Sampa at Calcio

Anne-Marie Pattenden, Food & Drink Writer
Ian Jones

Brazilian chef Caroline Martins has the perfect new home for her eye-catching high-end food. After running wildly successful pop-ups in Manchester venues such as Exhibition and Blossom Street Social – not to mention making a name for herself on Great British Menu – she and her husband Tim have opened their own place, Calcio, on Dale Street in the Northern Quarter.

This welcoming bar-restaurant is the kind of place you can visit every day of the week and enjoy something entirely different each time. You’ll find fun-packed quizzes, live sports and retro game consoles, even an adorable resident pooch. Best of all, you can dive headfirst into Caroline’s remarkable 12-course tasting menu. 

The Sampa tasting menu begins with a series of chef’s snacks. First, little squares of melba toast topped with bite-sized domes: one of gammon terrine and fruity guava paste, the other of Somerset goats’ cheese mouse and pickled walnuts, painstakingly encircled with brightly coloured petals. 

This is followed by one of Caroline’s moments of trompe-l’oeil mastery. You are presented with a smoky dome containing a miniature egg on its nest, but all is not what it seems – the ‘egg’ is, in fact, a smoked Lancashire cheese creation, hiding a centre of pickled pineapple. 

The final snack, served in a terracotta plant pot, is crudités served with a delicious dip made from national favourite Requeijāo cheese. This is aerated into a smooth pillowy foam and sprinkled with black olive crumb for a wonderful contrast to the celery, sweet carrot and fresh, peppery salad leaves.

The starter of smoked chalk stream carpaccio arrives artfully arranged with shimeji mushrooms, pickled red onion and jewel-like red cumari chili peppers. Then a bright and punchy calamansi (a Latin American fruit similar to yuzu) and soy dressing are carefully poured around the bowl, giving rise to an entirely new set of flavours. Grab one of the accompanying charcoal-grilled corn tacos, and take a scoop. Unbelievably delicious. 

Next, another innovative fish dish and possibly the star of the Sampa show: halibut brushed in annatto butter, wrapped in banana leaves, and barbecued. The fish is generously portioned, tender and perfectly cooked, served alongside barbecued Jersey Royals in an outrageously creamy cauliflower and cassava sauce. This is a heavenly combination and something you’ve almost certainly never eaten before.

The bread course is usually the most humdrum section of a tasting menu. Not here. Caroline makes her own pão de queijo (cheese-topped bread made from cassava flour) and serves it with what might look like a corn cob but is, in fact, a hyper-realistic simulation made from butter, and an edible candle made from beef fat spiked with rosemary. Yes, we’re officially through the looking glass. 

For the final non-sweet course, barbecued ex-dairy ribeye, sprinkled with salt and sizzling in a skillet. Tim tells us how Caroline always took charge of the family barbecue growing up, and, well, of course she did – she’s served up one of the most tender, flavour-packed steaks in town. It comes with annatto-coated fries (usually made from cassava) and a fun selection of traditional Brazilian condiments. The shallot-heavy vinaigrette is a superb foil for the rich, fatty parts of the steak, while the farofa is particularly fascinating – a seasoned, texture-boosting cassava powder which, according to Caroline, goes with almost any savoury food. 

The pre-dessert is a zingy sea-buckthorn ice lolly with a sweet cinnamon-flavoured shot on the side. For the grand finale, Caroline’s signature creation is a magical-looking fairytale toadstool filled with delicious cake and mousse, with chocolate from locally-loved chocolatier, Dormouse, using cocoa beans imported from Brazil. It’s an awe-inspiring, crowd-pleasing dessert, that somehow, incredibly, tastes as good as it looks. 

This dessert defines Caroline’s cooking: a psychedelic melding of the best of Brazil and Manchester, full of surprises and deft artistic touches. Manchester’s food scene steps up a gear each year, but there’s nothing out there quite as unique and brilliant as Sampa at Calcio. 

24 Dale Street, Northern QuarterManchesterM1 1FY View map
Telephone: 01619719175 Visit Now

Opening Hours

  • Tuesday12:00pm - 11:00pm
  • Wednesday12:00pm - 11:00pm
  • Thursday12:00pm - 11:00pm
  • Friday12:00pm - 11:00pm
  • Saturday12:00pm - 12:00am
  • Sunday12:00pm - 8:00pm

Always double check opening hours with the venue before making a special visit.

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