The newly re-opened Corn Exchange in Manchester is now a destination restaurant hub, for want of a better expression.
The iconic glass atrium is still very much the dominant feature, but instead of the random bunch of retail outlets and coffee shops which were there until fairly recently, every part of the main building is now devoted to all things gastronomic. The choice is pretty good too, with a culinary journey possible from India to Mexico, via Brazil, Vietnam and Italy. The selection will be even more extensive by the end of the year, with a further four restaurants being added to the current roster of nine.
In a novel idea to attract a younger age group, a panel of young tasters have been testing and reviewing the various restaurants – and my young ‘un was lucky enough to be one of them. Wahaca was the destination – a first taste of Mexican street food for Gabe (aged five) – and it was a success. The kids’ menu is a version of ‘build-your-own’, where you fill a tortilla with lettuce, cheese, guacamole and a choice of either grilled chicken, grilled steak, crunchy cod or sweet potato and broccoli. Gabe plumped for the cod and polished off the lot. Spicy food can be an issue for young taste buds, so the option to make the dish with as much or as little heat as desired was welcome.
I went for a crab salad (delicious, fresh) and steak tacos (tricky to eat but a pleasure once actually in the mouth – Wahaca is probably not the place for a first date, or if you want to give that white safari suit an airing…). My wife chose the sweet potato and feta taquitos – corn tortillas rolled into cigars with salsa and chipotle mayo.
The frijoles (black beans) we had as a side dish were rich and more-ish and our salads, pleasingly served in massive deep-fried tortilla bowls, were bursting with flavour.
I’m not a massive fan of Mexican food normally as it all seems relatively samey. All the food we had was very tasty and flavourful but, in choosing to go for the street food option, it meant that the meal was a bit ‘patchwork’ – and a downside to trying a new cuisine was that we found we didn’t know enough about the food to realise that we were actually ordering fairly similar things.
Next time we’ll give the main dishes a whirl. The chicken enchiladas looked amazing.
As we tucked into our passion fruit sorbets and honeycomb chocolate bites, my son filled in the taster questionnaire dutifully, even sketching some of the food.
Best bit, Gabe?
“The tortilla wrap. And the waitress.”
Words and images by Chris Payne
Where: Corn Exchange, Manchester
When: Open Mon-Sat, 12pm-11pm; Sunday, 12pm-10pm
To see Chris Payne’s photographs of the Corn Exchange transformation and read about the rebirth of the Exchange, click here