Nestled just off St Ann’s Square lies Sandinista. The Latin-inspired bar was established in Leeds by Si Ord, and named after Nicaragua’s revolutionary party, the Sandinistas, as well as an album by the Clash. The Manchester branch opened in 2011, offering a casual dining experience with the tag line, “It’s more fun to eat in a bar than drink in a restaurant.”
On Thursday night I was invited to a Winter Menu Showcase, giving me an opportunity to sample some seasonable Spanish food and the new Christmas menu. It promised an exciting array of tapas style dishes, which lend themselves well to laid back eating; traditional fare given a wintry twist with smoky flavours and mulled wine.
Arrival drinks of Sangria or Macua (a rum based cocktail with guava, orange and lemon juices) got things off to a fruity start.
It’s fairly typical for tapas to be served as and when it’s ready, which works really well when everyone’s tucking in together. However you can end up receiving dishes in a slightly obscure order, such was the case with the late arrival of the Duck Fat Roast Potatoes.
Highlights included the flavoursome Pinchitos Morunos (marinaded Moroccan chicken skewers), the Tuna Empanada, which gave a gentle heat, and the chef’s special Paella.
I was less impressed by the Chorizo in Mulled Wine, which didn’t quite work – perhaps too many opposing spices, and the Escalibada that was no more adventurous than vegetables on bread – the smokiness and garlic failed to deliver.
The other main course dishes were served in generous portions, lacking any distinctive flavours. They would be great for soaking up the excesses of a boozy night at the bar.
The desserts were equally variable. First up was the Chocolate Mousse, allegedly served with shortbread, which, if it had materialised would have done a good job of cutting through the rich stickiness of the chocolate. It tasted great though and I returned to lick the bowl after sampling the inedible Spanish Rice Pudding – the smoked flavour penetrating a thick layer of cinnamon was not at all to my taste.
The kitchen must have been too warm for the Chocolate Truffles. They arrived smothered in cocoa powder that appeared to have been necessary to make it possible to form the gooey mixture in to balls. One was enough to bring the meal to an end.
I didn’t have to pay for my meal but £19.95 per person for the Christmas Buffet Menu, which includes a variety of dishes and a cocktail to get you in the mood, seems reasonable.
It’s always difficult to make a true assessment of the service at launch events where everyone is served at once. The wait staff did their best to explain the origin of each dish as it arrived despite, understandably, still getting to grips with the new menu. They were friendly and attentive; happily providing serving spoons and water, but only on request.
The evening had an air of chaos to it, which would probably go unnoticed if you were supping Sangria and working your way through the cocktail menu, as appears to be the intention in any event.
Sandinista: 2 Old Bank St, City Centre, Manchester, M2 7PF, Tel: 0161 832 9955