The good, the bad, and the worth a trip to the burbs
Although we may have only really had half a year to scour the Greater Manchester food scene and rifle through its nooks and crannies, the Manchester Confidential team have still visited and critiqued a pretty hefty range of restaurants since June 2021.
As we walked back into bars and restaurants with our forks wielded in hand, phone notes at the ready, and a spring in our self-indulgent steps, we devoured everything in sight from "a soothing stew of salt cod" to a mocktail doused with "so much Saxo salt it forms an impenetrable, crusty forcefield around the entire glass" - lucky us.
There were some spots that had us praising baby Cibus for savoury doughnuts, orecchiette, and fennel sausage and others that provided the perfect parfait or fillets of succulent sea bass to see us through ‘til 2022. Others, not so much (sorry, dirty waffle fries)
Read on for all the best spots, top dishes, and some menu items that we’d maybe rather leave in 2021.
Winner, winner, top-scoring dinners
With an average score of 14.5/20 across all of our Manc-based reviews this year, it’s safe to say there’s been plenty of good grub from both the city centre and the buzzing surrounding 'burbs.
However, this year’s top scorer came courtesy of Gordo and his trip to what he's calling “the world’s most exclusive restaurant”. As the gaffer ventured over to Umezushi Omakase in search of sushi, sashimi, and something authentic, the spot failed to disappoint as “slices of ginger half the width of a pound coin” were deemed “so spectacular on the palette they keep refreshing my head”. Leaving Gordo feeling all philosophical thanks to some genius culinary skills and “slim, smooth lozenges” of sea bass, Umezushi left him pondering over “the lucky bastard” that was “somewhere in this universe eating that very same piece of sushi as I was”. I mean, it got 18.5/20, what more is there to say?
If escapism via spätzle was possible, then Confidentials' Executive Editor Kelly Bishop reckons this could be done via a quick trip to The Sparrows. Another one of our best reviews from 2021 with a score of 17.5/20, this modern European spot in Red Bank won Kelly over with everything from a squash filled ravioli of the day with "a generous snowfall of parmesan, garlicky sage butter, and a sprinkling of breadcrumbs", to a "sublime, autumnal, cockle-warming" goulash served in some speckled shallow ceramics. Ending with a panna cotta that brought a tear to the eye, and a closing statement that The Spärrows is a "haven from life's mayhem", we reckon the whole experience was exactly what we are craving in these darker months.
The Embassy was likened to the kind of haunt that would arise "if Willy Wonka opened a sweetshop under the sea", and if that didn't have readers hooked, then they're, well, very hard to please. Small plates with a Basque influence came courtesy of roasted octopus with vanilla parmentier and croquettes with oxtail or wild mushroom, all washed down with "a zingy bottle of Albarino". A bottom-less cheesecake and smoked olive oil yoghurt also contributed to a final verdict that "the food is indulgent, generous, and at times bewildering".
Sixes, in contrast, made up for what it lacked in Basque-inspired flavours with batting cages and bubble and squeak pakoras. Sophie and her two (jock)strapping dining partners tried it all at this Corn Exchange spot with a "from the ashes sweet potato", a "flipping delightful" beef brisket volcano with "little bombs of fresh chilli" and a "curious sounding charcoal-infused custard" that sat side by side with a beautiful bread and butter pud. These two new restaurants scored 17 and 16 respectively.
Other 16/20 scoring restaurants included Playfoots in Monton, a proper suburbian gem where "flavours are bold, plates are plentiful, and smiles are all around". Some menu faves included a tempura-fried haddock "creole" likened to "a really pleasant take on the humble fish finger sandwich", a merguez sausage tart that made Sophie's day and a whopping sausage roll that may not have been a revolutionary taste sensation, but definitely caught the eye and proved that sometimes, size matters.
Levenshulme's new Italian, Cibus (more on that below), Prestwich's recent addition to the Michelin Guide, OSMA with its "dark, witchy madness", French small plates and natty wine gaff 10 Tib Lane and spicy food, hard liquor hangout The Thirsty Korean in Chorlton all scored 16/20 this year. Impressive stuff and proof that many of Manchester's boroughs are knocking out extremely good food, not just the city centre.
The most-read restaurant reviews of 2021
Proof that you lot love to read a good piece of culinary critique just as much as a wholesome success story, the top read reviews from 2021 are, let's say, eclectic.
With a title inspired by The Verve's most dismal hit, and a menu that boasts "a glass of orange juice under salty siege", and a salad that was "limp, dehydrated, and accompanied by a ramekin of vinegar", it's not hard to decipher why Davey Brett's review of Jimmy's Killer Prawns was a hit amongst the masses. Even if he did get called "a white supremacist" by one arsehole on Twitter.
Our other most-read hits included a dish described as "what cultural appropriation tastes like" at Habas, a balanced review of District on Oldham Street with its "hyper-stylised" interior and "delightfully pongy nam jim", and two reviews that were just as popular with the public as they were with the Confidentials team - big up Playfoots and The Black Friar.
Some pretty dishy content
If we had to count all of the dishes we've devoured this year on one hand, well, we couldn't, but some of them were spectacular and thus deserve a second shout-out.
Artichokes (9) and orange parfait (10) at The Black Friar were the closest thing to crazy for Lucy Tomlinson as "pale delicate blossom ran through to vibrant fresh fruit and darkest, tangiest marmalade". Mediterranean grilled lamb (9) at Off The Grid also felt "like a therapy session. Neil Sowerby's choice of Baccala alla Vincentino (9) at Cibus was a fully-fledged love affair, and squash ravioli (9.5) and panna cotta (10) at The Spärrows were up there with the best of the best.
An aptly named "from the ashes" sweet potato at Sixes also copped a 9 out of 10, along with the lamb rump, heritage beetroot, and vegan potato and chive financier at 10 Tib Lane. Giving almost everything on the Umezushi Omakase menu a 10, Gordo strongly recommends the asparagus, sea bream collar, kagashima wagyu, and the ten-day tuna, although good luck getting a table (Psst! we hear membership is opening again in the new year though).
Dishes that didn't hit the spot
Although we've eaten a lot of pretty good stuff this year, some things are just better left behind with zoom meetings and Marina O'Loughlin's Co-Op pigs in blanket sushi. A "dynamite" prawn burger from everyone's favourite killer prawn spot "really kills the vibe" with a sad 1 out of 10. Garlic cheese bread (3) at Jimmy's Killer Prawns "could have done with some more TLC".
As Sophie ventured to new "Middle Eastern" restaurant Habas, the "sad bowl of Persian-style rice" (2) was likened to "a hotdog at the Odeon" as its crispy onions and shallots were, "swimming in oil". The dirty waffle fries (3) that cost Lucy an extra £2 at Fat Hippo also featured "one bacon bit and no sauce".
Well 2021 has been a year of strange times, superb suppers, and some quite dodgy seafood-based burgers, but one thing's for sure, we'll always be honest.
Confidentials grew out of a passion for championing the food and drink scene in the North West. All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidentials and completely independent of any commercial relationship.
People trust us when we tell them somewhere is good because we also tell them when it isn't. Without criticism, praise becomes meaningless. So we're sticking to our guns and you can look forward to more reviews in 2022. Good and bad, our stats tell us you love them.
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