It isn’t very often we get to try something that is entirely new.
Unless you are of the alarmingly high number of ‘fussy eaters’ we have around us – when it comes to new food concepts it is safe to say that new stuff doesn’t come by that often.
I reckon the Bao Bun craze was the last time I tried something I had never heard of, and that was like…two years ago. So, you can imagine my excitement when I caught wind that a never-before seen dining concept was popping-up at Sandinista.
I am, of course talking about Mama Pacha – Manchester’s first taste of authentic Peruvian cuisine. It is the brainchild of Jose ‘Papi Jose’ Wong, who was blown away by the culture, people and flavours of Peru.
If you want to get to grips with the concept a bit more, the clue is in the name. “Mama” refers to the family element that is integral to the cooking in this region.
As in many cultures, the mother is central to the family dynamic, and it is her food that brings everyone together. Any chef with Peruvian roots will tell you that his or her dishes have been directly inspired by their mother’s cooking – and Jose is no different.
“Pacha” translates to “plentiful” which is a response to the fruitful natural larder that is the landscape of Peru – from the rich seas of the Pacific to the fertile lands of the Amazon rainforest and the Andes.
From this name, we learn that at Mama Pacha there will be a focus on everything natural, with an emphasis on freshness and a focus on a cuisine which is steeped in a long and eclectic history.
That is the basics of the concept behind Mama Pacha – and we can say with confidence that we have not seen anything like it before here in Manchester, and with that in mind, we can move on to the good bit…
Things kicked off with some cocktails with Pisco at the core of the menu, naturally. We tried a few, but the stand out star had to be the Rule of Three – the Mama Pacha twist on the classic martini that could be described quite simply as – “fit” by my oh-so-eloquent guest.
The Pisco Sour was a classic combining a healthy dose of the good stuff with tart lemon, egg white and a little sugar. This drink was a bit of a lip-pucker, but I bloody loved it.
The menu itself is set out into tapas dishes, ceviche, and a few nibbles. While we drank, we chowed down on a few Cancha. These are a signature bar snack in Peru made from salted, deep-fried giant corn…and yeah, they are as good as they sound.
Next, we got our bread fix with the Cesta de Pan- toasted sourdough served with spiced butter, olive oil and cape berry salsa. The butter was a revelation and I will no longer accept butter if is not liberally dosed with paprika.
I didn’t know a lot about Peruvian cuisine before my visit, but one thing I did know a little about was ceviche. Granted, I knew it was a thing, at the very least. I can tell you now that it is, in fact, a method of cooking fish which uses the acidity in lime juice to cook it. It is also the national dish of Peru.
We went for the traditional Ceviche De Lubina (seabass) served with limo chilli, sweet potato mash, ginger, coriander and Andean giant corn. The tart lime liquor came on the side and was left up to you to decide the dosage. We were told to leave the liquid depending on how we wanted our fish ‘cooked’ – but being a sushi lover, I dove straight in.
We tried a mushroom version of the stuff as well- which ended up being in my top three dishes from the whole experience. The various mushrooms kept us on our toes when it came to texture, and the sour lime contrasted so well with the subtle earthy flavour of the mushrooms.
We then moved on into the unknown- a prospect I was pretty excited about. We tried the Albondigas Verdes– slow cooked beef meatballs coated in a thick green sauce of coriander. This was an aromatic twist on the usual tomato based sauces that tend to go alongside meatballs, and I liked them a lot.
I couldn’t resist the Croquetas because I am utterly powerless to their crispy texture and sumptuous filling. These ones were a welcome change though- the chicken, parmesan and Amarillo chilli filling was thicker and more substantial than the unusual creamy centres. We were a big fan and I only wish there was more.
Sticking with chicken, we also tucked into a portion of the Pinchitos Estilo Pollada- or chicken skewers to you and me. These were a simple pleasure – pan-fried chunks of succulent chicken marinated in Panka chilli beforehand and served with Huancaina sauce, which I have since learnt is an egg-based yellow chilli sauce which is in the same ballpark as hollandaise but with a hearty kick from the chilli. Top marks.
I saved the based for last. The final dish- Chupe de Habasv- was good. So good in fact that it made it on to my list of best things I ate last week. This was a heart-warming broad bean chowder with potatoes and thickened with rice.
It was topped off with a sprinkling of feta and a raw quail’s egg which bobbed around and poached gently in the heat of the soup. This dish was subtle yet flavourful and is exactly what you need to warm you up on a cold day- which, let’s be honest- we’re going to be seeing a lot of in the coming months.
That dish on its own was enough to blow me away- but it was a testament to the menu on the whole. Mama Pacha is a new concept which is both refreshing and perfectly executed. I strongly recommend that you get down there immediately and try it for yourselves.
Sandinista, 2 Old Bank St, Manchester, M2 7PF
0161 832 9955