Baltic Cellar, 20 Lloyd Street, Manchester, M2 5WA – Visit Now
The Baltic Cellar attracts our food reviewer with its promise of a new, unusual cuisine – but does it deliver?
Baltic Cellar has just opened off Albert Square. I like the sound of it. I imagine me and my lunchtime friend setting off on a sunny day in Riga, Latvia, navigating the narrow streets of the Old Town to some little place in a basement a stranger told us about. It’s dark and it smells like old furniture and wet wool and we drink obscure local liqueurs from tiny glasses before feasting on the food of our Baltic forefathers – dumplings and things wrapped in cabbage and black bread and herring with dill sauce and sour beer and soups made from the root vegetables that get you through those hard winters.
Okay, I’ve never been to the Baltic region. Not once have I set foot in the former Soviet Republics of Latvia, Lithuania or Estonia. I just looked at some pictures of it online and it looks all right. But I have romantic notions about the place. It is these romantic notions that the proprietors of these touristic restaurants are banking on (and thank God for them – imagine the soul-crushing boredom of living on British food alone). But eating at Manchester’s Baltic Cellar is not like my Riga food adventure daydream.
I get ridiculously excited about Napoleon pastries
Instead, it’s like a trip to Eurovision: Riga. It’s dark. There are those fake torches that blow brightly coloured strips of paper ceilingward. There is abundant Eurotrashdisco. There is a big empty space in the middle of the room that seems like it might be a dance floor; the actual restaurant bit huddles in the back. It hasn’t been open long but it’s half full, probably because the restaurant is offering fifty percent off. Unfortunately, only about fifty percent of the menu seems to be on, and the first few things we ask for aren’t.
They’ve got an interesting selection of bottled Baltic and Eastern European beers here. Neither of us ended up being very excited about the beers we randomly selected, Latvian Cesu and Lithuanian Utenos lager. Still, everything tastes better drunk from a massive brown ceramic mug, doesn’t it?
What we eventually get to eat is a starter of a perfectly creditable borscht – the sweetness of the beetroot balanced out with cabbage and enough meat to make it hearty, served properly with soured cream alongside. My companion’s fish soup was good, and generous on the salmon, but his beef stew was nothing special. I had the chicken dumplings. It didn’t look like a very big bowl. They didn’t look like very big dumplings. But these things have strange powers.
They are pleasant enough but I find I can’t manage to eat more than half of them, and – most troubling of all – they defeat my dining companion, who can usually put it away like a starving longshoreman. I’m not really sure what’s going on there but I’d advise caution, and possibly fasting for a couple of days, if you want to give them a go.
Given the dumpling situation, even attempting to eat dessert should be regarded as a valiant act of self-sacrifice. But we did, since it came as part of our three courses for the bizarre price of a £14.55 deal. I get ridiculously excited about Napoleon pastries. Baltic Cellar’s are a bit strange – more cakey, less flaky – but nice for a change. And you could say the same of Baltic Cellar. I don’t think I’ll be racing back down the stairs every week, but if I’m nearby and in the mood for borscht, who knows?