“Just been kicked in the Baltics! And it was good!”
Some of you may know I work dead centre of Manchester town. Indeed if you google Manchester you get within 20 yards of where I work, Lloyd Street near Albert Square. It’s a rather austere thoroughfare that connects the thriving, shop laden bustle of Deansgate and the spiritual heart that is the magnificent town hall. Sat quietly beneath the action lies the glowing red embers of a new vodka bar from the east (and I don’t mean Hull).
The Baltic Cellar is set low beneath Lloyd House. You step downwards from the street. I’ve been to Lithuania a couple of times. The dark red and brick interior, dimly lit takes me straight back to the underground caverns of Vilnius. Rich red banquettes mark out the eating areas whilst a cavernous wooden floor leads to an impressive bar. It’s well finished, no up cycled chairs, exposed cable trays and scaffolding pipes here. It’s all rather agreeable really.
As it is new it has been pushing its lunchtime menu. Two courses for £10.95. Nothing too special there I hear you cry. Latterly though, it’s been peddling this deal at half price. Two courses for just over a fiver, now that is fighting talk. The menu is certainly different. If I was ever on Saturday Kitchen my food hell would be beetroot. ‘Borsch’ the beetroot based soup of Russia is a feature here so I gave that a miss, but there’s a lot to go at.
After asking for volunteers in the office I eventually convinced twenty one plucky souls to venture into the bowels of the building and give it a try. To help out I nipped down, grabbed some menus and gave the ‘Baltic Cellarists’ the heads up. “We’ll be down in half an hour, can chef manage it?” We trooped down. I handed in our list. Valentina and Neesha swept into action, several bottles of ‘Kynep’ (Polish beer?) with matching tankards were soon in check. The happy throng settled into their matching bays, chirping to each other gaily beneath the chilled dance beats wafting from the PA.
I had spicy beef stew. Like everything it arrived on a flat brown platter. I had it with brown rice; I could have had rice, buckwheat, chips, salad or mash potato! To be fair it wasn’t that spicy, but it was tasty enough. The fresh, pleasant garnish seems to be standard on all dishes. Shredded carrot in garlic mayo, tomato, lettuce and cucumber. Whilst for me it lacked a little in presentation and style, I seemed to be in the minority. Working with a team of flashing young blades, the younger palettes chomping through chicken cutlets, chicken and mushroom stew, pork stroganoff, dumplings and (for the veggies) carrot and mushroom cutlets all had the thumbs firmly up and raved most of the afternoon, so who am I to say? As you can imagine turning up with a party of twenty one, we did stress the crew a bit! The food arriving in spasms. It was all hot though.
I would say for £5.45, two courses is a bargain, I would question whether the Manchester office brigade will be queuing up when it’s back at £10.95? For that the service has to be snappy and the food bob on.
That said a few days later I ventured in once more. This time as a guest at the launch party. The pre gig splurge promising flames and mystery! I joined the queue on the roped off red carpet, I felt like a film star! The flames roared from the arms of a scantily clad, pirouetting nymph. All this while we were ticked off the list. Flames and drama, on Lloyd Street! As it was I ventured in behind BBC sports presenting legend Mike Bushell. We slugged a few glasses of champers together, very pleasant. Valentina, Neesha and the crew balanced trays of Tibetan caviar, smoked salmon puffs, cheese and bacon wrapped olives. The packed bar cleared them out.
Before sitting down for the taster grub, the nymphet had morphed into a slinky body stocking and with the aid of some ancient farming implements she started to contort into shapes that I would have doubted possible from anyone in human form. The throng looked on agog.
With most of the visitors now soaked in vodka, fizz and birch sap (yes, birch sap!) it was time to sit. We soon settled into our booths of six. More vodka in various flavours was gleefully imbibed. Courses of Russian salad, charcuterie, pickled mackeral and cheese was up first. In fairness it was all pretty good. The charcuterie to my palette as good as anything from Italy or Spain.
We then turned to a taster of seven mains, Chicken Cedar (creamy sauce and nuts), Beef Goulash, Chicken Mushroom, Vegetable Ragu (braised cauliflower and more in a tomato sauce), Pork Stroganoff and Bigos (stewed sauerkraut, cabbage, smoked sausage, ribs and mushroom) all delivered in a ‘brown, trivial pursuit, segment’ arrangement. Our posse pawed in for a morsel each. To be fair there was no complaints on anything here. The meats tender and moist all slicked in a tasty sauce. Goulash won for me. Decent chunks of tender beef in a well seasoned creamy sauce.
A brawny, Viking like helper homed in with a skewer of Chicken and salmon Shashlik. This another highlight. Evidently shashlik is a Baltic charcoal pit. Both efforts were superb, the chicken especially, clearly marinated in something very nice, the flavour and texture then further enhanced from its soak in the fire breathing cauldron. Top stuff.
After more vodka games and with the tummy starting to swell alarmingly in came the selection of Baltic desserts! As ever, The Cook Twit, for you darling readers, had to dig deep and open up the reserve ‘sweet’ stomach. Morsels of Honey cake, cheesecake, chocolate cake and napoleon cake were each delicately forked across the taste buds. And very nice too. The cheesecake wasn’t quite the ‘baked’ type that it should be, but for me European desserts are often a bit sweet and different to ours.
I do recall in the vodka ‘mist’ with the place full and rocking it was a very pleasant place to be. Soft, euro beats filling the gaps between the partying chats. With the lights dimmed the vibe was top notch. I could easily see me, The Flame and a few chums on a cold winters night slugging a few vodkas, noshing a hearty soup and a plate of goulash. Whilst Manchester wallows in its top notch ‘dirty food’ emporiums, it could be that the Baltic Cellar is the place for a change. Let’s hope the Baltic Cellar can get the booths full again and get more nights like this.
Baltic Cellar, 28 Lloyd Street, Manchester M2 5WA
0161 971 604