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Lucha Libre Reviewed

Jonathan Schofield likes the simple virtues of the swanky new Mexican in town

Written by . Published on November 28th 2013.

Lucha Libre Reviewed

LUCHA Libre recently opened in what's becoming 'cool chain row'.

The quesadillas were winners. Delicate almost, punchy as well, just absolutely enjoyable, the flavours combining very well. 

The facade of the mighty Great Northern Warehouse at the junction of Peter Street and Deansgate is filling up with trendsetters. It now hosts three innovative operators from three cities: London is represented by All Star Lanes, Manchester by Almost Famous and Liverpool by Lucha Libre.

Hanging chilli bunches


Hanging chilli bunches

All of them cleverly dance on a wobbly tightrope. They are still adored by indie-types and graphic designers, yet are slick and professional enough to attract investors with an eye for the big national roll-out. They don't want to feel mainstream, but are just mainstream enough not to remain imprisoned in various 'Northern Quarters' across the country. 

All of them are inspired by North America despite their origins. Lucha Libre's point of difference is clear. It focuses on Mexican food and doesn't do anything with pulled pork. This is good. Everybody should just give over with pulled pork.

Corrugated pathCorrugated pathThe interior of the restaurant has been Mexican themed to within an inch of its life. Chillies, vivid red, hang like warnings or threats, passionate posters of lovers and fighters put you in the Latino mood, condiment bottles wear devils' heads and bleached skulls. Free fighter (the meaning of lucha libre) masks are everywhere except on the staff. 

The walls to the toilets sport corrugated iron sheets on the walls as though you're walking through an impoverished pueblo 100 miles outside Mexico City and not through twenty miles of Christmas markets.

It's over the top but entertainingly so and works well. The bar area is particularly handsome.

Looking down on the bar


Looking down on the bar

The food works well too.

Let's start with two quesadillas. The chorizo and potato (£4.50) and the gringa (pork belly and pineapple - £4.75) were winners all the way. Delicate almost, punchy as well, absolutely enjoyable, the flavours combining very well. 

Quesadilla winners


Quesadilla winners

A 'large plate' of birria, slow cooked lamb, red rice and tortillas (£10.95) was hearty and spicy, very satisfying and suitably engaging. Another main of seared tuna crusted with chilli and sporting pickled carrots and this time hibiscus rice (£11.95) was more refined but equally rewarding.

More colourful and rumbustiously hearty was a delightfully delivered pair of sea bass fillets (£12.95) coloured up vivid red with achiote paste and given zest with a citrus marinade. The patatas del pobre provided a robust foundation to the fine dish. Achiote seems to deliver a smoky spice flavour and is prepared using seeds from the achiote plant which is also known as the lipstick tree for obvious reasons. I got that bit from Wikipedia.

Rouged fish

Rouged fish

My fellow diners savaged a classic burrito (£6.50) and a cali steak burrito (£7.75) so quickly I can only assume they liked them. Some spicy popcorn nibbles were entertaining but for God's sake unless you're one of those idiots who takes part in chilli eating challenges leave the Icarus chicken wings alone (£4.75) with their red hot sauce.

These wings nearly ruined my meal. The classical allusion was appropriate, I was burned and crashed to earth, my mouth as hot as Popocatepetl's crater. Fortunately a horchata made from rice water and recommended by the staff put out the flames. 

There were two fails.

The ceviche cocktail - fish cured in lime juice with tomato, onion, cucumber and somewhere salsa and jalapeno (£5.25) - was dull, characterised by an exceptional lack of character. Odd given the ingredients.

The second fail involved a shared Lucha sundae (£6.50). This included brownies, churros and ice cream and was a mess and weirdly unsweet. A sturdy lime and hibiscus cheesecake was a much better dessert (£4).

A Bloody Maria (£7.50) cocktail - manzanilla sherry, Calle 23 Blanco tequila, lime, Worcester sauce and red sangrita - was a marvel. 

All of this is apparently 'authentic'. The Liverpudlian owners, chef and it would appear several of the waiters and waitresses, have studied Mexican food and obsessed over it. 

Condiments with hats


Condiments with hats

I have to trust them over the authenticity because I really don't know.

I would love to say that I'm so up to speed with Mexican cuisine I eat it every Wednesday (and Fridays if possible); that I do so wearing a sombrero, occasionally bellowing "Arriba!" while flicking through an iPad for Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera prints to decorate my Acapulco-themed house where I like to go loco during the Day of the Dead festival. I'd like to say I spend at least three weeks of summer in those parts of Me-hi-co that remain uninsulted by Jeremy Clarkson just to sample the regional varieties of a diverse cuisine.

But that would be lying.

Mexican food has passed me by. Lack of exposure you see. I've never been to Mexico and Mexico has never been to me - or for that matter the north of England very frequently. 

So I judged this food on the simplest of measures: Did I like it and did it match what I perceive are the qualities of Mexican food from what I've read in books and seen on the movies?

Yes it did. In its rugged, wholesomeness it was entertaining and satisfying. The staff were great. Some things were probably a pound or two overpriced but I'll certainly be back for more.

One final tip.

Have the Modelo beer without the lime jammed in the neck of the bottle. It's a fine beer, the lime ruins it and feels like an affectation from the eighties. Of course if you have scurvy then keep it there. 

Leave the lime out


Leave the lime out

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter @JonathSchofield or connect via Google+


Lucha Libre, Great Northern Warehouse, Great Northern Square, City centre. M3 4EN. 0161 850 0629.

Rating: 15/20 (remember venues are rated against the best examples of their type - see yellow box below)

Food: 7/10 (quesadillas 8, seabass 7.5, lamb 7.5, tuna 7.5, burritos 7 (apparently), ceviche cocktail 5, cheesecake 7, sundae 5, extras 7.5)
Service: 4/5 
Ambience: 4/5

PLEASE NOTE: 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, we get carried away.

Tasty dipTasty dip

Lucha Libre manLucha Libre man

Cheeky popcornCheeky popcorn

Bloody Maria - niceBloody Maria - nice

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

pollolocoNovember 28th 2013.

Seven of us went on Sunday after being promised half price street food via Twitter....we didn't get it though. :(

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousNovember 28th 2013.

I fell for this too, they said half price Sunday to Thursday in November. This wasn't the case.

pollolocoNovember 28th 2013.

they promised me a cocktail next time I'm in....sorry but you've already lost me as a punter. Why offer something and then not deliver?

jrsteeveNovember 28th 2013.

Went for a drink last week, thought it was ok but haven't rushed back.

AnonymousNovember 28th 2013.

Or Frida Kahlo, even.

1 Response: Reply To This...
EditorialNovember 28th 2013.

Changed. Thanks

AnonymousNovember 28th 2013.

I loved it and think the burritos and tacos are a bargain and bloody tasty. Plus I havent eaten anwhere serving mexican food thats half as good as this in manchester.

Margaret CleggNovember 28th 2013.

Going this week, will post later. Lived in California, Texas and Mexico City so will have to be stupendous to impress me! That said, any attempt at REAL Mexican food is a good thing; so far the only place I can get it is at home!! Will be interesting to see if it's generic or that they've actually worked on some regional dishes.

1 Response: Reply To This...
IanNovember 28th 2013.

by regional do you mean 'hot pot' tacos, haha

Nikki DysonNovember 28th 2013.

Went last week and enjoyed it overall. The ceviche cocktail was perfect though so weird that you didn't rate it. Would go back. The churros are also very good.

AnonymousNovember 28th 2013.

Ate there on Saturday (been to the Liverpool one a few times). Service was great. Cocktails were good, and we enjoyed the food. It could have had a little bit more oomph to it - though I appreciate they're juggling the positions of keeping it authentic, but also being able appeal to the crowd whose only experience of Mexican food is Chiquitos. For what it cost, it was great value, and will definitely be going back.

AnonymousNovember 28th 2013.

It's chalk and cheese compared to Chiquitos

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousNovember 28th 2013.

Oh, I agree - way way better than Chiquitos, simply using that as an example of the 'standard' level of Mexican food in this country. You know how it is, people get used to eating a tikka masala, then they go somewhere that does a proper curry and complain it doesn't taste like what they're used to.

Lorraine ByrneNovember 28th 2013.

We ate there on Monday night on the 50% off as well. Thought the food was great - we ordered the street food platter between two and my fave was the pork and orange (very top picture) - absoutely delish. The staff were very friendly and informative and there was a nice buzz about the place. When we got the bill, the 50% hadn't been taken off but we mentioned it to our waiter who said it was an oversight and we got it sorted immediately. I will defo go again.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
pollolocoNovember 29th 2013.

so basically you don't get the 50% discount that Lucha Libre offered for November.....unless you physically ask them for it at the time of paying....bizarre marketing technique.

GroanNovember 29th 2013.

Pillolocks, sounds like a simple mistake to me. But, you probably believe Kennedy was assassinated by Hitler, who was hiding out in Argentina around then.

AnonymousNovember 28th 2013.

Hope its an improvement on the liverpool branch, the food there was dull and was OK on a discount. You'd go a long way to beat Panchos Burritos

Frazer MunroNovember 29th 2013.

You must have had an off day with the Ceviche, was in for lunch on Saturday and mine was great; just (and only just) the right side of acceptably spicy and zesty with Lime. Thankfully that Horchata stuff does its job and is very tasty too. I also love that popcorn with the porcini and chilli dust, could eat that all Day...

Wall-EDecember 2nd 2013.

Went today. Loved the interior. Food was good without being as exciting as I expected. Mentioned 50% on arrival which was available on all street food and taco trays. Will return.

AnonymousDecember 7th 2013.

Went here again last night now they've bedded in. Party of seven of us and everyone enjoyed the food. The service really stands out for me - some really good waiting staff, pleasent, knowledgeable bu not overbearing in any way.

Margaret CleggJanuary 17th 2014.

Still more TexMex than Mexican. None of the regional dishes I enjoyed when living in Mexico; ie seafood, vegetarian, depending on which state you were visiting. Kind of like saying all Indian food is the same. Still, better than what Manchester had to offer before - nada!

JimJanuary 19th 2014.

I visited here recently and looked forward to a my fave food and i ordered a BBQ pork option but wasted my time and should have gone veggie, i sent a search party looking for the pork....they didn't return and neither will I. My partner asked for some dip to cool hers down and got a thimble full for £1.50, rip off, not nice food and overpriced. Don't bother visiting you will be disappointed and leave hungry due to the minute portions.

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