odeon at the Printworks to do this. Making it a safe place in a strange city. Somewhere that being alone didn’t matter so much, where I could lose myself for a little while in the emotions and stories on screen. I’m lucky, I don’t need that now like I used to. With the recent hand over to the Vue, its change reminded me of my own.
Sitting alone in the dark is a good growing point but also not a long term solution. I’ve found, one way to make friends is to find people who like the same things as you. After trying a few friendship interest groups/societies I found that big crowds of strangers isn’t my thing–way too overwhelming and not good for the social anxiety. So films were a good talking point, particularly for a student of the arts. ‘That’s a really cool thing, it reminded me of this film.’ ‘Oh, I have seen that, it was good.’ ‘They are making a new film, it is out now.’ ‘I want to see that, let’s go.’ And there you have it: pockets of interaction. Now I can’t recommend this entirely, I saw a few films with acquaintances before making a proper friend. Including an instance where a guy brought another friend along almost to diminish the possible date-like situation that hadn’t originally occurred to me. But going to see films with people tells you things about them. What they find funny? Do they have good taste? What are their manners like (did they talk through the film)? Do they breathe heavily in an annoying way? These are all good things to know about people. Particularly if you are looking for a person to spend a lot of time with, perhaps in a romantic arrangement of sorts.
First dates, from my limited experience are strange, you can accidentally be committed to spending too much time with someone you don’t like or the opposite: not have any plans and end up sitting in the same bar for 5 hours. I met my tall friend outside of what was the Odeon. Cinema dates are generally considered a no-no, but preceded by coffee and followed by drinks you have a good layer of getting to know someone.
Coffee – Do I want to stay on this date, am I attracted to this person?
Film – See something you had planned, share an interest- sexual tension?
Drinks – Established post-film, agreed upon if both parties are interested, and you have films to talk about during any potential lulls.
The drinks aspect of this is a little flawed as trusting things go well you may end up being kicked out of bars because they are closing. Oh to be young.
I trust that some of this sounds a little calculated, but here is the outcome: The other week I visited the Odeon with my best-friend, housemate and long-term boyfriend (all one person). We saw Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and it was great. It would be the last time I would go to that cinema as the Odeon. As we were leaving I couldn’t help but think about the me who first went to that cinema, the me that was coping as best she could, and the me that I am now. It would have been the greatest of comforts to have known how far I have come from then. To know that I wouldn’t fail, that I could find happiness and people that like me. I have changed and so has the world around me.
This week’s serving of culinary critique is a familiar constant in my own dining experiences around Manchester. This being the place I had lunch with my mother when scouting the university I would one day learn at, where I would eat independently in a restaurant for the first time and now is a place that delights and comforts me (somewhat like re-watching A New Hope).
Where: The Arndale, opposite Next along from the Disney store Price: If you are smart about it not too much, if you order whatever you fancy you may need to take out a loan Tastiness Factor: 25-100 Return Custom: Where else would I eat on a Monday?
Picture this: You are flush with the payday IV, fresh cash oozing in your bank account healing the economic wounds of the previous week, you earned this. You deserve to TREAT YO SELF. Three deadly words. A quick blade to the throat of whimpering student loans. But who can treat you better than yourself? You exactly what you want so give it to yourself. Now the Arndale is a busy and bustling place but if you are after a treat this is where you will find one.
After finding that special something for your special someone (you). You’ll be tired and hungry. As an individual I have never had to wait for a seat at Yo! Sushi. They can usually squeeze you in at the bar and when it’s busy you get the satisfying feeling of being sat before the party of four in front of you. There seems to be a lot of pressure around eating alone but Yo! Sushi is busy with moving plates and the dual sided bar seating so you won’t feel awkward to be alone. Plus you may get sat opposite a mirrored pillar so you can spend your meal checking yourself out. So not only will you be sat quickly but with the conveyor belt of delight, bringing tempting dishes right to you, you can start eating as soon as your butt hits the seat.
I feel now is a good point to issue a quick public service announcement: Monday is the day to go to Yo! Sushi, unless you are made of money or like spending a black market kidney’s worth on a 30 minute meal. I popped in on Sunday the other day for a light-lunch with my tall friend who had eaten earlier. I had a few green plates, playing it conservatively, I just needed a tasty bite to eat. A total of coming to around £7. My tall friend, spent about £15, having a couple of snacks. But, when it is Monday it’s no sweat, as a wide selection of dishes are £2.80, including the pricer sashimi plates. So you can fill any sized tum at a reasonable price.
Now what’s what? For those less familiar with Yo!’s offerings or wanting a recommendation here are some of my favourite dishes that are currently available on blue Mondays:
The Dynamite Roll: Crunchy dried onions, sriracha spice and meaty tuna. A relative newbie to the scene but bringing its all. No additional sauces required and this maxes out on flavour and texture.
Now sushi, in general is about delicate flavours. Salmon sashimi and avocado maki (also recommendations) won’t take you to Guy’s fatty- salty- sugary flavour town but will highlight their own flavours. When the ingredients are this fresh and high quality you don’t need additional salty soy or fiery wasabi. While the two accompaniments are nice to offer some variety, sushi rice itself is already seasoned and each thing has its own palate to enjoy.
Tofu Katsu Curry: Tofu is a divisive thing, many curl their nose up without even trying it first. As someone who doesn’t each much meat other than fishes and birds I dabble in the world of protein alternatives (meat subsites). Tofu is an elusive temptress, done right and it is a silky delicious accompaniment but it’s also very easy to do wrong where you end up chewing on a soggy bit of sponge. This tofu is right, very right. Soft on the inside, crispy on the outside topped with a fancy chip shop curry sauce on a bed of soft sticky sushi rice. Mmmm.
Yo! Sushi is tasty and convenient, played right it can also be reasonably priced. Whether you are a raw fish fan or not, you can sit down to plate after rotating plate of tasty goodness with unlimited fizzy water!
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 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!
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.
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.
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.