David Adamson finds sanctuary, and sirloin steak sandwiches, in a quiet corner of NQ
What: BQ Bitesize
Where: Manchester Craft and Design Centre, 17 Oak Street, M4 5JD
Food/drink type: Artisan cafe
When: Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5.30pm
Independent or chain?: Independent
Decor: Tucked away inside the Craft and Design Centre in the Northern Quarter, BQ Bitesize has an understated, arty layout in keeping with its neighbours, a series of artisan makers' studios populated by cheery types toiling away on ceramics, textiles and all manner of crafty stuff.
You know when you've got it right, and BQ Bitesize most certainly does
While the makers are nestled into quiet little rooms off to the side, BQ Bitesize sits in the large atrium space that will have once rang with the clamours of traders when this building was the Smithfield Fish Market. Nods to the aura - but thankfully not the odour - of the building's former use can be spotted as you wander around.
The building has the serene air of a garden centre, and what garden centre is complete without a cafe. However there's no soggy welsh rarebit or volcanic and vaguely carrotty soup to be spotted here, with BQ Bitesize's offering an exercise in wedding high quality ingredients to a simple menu, making the most out of its sister site, Butcher's Quarter on nearby Tib Street.
The main event:
Soups and salads certainly have their place, but with a direct line to a butcher with beautiful produce, I had one thing on my mind; the hot roast sandwich of the day (£10). I was genuinely excited to see what would be the butty du jour, and to leave the fate of my lunchtime in the lap of the gods. Would it be chicken, lamb, maybe even pork?
The gods were smiling that day - it was sirloin. What did I do to deserve this?
The sirloin was generously thick cut, medium rare and well-seasoned - given the delicate care and attention of a business that knows its butchery. Ultimately, if you're going to eat animals, you should lavish them with the love and respect they deserve, and this sirloin may as well have been served on an altar. Two slices of lightly toasted Holy Grain tin loaf exalted it all the same.
I'm a fan of simple things executed well, so the sirloin sandwich would have suited me with nothing more than a slathering of good butter and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. However these delightful cuts of meat were given an extra bit of song and dance with two gorgeous additions; nduja was basically buttered onto the bread, lending each bite a sweet, slightly oily edge that soaked into its surroundings, and some texture and sharp, nettley tones were added by the presence of crispy kale. A trio to be cherished.
I decided this called for only the most thirst-quenching accompaniment, because what could go better with a slightly salty steak sandwich than a lovely lager courtesy of local hopheads Pomona Island. After translating some of their wordier cans, I went for the Tannhauser Gate helles lager (£6). A relatively cheap lunch of champions.
Having devoured the sirloin sandwich, I thought it'd be rude not to stick around for something sweet and see what their coffee was like. I went for a raspberry and white chocolate brownie (£3.50) and a flat white (£3.25). I'm often a little sceptical of the likes of raspberries scattered in amongst baked goods, as they're usually of the freeze-dried variety and contribute very little. However here it seemed they'd been blended into the brownie mix and gave each bite a balance of tartness to go with the chips of white chocolate, which themselves didn't have that flat, white noise of flavour that white chocolate can sometimes be guilty of.
The coffee comes from ManCoCo, comfortably the best bean merchants in the city, and a company deserving of lashings of local pride. A cut above the rest, as well as about £1 less on the pocket, don't go all the way to the Antipodes for a decent coffee, just come here.
Judgement day: A bonafide sanctuary in amongst the bustle of the Northern Quarter, which puts its local produce front and centre without needing to bellow about it at every opportunity. You know when you've got it right, and BQ Bitesize most certainly does.
Sirloin, ndjua and crispy kale sandwich 9, Pomona Island lager 8, raspberry and white chocolate brownie 7, flat white 8
Relaxed staff know their stuff back to front, but most importantly let you get on with eating your lunch in peace.
A thoroughly pleasant atmosphere with the resting heart beat of a yoga studio. PA system played (not too intrusively) relaxing bangers such as Marvin Gaye's peerless Inner City Blues (Make me Wanna Holler).
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