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Walrus for food

Jonathan Schofield and a bar which cares about its looks and its food

Written by . Published on July 17th 2008.

Walrus for food

I was passing Walrus the other day at tea time, and it was busy with diners so I thought I’d pop in. Confidential had reviewed it mid-January as more of a drinking den, but last week, a lead reviewer on the local paper told me that the food there was special.

This was one of those finely prepared sauces which are total flavour, yet seem without substance. I could have put that in an espresso cup and sipped it like a Bovril – a very hot one.

Couldn’t believe it myself. The design of Walrus, from the hand of Bernard Carroll, he of Reform and other restaurants in Manchester, seemed to be such a major part of the business that I couldn’t believe that they’d put any effort into the food. Maybe the music, but not grub.

Walrus does look remarkable. Sort of a dream of what 2008 would be like back in 1968. All moulded plastic shapes in white, bright wallpapers, circular features such as lampshades, everything vivid, all lines bold. The room off to the right as you enter typifies this with its purple and green polka dot wallpaper. And the sort of huge aquarium that every villain Sean Connery ever tussled with in Bond found to be de rigeur.

I was with a friend and we ordered a Jewel Viognier (£19) wine. It was a cracking white, full of aroma and tasted like it had been filtered through an apiary with rich honey tones, yet not cloying but sharp. Jewel Viognier comes from Lodi in California and I’m going to be looking out for more of the stuff.

The food is mostly Japanese inspired: and since the bar has, along with the 1960s feel, something Tokyo going on in its design, this seems appropriate.

We went for the two most expensive dishes: the Field and Sea Bento box and the Sea Bento at £14.75 and £12.75 respectively.

Bento boxes apparently go back a thousand years. They started as a good way to carry lunch around with meat or fish and rice and pickled veg. Once functional they’ve now become a decorative way of dining in sit-down eateries while also providing a compartmentalised way for a restaurant to display its talents.

Walrus’s bentos looked fabulous – feast your eyes on the pictures. The £2 extra I paid for the Field and Sea was definitely worth it. The beef massaman, a Thai dish, gave a lush, thick coconut-inflected punch to the cubes of beef. These had been pasted with the curry sauce first before being cooked quickly thus sealing extra flavour within. Roasted peanuts and potatoes added substance.

Also in the bento, tempura crayfish tails were exquisite as were the yakitori (skewered chicken) in a full-on soy mix. The fancy fried rice was pleasantly sticky, as it should be. A little wonder though was the chilli sauce with ginger and some special ingredient I forgot to ask about, in the centre of the box. This was one of those finely prepared sauces which are pure flavour, that almost seem without substance. I could have put that in an espresso cup and sipped it like a Bovril – a very hot one.

The Sea Bento was also good, especially the tempura veg. The Miso king fish had the weight and body of a good steak, and a rich oily flavour. Imagine a cross between a mackerel and salmon, the flavour of the one with the texture of the other, and you’d be about right. A big failure in this dish was the tempura avocado. This didn’t come off at all, ending up like battered slime.

The only other problem with the meal was that at 7pm the music was a shade too loud and I had to ask it to be turned down. Walrus have to watch this if they want to attract diners in to pay £15 for a main course.

Still the food provided a splendid tea, and could easily have stretched to a full meal. The quality of the wine was a real bonus too. Other dishes I want to try in future include the pork with holy basil (£6.95), the teriyaki Alaskan salmon (£8.25) and the intriguing katsudon (crispy pork with Japanese HP sauce – £8.25).

The meal proved, as my MEN buddy had stated, that there is more to Walrus than just good looks. This place wants to offer the complete package, certainly from 5pm to 9pm, when the food finishes. After that, experience shows that it turns into more of a traditional bar but still with the quality range of drinks. Makes you wonder, though, what the fish think when the music starts thumping and the over-40s leave. I didn’t ask as I’ve found that talking to fish gets you nowhere. Still if you’re looking for somewhere fresh to eat, Walrus is recommended.

Rating: 16/20
Breakdown: 8/10 Food
4/5 Service
4/5 Ambience
Address: Walrus Canteen & Bar
78-88 High Street
Northern Quarter
0161 828 8700

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

JenniJuly 17th 2008.

I agree with Gavin - plus the kind of food I expect to eat in NQ is homely, filling and usually british(ish). Randomly, I got put off when I was told they didn't do slimline tonic

thewalrusJuly 17th 2008.

thanks for the review johnathan. the special ingredient is yuzu juice made from yuzu fruit which is a kind of citrusy passionfruit.

gorJuly 17th 2008.

I really am not surprised that there is a constant offer at Walrus to try and get people to go there. The stinking attitude of the staff is enough to put anyone off! I wouldn’t set foot in there again if there was 90% off after the way I was treated trying to use the £40 offer last night.

GorJuly 17th 2008.

Further to my comment above I have informed Walrus and they have explained that it is a misprint on the menu and were very apologetic.

thewalrusJuly 17th 2008.

maybe mandarin like is a better description than passionfruit!

AnonymousJuly 17th 2008.

I went to Walrus a couple of Friday nights ago with a friend for his birthday. I was really looking forward to it since another friend had been there for lunch the week before and raved about it. But it was not meant to be. We both ordered the Sea Fish Bento. His king fish was so overcooked that you could have bounced it off the walls. It was so rubbery that you couldn't actually cut into it. My kingfish was bland and unappetizing. We got a refund on one of the bentos and I reluctantly paid for my half eaten one. It was a real let down for a special occassion. On the plus side, the waitress was great and the cocktails were tasty. I'd definately just go for drinks next time...

AlfonzoJuly 17th 2008.

Gavin says: "Too many suits" So I can't go for a pint after work in one of my locals ? What are you on?? .. So your defending guys in girls jeans but its not alright to wear a suit eh? Ive lived in The NQ since back when it was called Shudehill and Ancoates ... Big deal!

mJuly 17th 2008.

keep it real, the reason the Deansgate Locks brigade don't complain about invading NQ types is that all the bars have dress codes and you're not allowed in them with trainers or if you don't look like a Deansgate 'type'. My other half has lots of wag-ish, self confessed gold digger-type mates and the only bar they talk about or visit in the Northern Quarter is Walrus. That said, I like individual bars with interesting decor and Walrus has that. Whilst its not distinctly 'NQ' it is welcoming to all and its nice to be able to visit these places without having to consider if you're going to get in. There's some posh deansgate bars I'd like to see and haven't been to but I'm 26 years old and 10 years over having to worry about getting past the doormen. Maybe what I'm saying is: 'Down with dress codes and the cherry picking of customers.' If you do a bar right you will attract the crowd that you want to attract, but you should allow other types to come in and experience it. Walrus does this, so I like it. As does the NQ in general. Deansgate doesn't and that's why it pisses me off.

Tapas PrincessJuly 17th 2008.

Back to the food review.....I had my birthday bash here a few weeks ago and the food was fabulous. Everyone raved about how delicious it was, and the staff really did everything to make the night as wonderful as they could, even though we were having food (and cake) at 8pm on a Saturday night!!. If you fancy some tasty treats in a truly minding-bending bar with good music and naughty, naughty cocktails, then head on down. And please stop arguing about chavs etc invading the 'cool & hip' Northern Quarter, there are far bigger issues in this city (and country)then who gets to hang out where.

AnonJuly 17th 2008.

The NQ is full of pretentious people already and has been for some time apart from Bluu that is full of scallies and it stinks. Nice decor Walrus i would come along but i aint got any skinny jeans and i don't like wearing my ties outside of work.

GavinJuly 17th 2008.

Ironically melissa you are arguing my point. I remember heading in there with mate who's a 'creative' in a band and he dresses somewhat different from the norm but not different from many NQ types, and you got a lot of rubbernecking and the odd what's he come as comment as you would expect in sugar lounge but as you don't in common etc, which made me realise this wasn't the sort of tolerant place for creatives to come get p*ssed etc. I've always loved the NQ for is tolerant to a widebunch of misfits. I'd say I got a bad night, if it wasn't for it being similar at other times without said mate. It's a shame cos when you've drunk in the NQ for years, bars like walrus and bluu seem to be changing the area for the worse. And i didn't find anyone trendy, I just found them deansgate locks or living room types.

AnonymousJuly 17th 2008.

the worst bar in manchester in my opinion. it's got no soul

hotshower-coolpillowJuly 17th 2008.

How lucky was I to spend the early evening of my birthday in this calm and friendly venue.To be greeted by friendly staff with genuine smiles, and then surprised by intelligent conversation regarding the food and drink on offer was a rare pleasure in this fast food city.We chose the ribs to start and what an absolute pleasure they were. Tender, succulent and tasty. A nice amount of finger sized ribs, stacked in a bowl, accompanied by a sauce that must have been created by the God of chefs. The ribs were sprinkled with an assortment of tangy, spicy, goodies that will make your taste buds sing for joy. The sauce was so good that after drizzling it on the ribs I finally slurped it up like soup. I don't want to bore anyone, so I'll cut short by saying that we had two excellent main courses - a green curry and a Massaman curry and my birthday tea was almost complete. But, without prompting a selection of sweets appeared as if by birthday magic....(Thank you Andy & the girls!)and made my old cynical bones happy to be, on this occasion, dining somewhere resembling the mind of Lewis Carroll.... Top marks.

AnonymousJuly 17th 2008.

Sorry Melissa, but I don't see 'a creative melting pot of forward thinking people' at half ten of a friday night in the NQ, more a ****hole akin to Benidorm on an off night.Though maybe you were joking now I ready it again?

George ButterworthJuly 17th 2008.

Anonymous, well you fella doesn't understand what's he's talking about with the meat and fish bento, but you're right about the music, as the review says above.

GorJuly 17th 2008.

Shame the place is full of pretentious gits!

GavinJuly 17th 2008.

Food sounds good but not a fan of the place. Seems part of the creeping deansgate 'lock -isation' of the NQ. Too many suits and orange tans enjoying over-priced drinks in rather chilly interior. each to their own, but not somewhere that in clientèle or confines seems to 'fit' with the NQ.

gor blimeyJuly 17th 2008.

as if smelling of plastic wasn't enough, smelling of plastic and urinals together; surely nothing worse!

AnonymousJuly 17th 2008.

I ate at Walrus on saturday night - it was far too noisy to have a nice meal on a saturday as although I was going for drinks after, during the meal, I wanted to be able to hear what the other person was saying. The food was fresh and tasty but I just thought the seafood bento was a little bland and a bad version of what I can get for half the price at Koreana on King Street West. My boyfriend said the same abut the meat and fish bento, some of which I also ate. The teriyaki salmon was very tasty though and the manager was quite good at explaining the menu.

DaveJuly 17th 2008.

thewalrus - do you serve yuzu / yuzushu drinks?

Mr DictionaryJuly 17th 2008.

Are you called One-eyed because you can't see how to spell?

AvoJuly 17th 2008.

Never been there for food but the Pina Coladas in there are to die for. Just the right balance of booze, creamy coconut and pineapple.

AnonymousJuly 17th 2008.

Which are these 'Deansgate' bars that everyone is talking about where you can't get in with trainers on etc etc? From what I can gather those days are long in the past.

RoisinJuly 17th 2008.

i was also pleasantly surprised at the food in Walrus. Having taken up the MC offer for 2 for 1, my husband and i went and had a really quality japanese style meal. great food and cocktails. would be better with more of a dining area though.

AnonymousJuly 17th 2008.

Dear thewalrus, I would be interested in how you made such a *creative" for your menu. If you might be still reading here, could you just give us a comment please, how did you came across such Japanese-ish menu, would you have any experience in any japanese restaurant, for example?

jimjamJuly 17th 2008.

i think its a great place, and you're way off the mark with the deansgate comments. Sure there's a trendy crowd but that doesnt mean you cant get in, it just makes it all the more enjoyable to be surrounded by decent a mix of people.

Jonathan SchofieldJuly 17th 2008.

“Thanks, that explains it...my notes say 'a zesty, lemon-like flavour'...”

gorJuly 17th 2008.

I think there should be a bit of clarification on the menu that Seared salmon and white fish comes raw!!!! not everyone likes to eat raw fish!

KJuly 17th 2008.

if every new bar that opened in the NQ sported distressed furniture and exposed brickwork ala Trof and Common (not that there is anything wrong with these bars)then wouldn't the area lose it's 'individual' nature?

Thoroughbred MancJuly 17th 2008.

We should just have a West Side Story - Sharks vs Jets - dance off (NQ4 vs Deansgate) and be done with this "They're in my playpen!" nonsense. Or better yet, build a giant wall and divide the city. Oh, wait, we've done that already - Piccadilly Gardens.

John McrJuly 17th 2008.

Have to agree with Gavin, lovely interiors and well considered but the crowd in there in the evenings its far too Deansgate lock and very pretentious! Much prefer to stick in Troff if i can find a seat! I suppose tv24 doesn't really fit into the N4 but Walrus just attracts a certain crowd.

baggioJuly 17th 2008.

"And i didn't find anyone trendy, I just found them deansgate locks or living room types. ”i agree. bluu and walrus just don't fit the nq image. best suited to deansgate locks.

DrakeJuly 17th 2008.

Why are people complaining about the crowd in there? There's never anyone in it. What a way to piss a 500K business loan up the wall

StubertJuly 17th 2008.

Went to walrus on a tuesday night, food was fab as was the decor, cheap as chips too!

gorJuly 17th 2008.

i meant 40%.. oh and it stank of plastic and urinals last night too. I am glad I walked out and went to the English Lounge instead

AnonymousJuly 17th 2008.

I may be tempted to go in there for the food and the food alone. The decor really makes my eyes hurt though and I agree with the degree of coldness the place has. Last time we walked in and walked straight back out again.

one eyed japJuly 17th 2008.

i love the food in Walrus, a really pleasant surprise. tehy shoudl make more of it, i expected it to be more bar led but with this stuff on the menu it should be more restuarant. i've not tried teh bento's eyt but will be abck to do so! two things tho, make the postions for the little plates a bit bigger and same with the menu! more good food please!

thewalrusJuly 17th 2008.

i would like to think that i attract a nice mix of customers. you're just as welcome if you're wearing a suit as you are if you're wearing skinny jeans. Jenny - i'll order some slimline tonic in for you today!

Melissa ManchesterJuly 17th 2008.

Isn't the NQ vibe about a bunch of creatives coming together to work, eat good food and get pissed?It's definitely not about creating an ambience of snobbery or exclusivity from whichever angle you're coming from - Gavin and Jenni (I wish you were called Stacey) the NQ isn't a a clique. And what's wrong with skinny jeans anon?I find your reverse snobbery a little misplaced when describing what is supposed to a creative melting pot of forward thinking people.Walrus is alright. They do good squid. Wouldn’t spend a whole night in there though.

keep it realJuly 17th 2008.

I wonder if the Deansgate Locks brigade get annoyed when creative thinking drinkers go in their bars? Have they got a web site to complain and say they should stay away and drink in the NQ?

Clive GJuly 17th 2008.

Great food, superb in every way but the bloody, bloody noise after 8pm on a Thursday. Turn it down until after the food. Do these places ever listen.

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