LAST week I attended the relaunch of Common on Northern Quarter's Edge Street with three blokes I didn't know wearing socks with sandals and two doctors I did; the smoking gambler and the boozy cyclist (weirdly I've often found medical types to be amongst the heaviest drinkers and smokers... who can blame 'em eh?).
And then something wonderful happened. A revelation. Enough to make me reconsider our Top 10 Dishes In Manchester
There were plenty of plates floating around the place, but trying to keep anything down with those two around is bloody impossible. Working in hospitals, conversations usually turn to some poor, curious sod having something awkward removed from their Khyber Pass.
So we necked a few pints of a marvellous Indy Man Brew House pale, stayed until the free gin ran out and left.
The menu stuck with me though; it looked highly considered, pared down but far-reaching (with splashes of India, the Middle East and 'pig bits' from your local boozer). So myself and Meatless returned one Tuesday lunchtime to get stuck in.
Common - now over a decade old - is one of those places you can't imagine the Northern Quarter without; like Affleck's, Koffee Pot, Fred Aldous or one of those adult book stores that somehow, in the age of Pornhub and Chaturbate in your pocket, still manage to hang in there. Good on 'em. Two fingers to gentrification.
The new place feels more grown-up. And that's not a bad thing. Gone is the Berlin hostel snot-green paint job, the chip-board, the goofy graffiti art and the beer mats plastered across the walls. They've been replaced by pricey retractable window walls, a restaurant extension and all four volumes of How To: Relaunch A Bar... Scandi-Style. You can pick up a copy from Magma on Oldham Street, probably.
This has, inevitably, miffed a good few regular punters, who now presumedly sit in a corner of Common's sister venue, Port Street Beer House, and weep into their hellishly strong Brewmaster Armageddon beer. No matter. The new fit-out looks great, even if the furniture has been thumbed from an A1 plywood press out board. You can pick up your plywood press out furniture from Fred Aldous, probably.
We were quickly sat down, then moved to a sunny table, then away from the sunny table, and finally settled on a table near the one from The Inbetweeners with the naff quiff and the wardrobe malfunction.
We ordered a small bowl of hot, crunchy oven-roasted chickpeas spiced with a masala salt (a little steep at £3). Meatless loved 'em, but she would; she's a veggie and they're chickpeas. I found them similar to popcorn - a good idea until the fourth handful.
A small plate of salt and pepper squid with soy and lime aoili (£4.5) was a delight. Girthier than usual; golden and light. The best I've had since Red Chilli. Perhaps better. A wonderful little dish.
A chopped kale and avocado dish (steep at £4.50) was less successful; fresh and served at a suitably cool temperature, but a bit of a nothing dish. Nutrient-packed kale might be, but it's also terribly dull.
And then something wonderful happened. A revelation. Enough to make me reconsider our Top 10 Dishes In Manchester. Out came a quad of brillianty red, gooey, sticky Korean fried chicken (£4.50).
Now currently we have to tread carefully with Korean food. Jay Rayner has not only put the cat amongst the pigeons with his latest Guardian review but slipped amphetamine in the Whiskers. Still, you don't have to 'understand Korean food' to know these are special.
Chunky, slightly crispy, boneless chicken bites glazed in a syrupy sweet Gangjeong sauce (a Korean confectionary of rice, honey, malt and cereal) and sesame seeds. Every now and then you discover a dish that makes your day, this made my week.
Next came a perfectly cooked hake with lentil dahl, charred cauliflower and curry sauce (£9). Another winner and another surprisingly elegant dish from this indie stronghold.
I'll admit I hadn't expected a great deal from the new Common menu.
Northern Quarter bar restaurant screams burgers (of course there are burgers), chilli fries (yes those too) and skateboards on the walls (none of those, but I think there used to be). Steer away from that, sit, order a clean, crisp Flensburger lager (£4) or a bottle of Veranza Tinto 2013 (£18.50), and five plates of those gorgeous, little, red dollops.
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All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commerical relationship.
Common, 39 Edge Street, Northern Quarter, M4 1HW. 0161 832 9245.
Good for: finding your new favourite dish in Manchester
Avoid: kale - let's accept it's as dull as brown socks
Food: 7.5/10 surprisingly refined
Service: 3.5/5 chirpy
Ambience: 4/5 hip and relaxed