Manchester

Sugo Pasta Kitchen, Manchester

We were a little tipsy by the time we reached Sugo Pasta Kitchen. I know this because my bank statement tells me so. That one drink we intended to have in Wolf At The Door turned into five apiece, and we sauntered down to the road to Ancoats via a plant shop for a hanging plant we don’t need and a record shop for vinyl to be played on a record player we don’t yet own. This isn’t a bad thing; morning drinking is great fun at the best of times. It happens to be even better when you’re in the best bar in the Northern Quarter, requesting off-menu equal pours of strawberry daiquiri and pina colada to make a Miami Vice – the world’s second greatest drink. Ordering the first – the Negroni, of course – is the first thing I do when I get to Sugo.

So forgive me if the details of this lunch are glazed, or if I approach this with an air of reminiscence that adds a saccharine taste over my usual bitterness. Sugo had been on our radar for an age, and it pretty much ticked the boxes in the flesh. We get sat on a communal table with a young couple and their baby, a scenerio that we are far happier about than they are. We could have ordered starters, but when you call yourself a pasta kitchen it’s important to test the fundamentals out. We order three pasta dishes between two, an order which was at least one and a half bowls of pasta too many.

The food is comforting and rustic and basically everything that you want from a bowl of pasta. There is orrechiettie with a loose ragu of beef, pork, and ‘nduja that nestles in the pasta indentations, and it’s longer sibling, strascinati, with sausage that pops with anise, porcini, and thyme. Two huge bowls of pasta that work because the flavours coming off them are as big as the bowl they rest in. The only time it slips is their take on the classic pomodoro. The tomato and basil sauce gets watered down by the cream heavy burratta. It’s nice, but the choice if cheese is misplaced: often burrata is a welcome upgrade to mozzarella. Not here.

Service is swift and we’re in and out within 45 minutes £70 lighter than when we arrived. I appreciate that from your perspective it would have been nice to have read what the starters are like, or how boozy the tiramasu is, but frankly we came here to eat pasta and that we did. It’s no great secret that Birmingham is short of great pasta options; Laghi’s and Legna aside there is nowhere else that I could reccomend. Sugo seems a perfect fit to a burgeoning Brum restaurant scene. I would love to see them here.

8/10

El Gato Negro, Manchester


The Michelin guide in Manchester reads like an night-time astronomical report for their persistently dreary and overcast weather: No stars. It has a handful of recommendations for the city centre, though without us wishing to splash over a ton a head at Manchester House, we’re desperately short on options for a pre-gig Saturday lunch. We settle on El Gato Negro, a very popular Spanish restaurant housed in a townhouse on the nicer part of town.  We are placed on to a corner table on the 1st floor, squeezing past the wine guzzling bigot who is happy to squeeze the staff a little too much and likes to share a view on Nazi Germany that would appeal to Trump fans. He singlehandedly ruined lunch until the food arrived and took over the baton.

The dishes we ate are much like the long list of my ex girlfriends; pretty but ultimately underwhelming. It is food that has had a boob job when a heart operation was required. Baby monkfish fillets look the part on a lipstick red salsa and caper dressing, but tastes of very little. Even the quenelle of tapenade on top is flat. We reach for the salt grinder – a move that we would become familiar with over a two hour lunch.


Considering nine dishes are ordered, the pace is awkward. Everything comes in ones, with large gaps between some. Morcilla scotch eggs come as three pert bosoms, nipples and all, straight out of Total Recall. The quails eggs are runny, the blood pudding mixture smooth but bland. The mushroom duxelle base tastes of nothing, as do dots of apple puree. It is a dish conceived on appearance, not flavour. Tomato bread suffers from being ordered two days after eating a brilliant one back home. It simply pales in comparison.



They do best when stripped back and unrefined. Padron peppers are occasionally fiery and always delicious because of (hurrah!) a liberal hand of sea salt. Same goes to a whole rack of pork ribs, slowly cooked and glazed in a sticky sherry glaze. We carve and gnaw to the bone. At thirteen pound it is the only time it feels like value. Onglet beef is in a puddle of a dark and heady sauce that we love but feels like a fifteen quid jaw workout thanks to some distinctly chewy meat.




Three vegetarian dishes highlight just how inconsistent lunch has been. Sweet potato is a victory of coherency, dressed in a mango and chilli yogurt dressing that simultaneously sharpens and soothes the root veg. The sauce with the patatas bravos is allegadly spiced, which may be the case if sugar were a spice, but were at least edible. Horror dish of the day is the one that I insist on because I liked the sound of it. In principal carrots, manchego, pesto and aubergine sound delicious together, had the latters purée not been watery and the carrots boiled to the point they are falling apart. They go unfinished.





Pricing here is keen with the bill hitting over £120 for the three of us and the portions on the small side. Afterwards we put my girlfriend’s mother on a train and watch The National play a perfect set of intelligent indie. It more than makes up for an incredibly lacklustre lunch. The food of Spain is one of vibrancy, colour and boldness – here it tries too hard to be stylish with very little reward. Not that my opinion counts for anything of course; on the afternoon we dine they are turning away customers. Obviously the people of Manchester see a very different restaurant to the one that I did.

5/10