Sandinista is one of those joints that makes me feel cooler just for walking in. The soundtrack of lively American rock and soul classics; the big wide open grill in the center of the space, sizzling and steaming; the warm twinkle of fairy lights; the exuberant collage of Polaroid snaps behind the bar, each of a regular caught in a state of candid debauchery – it feels confidently, unpretentiously fun. And it smells delicious!
For a recent pass at their new menu, I slid into a booth with my ravishing companion and took notes as our hip & helpful server Ellie hit us with the highlights: New since spring, Sandinista’s spread is built around small bites and sharing (in true latin style), and with their grill space recently expanded and opened up, has 6 succulent seared dishes as the centerpieces.
Also expanded is the kitchen’s approach to DIY, as they are now making all their chorizo made in house and also cooking up their own corn chips with imported Mexican corn.
If you ask me, it’s working brilliantly. Their Chorizillo, the mini bite-sized versions of their chorizo, are dark and glossy-red, dense and snappish, and tickle the back of your throat as they burst with paprika. The Nachos con Queso made with those corn chips are classic, with amazing guacamole and vibrant salsa over the authentic array of yellow and black chips.
The kitchen blessed us with a wide variety of plates and since it’s tapas, I’ll tackle them here as we did on the table: In no particular order.
The Mini Fuets are plump little sausages with an oily mouthfeel and a mysterious, almost floral herbaceousness. Did I pick up on some red-wine richness? A hint of anise? Fennel? These meaty little enigmas are earthy and intriguing and I could eat them all day… and not just to figure out what they taste like.
Inside a crunchy golden breaded sphere topped with an artful smear of salsa and a daub of the house’s lip-smacking aioli, the Bomba hides a hearty, creamy filling of minced beef and potato, with a long-simmered heat from chilli and cumin.
The Patatas Bravas deliver a vibrant saucy zing of tomato and oregano, like a Brooklyn pizza slice, over lightly-crisped chunks of potato for a dish that is simple but warms you down to the belly.
The Queso Platter comes loaded with a trio of Spanish sheep’s cheeses: Idiazabal for a grainy, deeply flavoured saltiness similar to Parmesan; rich-but-firm Manchego for faintly-peppered sweetness and Pico Blue for full-flavoured, full-creamed spreadability.
Even with everything so delicious, when I got to the decadent Croquetas I was blown away. Crispy, fried shells just waiting to ooze salty, smokey, melty innards of silky cheese and wonderful little springy bites of cubed ham. If my personal heaven was a hotel room, there would be a croqueta from Sandinista on my pillow every night.
Of the grilled offerings, we sampled only one, but I was thrilled with our choice: The Chuleta de Beicon plays like a cross between pork and bacon, mouth-wateringly salty and smokey like bacon but succulent and with the familiar grain of a pork chop. Served with little mini nacho chips of sweet potato like nothing I’ve encountered before, crunchy but still creamy-sweet. More of the house aioli is the perfect dipping sauce and brings a brightening citrus to the richness of the chuleta.
As the final bites disappeared from our plates, Ellie emerged from around the bar with a surprise: Two shots of tequila and, for a chaser, two shots of a liquid mixture of mint, pineapple juice, lime, green chilli, coriander and salt & pepper – it’s the bar’s signature shot and it’s unique, fresh and herbal, leaving a cool and complex aftertaste instead of the acrid burn of tequila.
The dessert offerings at Sandinista keep alive the themes of fun & casual shareability, and my companion and capped off the night with some classic, chewy cinnamon-sugared Churros and the Fundito. Fundito is simply the Spanish word for Fondue, which of course is the french word for a pot of chocolate sauce. Here the sauce is deep, dark and boozy, and served with some marshmallows, apple, berries, and miniature brownie bites for dipping.
The brownie is another house specialty and they are wonderfully dense and creamy and utterly extravagant. A full-sized version is also available at the bar, meaning that Sandinista is not only a top-notch grill and cocktail bar, it might also be in the running for Manchester’s best bakery!
Latin-lovers, don’t delay: Located just off St. Ann’s Square, Sandinista is perfectly situated for a quick, casual nibble and a tipple after work or before a gig, and you’ll hit the streets again warm with spice and swaggering with residual hipness.
Sandinista, 2 Old Bank St, City Centre, Manchester M2 7PF
0161 832 9955