Manchester, it’s a funny one. As a city it feels like we’re (Leeds) always comparing ourselves against that bigger northern city across the Pennines. When someone or something chooses us over ‘them’ we cheer our victories. Do they compare themselves against us?
I rarely go over to Manchester these days and when I do I'm usually going to see a gig. I always get excited when visiting other cities as it means I can do some research and (hopefully) find some really great places to eat. I struggle with Manchester every time. I think this is combined with the fact that I'm going to gigs, therefore I'm looking for casual dining and I just want something a little bit different than what I can find in Leeds. Manchester (I'm told) has an abundance of fine dining restaurants, but they don’t really suit when you’re dressed in jeans and a band t-shirt. It also has a lot of chains, they’re all over the main shopping districts and more often than not they’re the same chains that we have here in Leeds… I'm not going to venture over to Manchester to eat something I could eat at home.
So with regard casual dining, what does Manchester offer? I asked Twitter for some inspiration and insider knowledge. I’ve been to Solita twice so they were out of the equation for me on this visit. What else where people suggesting? Evelyn’s was banded about by a few people, looking at their menu and Instagram I felt it would appeal more if I was having a late lazy brunch with my girlfriends. Another place recommended was Mowgli's Indian Street food, jumping around with a belly full of spice wasn't convincing me it was the right option to take. Then there was El Gato Negro tapas, but we had plans to visit Iberica in Leeds a few days later so that was out. Another suggestion was Cottonopolis in the Northern Quarter, a mix of sushi, ramen and ribs. I struggled to find many bloggers reviewing them (usually my go to in terms of trusted, or more trusted than trip adviser, reviews). There were many many more recommended, maybe there was just too much choice.
I still hadn't made my mind up when we arrived. We sat out a good chunk of the afternoon sipping coffee at Takk (it’s brilliant you should go) and when the rain came (of course it did, it’s Manchester… so why didn't I take a brolly!!) the nearest place to us on the list of options was Cottonopolis. So Cottonopolis was decided.
Wait, I can guess that you’re thinking have I accidentally turned over to another review on Cottonopolis I thought this was a review about The Blue Pig? Well, we ran over to Cottonopolis in the pouring rain only to be confronted by a place that is mainly bar, with the barely there dining room fully booked out. It was loud and it felt a bit too upmarket for my (now sodden) converse. Clutching at straws now I decided to head towards the last place that was recommended to me, The Blue Pig.
I’ve visited The Blue Pig for a drink in the past; I think it was following a visit to Solita. As it wasn't somewhere ‘new’ I wasn't keen on going. I’d read some reviews online too which suggested that service wasn’t great and that food was a mixed bag of great and average. However running around in the pouring rain with starving bellies quickly changed my mind and searched in to the archives of my mind that contains a street map of Manchester and homed in.
We wandered in drenched and I presume desperate looking, we approached the bar and was greeted by a friendly member of staff who asked if were just there for drinks or if we wanted food too. As we looked around we saw no tables free and the guy told us that he would keep an eye out for a table for us if we wanted to wait at the bar.
We ordered a couple of pints and stood cradling them whilst avidly watching for leavers. A table appeared whilst our friendly member of staff was off in the back somewhere so we took the opportune moment and ceased it ourselves. Not too long later he appeared once again and asked if we were ready to order (we had been given menus at the bar). Shortly after taking our orders he returned and wiped down our table for us, obviously having seen that it was a bit of a mess and beer laden.
We’d decided against small plates/tapas to share as there weren't 6 dishes that we wanted to share, instead we decided that we would get a larger plate each and a small plate as a starter… then we were informed that it was 3 small plates for £13 and it seemed a waste not to indulge in a third starter for an extra £3.
The trio of starters to share were Red Wine and Honey Glazed Chorizo, Baby Bubble and Squeak and Aubergine Fries.
The chorizo was amazing, I mean it’s hard to get this dish wrong but it really was spot on. The chorizo was full of flavour and the glaze wasn't too oily. It just worked.
The baby bubble and squeak was topped with a quail’s egg, again another very delectable dish. I love most things topped with an egg and bubble and squeak if definitely one of my top comfort foods.
The aubergine fries were better than expected. When I’ve made roast veg at home the aubergine is usually my least favourite part of the dish. Stick it in batter and a whack it in a fryer and it makes all the difference, although I'm yet to find a deep fried food I don’t like.
We felt pretty full once we had polished off the three small plates and we were starting to think the extra starter was an error… there wasn't much we could do about at this point though with mains already ordered. The friendly guy came over to our table again and cleared away our plates, always greeting us with a smile and jovial tone, he asked if we were ready for our mains and we said we were. Two minutes hadn't past when our two steaks were brought out to us.
The 8oz rump steaks are a part of the twisted classic range, the twist being that the béarnaise sauce was on the fries rather than atop of the steak. I’d ordered mine medium and D medium rare, I always play cautious when eating steak in new places. D’s looked considerably bigger than mine which I put down to it being on the heat for less time.
My steak had not rested for long enough, I could tell as my plate was swimming in blood. D’s wasn't so I guess his was resting whilst mine was cooking, I can only speculate of course. The steak was fair, it’s not the worst I’ve had and they managed to make it medium without over or under doing it. I still prefer cooking my steak at home only choosing to eat out on this occasion as nothing else was really grabbing me. The chips with the béarnaise sauce was okay but I found myself dipping my steak in to the chips to get some on my steak, I think I’d have preferred it the other way round… but then I guess it wouldn't be a twisted classic then!
The atmosphere in The Blue Pig was great with people eating and drinking or just drinking, singing along to the music and the staff (just the one guy on the floor and the one behind the bar) dashing around with smiles on their faces like they actually enjoy their jobs. The music was exactly to my taste, some classic motown, Prince (sobs), 60s, 50s and modern day classics. Great for a good old sing along… if your mouth isn't full of steak.
I guess the moral of the story is to not judge places by appearances, think an old dog is no good (or whatever the phrase is) and don’t cast off people’s suggestions too quickly.
P.S Muse were AWESOME.