Davey Brett goes on a two-hour taste holiday in the suburbs
You know when you go on holiday? And there’s that moment, just after queueing to get off the plane, when the cabin is rife with anticipation and you’re shuffling towards the door?
You get to the end of the queue, thank the airline staff and then you do that ninety-degree turn to face the tarmac of whatever glorious sun-kissed destination you’ve arrived at and you’re confronted with a sheet of hot, aromatic air that launches itself at your body.
We’ve been here two seconds and already we’re plotting the grill’s potential
If it wasn’t for this particular Wednesday night being so cold, walking into Off The Grid in Chorlton for the first time would feel a bit like that. You walk in, the smell of the grill greets your nostrils and your mind books a cheap Ryanair flight to a place with turquoise waters and a Mediterranean diet.
Sat amongst that cluster of restaurants on Barlow Moor Road that coincidentally bring to mind tavernas and beachside cafes, Off The Grid, like many places over the last year was a product of lockdown with a few false starts before opening to its full potential this summer.
With most of the food cooked on the grill, the menu nods to the aforementioned Mediterranean with flecks of the Portuguese head chef’s heritage by way of South Africa. There’s not a great deal here for vegetarians but on a chilly Wednesday night in Chorlton, their loss is two meat eater’s gain.
Like their neighbours Double Zero, Off The Grid is bring your own booze. Great news if you’re familiar with the offering at Carringtons a minute down the road or Strange Brew a few units up if you fancy a takeaway pint. We’re not drinking tonight but before leaving, my dining partner admits how well the food would have gone with a lager. Efes or a Mythos perhaps if you’re keen on holiday themes.
Inside the interiors are simple and clean. A white-tiled wall runs from front door to the kitchen. Depending on where you’re sitting, the grill pit provides a theatrical reminder of things to come, flames erupting as the chef lowers meat, fish and veg onto the fire. A welcome bit of theatre that builds anticipation for the meal.
A staff member is more than happy to move us from a wobbly table early on and we’ll observe the same person employ impressive origami engineering to steady said table for a couple later in the evening.
Having scanned the menu well in advance we know exactly what we’re getting and we’re going big. Tenderstem broccoli (£5) and fried halloumi (£6) from the veg and vegan menu, pork belly burnt ends (£7) and braised beef cheeks (£8) from the meat menu. We’re especially excited for the seafood, octopus (£9.50) and salt cod croquettes (£6) from a menu that also includes prawns and calamari, both grilled.
The tenderstem broccoli is love at first bite. Soft but with no crunch lost, you can taste the zebra stripes of flavour from the grill. I’m drunk on the grill in no time. Intoxicated by the thought of cooking this year's Christmas dinner on a barbecue in the garden. The braised beef cheeks meanwhile fall apart at the mere presence of my knife. Irresistibly tender, cooked in a rich wine-heavy sauce and with potatoes to mop up with.
The ability of the food to transport us persists. The prettily plated octopus tendril brings to mind beachside barbecue and the sound of waves in the distance. Each chew imparts just the right amount of smokiness as it’s scooped up with chippings of boiled potato, aioli and bright orange romesco. Nothing sits on the grill for a second longer than necessary here.
The salt cod croquettes are delicately crispy and light, with plenty of aioli to dip into whilst the fried halloumi is a welcome addition, breaking up the meat with a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds and liberal dusting of sumac. The pork is enjoyable but with its sticky barbecue sauce and a tenderness that doesn’t reach the heights of the beef cheek, it feels slightly out of place.
Talk turns to picnics in olive groves as we ensure no almond, drop of aioli or molecule of romesco is left behind. My dining partner notes how the menu would be enhanced by adding a big fish of some sort. We’ve been here two seconds and already we’re plotting the grill’s potential.
It’s worth pointing out that despite having consumed a lot of meat at this point, we don’t feel heavy. There’s no meat sweats or carb fatigue here. We’ve gorged on three sections of the menu and there’s still room for more so we order Mediterranean grilled lamb (£14.50) to share.
A few minutes pass, the flames flash and a few stripy pieces of lamb chuck arrive on a bed of fluffy vegetable cous cous with a dollop of mint yoghurt and almonds. In this world of the forever ooze, the never-ending cheese pull and the infinite sauce pour, the lean meat in front of me feels like a therapy session. I feel better for eating it, cleansed almost.
Off The Grid is a reminder of how great meat can be, minus the bells and whistles.
We cap things off with a desert each. A refreshingly sweet mango sorbet (£3) and a crema catalana (£5), an indulgently creamy crème brûlée style treat covered with a thick, crackable layer of sugar topped with berries. It’s seen off in a few minutes and the presence of cinnamon makes it feel slightly festive.
We depart into the cold night, smelling like a Mediterranean feast. A sensory gift to our fellow tram passengers on the way home.
Off The Grid 366 Barlow Moor Rd, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester M21 8AZ
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.
Halloumi 7, croquettes 7, octopus 8, pork 6.5, beef cheeks 8, tenderstem 8, lamb 9, crema catalana 7, sorbet 7
Friendly and helpful, willing to go below and beyond to steady a rickety table if need be
The flames are great fun in the back but could have done with boosting the heating on our visit, bit nippy