We recently ran down our list of the top tapas in the city and, to be honest, Chorlton’s own Spanish institution was a bit of a glaring omission. In fairness it was left out purely because of its out of town location, but that article probably needs a rewrite now, Bar San Juan is that good. Being a resident of the South Manchester suburb myself I’ve had no shortage of recommendations to pay a visit, but for one reason or another have never made it down. Last week I finally managed to put that right anyway, as we squeezed ourselves on to a table in the most popular – and probably smallest – bar on Beech Road.
It wasn’t the weather for cool soup, but a quick couple of slurps of a potent, garlicky Andalusian gazpacho served as an excellent little amuse bouche before some bold dishes – no punches are pulled here on flavour. Our first proper plate was the Costillas a la miel – mellifluous belly pork ribs cooked in honey with a hint of brandy and orange. Sticky, tender chunks of meat that retained enough of their structure to allow a satisfying gnaw, but yet still fell apart obligingly.
Seafood came next, first with fresh calamari, which filled the restaurant with a fantastic aroma, I don’t think we were the only table to indulge. I’ve had better squid in fairness though and prefer them a little less battered. Much more impressive were the gambas, bubbling away in hot, viscous oil dotted with generous chunks of garlic and chilli, which was all swiftly mopped up with bread the moment those prawns were gone.
Although perhaps not immediately evocative of Spanish cooking to me at least, our next dish was probably the stand out. Saquitos de cordero, pulled lamb in little filo parcels each sat on a little puddle of reduced tempranillo. The sweetness of the meat, still quite juicy but encased in crisp savoury pastry was very special indeed. The syrupy red wine sauce completed a pretty perfect plate of food. A more traditional tapa followed, the San Juan croquetas, which were cooked with beer and ham apparently. I couldn’t taste the cerveza but these were lovely little bites – moreish and yet sustaining, are these mini Spanish icons the ultimate bar snack?
Seeing as it is a bit of a bruiser, monkfish probably isn’t used to playing second fiddle to many other ingredients, but here these moist and tasty kebabs were almost shown up by samphire of all things. Marinated in vinegar but still fresh and taut, they provided the perfect back drop to a well balanced fish dish. Our final foray paired padron peppers with fillet steak, it’s hard to see that going wrong really isn’t it? There was soft almost mashed potato underneath lending its own buttery texture, delicious, pink centred beef and wrinkly, salty peppers all combining to provide a fitting end to a impressive selection of food.
I may be a bit late to the party on this one, but there’s good reason Bar San Juan is top of the Trip Advisor pile for the whole of Manchester right now – it’s a proper little gem. Little is right as well, there aren’t many tables and you’ll likely have a little wait too, but it’s certainly worth it.