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REVIEW: Baltic Cellar, Albert Square

Jonathan Schofield on a pleasant new Eastern European restaurant that needs to time its cooking

Written by . Published on October 15th 2014.


REVIEW: Baltic Cellar, Albert Square
 

FOOD and drink words you never hear.

"Let's nip out for a Lithuanian."

More words you never hear.

"I fancy Latvian tonight."

Or even.

"Shall we indulge in a Baltic bucket?"

It's the food that needs the real attention. An indifferent chewy pudding came with, for example, squirty vegetable extract cream. Very wrong.

Before the harridans and warlocks of hypersensitivity leap on this as evidence of racial stereotyping, let me qualify myself and confess: I'm afraid you're right.

I'm sure in the Baltic states and along the coast to St Petersburg in Russia - the area of specialism for the Baltic Cellar - they adore their own food traditions. 

But since those traditions have never travelled much round my way, I'm left with simplistic cliches of Eastern European food banging around my numb brain: meaty stuff with dumplings, swede maybe, more dumplings, pickled cabbage and given we're talking the Baltic, perhaps herring. And dumplings.

Baltic Cellar

Baltic Cellar

I was hoping the Baltic Cellar would blast this ignorance away, and make me appreciate the nuances of a new cuisine - after all British food is far more than sliced white bread, hard fish fingers and frozen peas as the French seem to think. 

But before we get onto the food let's love the venue.

This is a nifty refurb, not cheap, with big banquettes making booths of every table and making the Baltic Cellar a very comfortable place to lounge. The womb-like snugness is accentuated by the basement location and the moody lighting.

If you're an ankle fetishist then you're in for a treat. There are half windows opening onto the Lloyd Street pavement. Sitting on that side of the restaurant is like being a mouse trapped inside a tap dancing convention.

Comfortable down below

Comfortable down below

Anyway the food; were my crude perceptions precise?

The Zhulien (£5.95) aka the classic Julienne, is a Russian dish with baked mushrooms, in this version with a chicken and onion sauce and a classic cheesy crust capped by dill. It was very enjoyable, very autumnal, although I needed something sharper than a spoon to breech the cheese. Overall though a worthwhile dish, a bolstering booster of a starter. 

Zhulien - very good

Zhulien - very good

It all got better with the salmon pancakes or blini (£6.95, main image). These were floaty, very fishy, yet balanced by the sour cream mix and set off by very fine pancakes. These were easily the best thing about the whole meal. The little cap of dill added more character. 

Dill became a theme.

They have a lot of dill in the kitchen.

The mains weren't so good. 

My partner's Lithuanian dish had a cracking description. It was 'Kibinai, oven baked pork pasties, served with bullion'. Given the addition of bullion it was a bargain at only £7.95.

Sadly, the bullion turned out to be a pot of thinnish bouillon. The pasty was all right but wouldn't have looked out of place in a transport caff (if there were any of those left). It shouldn't be on the mains section of the menu, this was more like a starter. Maybe Baltic Cellar should half the size and move it across the menu. 

Pasty and 'bullion'

Pasty and 'bullion'

My main was poor. The keshanele (£12.95) was marinated chicken stuffed with cheese, mushrooms, smoked bacon and wrapped in bacon. The bacon wrap was reinforced concrete. Once this had been hacked away the food was dry and characterless, exactly the opposite of how it should be. The brown rice it came with was fine, the salad was ok and there was always the dill. I dream of dill.

A poor shrivelled thing

The keshanele - a poor shrivelled thing

We also tried the lamb shashlik. The meat was fine, the sauces, the salsa and the yoghurt thing were weak, without enough heat or bulk. The dill was good.

For drinks, it's best to dig into the East European bottled beers served entertainingly in tough ceramic jugs. I liked the Utenos beer from Lithuania, a pale lager with decent flavour. The two wine choices, a house red and white, were again from Eastern Europe, and weren't up to scratch. Baltic Cellar needs to source wine from more familiar wine-growing areas - you can take a theme too far.

Good shaslik, weak accompaniments

Good shaslik, weak accompaniments

But since the beer's good, we needn't worry about the wine, it's the food that requires urgent attention. An indifferent chewy pudding came with, for example, squirty vegetable extract cream. Very wrong. The kitchen needs to sort this and at the same time give the sauces definition and make sure things such as my chicken dish aren't sent out to customers unless they're timed properly. 

Vegetable extract squirty cream - no, no, no

Vegetable extract squirty cream - no, no, no

The staff were enthusiastic, keen to explain things. And despite the main courses it was very pleasant to sit there in Baltic Cellar, chatting away to a backdrop of flying ankles. I wondered out loud whether it was this site that was Devilles nightclub in the 80s or the one next door. In which case, this would have been the bar with the worst punning-title in town, Cellar Vie.

Sat in my booth I recalled coming down to Devilles when it was populated by the people in this Youtube clip. Wow, the recent past is so strange.

As for my perceptions of Eastern European food, I'm not sure the Baltic Cellar experience has materially changed things. There is herring on the menu and there are several different types of dumpling and even sauerkraut. Stereotypes are there for a reason of course. 

Still, at least the starters showed there is skill in the kitchen, now it just needs to be applied across the menu.

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

ALL OUR SCORED FOOD REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL AND PAID FOR BY MANCHESTER CONFIDENTIAL. REVIEW VISITS ARE UNANNOUNCED AND COMPLETELY INDEPENDENT OF ANY COMMERICAL RELATIONSHIP.

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

The Baltic Cellar, Lloyd Street, City Centre, M2 5WA
Opening times: Midday to 10pm

Rating: 12/20

Food: 5/10 (zhulien 7, pancakes 7, pasty 5, chicken wrapped in bacon 4, shashlik 6, pudd 5)

Service: 3.5/5

Ambience: 3.5/5

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, 18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20, we get carried away

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

AnonymousOctober 16th 2014.

British people thanks to Ryanair have been going to the Baltic States and Eastern Europe in droves.So God knows why this man thinks this food is something totally undiscovered and unknown.He seems to regard it more as an excuse for his middle aged nostalgia,which he seems to think anybody else is interested in.

AnonymousOctober 16th 2014.

Been drinking Stella at 1.22 am when you posted that? You nasty person, at least attempt some wit if you're going to be rude. As it happens Lloyd Street is full of various old venues so it's reasonable enough to make reference to them... Hope your hangover is bad today anyway, and if you weren't drunk then maybe consider some therapy for that temper of yours.

Jared SzpakowskiOctober 16th 2014.

Can't go wrong with dill and dumplings, I even like my dumplings WITH dill. On special occasions I go wild and have dumplings with dill, cabbage AND pickled herrings too! You forgot to mention the mountain of beetroot, caraway and sausage based dishes that you could sound like you haven't tried but don't like anyway. Again, all lovely stuff.

AnonymousOctober 16th 2014.

My boyfriend and I tried this place last Saturday night. The fact that it was almost empty should have been a telling sign. We had the Chicken Zhulien to start which turned out to be ice cold at the bottom and piping hot on top. The main of chicken shashlick, while tasty had bones (apparently it was meant to be boneless) and the recommended main of chicken keshanele was terrible - two tiny pasties filled with what tasted like reconstituted meat. Now I don't have a sensitive stomach, but let's just say the next day was not pretty. It's such a shame because the people who worked there were lovely, but I won't be going back.

NathanOctober 16th 2014.

When you say your chicken had bones,what bones were you referring to? Like fish bones??? Lol, this is really funny.As far as I am aware,BALTIC CELLAR just opened and ANONYMOUSes are already here again spoiling new businesses as usual. This is what Manchester Confidential ( Manchester Commercial)does to those who do not pay and sign up to their services. I have been working in Manchester city center for over 10 years and know what Manchester Commercial does to those who fail to go through them as a new or an existing business. This is not new,this has been done over and over to other restaurants by Manchester Commercial.Anyway,I have been to the Baltic Cellar with a group of 10 and all were served on time with Zhulien served as was meant to be all piping hot throughout unlike what the funny comment stated. Also had the chicken shashlik and just can't even imagine how that part of the chicken used for the shashlik could have bones? This is what made me start thinking that apparently Baltic Cellar had no business with Manchester Confidential and hence this funny review and article. Anyway,we were there in Baltic Cellar and we are most happy that this new grill bar has opened. VIVA Baltic Cellar!!!Don't let this evil commercial structure fall your spirits and hard work! You have done really well! We will definetly be back!!!

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Hero
GordoOctober 23rd 2014.

Sometimes I realise why terms like Fuc*wit are useful.

Henry VOctober 23rd 2014.

Have you read the Hunan article Nathan? They aren't advertising. Are you one of those shit food and beverage guys who can't admit they're shit?

PaulOctober 17th 2014.

I visited Baltic Cellar this weekend before going out with my mates. Enjoyed evrry bit of it. The atmosphere actually reminded me of home. The cosiness and warmth added to the experience. I live in liverpool but from estonia originally, so i am familiar with the cuisine. Will recomend to try the shashlyk to anyone. Overall 10/10. Will definetely visit next time in manchester. lady and boyfriend must've had a bad day.

AnonymousNovember 14th 2014.

I went last Saturday and had a WORM in my main - fantastic experience. Starters tasted fine, by the way, so if you are not worried about the sanitary standards in the kitchen it might be just the place to go.

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