Review: A Place Called Common

Common 2Every few weeks I go out for a cheap dinner with friends for a little catch up. As unimaginative as this is, we normally just debate between curry-mile and Nandos, both excellent hangover cures, and both, might I add (although this may result in the confiscation of my foodie credentials), delicious! A couple of weeks ago though the others decided they were ready to spread their culinary wings so I suggested somewhere new we could try.

We decided to turn hipster for the evening and head to the northern quarter, to A Place Called Common. This bar come restaurant is neighbours with home sweet home which I previously reviewed on here. Common is like home sweet home’s elder, more sophisticated and rebellious sibling. Here American diner grub is not only done well it is done with style. The decor is trendy without being so Dr Martin wearing, roll-up smoking and craft beer drinking as to make you feel uncool and uncomfortable. (although they do have a great selection of slightly pricey craft beers).

Common 1The menu is the standard American fare that all aspiring-to-be-cool places serve up these days but with a few interesting additions. A couple of my mates went for classic dishes, both the chicken avocado and bacon sandwich and the maple bacon burger looked delicious. As did their chilli-con-carne ingeniously served in tortilla bowls, and, most importantly, accompanied by all the proper stuff. I had the pulled pork bun with kimchi slaw. It was great, the pulled pork was beautifully soft but with some crispy bits and the kimchi slaw was a perfect accompaniment. I thought they pulled off a clever and delicious version of an over-done, and often badly-done, dish.

Overall I would highly recommend this place. It does fit into the oh-so-trendy american diner category of bar, which is a completely saturated market, but, if you fancy a burger or even a craft beer, this is as good a place as any (and better than most!).

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Font Fallowfield

IMG_1210I promised to try as hard as possible to review affordable restaurants in which people can actually eat on a daily basis. Therefore, this week I have chosen to review a bastion of Manchester student life, Font bar. This burgeoning Manchester chain, is most famous for its great value cocktails. Set directly opposite Owens park halls of residence, nestled amongst fried chicken shops, it is not hard to see how the lure of £2 drinks has made its Fallowfield branch the busiest bar in the area. However, this is a food blog and therefore I went with the aim of reviewing its cheap, student focused menu.

IMG_1209I have not always been a fan of font bar, I can never resist a cheap cocktail but I feel it never quite lives up to the hype. The atmosphere is lively but not particularly conducive to great dinner conversation as the music is always slightly too loud. I also loathe having to wait for 20 minutes a the bar to get a drink but thats just because I’m far too impatient!  I think I like the quirky decor although I haven’t quite made up my mind about the half gruesome half cool paintings in the upstairs sofa area.

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A lack-lustre sandwich

Despite the music and hoards of freshers I was still very ready to enjoy my dinner, particularly as I had 50% off vouchers! In this respect I was thoroughly disappointed. I did not enjoy my dinner at all. I had what was described on the menu as Philly Steak Melt: minute steak, caramelised onions and cheese in a toasted ciabatta, sounds good right? Well what I got was steak overcooked to the point of incineration, a couple of frazzled onions topped with a glob of congealed cheese all served in a cheap white bun that bore absolutely no resemblance to ciabatta. To be frank I was pissed off to have to pay £3.25 for it, let alone the £6.50 that it should have cost!! What really annoyed me was the assumption that students are stupid, that we will eat anything, that we don’t understand what nice steak is and we don’t know what a ciabatta looks like. That assumption is entirely wrong, in fact students are probably the most discerning target market, we want value for money above all else. Yes we appreciate cheap food and this does remain one of the cheapest places to eat out in Fallowfield, however, we do not appreciate being ripped off and £6.50 for a rubbish meal is a rip off. Me, I would rather go to the chicken shop next-door.

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The cocktails remain delicious!

Above all Font is not really a normal bar, it is more like a giant pre-drinks at someone’s house. The drinks are cheap, music is a bit loud and controlled by someone with an innate inability to read the room and there are always people falling over in too-high-heals. However, the atmosphere is lively, pretty much everyone is having a good time and did I mention you can get a cocktail for £2?! The only thing you must remember is to avoid the food at all costs unless you are willing to be thoroughly disappointed or are so pissed you can’t tell your arse from your elbow, if you find yourself in the latter situation you’ll probably quite enjoy it!

Cost: £8 a head for dinner and drinks.

Home Sweet Home and The Great Food Divide

IMG_1166Recently there has been a lot of discussion around the great North, South divide in England. Politicians tell us the recession is over, we are in recovery, get back out and spend spend spend. As a Londoner and a student with no real financial commitments, to me this seems a fair assumption. Yet away from London people are feeling slightly different the Northern property market remains way behind its southern counterpart, last September prices in the North were 7% lower than they had been in 2007. My extremely longwinded point is that up north, people in general have less disposable income, they eat out less and restaurants are fewer and farther between. In fact, Manchester, despite being England’s third largest city still has no michelin starred restaurants while London boasts over 40.

Coming from London I have become quite choosy about food. There are at least 50 restaurants within a 20 minute walk from my parents’  house, everywhere you look theres another pop up, food van, trendy burger bar, italian deli etc etc. In Manchester I have not been so spoilt for choice. Last year I was told I must go to Almost Famous the famed deans gate burger bar, a friend advised; “OMG it will be the best burger you’ve ever eaten!!!!”. It wasn’t. It was over crowded, poor service (actually no service), the food was nice but far to try hard and way overpriced. It was just another burger bar trying to be the next big thing. What I am trying to say is not that restaurants in Manchester are rubbish, they are not! Rather that a few trendy places are hyped up far more than they should be as there is less choice. Thus I will alway regard with a weary eye any restaurant described as “the best” or “coolest” place in town.

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I should probably add at this point that I’m rather wary of Burgers, as a food fad they are pretty mediocre. Everybody has eaten burgers before, they’re great: beef, beacon, cheese, pickle, all good stuff  but why do they have to be on every menu, normally in about 20 different guises. We know about burgers, give it a rest, give us Lebanese or Korean, give us something different!!

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You can imagine then that when some one told me “you’ve GOT to go to Home Sweet Home in the Northern Quarter, their burgers are AMAZEBALLS” I was fairly cynical. I was however, in many respects proved wrong. This small tea-room style cafe nestled behind trendy menswear boutiques and bars selling artisan beers has a lovely homely atmosphere, the staff aren’t too cool to be polite and the interior is not in anyway oppressive. Unfortunately, like most popular places there were far too many tables for the space so the experience was slightly more stressful than it needed to be.

IMG_1164More importantly the food was really good. Luke had crispy buttermilk chicken, simple but delicious. (I should probably add at this point that we went here on a fairy hefty hangover so we went BIG). Despite my hatred of Burgers I can recognise a good one and this one deserves serious credit. I went for Chicken rather than beef and it came with a topping of pulled pork, apple slaw and blue cheese dressing. Pulled pork can be a lovely thing but it again is so over done these days and so often comes as a topping to soggy chips, shredded and mushed up until it resembles textureless unexciting baby food. This was, however, a good pulled pork, it was crisp and juicy, the chicken was succulent and the apple coleslaw was a perfect accompaniment. Also, most importantly for me at the time it was bloody ginormous!!

All in all I would highly recommend this restaurant as a good example of American- style cooking and seriously good hangover cure. It’s reasonable priced, we paid £12.50 a head without alcohol (obviously!). However, never ever go on the weekend or a really sunny afternoon, its way too popular for its own good!