I never get any interesting emails these days. My inbox is usually full of promises to enhance my flagging libido, Manchester Confidential offers, lottery wins in India, you know the sort of thing. Then last night I got an email from someone I don't know with just a link to a restaurant website asking me if I'd been yet. I'm not in the habit of clicking on email links from strangers. I typed in the address anyway to be safe; LaBandera.co.uk
Strange, this looks like a fully formed website of a Spanish restaurant in Manchester that I'd never heard of. There's no menu up yet but the food looks pretty good from the photos. I went onto twitter to ask those in the know. Those in the know didn't know anything about it. This is not how it normally works. We can't have a fully functioning restaurant just open without anyone hearing on the grapevine. We know about Hawksmoor, Wahaca, Ibérica
and the rest opening in 2015, months, sometimes years ahead of time.
The website mentions 'executive chef Josetxo Arrieta
'. I google him. An impressive CV, he was educated at Akelarre
a three Michelin star restaurant in San Sebastian. (See my review here
). And he's done a course with Ferran Adrià
. With over 20 years experience (including a 2 star in France), what's he doing coming to Manchester without anyone knowing about it?
Curiouser and curiouser, surely this was too good to be true. It crossed my mind that this was an elaborate joke. Then someone said they'd heard that it's "owned by two Spanish Manchester footballers..spending a lot of cash, they've imported a great chef." This maybe just rumour though, I never found out for sure. I went along to investigate anyway.
First impressions are good, with a very friendly front of house team and a bright yellow and white interior (maybe not to everyone's taste). I soon start chatting with the owner Yashin about Spain and the Canaries (He's from Tenerife). What is clear from the very start is that unlike other Spanish restaurants currently in the city, they're taking food very seriously. The menu will change daily depending on the season and on what's good at the time at the market. (He tells me that the chef rejects some tiger prawns today as he doesn't think they are good enough).
This is a very good sign. I tell him I'll eat anything and everything he and the chef recommend. I can't abide fussy eaters, to me they're just children who've not grown up yet.
After a few snacks on toast, (they are fine if not mind blowing), I kick off with Pulpo a la gallega
(Octopus with paprika on a bed of potatoes, £10.95). Beautifully cooked tender octopus with a spicy paprika kick, it's over seasoned, and I can really take a bit of salt. With less salt it will be a real winner this one.
They send out some Patatas Bravas
which are nice enough, I need to save myself though so I ask for a doggy bag to take home for Mrs B. This will earn me a few brownie points.
They will do smaller tapas versions of the large mains dishes, so I get the Carrilleras de Ternera
(Slow cooked Ox cheeks, £7.95). These are rich and flavoursome as expected but need to be a tad softer so that the meat is more broken down and gelatinous. I should be able to eat it with a spoon. (After the feedback, the chef agrees and will adjust).
We continue with Papas arrugadas
con mojo (Baby potatoes with spicy Canarian sauce, £5.45). I save some for Mrs Bacon once more as she demands these on our trips to the Canaries. Again the chef needs to go lighter on the salt.
There is also a selection of Croquettas
(Cod, Jamón and Mushroom £6.85). Pleasingly gooey inside with enough béchamel sauce, I'd have preferred a slightly a thinner breadcrumb crust. I give all my feedback at the time to
Yashin at the time which he's very happy to take in.
The Carrilleras de Cerdo
(Slow cooked pig cheeks, £7.95) are much better, buttery soft and rich with meaty gravy stock.
I finish on a tapas version of one of their large rice dishes, Arroz Meloso de rape y calamares
Creamy rice with monkfish and squid. (They send this out for me to try). The rice should have more creaminess and needs to be more infused with the stock giving it more of a rich flavour.
But I'm being super picky here. We've eaten in some of the best tapas bars all over Spain so I'm judging it by those high standards. Besides, you should never really review places that have just opened. Like any new venture, not everything works perfectly immediately. The chef hasn't got all of his equipment and the card and coffee machines aren't yet working. These are not necessarily criticisms, it's totally understandable, you just have to give them some leeway if you're visiting right now as I did (I'm afraid I couldn't wait but will return anyway).
Having said all that, this is a country mile away from the clichéd, crap chain, pre-packaged tapas hung over from the 90's when British people knew no better.
La Bandera is in fact very promising indeed, even accounting for the teething problems and natural tweaks that always occur. It's still (for the main part) easily the best tapas I've had in Manchester city centre because they're doing things properly from the beginning. Give them a week or so and go. This could very well be one of the most exciting restaurant openings for a while if
they fulfil their potential (I'm very hopeful that they will).
With La Bandera, Ibérica and El Gato Negro, 2015 looks to be the year Manchester goes Spanish and that can only be a good thing for eating in our city.
To see the current menu click here.* It will change every day.
The wine list here.
Paid in full *apart from a couple of small sample dishes.
See more photos here.
The Best 50 Tapas here.