A boring burger leaves Chris Taylor contemplating his own mortality
Last year it was announced that Gorilla was set to close permanently. Ah Jesus, I thought, that’s a shame. These venues need to survive, they are a rich part of Manchester’s cultural landscape. I was quite passionate about this, despite the fact I had never once set foot inside the venue. It’s a common occurrence. I remember someone saying about the Jolly Angler that if everyone who expressed regret at it closing had bothered their arse going there it would still be open. Use them or lose them.
If I go to eat this sort of food I want to leave feeling guilty, and covered in a fine sheen of meat juice and melted cheese.
Gorilla was saved eventually, sadly not by a Dian Fossey-like character from Gorillas In the Mist, but by a large entertainment company that already owned several venues in the city centre. Phew. So post-rescue, and post lockdown, I vowed to go.
I didn’t realise Gorilla did food until I checked their website. The menu wasn’t inspiring. Burgers, tacos, chicken. There’s a lot of places doing this in Manchester, so to stand out you have to excel. The venue looks great. Underneath a railway arch, a centre bar, wood panelling at the rear, black and white tiled floor. It feels a lot like an American dive bar or diner. It is a lovely place to sit.
We ordered drinks and started with a couple of tacos each. The shredded chicken taco (£3) was disappointing. Bland, tasting only of the corn tortilla, the chicken and sauce completely anonymous. The salt and pepper cod taco (£3), however, was a revelation. I would kill for this taco. I would die for it. The cod was in a batter, topped with crispy seaweed. It would not have been out of place on the menu of far more well-established restaurants than Gorilla. To go from something so bland to so tasty was bizarre, and offered few clues to how the meal ahead would develop.
Le Big Mac (£12.95) was two spheres of dry and overcooked meat, held precariously in position with a wooden skewer. It was fine at first but soon became boring. Endlessly chewing on bland mince, the burger sauce and pickles adding little to the party. I asked the waiter if they were homemade, suspecting very strongly they were due to their idiosyncratic shape. He replied that he didn’t know, as the kitchen was actually run by South Manny Flavaz, the hugely popular outlet on Deansgate that I’ve been avoiding because of 1. “Manny” And 2. “Flavaz”.
Given South Manny Flavaz is well known for its chicken, you’d have expected my friend’s Gochujang Chicken Burger (£12) to be a standout; the cod taco to Le Big Mac’s shredded chicken taco. Would the Jekyll and Hyde nature of our starter be mirrored in the mains? In short, no. The chicken burger was entirely serviceable, and that’s the best that could be said for it. There was too little sauce, and the chicken was unremarkable. It’s a shame because the idea and the flavours (flavaz?) should be brilliant.
Mac n cheese balls (£5.50) and halloumi fries (£6) were fine. Exactly what you’d expect from this sort of place. Dirty, salty, greasy and good. It made me realise that what the main courses lacked was a bit of filth. If I go to eat this sort of food I want to leave feeling guilty, and covered in a fine sheen of meat juice and melted cheese. The food at Gorilla was just too clean. Too dry. Too dull.
At some point between me visiting Gorilla and filing this review I caught COVID. Not from the venue itself, I must stress. There’s nothing at all to suggest that. Besides, the staff didn’t spend enough time near us to transmit anything at all, be that a virus, information, food or drinks.
When you have 10 days to yourself in isolation, you get bored. You spend most of days 2-10 planning what you’re going to do the very second you’re free. All the places you’ll go to, the people you’ll see, the things you’ll eat. It’s an odd paradox that the more time you have to yourself through isolation, the less finite time becomes. It gets more and more precious.
This has coloured my opinion of Gorilla. Perhaps unfairly, perhaps not. But life is too short for mediocre. I only have a limited number of meals out left, why would I waste one on a venue that doesn’t seem to give a fuck? Why settle for “meh”? There are so many restaurants and cafes and bars out there doing interesting things with a passion that shines through. I could get hit by a bus crossing Portland Street tomorrow, I don’t want my last meal to be uninspiring, merely serviceable. I want it to leave an impression. I want to be moved.
Gorilla didn’t move me. I ate it. It was fuel. If I hadn’t taken photographs of it, I’d have forgotten it instantly. Do better. We deserve better.
Having said all that, I was forced, through my own inability to take a recognisable photograph of a chicken burger, to return to the venue. I treated the visit with all the excitement and glee I’d treat a visit to the Manchester Tennis Centre for a COVID booster injection, but you know what? It was pretty good. The staff were friendly, attentive and knowledgeable, and the chicken burger was crisp, saucy and flavourful, everything it wasn’t on the first visit. There were still suggestions the kitchen were unskilled, but there was enough in my second visit for me to go back through my initial review and take out some of the swearwords.
Gorilla 54-56 Whitworth St, Manchester M1 5WW
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.
Shredded chicken taco 3, Salt and pepper cod taco 8, Mac ‘n’ cheese balls 6, Halloumi fries 6, Le Big Mac 4, Gochujang chicken burger (visit one) 5, Gochujang chicken burger (visit two) 7
Friendly but little communication or passion for the job
Unique surroundings and a genuinely pleasant place to sit and eat or drink