David Adamson enjoys a quieter corner of the neighbourhood

Choose any sunny summer Saturday, walk down from Piccadilly station by Port Street and you'll probably hear Stephenson Square before you see it. 

Open for business in every sense, the square has for a while now been the go-to suntrap in the Northern Quarter.  

But such is the number of outside tables and benches, once it's full it takes on the feel of a raucous Medieval banquet, just with more bucket hats. A great place to drink in the feverish atmosphere of a city in summer, but not everyone's idea of a relaxing Saturday evening. 

I was in town for the 'relaxing Saturday evening' side of things, so made a headlong rush right through the crowds in the direction of Thomas Street and Edge Street, where a smaller but no less buzzy belt of tables and benches were also teeming with life. 

Turn a corner and there it is - a quiet, quaint, vaguely European cobbled street with the old Smithfield Market front and a terrace ready and waiting. Peace and quiet.

2024 05 21 Tnq Exterior
Outside TNQ Image: Confidentials
2024 05 21 Tnq Interior
Inside TNQ Image: Confidentials

If you don't ask you don't get, so I asked if a table on the outside terrace was available - which thankfully it was - sat myself down with a schooner of Menabrea (£4.50) and awaited the arrival of dinner guest for the day, esteemed Editor-at-Lunch, Jonathan Schofield. 

This corner of the Northern Quarter is almost eerily different in atmosphere to the rest of the neighbourhood, which for me is no bad thing. If you're after low-level mayhem there's more than a few streets for that. 

Jonathan arrived and we chose a bottle of wine. He had red in mind - Christ knows why with that weather - and I'd been picturing a crisp, cold bottle of white for a few hours by this time. White Rioja it is then. We decided on the Viña Real (£38) and quickly knew we'd made the right choice. Bright, characterful and the right side of faintly floral, it went down rather easily.

2024 05 21 Tnq Terrace
The terrace Image: Confidentials
2024 05 21 Tnq White Rioja
The wine Image: Confidentials

I knew what starter I had in mind as soon as I glanced at the menu - grilled octopus (£14). Certainly not something that comes to mind in the winter months, this is just the sort of thing that I like to eat in summertime. A daintier plate combining interesting flavours and cooked without too much fuss. This was just that. 

It came with pickled carrots, chorizo, smoked cod roe, a mojo verde ('green sauce' made from coriander, olive oil, garlic and cumin) and new potatoes. As good as spuds are, I didn't find them necessary in this dish, and actually their earthier tones distracted a tad from all that bright, colourful flavour on display. No matter, you can always just have a few and get to the good stuff. The octopus combined with astringent pickled carrots and the pimenton fire of the paprika is a trio to be cherished. More octopus please, but then I would probably manage to get through something the size of the Kraken if you put it in front of me.

2024 05 21 Tnq Octopus
Grilled octopus Image: Confidentials

Right now I'm very much of the mind that simple, bistro-style plates - when done well - are hard to better. A well-treated and seasoned cut of meat, some interesting vegetables, something a bit off the beaten track ('a bit of sideways' as my brother would call it) and a really good sauce. My main had all this and some spare. 

I chose the char sui Old Spot pork chop (£24.50) with pak choi, black pudding wonton, carrot and a miso, ginger and five-spice sauce. Not what comes to mind when you hear the word bistro, but every bit a bistro dish. 

The pork chop, kept on the bone, was marinated to the deep crimson hue of char sui and didn't need a touch of seasoning. Combined with the deep, sweet and densely flavourful sauce this was the kind of pairing that makes simply executed dishes the best.

The black pudding wonton was a delight; oaty and earthy offal perfectly encased in a crisp, golden brown dumpling, it was a nice textural counterpoint and while the dish would've been a success without it, another dimension of flavour was very welcome. 

Add to this very handsome palette some pickled carrot, still-slightly-crunchy pak choi and a band of crackling the size of a dog collar and you've got a wonderfully measured, very well-presented and fantastically executed dish. 

2024 05 21 Tnq Char Sui Chop
Char sui Old Spot pork chop Image: Confidentials

Finally, dessert. The menu was slight, taking in the likes of sticky toffee pudding, cherry cake with chocolate mousse and, of course, the obligatory cheese board. 

Curious, I went for the vegan spiced rice pudding with glazed pedro ximenez figs and almond brittle (£8). Rice pudding is a nostalgia trip all of its own, so how would the vegan version stand up? The answer is admirably, but with a bit less love. The absence of milk in this sort of dish can make it a much steeper hill to climb in terms of a satisfying dessert, and when combined with the jammy fruitiness of the figs it had shades of what I'd enjoyed as a child, but only shades. The almond brittle, however, was beautiful. I'd eat bags of that stuff were it not for the shameful trip to the dentist.

2024 05 21 Tnq Vegan Rice Pudding
Vegan spiced rice pudding Image: Confidentials

We took in the last of the evening sun - Jonathan another glass of rioja (see?) and an Old Fashioned for myself (£9.50). I don't make a habit of having cocktails at the end of a meal, as they're normally not worth the time, effort and cost, but nothing tops off a top meal like an Old Fashioned. This was well-stirred, not brimming with ice and had the right balance of angostura, orange notes and brown sugar. A heady way to call it a day. 

There's a great deal of fanfare across the city almost every week heralding in a new restaurant or 'eatery' or 'experience' that demands your attention. This pomp and circumstance always dies down, and when it does the same places remain. Places like TNQ, doing thoughtful, classy and fantastically fuss-free food.

We left very much at peace.

TNQ, 108 High Street, M4 1HQ

2024 05 21 Tnq Market
TNQ​ Image: Confidentials

TNQ is on Confidential Guides

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The Scores

All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, and ALWAYS paid for by Confidentials.com 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.

If you want to see the receipt as proof this magazine paid for the meal then a copy will be available upon request. Or maybe ask the restaurant.

Venues are rated against the best examples of their type. What we mean by this is a restaurant which aspires to be fine dining is measured against other fine dining restaurants, a mid-range restaurant against other mid-range restaurants, a pizzeria against other pizzerias, a teashop against other teashops, a KFC against the contents of your bin. You get the message.

Given the above, this is how we score: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: sigh and shake your head, 10-11: if you’re passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: nothing's that good is it?

  • Food 9/10

    Grilled octopus 9, pork chop 9, vina real 9, rice pudding 8

  • Service 4/5

    Always attentive and on it, but not overbearing.

  • Ambience 4/5

    What an outdoor spot. Inside was bright and inviting, but when the sun's out so are we.