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Charango review

Lynda Moyo heads south to Chorlton and ends up in South America

Written by . Published on May 4th 2010.

Charango review

It was less than a year ago that Confidential editor Jonathan Schofield paid a visit to the newly opened Ostara on Barlow Moor Road, Chorlton. Describing it as 'a very honest, very open approach to dining' he concluded that it was the top end cuisine Chorlton residents had yearned for.

Lowering onto an edible gold dust topped chocolate roof, the top slate cracks to reveal moist, rich, deep and dangerous chocolate flesh...My partner chomped: “This could possibly be the best chocolate cake I've ever had.”

It was gone in six months, leading to a debate on Confidential about whether Chorlton was ready for an ambitious restaurant.

The owner, Lee Janda, turned to Plan B: Charango, a South American venue for all the people not just the fine diners. Maybe Janda has just listened, learned and responded to what the area wants.

So what's the new place like? With its large outdoor terrace and sky blue coloured exterior, Charango is symbolic of summer. Walking into a casual arrangement of woody furnishings, both sofas and dining tables, draped Peruvian rugs, low lighting, and carnival coloured paintwork, we took a seat near the window.

Chickpea, chorizo, squid and roasted tomatoes

Somewhere between standard three courses and tapas, Charango organises its food into small plates, medium plates and sides to mix and match. Starting with chickpea, chorizo, squid and roasted tomatoes (£4.50) and fresh crab, spring onion and jalapeno empanadas (£3.75) we were pleasantly surprised by both dishes. Thanks to plenty of chunks of chorizo, the spicy chickpeas were brought to life and danced around the tangy squid rings like little hula girls.

The crab dish was a risk as we had no idea whether jalapeno would work well with it at all. It arrived as miniature patties with a side salad and minty yoghurt sauce. Breaking the patty open revealed a flaky crab stuffing mixed with a dainty amount of pepper and onion. It wasn't quite the seafood and spice combo I'd imagined, but it was well balanced and let the crab flavour speak for itself.

No sooner had we begun forking through the small plates, did the medium plates arrive. Fighting for room on the table, the king prawn, okra and peanut caruru (£5.75) and black bean, pork and beef feijoada (£5.75) joined the carnival of cuisine. As the atmosphere in Charango geared up with the arrival of more punters, so did the food. The king prawn dish had the creamy nuttiness of a satay, with a chilli kick. Whilst the okra provided that refreshing touch of green to the dish, it was unfortunately saturated by the other elements and too soggy in parts. The beef medley came as a deep bowl of stew; perfect for my partner who is a firm believer that a meal ain't a meal if it doesn't contain meat. Rich, hearty and juicy, it came overflowing with tender beef and pork. This was the meatiest of meat meals.

Fresh crab, spring onion and jalapeno empanadas

We ate both dishes with a side order of Cuban green rice (£2.50). Although very subtle in its coriander flavouring, it's nice to see that Charango is making every effort to ensure every part of their menu is in-keeping with the theme. Other side alternatives include homemade chilli chips (£2.50) and marinated Spanish olives (£2.50).

We, rather stupidly, decided to try and wash it all down with some Mexican (£2.20) and Mayan (£2.40) hot chocolate. The difference between these two drinks was hard to tell at first but after a few sips you could definitely decipher between the dryness of the Mexican and the softer, more warming sensation of the Mayan with its ancho chilli flavouring. If you are a chocolate lover in the Cadbury's sense, you will be in for a shock. Both these traditional Hispanic recipes are made with ground cocoa and have that love/hate harder bitter taste of the real deal.

King prawn, okra and peanut caruruBlack bean, pork and beef feijoada

Curiosity did all but quench our thirsts but thankfully Charango also has a good selection of beers. There's the Mexican Modelo beers, Dos Quis and Pacifico Clara, Peruvian Cusquena, Quilmes Export Beer from Buenos Aires, the Spanish Alhambra Reserva and Brazil's Brahma beer alongside some decent wines from Chile and Argentina. Onto desserts and this is where Charango really lets the creativity juices run wild. Upon ordering the Mayan gold chocolate cake, we were expecting your bog standard pub chocolate fudge cake, perhaps with a little flag stuck on top for South American effect.

Much to the contrary, lowering onto an edible gold dust topped chocolate roof, the top slate cracked to reveal moist, rich, deep and dangerous chocolate flesh. The 'squirty cream' appearance of the dollop next to the cake is another trick. It's actually a thick crème fraiche that's adds a sourness to the sweetness of the cake. My partner chomped: “This could possibly be the best chocolate cake I've ever had.” No gimmicks and no fear - this cake would put Wonka to shame.

Meanwhile, I tucked into the churros con chocolate (£3.50) - homemade traditional Mexican doughnuts served with hot chocolate. I was expecting a Mexican twist on Krispy Kreme, but what I got was those little finger shaped doughnuts like you get at fairgrounds, only minus the sugar. I was disappointed, but only because of my sadly warped Americanised opinion of doughnuts. These were real untainted doughnuts and if your tooth isn't too sweet, you'll enjoy dunking them in the concentrated, bitter-sweet hot chocolate sauce.

Churros con chocolate

What's great about Charango is that everyone, staff included, seems genuinely happy to be there. It has a good Southern American feel to it with the music and set up, plus it's very laid back which means you can really get stuck in to the food without the bother of formalities.

Mayan gold chocolate cake

Inventive and imaginative; the food and our time at Charango was just brilliant. The only downside was that with so many intriguing dishes, I didn't have the stomach space to fit them all in. The huevos rancheros breakfast (£4.75) is a Mexican breakfast they do that I can only imagine would deserve a review all of its own. Both affordable and appealing, Charango is the flowery adornment that was missing from Ostara's grave. This is the start of a new beginning.

Rating: 15/20
Breakdown: 4/5 food
4/5 drinks
3/5 service
4/5 atmosphere
Address: Charango
456-458 Barlow Moor Road
M21 0BQ

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away

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20 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Leah BrothertonMay 4th 2010.

This place sounds amazing! Will def check it out, thanks :o)

Karen WellingsMay 4th 2010.

My husband and I went to Charango on Thursday night and have been raving about it since. The food is beautiful and large portions compared to usual Spanish tapas. I am vegetarian and loved the green rice, bulgar wheat salad, vegetables and dips and the feta and pea quesadillas are amazing. My husband tucked into ribs and calamari and loved them both. We'll definitely be going back-hopefully this week! We went to the ill-fated Ostara and you'd struggle to see it was the same place- now the walls are a vibrant red and adorned with South american posters it has a great atmosphere. The heaters on the terrace are as warm as the staff and both made us feel that we were on holiday!!

Chris GibsonMay 4th 2010.

Went here a month or so ago and was really impressed. Nice venue and great food. Would definitely go back. Highly recommended.

GhostaraMay 4th 2010.

I liked Ostara and miss its slightly more formal vibe, but Charango is a more than adequate replacement. The venue is better suited to this sort of dining and it's amazing what a change of wall colour can do to a dining room.

I have to agree with the reviewer about the food. All of it exciting, well executed and interesting.

The staff are great, the beers are good and the bus stop outside, which was apparently such a bother to people eating in Ostara, is hardly noticeable given the lively atmosphere inside.


charlie farleyMay 4th 2010.

Loved Ostara, and growing to love Charango. Been there four or five times now...Food's great, and the service is too...the only problme can be the sound system...designed for a restaurant, but cranked up to beyond bar levels as evening proceeds..becoming harsh and tinny. Frankly unbearable and time to leave. As Elektric round the corner proves, chat should fill the air and create atmosphere...Rather than loud music.

richard hjMay 4th 2010.

...and a mighty fine South American film poster for Jodorowsky's Holy Mountain on the wall too.

Scott NeilMay 4th 2010.

Jodorowsky posters, huevos rancheros, churros and feijoada? i'm sold...

CLEGG IS A NUMPTYMay 5th 2010.

CANT WAIT TO GO HERE ! Hopefully some foor from Peru

SandyMay 6th 2010.

This place is great, the food is really fresh, try to go outside of a weekend eve tho to get the best quality and service. They have 3 for 2 on the dishes every day between 5-7 - great way to check out loads of the menu! The wine is excellent

AnonymousMay 7th 2010.

Food is amazing and the Mayan chocolate cake IS the best chocolate cake ever tasted

Derek18948May 7th 2010.

The restaurant sounds great - we'll definitely give it a try. Just wish the review was as competent - Cuba and Mexico in South America? I didn't know they'd moved. Cuba was less than 80 miles from Florida last time I looked. Churros like American doughnuts? They're (originally) Spanish; a staple of early commuters and late night revellers in Spanish cities around dawn (never been to Barcelona, Madrid etc? Or a quick look at wiki would reveal all). Why would a pud called Maya Gold be like pub grub? Never had May Gold chocolate? Try Green & Black's version, on sale at most supermarkets.

AnonymousMay 7th 2010.

Been there a few times for drinks and recently food. Only thing to watch out for is that they never seem to have bottles of rose wine in stock - went in on several occassions over a couple of weeks and was never any there. Also, nearly five pounds for a bottle of cider - a little over the top. Food was nice, although the crab patties a little disapointing. All in all a nice place for a weekday evening relax.

AnonymousJune 1st 2010.

My partner & I went to Charango for a late lunch on May Bank Holiday Monday. The food was good, but the service was terrible. We were ignored when we arrived & when I asked if we could sit at a table outside I was told to 'Sit where you like'. After a lengthy wait, when it became obvious that no-one was going to bring us a menu or offer us a drink, I went & collected my own menus & then went to the bar to order. They didn't have the wine or one of the main courses we wanted (there are only 5 mains)The place was not busy , but we witnessed the waitress trying to deliver food to the wrong table & other customers having to get up & go to the bar to get their own drinks.
The guy who brought over our plates & cutlery was texting on his mobile at the same time. He also had most of his underpants showing at the back. This is a restaurant, not a skate park! I do not want to view someone's arse while I'm eating.
The staff showed a lack of professionalism & training, which is a pity as the place has a lot of potential.

NortherngeezerJune 1st 2010.

At which point did you get up and take your custom and hard earned wonga elsewhere Anon??.

Northern StealthJune 3rd 2010.

Get it right, Charango is a TAPAS BAR not a restaurant and there is NO TABLE SERVICE don't you understand that ??!?

I think the place is ace and go all the time.

AnonymousJune 4th 2010.

I didn't take my custom elsewhere as it seemed only fair to see if the place could come up with some good food-which it did. They obviously know what they are doing in the kitchen & whether it is a tapas bar or restaurant (have you ever been to Madrid, Northern Stealth?) a level of service should be expected. Charango doesn't have it.

monkey23July 15th 2010.

I actually agree with anonymous...this place really lets itself down with bad service and filthy tables. Went the other day to find a dirty ashtray, mucky table and no one serving at the bar...so took my business elsewhere. Pull your socks up Charango...

NortherngeezerJuly 15th 2010.

Vote with your feet..........POWER TO THE PEOPLE!!!!!!!!!!!!

AnonymousJuly 29th 2010.

After visiting Charango for the first time on Saturday evening I am surprised to read the most recent comments. My partner and I enjoyed an excellent meal and the service (although the back section was full) was as good as anything in Manchester. I have to say it was a great experience and we will be back for more tapas and churros. Keep up the good work.

AnonymousJuly 29th 2010.

I agree with Northern Stealth, Charango is a Tapas bar not Ostara; if you want that kind of experience go elsewhere. If you want to have a good time in a well appointed bar with friendly staff whilst eating high quality tapas then go to Charango. It would appear that to many Chorltonites would prefer to whinge about local businesses rather than support them.

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