Truth be told, I have not yet fully recovered from the news that broke a few weeks ago: that the good people from SoLIta would be packing up their spare Inka grill and opening a restaurant in Didsbury, approximately 8 minutes' walk from my house (although admittedly, it often takes slightly longer on the way back due to weight increases incurred whilst in the village). This new mecca of local temptation looks all set to be open for the summer, but in the meantime we have the new menu at the original SoLIta in the Northern Quarter to enjoy - even though this, quite unreasonably, involves a twenty minute tram ride.
Franco is not one to rest on his laurels and is also not afraid to cut favourites from the menu - there are quite a few new starters to choose from, some of which have already been tried and tested at Friday Food Fight. Sensing our indecision (and no doubt wanting to take an order some point before midnight), our helpful waitress suggested she get the chef to make us up a selection of the new options for us - a masterstroke of mix-and-match inspiration as it turned out. My favourite of the starters was the one I would have gone for anyway had I been forced to choose: the charcoal grilled jalapenos, filled with cream cheese, wrapped in bacon and served with Jack Daniel’s sauce were sultry, moreish little numbers, even if there was a bit of an incident which left some cream cheese stranded in the dinky pot of sauce. Runners up spot went to the tender baby squid, lightly fried and served with the legendary Big Manc sauce; we also very much enjoyed the buffalo chicken pot stickers, deep fried and served with blue cheese dip, and were surprised by the depth of flavour offered by the modest-sounding hot spinach and artichoke dip. In fact, the only starter we weren't bowled over by was the soft-baked Pretzel bites - we loved the jalapeno cheese sauce dip, but found the bites almost impenetrably chewy. Still, these were apparently a huge hit at Friday Food Fight, so maybe ours had just been waiting around too long for the other items on the taster plate to finish getting ready.
On to the mains, and it had to be BURGER. SoLIta do all sorts of interesting things involving steak, chicken and fish, but I am a creature of simple tastes and even more predictable choices, and can never see beyond the lure of the humble burger. Not that SoLIta burgers are ever humble; indeed, one of the new ones - Big Trouble in Little Italy - is a toweringly magnificent behemoth that comes with an advisory note regarding the number of calories it contains ("over 2500", apparently - although having seen the size of it I fear there may be a nought or two missing here). I'd been eyeing this up ever since seeing a photo of it on the SoLIta Facebook page along with the warning that it wasn't suitable for girls thanks to its 3 x 6 ounce beef patties, 3 lots of cheese, red onions, tomatoes, Jack Daniel’s sauce, and 6 slices of bacon.
Well, you may as well wave a red flag at a bull as suggest there is some kind of food item that I cannot conquer - and I can state quite definitively that had I not eaten a load of starters, I could have totally taken this gobby, swaggering beauty down a peg or two. As it was, I shared it with my friend along with the Gaucho Burger - a winning combination of beef patty, Chorizo, rib eye steak, chimichurri and Monterey Jack cheese that was so popular as a special it has now made its way on to the full menu. It's pretty easy to see why - the thick slices of charred chorizo lend a smoky flavour and the steak is thin and tender; I could have handled a little more chimichurri, but then I always prefer things on the moist side and could have pretty much handled unlimited chimichurri.
Ever the professional though, I did not ask for unlimited chimichurri, and I also left a goodly amount of burger bun so that I might sample dessert. We shared the Toffee Waffle Pudding off the specials board, and whilst this was not exactly what we expected (we really couldn't see where the waffles might be), we very much enjoyed what was essentially a light, superior sort of sticky toffee pudding - extra marks for the white chocolate shavings on the top. It arrived in that slightly broken state by the way, which for once is nothing to do with me and my over-eager spoon. So, did we like the new menu? Of course we did. SoLIta continues to serve up witty, imaginative dishes that challenge even the very largest of appetites, and the sooner they open their doors in Didsbury, the better - that 8 minute walk home must account for at least 2500 calories, surely...
- We paid for drinks and service, but ate as guests of the restaurant and were not asked to pay for our food. You know I'd still have taken that burger down though.