Saturday, 11 September 2010

Ha Ha Bar and Grill, Spinningfields, Manchester

Last night, being one of the few Friday nights we ever get together, we decided to go out into Manchester for a meal and a few drinks. We'd decided on the place, mainly as we had a voucher, and we'd called in there a couple of times for drinks and the wine was nice.
We chose Ha ha Bar and Grill in Spinningfields.

Buying garlic at the French Market

Beforehand we'd gone up to the French Market to replenish our garlic supply. We'd previously bought one of those massive bunches of garlic from the Christmas market with the promise that it would last us all year. This would be true in the sense it wouldn't go off, but we'd got through it all in 8 months rather than 12, and couldn't get back into using the tiny garlic bulbs that are available in supermarkets.
Some of the market stalls were shutting down, but we did find a large quantity of garlic and other fruit and veg, a cheese stall and a woman selling all manner of sausages including the not-so French Chorizo. We just picked some garlic but we would have stocked up with loads of interesting produce had we not been going out.
We'll definitely keep an eye out for further accessible French markets, and look forward to stocking up on all sorts of European goodies at the Christmas markets.

Back to Ha ha. First of all, we'd just like to say that from now on we will be trying to avoid the big chain restaurants, despite what vouchers may be emailed to us every day, trying to entice us in. Basically this is because the food is OK, but nothing special, and we did feel that whatever we chose from the menu, we could do it ourselves at home. Maybe to a similar standard, maybe better. We're not saying that Ha ha had the "counted out peas" feeling that some chain pubs give, but we'd rather spend our money elsewhere on food that is more special really.
We started off with a drink at the Mark Addy pub, on the opposite side of the canal to Ha ha, and decided that we'll try there for food sometime, as it is award-winning apparently. Although the expensive wine, was just OK rather than great.

We got to the restaurant and the bar area was full - mainly shirt and tie brigade, and rather noisy. All added to the atmosphere though. Plus Ha ha was clearly the most popular place along that stretch of restaurants. Maybe because of the separate bar area.
We were seated along the edge of the restaurant area, and given menus and we asked if we would like to order drinks. We said we'd like to look at the wine menu first, but actually decided on one of the recommended wines that we'd tried before. We were also offered water; still, sparkling or tap. So we went for a jug of tap and noted the plus point that tap water was actually offered.

We explained to the waiter that I was eating gluten free and he said he would find out exactly which dishes I could have. It turned out to be anything that was obvious, in other words no pasta or bread. I fancied a steak and he explained that the Stilton and mushroom topping was gluten free, but the other sauces were bought in and therefore couldn't be guaranteed gluten free. Top marks for the waiter, as he was very thorough in explaining everything, obviously knowing how serious food allergies and intolerances can be, but why, when there were at least two chefs on show to the restaurant are the sauces bought in? Counted out peas springs to mind.

We placed our order and sat with our wine for a bit. The pace of the service seemed good, not rushed at all. I had opted for the melon and serrano ham starter. I generally am not someone who goes for a sweet/savoury mix like that, but thought I'd give it a go. Tim ordered the pate. The waiter came over and said that the melon wasn't good enough to serve and asked me for another order. Again, top marks for the waiter, the manner in which he did this was great, and I'm sure some places may have just sent out the melon. But again, why did this happen? Early on a Friday night you would have thought that everything would be available. In the end I ordered the garlic and chilli prawns which was another one of my three options.

Garlic and Chilli Prawns

Tim said that pate was nice enough, but a slab of pate from Morrisons deli with some leaves and bread could have been made up at home. The Prawns too, were OK. I was expecting more of a chilli hit, but there wasn't that much.

The main course came. I had ordered the Sirloin Steak with the Stilton and mushroom topping and skinny fries. Tim has the Meatballs, mainly because it promised his favourite ingredient of the moment: Fresh Basil.
I'd asked for the steak to be medium, and it was a little more than medium really - the waiter did ask if it was OK, but I couldn't be bothered saying it was a little more well done than I'd expected. The steak itself did have a nice barbecued/grilled flavour and the sauce was rather tasty too. But really was a little tough and my first mouthful contained gristle. Tim was rather disappointed with the lack of fresh basil in the meatball dish. There could have been some dried sprinkled over, but we weren't too sure what it actually was.

We took a look at the desert menu, which for me was ice cream. The waiter did say that the chef could make up an Eton mess without the meringue as the meringue has flour in it. Not sure what kind of crazy recipe was going on there, but what he was proposing was basically ice cream and fruit. So I decided on just plain ice cream. Tim had the Profiteroles with cream.
Again, everything was nice, but kind of ordinary. The sort of thing we could do at home.

In conclusion. The food was OK to poor really. Nothing special. We will not be going again, unless of course it was booked for someone else's do or occasion. We weren't that offended by the place. The service was very good, the waiter was excellent but the restaurant wasn't busy at all. This type of restaurant does serve a purpose, perhaps for taking out the parent that likes "normal" food and not too much way out flavour, (by that I mean doesn't like flavour) but really, we'd probably find a nice independent pub somewhere, or cook ourselves, unless there was a really really good voucher available!

We finished off the evening in the more pleasurable surroundings of Epernay Champagne bar for a couple of glasses of Champagne (Henriot and Louis Roederer - sorry Jenny!) and some exciting, spicy cocktails, and decided that along with the Mark Addy, this should be a place we'll test the food offerings. They only do a selection of nibbles, but well worth trying we reckon.

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