At the time Elsa and Ryo first visited Common Bar, it was recently refurbished. Elsa and Ryo were curious as to what this “new” establishment would offer. Neither has been to Common Bar prior and they were intrigued by the small plates on offer after experiencing Superstore’s small plates. We went twice and this review will cover both experiences.
Elsa: I really like the interior, it has an industrial feel that seems to be very trendy in a lot of place in Northern Quarter, but with a more homely feel. I especially like the wall feature by the window resembling a roof. I was really surprised by how comfortable the chairs are; the seats are slanted back so you are forced sit against the backrest, something that is good for your back (I have a tendency to lean forwards in my seat).
Ryo: It was a clean and modern restaurant and I thought I liked it enough… until I sat on their chair. Their chairs are amazing!! They don’t look that comfortable (sort of a hard plywood chair) but honestly, they were one of the most comfortable dining chairs I have ever sat on. I have to say, it is quite refreshing to sit on a comfortable chair since a lot of NQ restaurants/cafes go for a chair that looks very good but is not so good for sitting down for a long time.
Elsa: We dived right into the small plates section and I am happy to see that this section has grown between the first and second visit (and more since!). The evening menu is small, I feel they largely cater to breakfast and lunch in terms of food, with mostly drinks in the evening. Their beers are tap seem decent.
Ryo: I have a soft spot for small dishes (being a Korean, it feels like eating lots of small dishes is the most natural way of eating a meal…) so yes, it was a no-brainer for me. I was highly impressed by the salads they serve, in particular, fennel and carrot/kale and avocado salad. Those are the types of the salads I eat at home and love but are quite difficult to find in a restaurant.
Elsa: We ordered one of every small plate for the first visit and this dish was ok, nothing special. It is something I could easily make at home, but we wanted a balanced meal and additional veggies are always a good choice.
Ryo: Oh, I loved this salad. I hate ordering house salad/mixed salad in a restaurant (pay a bag of salad for 5 pounds? No thanks!) and always wished that I could order something a bit more exciting. If I remember right, though – the kale was soaked in a quite overpowering vinaigrette and I wished that I could have a bit more edamame beans… but it wasn’t a bad dish and was still way better than any house salad. I’ve noticed that the Common has taken this salad out from their menu but it is very easy to make (I use this recipe), a perfect dish for a summer lunch box!
Elsa: I love potato anything (possibly because I grew up in N. Ireland) and this was really nice. The skins had a decent amount of potato left and complimented the salty bacon, the oozy cheddar and fresh sour crème and what I think were chives instead of spring onion. The skin could have been crispier though.
Ryo: Well, dare I say, there is something serious wrong with people who don’t like the potato, cheese, sour cream combo. All the good stuff in one! I would have preferred slightly crispier skin but that’s just me and my crazy Korean obsession about crispy potatoes.
Beetroot cured salmon
Elsa: This sounded interesting but was the most disappointing dish of the selection. I felt this was too salty and couldn’t really taste the horseradish. The combination of pistachio and salmon was also odd so I don’t think I’ll be ordering this one again.
Ryo: I have to agree with Elsa. It was too salty, and the pistachio was an odd addition. I also thought that the traditional grapefruit-salmon pairing would have worked much better than the orange-salmon. Orange is too sweet, and the salmon needed a bit of sourness to balance out the flavours. And drop the horseradish – I think it should be either/or: salmon-orange(grapefruit) or salmon-horseradish. All of them in one was a bit too overpowering.
Korean fried chicken
Elsa: I was really interested in hearing what Ryo’s opinion of these would be. I quite enjoyed these, the chicken was crispy enough on the outside and you can taste the flavour of the gochujang sauce. I did, however, feel that these could be spicier. The addition of sesame seeds was a nice touch.
Ryo: OK, I have a really conflicted feeling about this dish. I thought it was a nice, crispy fried chicken but would I think that it’s Korean? Yes and no. There were elements of Koreanness in the dish (well, with Gochujang, there should be) but I thought the chef made a (deliberate?) mistake – at least on the day I visited.
There is this misconception about ‘spicy’ Korean food : what separates spicy Korean food from other Asian region’s spicy food is not only in the use of Gochujang – fermented chilli paste – but in the use of fresh, (often uncooked) garlic. There is a Korean word “톡 쏘는 맛” which can be roughly translated as “a stinging taste”. That stinging taste comes from using quite a lot of fresh garlic but as this creates a sharp taste that some may find offensive, it is often omitted or overtaken by other tastes (like the “sour” taste that comes from vinegar) when you eat Korean food outside Korea. And in the Common’s case, it was the latter – more sourness than the stinging taste. So I was baffled – this looks Korean, taste almost Korean… but something was off. So close, yet so far.
If you are not Korean, and not as critical as me (for us Koreans, fried chicken is like a religion…), it was indeed a very nice piece of fried chicken. Crispy outside, moist inside – which also IS extremely important in Korean fried chicken as this lady says… All in all, it seems to be one of the star dishes in the Common that got rave reviews, I would say it is definitely worth a try.
Salt and pepper squid
Elsa: The squid was nice but I felt it wasn’t anything special. I was expecting something more spicy, like the salt and pepper squid you get at Chinese restaurants. I don’t think I’d order this again.
Ryo: As Elsa said, not bad but nothing special. The portion was a bit on the small side, even for a small dish.
Elsa: This was the first time I tried fennel and I really like it! The aniseed taste from the fennel worked really well with the mint and preserved lemon and the crunch from all the vegetables was good. This dish is really refreshing and I would definitely order this again.
Ryo: Fennel is one of my favourite vegetables in the world so I was really glad to find it in here. The way they made it was like a really refreshing and fragrant coleslaw, perfect with fried food. We asked our waiter to tell the chef not to remove this item from the menu (we thought that it was one of the best dishes of the day) but it looks like this salad is off the menu. Very sad.
Elsa: I wasn’t sure how well these would work but they are really moreish, like Pringles! They are salty and would be perfect with beer.
Ryo: Beer food! Although anything can be beer food for me. It somehow reminded me of a seafood version of deep fried chicken skin (that what you taste is probably just the batter and salt with a bit of sea food/meat flavour ).
Aubergine puree open sandwich
Elsa: I really like bread from Trove so was expecting wonderful things from this dish. The bread was nice but I felt the topping was too homogenous and bland. It needed a kick of flavour too, like a mustard or black pepper.
Ryo: I have to say, I was extremely disappointed with this one. It was a bland and mush mass. Stay away from this one.
Elsa: I really liked this, the hake was cooked to perfection and the lentil dhal and curry sauce was decently spiced too. The charred cauliflower had a nice bite. I could keep eating this and would definitely order again.
Ryo: This may not look much – but the fish was perfectly cooked. It was all in all, a very well balanced and nice dish. I remember that the waiter recommended this dish and told us that it was his favourite. Well, I think I should second that!
Overall rating and comments
Elsa: 9/10 -1 for some odd food combos. This place has a nice atmosphere and the food has mostly been enjoyable. The staff have been consistently friendly as well. You can come here for a light dinner or a beer with some fancy food.
9.5/10 -0.5 for uninspiring dessert menu but other than that, it has the most comfy chair I’ve ever sat in a restaurant, an excellent service, inspiring yet reasonably priced menu. What more can I ask?
As I was quite disappointed with my recent visit (please see the “Second Visit” section below), I’m temporarily withdrawing my comment about this place until the third visit.
Would visit again?
Elsa: Yes! This has become my new favourite place for small plates! I’m looking forward to trying out more dishes from Common Bar!
Definitely. I have actually recently bought their LivingSocial Deal and am planning to spread my love of this place to others. Please, please stay as it is.
Ryo: I visited the Common again with a friend in early September 2015 and the whole experience was very disappointing. The Korean Fried Chicken was tiny (4 half a thumb size morsels in total) and the sauce was even more sour than I remembered. Shak Shuka was all burnt to black and the eggs were overcooked and rubbery. Chilli fries were huge, but the fries were soggy and the chill was bland. The chef might have had a particularly bad day in the kitchen so I’m going to try this place again soon. Stay tuned!
Address: 39-41 Edge St. ,Manchester M4 1HW