Ruth Allan thinks there's plenty to enjoy... if you don't mind your own company
New Northern Quarter bar, 33 Oldham Street, is an odd one. The multi-storey venue opened with a whimper late last year and remains quiet. So quiet, in fact, that we are the only customers on a dank, winter’s night. However, there’s plenty to enjoy… if you don’t mind your own company.
Being punched in the face by rosemary is an experience no one can forget
The retro design, for example, is inspired by Tokyo’s 'famed omakase joints and vinyl bars' which date back to the 1950s. Having never been to Japan, this means nothing to me, but turns out to be a great idea. A Zen vibe flows throughout the Victorian townhouse and everything is made from natural materials. There are plants galore and it feels refreshing.
Spread over three floors, 33 Oldham Street is the brainchild of Kendal Calling founder Andy Smith, and the director of Manchester Coffee Co., Jason McGuire. On the ground floor, then, you’ll find an excellent coffee and cocktail bar while the top floor is a co-working den, to be complemented by a large roof terrace opening later this year.
The club-like first floor enjoys a sound system designed by Grammy-winning producer, Steve Levine (Culture Club, The Beach Boys). According to the website, this space is “as acoustically perfect as a state of the art recording studio”. I’m struggling to think of a situation in which I’d need an acoustically perfect recording studio, but it’s a nice touch. And the menu reads (and mostly eats) well, too.
Breakfast includes sweet potato vegan hash (£8) and eggs royale (£9) with gourmet comfort foods, salads, and Middle Eastern-inspired small plates available throughout the day. Larger plates take in fancy fish finger sandwiches (£8,) bone-marrow burgers with melting slabs of Emmental cheese (£8) and a French Dip-style creation with braised beef, proper gravy and fries (£9). This mix ’n’ match approach reminds me of casual dining favourite, Gorilla and prices are a draw, particularly during January when they are offering 33% off food.
Small plates come out on top. Pop one, tiny ham hock croquette, dunked in vinegary piccalilli into your mouth, and try to stop (£6). The same applies to the fryer-fresh sweet potato falafels with homemade ketchup (£4.50), and hot, wobbly halloumi fries (£5) with shallot aioli.
An impressive ox cheek croquette (£8) arrives, big as a bowling ball, topped with a little hat of Welsh rarebit. Shallot aioli returns here, dotted in a concentric circles around the outside of the plate. Meat is good across the board actually, and a constellation of slow-roasted pork belly cubes in a clear apple and sorrel soup (£7) really stands out. The pork has had long enough in the oven to breakdown the fat, before being grilled to leave a crisp top. This might be the best pork belly in town. No, really. I could hardly believe it either.
Drinks are good to, with beers from the likes of Kona, Shipyard, Lost and Grounded - and I can recommend pretty much everything from the cocktail list. Especially Fashionista, a clever chocolate twist on an Old Fashioned (£9, pictured).
The only real flaw is a heavy-handedness in the herb department. Being punched in the face by rosemary is an experience no one can forget – and the veggie ‘fake bake’ (£6) arrives screaming with the stuff. The quorn and fresh veg filling is excellent - but the herb throws everything off kilter.
Beetroot hummus (£4.50) suffers a similar fate. Cumin seeds are to blame this time, coupled with what I suspect to be the contents of an entire mill of black pepper. It’s so pungent it makes me and my vegan pals gurn. The chipotle tofu sandwich with pineapple and avocado salsa (£7.50) is nothing special.
As it’s so quiet, the management have sent most of the kitchen staff home - even though it’s only 6pm. This means that salads such as butternut squash with grapefruit dressing, chicken Caesar and so on (all £8) are not available. I like the sound of vanilla panna cotta and vegan ‘milk’ chocolate brownies with a Wild Turkey caramel sauce (both £6.50), but they’re off too.
It’s a shame, really, because the bar has potential to become a new NQ go to. But for now, they just need a few more customers.
33 Oldham Street, Manchester M1 1JG Tel: 0161 832 1299
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All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Ham hock 7, falafel 7, halloumi fries 8 , ox cheek 8, pork belly 9, fake bake 4, beetroot hummus 3, chipotle tofu 5
limited staff on our visit
Friday and Saturday nights are stronger