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Thursday, 19 July 2012

SoLIta Restaurant Opens its Doors in the Northern Quarter: Local Girl is Smitten, Although Fatter than Before

Anyone who uses social media will pretty much be aware by now what a double-edged sword sites such as Twitter can be. Particularly if you're fool enough to follow a crowd of people who are just as greedy and food-obsessed as you are. Yes, these people are erudite, and witty, and helpful for instant cooking advice; yes, I've made lots of lovely, real-life friends with similar interests to my own; and yes, I've heard about all manner of interesting bars and restaurants that I wouldn't necessarily have known about otherwise. And yet, anyone who has ever been sat quietly at home, trying to enjoy a bowl of no-points vegetable soup and perhaps engage in some intellectual pursuit or other, will know the frustration of having a stream of what can only be described as FOOD PORN popping up on your timeline. GordoManchester is eating his own body weight in beef! Hungry Hoss is going back for seconds! The Hungry Manc has a sticky chin! And all of this accompanied by glistening, desirable, IRRESISTABLE pictures of quivering delicacies that you currently DO NOT HAVE.

This cruel phenomenon has perhaps never been more evident than in the steady stream of gastro porn emanating from SoLIta this week; this new, achingly fabulous restaurant and bar doesn't even open until tomorrow night, but a clever marketing campaign that has basically involved luring in all the biggest greed-faces that Manchester has to offer, feeding them, and then letting them tweet about it, means that SURELY there is no-one left in the North of England who HASN'T seen at least one picture of that pulled pork sundae. And if you can't beat 'em, join 'em - finally, FINALLY, last night it was my turn to be the porn purveyor.

But before the food, the location. SoLIta is on Turner Street, a slightly less well-known part of the Northern Quarter, and aims to establish itself as a friendly, welcoming, good-value local restaurant that combines the best of New York, Italy and Manchester - the name is short for "South of Little Italy", harking back to the days when Ancoats was home to a large Italian population. The venue is deceptively big - the ground floor bar is pocket-sized, offering just thirty covers, but there are two private dining areas upstairs and a massive, sound-proofed bar downstairs. SoLIta is also justly proud to be the only restaurant in Manchester with an Inka grill - basically a huge, indoor charcoal barbecue that had Mr Liz slavering with want and clearly mentally plotting how much floorboard reinforcement we'd need to have one at home (I'll save him some time here - NO).

Once we'd had our tour, the food began to arrive. They are still tweaking the menu ready for tomorrow's big launch, but this is the kind of thing you can expect:

- Rooster Scratchings: anyone who has ever roasted a chicken purely so they can pick off all the crispy bits of skin afterwards under the guise of helpfully stripping the carcass will need no persuasion from me that legitimising this practice by serving hot, crunchy, salty triangles of chicken skin in a restaurant is a most excellent step forward in culinary terms. You see them here with a saucy glass of Aperol spritz, which SoLIta is keen to see as the drink of the summer, if only the sun would come out.

- Salt Cod Balls served with salsa mayo: crisp on the outside; hot, soft fish on the inside, and all the while sitting nonchalantly astride a blob of the freshest, greenest sauce. It looked for a moment like Mr Liz wasn't going to get one of these; I will just say it was one of the saddest, most angst-ridden moments I have ever had to witness - I swear he almost kissed the waitress for sheer relief when his own perky ball appeared.

- Sourdough Toast with Bacon Jam: I have a fairly shrewd idea that bloggers across Manchester will have awakened this morning craving nothing more than a good big dollop of smoky-sweet porcine stickiness on their Warburton's - not since the Almost Famous Triple Nom Burger have I awoken with such an overwhelming desire to eat all over again what I ate the night before.

- Pulled Pork Sundae: obviously, this was the one we'd all been waiting for - tender sweet pork in a rich barbecue sauce under a crown of 60/40 mashed potato. The 40 relates to the percentage of butter in the mash, but as a responsible patron, head honcho Dom promises to alert your doctor if you eat this dish more than three times in a month *nods approvingly whilst secretly plotting a cunning disguise, perhaps involving a stick-on moustache, to circumvent cruel limit*

- After that little lot, we were on to the mains. We particularly enjoyed the Hanger Steak, which really showed off the full potential of the Inka grill: perfectly pink and moist on the inside but smoky and charcoal-infused on the outside. The Inka Grilled Vegetables had similarly benefitted from their brush with the grill, and we also loved the accompanying "house sauce", a salsa verde made with capers, parsley, olive oil and anchovies. The only dish we were less certain of was the Deep Fried Mac 'n' Cheese with Pulled Pork - we agreed as a table that the pork, lovely on its own, was too sweet with the rich macaroni cheese, which would have worked perfectly well on its own and didn't need to be jazzed up by being squeezed into into a brioche. Obviously, we still ate it all, in the interests of professionalism and all that.

- Lastly, we sampled the dessert that had been tantalising my timeline all week - the Deep Fried Coke. This inventive offering - coke syrup encapsulated in churros batter, fried until golden and then dusted with sugar and cinnamon - was delicious, and pretty much sums up for me the combination of innovation and tradition that informs the ethos behind this splendid new restaurant. Prices are extremely reasonable, quality is high, and the staff are lovely: there will no doubt be a massive queue when SoLIta opens its doors tomorrow night at 6pm - and I really suggest that you join it.

- SoLIta is on Turner Street in Manchester's Northern Quarter, tel. 0161 839 5600 - check out the full glorious, gluttonous menu on their website.

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