David Adamson visits the latest addition to Kampus for some modern, moreish Mexican food.

In what seems now like another life I used to deliver groceries to Kampus and thought it seemed soulless.

This was nine months ago, before Madre had set up on the Chorlton Street side of the complex, and admittedly my view may have been coloured by the fact I was dressed in a standard-issue fleece and lugging a sack truck while a cold sandwich awaited me back in the van.

Now that I’m a paid up member of the sinister cabal of food writers in the city I’ve had occasion to go to Kampus a few times, and can confirm that I was totally wrong.

Dive into the tacos with abandon and just hope you can get out of your seat by the end of it

It’s notoriously difficult to create a sense of place and organic atmosphere in developments such as this (see Circle Square’s yawning chasm of half-empty bars) and even harder to maintain it.

So when I had a swift pint by the canal and ambled over to Madre to find it alive with groups of friends, music and mezcal it was a blessed relief. While developers can trumpet about creating ‘neighbourhoods’ as much as they like, people make places.

2023 08 07 Madre Review Exterior
The entrance to Madre, Kampus Image: Confidentials

The entrance is off to the side of the building, something that might not seem of much consequence but in fact sets a sense of cosy intimacy from the off. When you then enter into a long room with a low ceiling and dangling pendant lights you feel positively tucked away.

Looking around at the slats of soft wood panelling, the burnt orange colour scheme and the general vibe of being in a space station bistro, my trusty dining partner Will said it had shades of Moonraker. You could certainly do worse than mimicking the style of Dr Strangelove and Bond designer Ken Adam.

2023 08 07 Madre Review Interior 2
Inside Madre Image: Confidentials
2023 08 07 Madre Review Interior 5
Inside Madre Image: Confidentials

Anyway, you can’t make a satisfying meal out of well-arranged MDF, so let’s get to the food.

We took the menu up on its suggestion of a ‘drink while you think’ and ordered two toreadors (£5); Tapatio tequila, hibiscus mezcal and apricot brandy with a lick of citrus. They were served in two dainty martini glasses, and at a fiver a pop are an ideal aperitif - what starts as a smooth, wince-free tequila taste gives way to a wash of apricot that is, miraculously, not overly sweet and kicks the palette into gear very nicely.

2023 08 07 Madre Review Tequila
The toreadors Image: Confidentials

Looking through the well-arranged menu, we started with something from the antojitos, or snacks, section;  the chicharon de peurco (£7.50), helpfully described as ‘crispy, tender pork belly bites, in Mexican cola BBQ sauce, crispy onion’. Yes please.

These were born for beer (Camden Helles, £5.80), and I would happily make a detour on the way to watch the football and fill up on these before a flagon of lager. On the right side of saccharine, they’re sealed in by the cola cane sugar and aren’t made remotely soggy by the barbeque sauce. All in all, bloody delicious.

2023 08 07 Madre Review Pork Belly
The pork belly bites in Mexican cola BBQ sauce Image: Confidentials

A big draw of Mexican food for me is ceviche, fish that’s only cooked in the slightest sense using a citrus marinade, the simpler the better. Madre’s Contramar tuna tostada (£9.50) had tuna of a high standard - ‘sashimi grade’, no less - but instead of opting for simplicity it was combined with a salsa macha made of dried ancho chillies, the smokiness of which I found pulled focus away from the main event. Still delicious, but the tuna could’ve had you sold on its own merits. Meanwhile the guacamole, something that I’m usually non-plussed by, was incredibly fresh, bright and well-seasoned.

2023 08 07 Madre Review Body
The tuna tostada Image: Confidentials

Onto the tacos. We ordered three pairs that I thought would best speak to the variety of choice and quality of ingredients: tempura battered pollock with jalapeno aioli and salsa Mexicana (£9.50); confit pork shoulder with salsa verde, white onion and coriander (£9); and slow cooked beef shin, Oaxaca cheese and tatemada salsa (£9.50).

I’ll allay any fears you may have of handing over £9 to be presented with a thimble of topping on a taco the size of a postage stamp. This is not the case at Madre. ‘Generous’ would be one way to describe them, but ‘copius’ is probably closer to the mark. I’m not one to complain about getting ample portions, but just be sure to not fill up on these if you’ve got something from the grill on the way. If you don’t, then dive into the tacos with abandon and just hope you can get out of your seat by the end of it.

The tempura pollock was coated just right, and the salsa, red cabbage and pickled radishes balanced out the batter well, while the jalapeno aioli was a vibrant addition, but could have done with being served in lashings rather than flecks.

2023 08 07 Madre Review Fish Taco
The tempura pollock taco Image: Confidentials

Speaking of lashings, the white onions more than liberally scattered over the Carnitas were just a tad too plentiful. A more restrained serving would have complemented the richly seasoned confit pork, but instead swarmed it, along with the subtle touches of the salsa verde, in that familiar earthy flavour.

2023 08 07 Madre Review Pork Taco
The confit pork shoulder taco Image: Confidentials

If you came here and only ate the birria beef shin taco, you would still leave with a full stomach. I would go as far as to call them decadent, such was the serving of rich slow cooked beef and melted cheese. This would be filling enough, but then the taco is also fried in the beef fat, making them something of a marathon to finish but a delicious indulgence nonetheless.

2023 08 07 Madre Review Beef Shin Taco
The beef shin taco Image: Confidentials

As soon as I read the words ‘clams, beer, pork fat, potatoes’ (£15) my mind was made up. I love a broth, and couldn’t pass up such an enticing combination. This did not disappoint. 

The clams were fresh and plump, the pork fat just the right level of salty and the beer broth laced with enough chilli to cut through what could be a fatty stew in less capable hands. The potatoes slowly soak up what broth you haven’t already devoured, and make this a main to be ordered again. 

When I asked our attentive and easy-going server Kyle (thanks, Kyle) if many people ordered the clam broth he said no, and I guess the tacos are still the main draw for visitors. They deserve more than to be an obscure b-side, and perhaps in the future the menu could have more of these sorts of dishes, such is their invention compared with the straightforward taco.

2023 08 07 Madre Review Clam Beer Broth
The clams with pork fat in beer broth Image: Confidentials

Madre is a lively, lovely spot in what is now undoubtedly a hub of socialising. I’d return just to investigate more of the menu, along with a few choices that are too good not to revisit.

Madre, Kampus, 41 Chorlton St., Manchester M1 3HN

Follow David on Twitter @davidadamson123

2023 08 07 Madre Review The Bill
The bill Image: Confidentials

The Scores

All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidentials and completely independent of any commercial relationship. They are a first-person account of one visit by one, knowledgeable restaurant reviewer and don't represent the company as a whole.

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.

  • Food 7.5/10

    pork belly bites 9, tuna tostada 7.5, tempura pollock taco 8, pork shoulder taco 7.5, beef shin taco 7.5, clam pork and beer broth 8.5

  • Service 4/5

    Great service from the staff and our server Kyle, who wore his knowledge of the menu lightly and made us feel more than welcome

  • Atmosphere 4/5

    Cool and colourful interiors in a cosy setting, with music from the likes of Fela Kuti and Shuggie Otis an added bonus