I could preface this blog with some sort of caveat about writing yet another piece about a place building a reputation serving burgers, wings and various other deep fried flotsam and jetsam accompanied by a selection of fearsome hot sauces and dressings and washed down with jazzy cocktails, but I won’t. Firstly, at the risk of becoming a bore, I like eating this kind of grub and I like writing about it, too and secondly because Solita are twisting the classics in their own Northern style, and are doing it very well.
I first read about the place a few months ago while browsing about on Twitter, and was immediately entranced by a menu offering such delights as rooster scratchings; salt beef fritters, smoked brisket chilli and Cabrelli’s ice cream with bacon candy. At that point the
Great Northern Road trip was just a fledgling thought in my mind, but as soon as things were finally organised Solita went straight onto the must eats list.
We arrived in a sunny Northern Quarter late on a Bank Holiday Saturday, ready to start a weekend of celebrations for the Ewing's birthday. To start pints of Manchester's Hornbeam Top Hop best bitter, served in old fashioned dimpled pint pots, which pleased Stealth and made me feel a bit like I should be propping up the bar in the Rovers Return.
To start I had to try their pulled pork sundae with 60:40 mash (describing the artery-hardening ratio of potato to butter). Layers of sweet smoky meat and piped potato came layered up in an old fashioned ice cream glass, crowned with a dusting of scratchings. All good fun and, most importantly, tasty, too.
We also went with the salt cod fritters served with salsa verde mayo. These were giant breadcrumbed orbs with the interior nicely balanced between fish and potato. The mayo accompanying them was tangy and bright, but served in rather meagre blobs compared to the size of baccalau balls.
Ewing also requested the hushpuppies, her new favourite thing after I recently made her a batch. These tasted good but weren't as generously portioned as the other starters. I must confess to feeling rather smug when she grudgingly conceded they also weren't as good as mine. Bonus points for the accompanying bbq sauce though; one of the very best I have tried (and that’s a fair few).
While I was almost swayed by the Manc-hattan burger (a traditional oven bottom muffin with pastrami, Lancashire cheese,
Lancashire sauce and panko’d black pudding) but in the end I couldn't resist the charms of the Big Manc. While there is something incredibly appealing about the idea of a traditional Big Mac, with the lure of its double patties, oozy cheese and piquant sauce, it surely has to be one of the most lacklustre and disappointing burgers around.
Thankfully this left its more famous predecessor in its wake; a gloriously sweet and shiny-bunned tower (a triple patty is available for the very brave) of juicy pink patties, special Manc sauce, cheese and crispy shredded iceberg. The whole thing was fragrant with scent spicy pickles, sweet brioche and good beef. The only, minor, criticism would be the virtual impossibility of picking this up and getting it in your mouth without losing much of your cargo en route (I tried, but was soon forced to turn to cutlery for assistance).
Stealth, with a small amount of encouragement, went for the KFB, a magnificent combo of bbq sauce, red jalapeños, crowned with a majestic strip of
Kentucky fried bacon. If you think the West is suffering from a porcine overload then you need to get your jaded palate up here and try this stuff. Thick slices of cured pork, coated in a crunchy spiced batter that puts the colonel to shame; this added a nice, crispy dimension to what is a very good, both smoky and poky, burger.
The birthday girl chose the Life Aquatic burger; London’s Lucky Chip have been serving up their Bill Murray Life Aquatic, topped with soft shell crab and guacamole, for a while now and Solita have continued the same riff with a surf and turf combo of a beef and crab patty topped with three giant panko’d prawns. The crab was pleasingly pronounced amongst the other strong flavours and the prawns were lovely, if a little disassociated from the main event. (thankfully the burger was so large the Ewing let me jump in and steal last crispy crustacean).
As always, we all still found that little bit of extra room needed for a couple of puds. I chose the deep fried coke with vanilla ice cream, while the
Ewing plumped for the tropical inka grilled pineapple and coconut ice cream, with an extra spoon for Stealth. While the others preferred the lighter, fruity choice, I found it a bit too reminiscent of Hawaiian Tropic sun cream for my tastes. Luckily I enjoyed the sugary fried balls of warm dough doused in a cola syrup, and topped with cold ice cream, although the spicy soda flavour seemed rather reticence.
Service was sweet and chatty, and there was a lovely bank holiday afternoon buzz about the place that left me rueing the fact we couldn't get back the next day to enjoy their Northern Quarter Solita in the Street party, complete with live music and hot wing roulette. They also have some dangerously good looking prime rib and a selection of inka grilled steaks chicken and fish that sadly remained unsampled until our next trip north.
While the menu features some traditional riffs on the fast food classics commonly found across the Pond and now down in the Big Smoke - the usual suspects of ball park burgers, fried pickles, chilli dogs and the like - where Solita really shines is with its enthusiasm and creativity in the kitchen. Recent specials have included the Teeside influenced parmo, a schnitzel topped with cheese and béchamel and finished with meatballs; a Sunday dinner burger, compete with Yorkie and gravy; and the Daddy Mac burger with nduja
Boston baked beans and fried mac and cheese. This is good scran Manchester style, and all the better for it.