Monday, 10 June 2013

SoLita, Northern Quarter

My favourite thing about Solita is their bio on Twitter: "Manchester's 150th best restaurant according to Tripadvisor." Bad news fellas, you've moved down in the world: you're now 172nd. I'm sure the restaurant owners are quaking in their boots... In all seriousness though, many of my favourite food bloggers seem to bloody love SoLita; since it's been more than a year since Jamie and I visited, we decided to remind ourselves what all the fuss is about.

The first time we bobbed in for their seemingly bargainous lunch deal. For £5.95, there's a selection of hefty sounding sandwiches, one salad and a chilli. Though I was seriously tempted by the pulled pork toastie, given that I still hadn't overcome my own toastie machine bereavement, I went a bit healthier and chose the 'Charcoal grilled Caesar chicken salad'. Well, it would have been healthier if I hadn't developed serious food envy from their Twitter account repeatedly posting delectable looking images of their nduja spiced baked beans inside a portion of mac'n'cheese.

Heaven on a plate? Little bit.

I could eat a portion of this right now. Perhaps every day. It was good. I'm even going to say the mac'n'cheese might be better than Jamie's. Only might be, because I quite like being his girlfriend and I don't want him to give me the heave for saying such things. It was a little tepid, and I do quite like dishes such as this steaming hot but I'll forgive them this time.

The chicken Caesar was nice: croutons made from the same bread J's sandwich was served on, and appropriate amounts of dressing, but where were the anchovies?! I know Caesars don't always have them but that salty hit of my favourite fishy friends belong here in my opinion. Just four of them maybe? Please?

J was happily munching away on his SoLita whilst I debated combining the Caesar salad with aforementioned side order. (I didn't, phew!). He did comment that the bread was a little dry, but also that it had a good flavour and he wondered whether it had even seen a little herb garden at some point - though perhaps this scent was coming from elsewhere. For the uninitiated, a SoLita is the restaurant's own take on a Reuben: warm Salt Beef, Emmenthal cheese, Big Manc sauce and chow chow slaw. Jamie had a side of fries, which I can also verify were of the tip-top variety.

We enjoyed our good value lunch meal so much so that several weeks later, after the success of our second supper club, we decided to treat ourselves to dinner here with our earnings. I must start by saying that in their defence, we did rock up at 8:45 on a warm Sunday night, and were told they served until nine. 

We were served by the same waitress both times, whom I found to be generally friendly and efficient. Given that there were only two other tables in the restaurant, we were seated and served speedily. J had a bottle of  Brooklyn (pretty good value at £3.50), and I, a small glass of the house red, a Merlot (£4.75). 

As Hanger steak has recently become my favourite cut of beef, I wanted to see how an Inka grill could improve an already awesome meal. Jamie went for the KFB burger, involving: melted Monterey Jack cheese, jalapenos, BBQ sauce, and kentucky fried bacon.

When the waitress took our order, she didn't ask how I wanted my steak. I naively assumed this was because she - and the chefs - knew that there's no point in having a Hanger steak anything other than rare. It's a tough cut of meat, and if you cook it past this juicy bloody mess, it just ain't no good. Unfortunately, it seemed this wasn't the case.

Poor cow, it died in vain :(

My steak was a huge disappointment. The meat was overcooked, I'd say medium at best. It also hadn't been left to rest so my fries and salad were swimming in a pool of bloody juices. Maybe this was a good thing as the salad had just been dumped on the plate, undressed, so this at least stopped them from being as dry as a Ryvita (no offence, crackers).

As often seems to be the case in such circumstances, all the staff seemed to disappear at the moment you actually want to talk to them. There was no check back, and so no opportunity to correct this miserable meat. Granted, I could have said something at the end of the meal, but given that we were now the only table left in the restaurant, I really didn't want to cause a fuss when it was evident the staff wanted to get out of there, and so did I...

Jamie's burger was fine. He ate it all up. No complaints there. And I really should add that despite the sorry state of my plate of food, the actual flavour of the Hanger was still pretty good. I just had a sore jaw by the end of it.

So, I'm undecided. One decent trip and one disappointing. The latter was near closing time, and I probably ought to have said something; I just assumed that a restaurant famed for its Inka grill would either ask how a customer likes their steak cooking, or cook it right. As I said before, other bloggers such as Hungry Hoss and Food Geek seem to really enjoy SoLita and I trust their opinions on dining, so I say not to just listen to me, but make up your own mind.

NOTE: Since publishing this blog post, the owner of SoLita - Franco - has been in touch and asked when we dined so he could look into it. He seemed accepting of the - we hope - constructive criticism. What's that? A restaurant owner who listens to feedback? Well, he'd have no place on Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares.

Turner Street, Manchester
M4 1DW
0161 839 2200

SoLita on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

SoLIta Bar and Grill

The prospect of eating at SoLIta had my mouth salivating, my stomach rumbling, and my arteries looking frantically for the nearest exit...

Artery-assault: deep fried Mac 'n' Cheese
After attending a press review lunch at SoLIta, I initially wrote a small preview for, with the view to writing a full blog post soon after. Then the shit hit the fan and every food blogger in Manchester was reviewing the place. So, I decided to wait for the storm to subside, bide my time, then give my two cents, for what it's worth.

Out of the ashes of Sole, SoLita is born.

The restaurant brings the bar and grill concept to the Northern Quarter for the first time. The idea is to serve comforting, homely food in a New York-Italian vein, or what owner Dom Sotgiu understatedly calls ‘posh kid’s food’.

The menu is a carnivore’s dream - even the ice cream, made by Cabrelli’s, comes with bacon candy. Nibbles come in the form of fried chicken skin, a lighter alternative to pork scratchings; starters include bacon jam on sourdough, deep-fried cod balls, and the amazing pulled-pork sundae, which is sure to become a firm favourite among customers.

Pulled pork sundae

For the main courses, Dom has chosen some of the cheaper, tastier cuts and made them shine with the help of the Inka charcoal oven, which produces results that rival the best outdoor barbecue. The Short-ribs, aka Jacob’s Ladder, are slow-cooked for two days before being finished in the Inka, a recipe for deliciously tasty meat. A hanger steak (the tail end of the sirloin), notoriously difficult to cook, is exquisite and a steal at just over £16.

Other standout dishes include the behemoth deep-fried mac ‘n’ cheese burger, which has to be seen to be believed, and the sumptuous beef and bone marrow burgers on a perfectly light, yet sturdy demi-brioche bun. Even the side salad and chargrilled vegetables are brimming with flavour.


Desserts come in the form of ‘deep-fried coke’ (coke-flavoured churros), cheesecake, and the astoundingly good chargrilled pineapple with coconut ice cream. Dom has also been lucky to get hold of some fine mixologists and baristas and with a fine range of cocktails there’s more to the place than just meat.

SoLIta is not somewhere I can imagine eating very often however. This is perfect comfort food (read: 'having had a few too many beers the night before' food). The salt, fat, and sugar will satisfy all your desires for excess. Not to be indulged in more than once in a while but very good when you do.

They will undoubtedly have stiff competition from Almost Famous and Home Sweet Home but I do hope that the owners can make a go of this difficult dining spot.

Deep fried 'Coke'
Solita Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon