It is not often we get up North. When we do it is usually for someone's stag, as if the cities above Watford are only good for getting shitfaced in. Don't get us wrong, Liverpool is a lovely place to get shitfaced in. But there is more to the North than cheap shots and endless plays of the Beatles and Oasis. Surely. Luckily, the first ever helpful embedded ad on the interwebs and a couple of twenty quid return train tickets later and we were winging our way up to Granadaland to eat much of the food.
NORTHERN SOUL GRILLED CHEESE
Whilst trying not to be lost in Manchester, we blundered across this pop up stall-like unit just off the high street. When we saw that their grilled cheese manifest extended to a patty melt we realised we had found breakfast. And people, it was ruddy great.
The sourdough had been perfectly grilled, with a crisp maple-brown edge. The thin, well-seasoned, pink patty inside was paired with a rich, warmly sharp cheese triple-blend and a couple of slices of brilliantly sticky American all wonderfully melted down. Soft savoury sautéed onions and a cracking spicy-creamy chipotle mayo included, it all connected to make texturally ace, tasty sandwich worthy of owning some cat pyjamas.
The menu changes weekly, so it might not be on when you visit. But if it is, do it.
HOME SWEET HOME
Bearings found we headed down to the Northern Quarter, a business gentrifi-regeneration construct of the 90s which seems to have been a bonkers success as it is now the craziest concentration of trendy food and drink establishments in the city. With a befuddling number of places on the list to try in the area we decided on the one that was still selling breakfast, as a toastie doesn't technically count as such.
Home Sweet Home is a 'Milk Bar', a perplexingly vague term that is increasingly bandied around to mean either coffee shop, bakery or cafe. Blame David Chang. This one serves benedicts, hash, large slices of cake and burgers all at once so we're instantly in. It is a cute place vibing the homely feel of a little wooden-panelled village cafe around idiosyncratic touches of Tiffany lamp shades and artwork-strewn walls, with the reassuring modern-touch familiarity of mismatched wooden chairs. Quaint but modish, the name matches the drapes.
We were tempted by the cheeseburger toasty (a Manchester trait of #cheeseburgering things that would become more apparent as the day wore on), but plumped for a breakfast muffin and cheeseburger.
Below a splendidly domed buttered brioche of the cheeseburger were two thin, a touch overcooked but decently seasoned patties with nice crust, topped by some classic American-style cheese slices. Reams of tangy-sweet mayo-based house sauce flows over the top like tasty condiment lava whilst the thick slices of onion, tomato and dill pickle dump fresh, crispness and sharpness against the soft bun and beef. Solid effort.
The 777 Muffin was much less successful: Despite being pincered by two slices of American cheese the huge puck of black pudding was comparatively way too thick and dry, overpowering the flavour of the sausage patty (which by itself wasn't all that) and bacon, with the red sauce a less than impressive condiment addition donating little in the way of taste.
But let's feedback sandwich the shit out of this by saying that the Nutella and toasted marshmallow milkshake was fucking herculean, subtle-yet-moreish-as-hell. Looking around, practically every table had order a milkshake of some description so they must be a thing here. Maybe they should call themselves a milkshake bar. Or Yard.
We have been all over these dudes since we first had their grub merch at the NFL event in London last year, but the zero-shits-given Twitter, bathroom decor controversy and batshit crazy-sounding menu items had their Northern restaurants tagged as a must-go. We really to wanted to check out where it all started in the original, and recently phoenix-ed, Northern Quarter base.
But not being able to wait until 5 for it to open we thought we'd patronise their newer gaff nuzzled in the old Great Northern warehouse in Deansgate. In the cold light of day the entrance is muted, the neon BurgerWings logo masked by sunlight. But it's the gizzards of the place delivering the bombastic - a food theme park with wall art designed by a graffiti artist with a Disney fetish in a cavernous room that felt like it should also house a Quasar. Like MEATliquor, but if you like your deviance baptised in the church of cartoons and pop culture and no sense of restraint whatsoever.
The menu continues the motif: the names of celebs deceased by way of drug overdoses christen burgers, fries are 'winning', and 'wonderdust' and 'bacon rain' are toppings . The fast food manifestation of an acid house party. The revamped menu had literally dropped the day before, so as well as the 'I'm Crack-ed Baby', we opted for the pretzel-bunned noob 'Vinnie Chase'.
Below a smooth, polished and lightly freckled bun globules of blue cheese sauce trickled over the starchy-crunch double team of salt and vinegar crisps and shoestring fries. The red of the cholula danced and mingled with the sauce over the two patties bedecked with smelted American cheese slices. Glorious sloppiness awaited. It looked pretty in that proud-hangover-creation way.
The insane ingredient combinations going on felt like being face-fucked by a Flavour Shaker, bombarding even our aged taste buds into paroxysms of confusion. It was all at once the creamy tang over tangy heat over an ultra-vinegary-salt hit over the intense sweet meatiness of chorizo slices. Everything pinballed over the tongue vying for dominance, so the sour-heat-salt-creaminess was good at times and way too overpowering at others - which meant that the beef was effectively disappeared, all flavour lost in the haze, reduced it to its basest chewy fibrous protein.
The Vinnie Chase nudged the levels down a bit: The pretzel bun was chewy and savoury as you would like, the applewood provided a sweet smokiness to compliment the streaky bacon, soft onions mayo and ketchup intertwined into a nice thick-sweet condiment. Then there was the marmite butter which was hard to decide if it added a creamy umami hit over everything, or just made everything taste a bit like marmite. Such is Marmite. Regardless, the flavour of meat was again snuffed out by the profound accompaniments.
We wanted to order a cheeseburger just to sample it, but it was time to move on since to be honest we were a little bit disappointed.
LUST LUCK LIQUOR & BURN
This is another creation of the Almost Famous clan, focussed on amped-up tex-mex cuisine inspired by a Fear and Loathing-esque drive from Vegas to Mexico via California which is referred to again and again and again.
Darkened shack-like wood panels line walls while sunset vistas of the Mexican plains are painted on others, the serving hatch even looks like the side of a shipping container. Add some mis-matched chairs and thick wooden topped tables and you have yourself a concept, a very low budget version of Mexico at Epcot Center. The menu is crammed with all manner of versions of quesadilla, burrito and tacos, looking like ransom note from a bunch of starving kidnappers.
When in #cheeseburgering Rome, we ordered the bacon cheeseburger quesadilla - mince beef with seasoning combined well with chopped onion, nacho cheese with ketchup and mustard to produce a convincing cheeseburger taste, even if the lumps of pickle were too big and overpowering in mouthfuls.
The Baja fish tacos, served on a custom license plate (take note @wewantplates), paired delightfully fresh, clean white fish encased in a robust but light batter which balanced each other well with avocado providing the creaminess, chopped iceberg with thin slices of radish providing good crunch while a hot sauce gave everything a firm kick in the rear. The boneless chicken Blasts were hunky strips of meat covered in a thick still-crispy coating and some buffalo sauce that was flavourful but also induced some solid under-eye sweats, let down a little by a thin, yogurt heavy dip. The seven layer dip was a visual treasure and tasted like everything we remember from having it the States.
And the Frozen margaritas were awesome, bar the missing salt on the rim that had to be added manually.
We were aware that Solita was known for two things: #cheeseburgering the humble spring roll and the Big Manc, the not-so-subtle tribute to Ronald's classic, emblazoned in neon in the window of the otherwise unassuming facade of their Northern Quarter base.
The interior is a confusing contrariety of comic strip illustrations and Vegasian bulb signs merged with
simple white colour schemes, dark pseudo-posh furnishings next to a leather-cladded bar, and industrial lighting.
It feels odd for the small space it is, especially with a menu catering heavily to burgers, wings and hot dogs, in a 'should I wear my posh frock or sweatpants?' way. As it was starting to busy up, and only semi-Arctic outside, we figured to sit in their beer garden area across the road.
Chock full and half-aware distant whistle of our carriage home was forthcoming we promptly ordered a Big Manc, which in kind promptly arrived; a majestic elephantine monument of tucker housing twelve ounces of beef. The bun looked great, the Monterey Jack was flirtatiously melted and the paprika-flecked Big Manc sauce was bounteous.
The two patties were a handsome pink and decently moist, if under seasoned. The light yellow-hued brioche was slightly hard, more than likely over-toasted than stale, but was softened by the juices exuding from the meat. The Big Manc sauce did a sterling job of emulating that of the golden arches, with a sweetness that was cut through by the tartness of the accompanying pickle slices. And the iceberg, well the Big Mac has it so this does too, although the amount was negligible in contrast to the size of the fucking thing. A fairly competent attempt at pimping a classic.
You have to applaud the city that tries to cheeseburger everythin. And we only played with the tip of Manchester's burgeoning food scene. Our M&S G&Ts slipped down delightfully as we discussed our hopefully imminent return on the nauseating pendolino journey home. Those trains are tough to do a standing up wee on.
- Simon & Rob