There’s nothing quite like the taste of that first pint of a long weekend. Last Thursday I chose to kick start Easter with a cool, crisp Berliner Pilsner at Cottonopolis, and I wasn’t the only one – it was buzzing in there. Their menu is adorned with a sketch of the Manchester worker bee and it felt like everyone inside was enjoying a well earned drink. I was quite ready to get carried away myself, but there’s more to the place than first meets the eye, namely an open kitchen putting out plates of Japanese themed fare. An enticing spread split between ice, fire, steam and oil was enough to retrain my focus, so we grabbed a table and started picking.
First up a quite deliciously delicate beef tataki, the citrus notes of an onion ponzu sauce cut through the raw gelatinous fat of the meat, sprinkled spring onions freshening things up further. Lamb nasu continued the solid start, griddled cutlets of miso marinated meat sat on smoked aubergine puree and lotus root crisps. An attractive dish that was always going to be all about those chops, and the flesh fell from its bones so obligingly.
Another tempter on the menu was the duck bao buns, a steamed slider stuffed with crispy meat, spiced up with a chilli dipping sauce. There could’ve been a bit more duck in there for me, maybe I’m being greedy though. A dish that was most definitely not stingy came along next, succulent soft shell crab tempura, served packed in to a paper cone just like the chippy, if your chippy sold crab tempura, which I imagine it doesn’t, unfortunately.
Similarly indulgent, the katsu chicken curry was deliciously crisp, panko breadcrumbs giving it that extra golden crunch. Katsu curry can sometimes feel a bit stodgy and greasy but a relatively light and fragrant curry sauce avoided such pitfalls. Shumai chicken dumplings served in their steamer also impressed, all silky smooth and tenderly al dente.
I thought the squid looked fantastic, served slightly charred atop wakame and encircled with a mesmerising pattern of coal and ink mayonnaise, it was a lovely balance too, and a bit of a break from some of the dirtier dishes. More food from the sea came in the form of rich, oily blackened mackerel, cured and blowtorched, the plate was lit up nicely by tangy pickled ginger and cool mooli and cucumber.
Both desserts were the sort of treats that put a little smile on your face every time you recall them. Banoffee cheesecake topped with salted caramel popcorn and banana brulee all set on a ginger biscuit base. The dulled chewy bite of popcorn, cold creamy saucy cake and sickly sweet banoffee sauce. Wonderful. Our cotton coffee and chocolate was missing its candy floss, apparently the machine had broken. Chocolate delice topped with honeycomb and joined by a dollop of espresso ice cream made up for any disappointment though, I suppose we’ll just have to come back once they’ve got their gadget up and running again.
The name Cottonopolis takes its inspiration from a city in its heyday, and to me it feels like Manchester at its best. Sat in the exposed brick walled bar it’s hard to imagine you could be anywhere else really. There’s no pretension despite some really excellent cooking, the food is inventive, fun and a bit sexy too. Everyone in the place was having a good time, staff included, and it definitely rubs off on you, we had a great night. There’s more than enough reasons to think this will be another great Northern Quarter success story, try Cottonopolis on for size, I reckon they’ll knock your socks off.