Cottonopolis, 16 Newton Street, Manchester, M1 2AE – Visit Now
Cottonopolis is one of the Northern Quarter’s best-looking bars. High ceilings, exposed brickwork, the usual Manchester drill, but it feels smarter and classier than its near rivals. The Japanese-style menu has recently been upgraded with a new Sunday experience: Yum Cha.
This is all about laid-back dining, and the basic concept is for £26 you can enjoy as much dim sum as you like, from trolley wheeled around by the gloriously charming Cottonopolis staff. This covers you from 4 pm until 10 pm, so you could spend six hours grazing or guzzling, go nuts.
There’s a wealth of options, from spiky, salty tempura vegetable – light-as-a-feather batter coating broccoli, aubergine, peppers and mushrooms – to classic steamed dim sum with fillings ranging from prawn to chicken, or even both.
There are lighter dishes, such as the lightly-oiled ribbons of courgette, and heavier, more substantial plates such as the none-more-moreish chicken katsu – a revelation to my dining partner, who’d never stumbled across this before. “It’s like school dinner curry… but good!”
The salt and pepper tofu falls a bit flat, but only slightly. The soft, crumbly tofu not quite standing up to the hot potent coating. If it were chicken it’d be a standout dish, but also, er, not very vegan. The desserts are fantastic, and up there with the best dishes offered – not too sweet but a smart way to cut through the umami-heavy flavours of the previous courses.
The past few years has seen Manchester’s Northern Quarter rise to prominence but the same can’t be said of its late-night restaurant scene. Barring the odd gem, the streets are riddled with fried chicken, obnoxiously named burgers and humdrum pizzas. There’s little on offer for the diner with more exacting standards so excitements levels were high when Cottonopolis announced their upcoming supper club, offering a pared-down range of dishes for those late-night diners.
Today we’re here to sample the existing menu but fear not, a number of the described dishes below will be available into the wee small hours.
Owned and designed by architect Nick Muir, Cottonopolis is a handsomely designed bar and restaurant with a loose Japanese theme. The menu is divided into four different elements based on the cooking method for each item: ice, fire, steam and oil. It’s a gimmick but an inventive one, catering for a variety of palates whether they be healthy eaters, grazers or plain old gluttons.
First thing to note is that Cottonopolis have taken a welcome step into the world of the bao – those wonderfully fluffy steamed buns packed with all manner of goodies. The ribeye steak bun is particularly impressive, thick tender strips of beef coated with chili jam and a handful of delicate pickled cucumbers. The portion size is small but they’re remarkably filling.
Recent viewers of Blue Planet II will recall the scene where an army of crabs shed their shells, revealing their new, soft shells underneath. You’ll undoubtedly watched this in awe, before secretly thinking “I wonder what they taste like.” Wonder no more, Cottonopolis have taken these soft-shell crabs, covered them in tempura batter and deep-fried them. The result is as delicious as David Attenborough’s silky tones. It’s a calorific dish, no doubt, but well worth it.
Healthier diners should opt for the classic tuna tartare. Here is a bowl of chopped up high-quality tuna, shaped into a semi-circle next to a pile of velvetty smooth crushed avocado. This is topped off with a soft poached egg that oozes yolk everywhere. A delight to watch and better to taste.
The crispy duck leg is one of the more expensive dishes on the menu, weighing in at £15, but it stacks up well for both quality and quantity. It too comes with a trio of soft bao buns, along with some pickles and onion ponzu to smear all over it. The ribeye steak bao probably has the edge, but if you’ve got a craving for duck, this is the best you’ll find outside of Chinatown.
The salt and pepper squid are little tight bundles with odd but satisfying tendrils bursting out the end. Not a standout dish but undeniably moreish. The batter contains a heady mixture of Japanese seven spices, which makes for an explosive combination when paired with Cottonopolis’s signature chili jam.
As first rate as these dishes may be, Cottonopolis works best when it veers off the beaten path. The twists and flourishes on ordinary sounding plates are evidence of a confident chef and always impress. Speaking of which, an impressive amount of beef tataki arrives on an ornate stone platter. Thin slices of seared fillet, sprinkled with spring onion, and a texture so soft it’s barely there. It’s a long-term fixture on the menu, and for good reason.
Portion size of all the dishes is generous, more than matching the price. The menu might appear to be made up of small plates, but two or three per person is easily enough. It might be more expensive than the spruced-up junk food from nearby venues, but the quality is light years ahead.
And while the Northern Quarter has a reputation as the go-to place for quick trashy food, with the area developing at high-speed there are signs the restaurant scene will follow suit. As one of the first truly ambitious establishments to pop up in some time, Cottonopolis provides the first shot across the boughs. More of the same, please.