For a generally innovative and forward-thinking sort of bunch, the good people of Manchester are often strangely, stubbornly resistant to change. For many of my friends and acquaintances there have been two key talking points in our fair city over the last couple of months - the closure of the Cornerhouse and the subsequent opening of Home (verdict: suspicion), and the refurb at Common (verdict: suspicion, with a hint of grumble). I think it's fair to say that the new look decor in this Northern Quarter stalwart has not gone down well with everyone, with many finding it a bit too "faux-Scandi" and that in losing some of its endearing scruffiness it's also lost a little of its charm and atmosphere.
To be fair though, if the food on the new menu remains as good as it was last week then I'm more than happy to overlook the decor. We tried the dinner menu, which basically takes a "small plates" approach by offering a range of dishes that allow the greedy diner to eat both widely and substantially - we were expecting tapas-sized dishes but most of what we ordered was more generously portioned than that (so essentially it's NOT OUR FAULT that we over-ordered slightly). Top picks were the Goats Curd served with honey and rye bread, the Korean Fried Chicken with satisfyingly spicy Gochujang sauce and dangerously moreish kimchi slaw, and the enormous Cauliflower Cheese Croquettes (although my tip would be to eat these last, as my final one was tepid by the time I got round to it and the cheese sauce had solidified in a most pleasingly thick and sticky manner). We also had a very generous plate of bread (provided by the legendary Trove and served with both butter and oil/vinegar), some well-cooked and well-flavoured Salt & Pepper Squid, and some super-sweet Popcorn Cockles, which might just be my new favourite snack.
We left a gap before our next course - I'd seen a number of burgers go past our table and felt reluctant to leave without having one. This was a wise move - the Reuben burger, served with salt beef, emmental and sauerkraut pickle, was a big, pink, meaty, cheesy stack of unadulterated joy and I loved it. It's maybe on the pricey side at £9.50 without fries - I ordered these as an extra but probably wouldn't bother next time as the burger is so hefty on its own. My friend fancied another couple of the small plates in lieu of a main, and went for the Cured Mackerel
with gooseberry sambal and the Quinoa with courgette and tofu served with walnut vinaigrette - he found this latter dish a little one dimensional and felt it could have benefitted from an extra kick of flavour. The mackerel he thought had the opposite problem, finding it over-cured and rather rich and slightly at odds with the sambal; I disagreed though, and thought this was a well-balanced and interesting dish (and would have eaten the lot had my own selection not been the size of China).
The only minor irritant of the evening was that they'd run out of doughnuts - I'd been eyeing these up on Twitter all week and almost had a small, sulky cry when there were none to be had. Apparently they sell out pretty early each day, so I'll just have to make a return trip at some point - no great hardship really, and to be honest we were both too full for pudding anyway. We had a couple of glasses each of a decent Malbec from what we felt was a slightly limited and pricey wine list; service was helpful and prompt and tap water was replenished throughout the night.
Overall? No, I'm not keen on the refit, finding it a little soulless at the moment, although as with anything I'm sure we'll get used to it. The food is great though - interesting, imaginative, varied and generally not shy on flavour, and the small plates in particular offer good value at £12 for three. I'd like to pretend that next time I go back it will be purely a doughnut mission - but surely it wouldn't hurt to have a small plate or three (or six) while I'm there...
- Common is at 39-41 Edge St, Northern Quarter, Manchester M4 1HW. We were invited in to review the new menu and were not asked to pay for our food; we did pay for some additional drinks.