Sandinista is a place you will frequently find me late on into an evening. Open until the early hours they serve some cracking cocktails and it is just hidden away enough that it never gets that busy, other than for the regular faces.
I wouldn’t be surprised if you haven’t seen it before. Sandinista is on Old Bank Street just off St Anns Square opposite Annies. It’s Latin inspired style and feel is relaxed and chilled, whilst its cocktails are punchy and fun. I’d never eaten here before until invited in a few weeks ago so I had high hopes that the food would be as exciting as the drinks, I’m all for some good tapas and it is something I feel Manchester is really lacking.
Firstly, let me apologise for the photographs. My DSLR decided to break and the light in the private dining area downstairs in Sandinista is very low so they’re a little grainy unfortunately.
We kicked off the night with a Macua – Flor De Cana 7 year old rum, guava, orange and sugar is incredibly sweet and fruity. So much so it reminded me of the sort of cocktail I used to drink when I was younger on holiday and the rum is barely noticeable, which is dangerous as they disappear far too quickly.
We started off with dishes from the festive menu which is available for £19.95 per person including a drink on arrival. The ham hock terrine was a bit too gritty in texture for me but the honey glaze added a nice sweetness. I’d have liked it to be served with some warm bread though.
The wild rice served with goats cheese was exactly that, wild rice topped with goats cheese. It was a little boring and I’d have liked something more Latin inspired with their being so many amazing rice dishes that could have been used instead.
The duck fat roasted potatoes topped with aioli were much better. The potatoes were well seasoned with that satisfying crunchy outer and fluffy inner. The aioli needed more garlic for me as it was barely present and some diners at our table couldn’t taste it at all.
A dish which satisfied most of the table were the chorizo in mulled wine. I loved the festive spin on the classic but would have liked a little more spice to warm them up.
We moved onto dishes from the new menu starting with the tuna salad which is served with new potatoes and soft boiled eggs. I really don’t understand cold soft boiled eggs, they just don’t work for me unfortunately. I quite liked this dish but mainly for the fact that it is the sort of thing I would make at home. I’m so busy that anything quick and easy works for me. Tuna, egg, potatoes with a little oil and a dash of salt. So satisfying but not something I would order when dining out, I want something a bit different.
I always thought empanadas were little pastries but this arrived like a pie. Generously filled with tuna and vegetables that had been lightly spiced, this went down well with the table who felt it comforting and homely.
The star of the night was the paella with chicken and chorizo. The rice was served al dente so plump with a bit of bite, the meat cooked well and the dish rich and filling overall.
The smoked haddock with potato and a dusting of paprika was nice. Flaky fish, well seasoned and light, not too greasy. Once again, something I make as a quick dish at home.
Escalibada sounded incredible – a traditional Catalan dish of smoked vegetables served on sourdough bread. I didn’t try it as I’m not a fan of aubergine at all but I’m told it was a little bland and the bread would have been better toasted as it was a little soggy with the vegetables sat on top.
The Moroccan chicken skewers were the highlight of the night for me. Beautifully seasoned and lightly spiced pieces of soft chicken served with a side of aioli. Fairly healthy too, I could have eaten lots more.
Onto dessert starting with the chocolate mousse. This is more like a ganache it is that rich, no lightness or air whatsoever. Most people found it far too much but me, having my ridiculously sweet tooth, could not stop going back for another spoonful. It coats the mouth the way a rich chocolate dessert should, but it’s not a mousse.
The rice pudding was a little strange to say the least. It had far too much cinnamon on top which left a powdery taste and a slight smokiness that we couldn’t work out. We even asked the staff who said the chef said there was nothing smoked about it. Unfortunately the rice was also a little underdone so some bits were still crunchy.
The strawberries and cream was called ‘a take on an Eton mess’ which confused me, it contained strawberry, meringue and cream. I thought that was the exact ingredients of an Eton mess? I also have issues with people serving summer dishes on a winter menu. I’d rather see something warming and hearty like a crumble or a pie. I love a good Eton mess and this was balanced, had good flavours and a crisp meringue. All good, just not for winter.
Last up were some chocolate truffles. I loved that they were clearly homemade although there was far too much cocoa powder on them, we were covered in the stuff! They had a very similar flavour to the chocolate mousse and were incredibly rich but in much smaller portion sizes which is good.
The verdict? A mixed bag for me. The tagline at Sandinista is ‘because it’s more fun eating in a bar than drinking in a restaurant’ which I 100% agree with and I like how the menu is tapas style, so quick and simple to share with friends over cocktails. I’d like to see some more classics and more ‘fit’ for the season, I’m looking forward to seeing what summer brings to one of my favourite cocktail haunts.