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Saturday, 12 October 2013

Black Dog Ballroom NQ: Beer, Pool, and Being Beaten By a Burger

Now, I like a posh night out as much as the next person; more, possibly, depending on whether that next person also shares a weakness for fiddly things on fancy plates and shoes they can't really walk in. I had a pretty posh time on Thursday at the Vogue Fashion's Big Night Out, for example, involving drinking champagne with Nicky Clarke and then eating an entire platter of Australasia sushi amongst all the whippets at the Emporio Armani party - all the while teetering precariously in a pair of hot Victorian urchin boots that raise me to the height of 6'3". One cannot spend one's life, however, eating finger food and sporting ludicrous footwear, and thus you are equally likely to find me somewhere like Black Dog Ballroom - where, in fact, I was last night.

The original and best Black Dog is in the Northern Quarter, underneath Affleck's Palace - an unlikely setting, but one which works, managing to be both pretty spacious and pleasingly dingy (as you will see later in the less pleasingly dingy photographs, which look as if they have been taken at the bottom of the sea, by a particularly unskilled marine creature, with a particularly ancient model of iPhone). Anyway, last night it was pretty quiet there, with most of Manchester seemingly at home in its pyjamas watching the football; here's why everyone should have been at Black Dog Ballroom NQ instead:

1. The food here is quite astonishingly good value. True, the menu is pretty straightforward, offering burgers, pizzas and salads for mains and some carb-laden, deep-fried items for starters, but sometimes this is exactly the kind of food you need, particularly when it's cold outside - I'm pretty sure I burned off several hundred calories simply by dint of waiting at the tram stop for ten minutes in an unsuitable outfit. For starters, I had the potato skins with cheddar cheese, bacon and sour cream, whilst the ever-lovely Didsbury Girl went for the deep fried Mozzarella sticks with salsa dip; both good examples of their ilk, but both easily big enough to count as a main if you added a side order (perhaps of sweet potato fries - the couple at the next table had these and they looked lovely - the fries, not the couple).

The mains were even bigger, although to be fair, I had ordered what was clearly the biggest item on the menu. The £12 Half Pound Hound promises a half pound burger with bacon, Philly steak, cheese, onion rings and a side of coleslaw - and that's exactly what came, although with (I think) six onion rings rather than the couple I expected. The burger was perhaps a little TOO meaty, and I would have preferred it a little moister, but the fries were good, the onion rings excellent, and the overal effect more than satisfying. Meanwhile, Didsbury Girl's spicy bean burger with garlic mayo, salad and Black Dog relish was also on the big side - and she will not thank me for telling you she took half home in her handbag and has apparently consumed it with much pleasure this morning as a breakfast item.

2. The drinks are also pretty reasonable, particularly if you make it in for Yappy Hour on a Monday to Friday between 4 and 7pm, when a carafe of house wine is £5, a bottle of San Miguel Fresco is £2.50 and selected cocktails are £4. We had just missed this, but ordered a couple of cocktails each from the menu - first up a Passionfruit Tequila Mojito (made with El Jimidor Bianco, passionfruit, mint and lime) and a Long Island Iced Tea. Both of these were excellent - tons of mint in the Mojito and a nice sourness to the Long Island Iced tea. For our second round, we had a French Martini and a Bramble - both well-made but perhaps a little on the sweet side.

3. The music is great. We walked in to Gorillaz Feel Good Inc and never looked back.

4. The pool tables. We had every intention of taking advantage of the four red pool tables beckoning to us enticingly from the back of the bar, but my ill-judged (and ultimately unsuccessful) attempts to eat the entire Half Pound Hound rendered this idea both impractical and unwise. Next time, though - tables can be booked for £5 per hour, and I reckon there is pretty much no limit to how many times I could lose heavily in such a time period.

5. An actual Black Dog. Yes, Black Dog Ballroom NQ DOES have a semi-resident black dog, who patrols the bar and keeps an eye out for trouble-makers - he is nice, and I would have tried to smuggle him home in Didsbury Girl's giant handbag had it not already been filled with spicy bean burger as depicted here for illustrative purposes:

- Black Dog Ballroom NQ is in the basement of Affleck’s Palace, on the corner of Tib Street / Church Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester M4 1PW; tel: 0161 839 0664. We were invited as guests of the restaurant and were not asked to pay for our food or drink, but as the spicy bean burger has now fed Didsbury Girl for her last two meals at a cost of £7.95 we feel it to be excellent value.

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