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Panama Hatty's Reviewed

Jonathan Schofield finds 'eclectic' everywhere and remembers a football match

Written by . Published on February 16th 2012.

Panama Hatty's Reviewed

IN retail it was out of fashion for years.

It’s a consciously 'fun' place, a place that doesn’t take itself too seriously but seriously wants people to have a good time.

This was the WHSmith principle of trying to please several different markets all at the same time with books, games, IT, stationery, mags, papers, sweets, pens and so on all clamouring for attention. Retail wizards had declared this a big no-no by the nineties and shops and stores were told to specialise so Waterstones sold just books, Monsoon just clothes and so on.

The WHSmith ideal has been flooding back in recent years, certainly in middle to large stores. So in Urban Outfitters you can get clothes, lighting, bedding, novelty gifts and furniture, likewise in Next. In the larger Tescos these days you can buy a low-grade world of everything except military hardware and spacecraft.

Modest entranceModest entrance

The ‘crazee’ mix has been an industry constant in food and drink for decades. As with retail it may fade but it always comes back.

The most typical representative in the city centre is Panama Hatty’s on Brown Street, part of a mini-chain in the North West with other branches in Tarporley and Prestwich.

People seem to like it very much indeed.

The basement venue has one of the easiest to miss entrances in the city yet always appears to have healthy levels of custom. It must be doing something right.

This is where we come to the word ‘eclectic’, a marketing and design cliché par excellence. The management of Panama Hatty’s must have set up a temple somewhere to the word 'eclectic', where they worship it with the zeal of fanatics.

The decor is a dizzying array of fabrics, colours, furniture and lighting. The food is described on the menu as ‘taken mainly from the Latin countries, Mexico, the Caribbean,  the American South West and a few other exotic places to spice things up’. In otherwords anywhere.


The range on the menu is vast. From sharing platters to a fine kids menu via linguines, tagines, risottos, salads, ribs, fajitas, burritos and so on - the fridges must be huge

This could be a problem.

Normally ‘eclectic’ is a substitute for ‘clueless’. It says, ‘Listen we haven’t got a single idea of how to do things so we’re going to chuck everything in just hoping customers will like some if it’. 

Panama Hatty’s could have gone that way but there is such a determined over-the-top verve to the place it becomes endearing.

And hence popular.

Especially coupled with the enthusiastic, attentive, if a shade inexperienced, service. And the clever pricing of food.

On our visit we started with the hot 'n' sticky shrimps, an apricot, ginger and sweet chilli pepper glaze for £6.75.

Hot'n'sticky shrimps - shrimps is American for prawnHot'n'sticky shrimps - shrimps is American for prawn

Then we had the jambalaya, ‘Cajun spiced rice simmered with firm tiger shrimp, juicy Atlantic prawns, mussels, marinated chicken, chorizo sausage, fruit de mer, coriander, chopped jalapenos and red chillies, served with spicy tomato crustini’ for £14.25.

There was also the 'gourmet chop-steak burger', seasoned ‘100% pure British Beefsteak mince’ with Emmental cheese for £11.95. This was described as ‘hand-made’: thank God for that.

What to write about with this food?

JumbalayaJumbalayaWell it was all on the money for the price paid - wholesome, solid, a definition of decent mid-range dining.

The jumbalaya was the best thing with a menagerie of ingredients that worked a treat. Jumbalaya is essentially paella from Louisiana spiced up with hot things such as jalapenos. The Panama Hatty’s version was entertaining and filling.

For dessert I had the traditional cheesecake for £5.95 with berries, sauce and whipped cream. This was a bit of a let down. The cheesecake was too solid for me, I prefer my cheesecakes softer and sweeter.

The winelist reflects the menu, with a crowd-pleasing random drift around the New World plus the odd Old World representative. Typical - and at the top end of the price range - was a Pinotage at £20.95 from South Africa, which was a little blurred in definition but a comfortable enough drink.

Solid cheescakeSolid cheescake

Panama Hatty's is a massive hit with office parties and the weekend shopping fraternity. You can see why.

It’s a consciously 'fun' place, a place that doesn’t take itself too seriously but seriously wants people to have a good time.

It's also a trip down memory lane for me.

The first time I ventured there was in 1990 when under previous management it was called Brahams and Liszt (ho, ho).

With some friends I watched England draw 0-0 with Holland in the 1990 World Cup. Stuart Pearce scored a goal (I think) but it was disallowed. England's next football match in 2012 is a friendly with Holland and Stuart Pearce is the stand-in England manager.

Plus ça change as they say.  

Aside from the shiver 22 years passing gives me, the way Panama Hatty’s does things has a certain sense of ‘eclectic’ timelessness.

Jamie Oliver’s Italian and L’Entrecote’s arrival will blow a gale through the food and drink in the King Street area. I predict Panama Hatty’s with its popularist appeal, will still comfortably pull in the punters. 

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield


Panama Hatty's
43a Brown Street, Off King Street, City M2 2JJ, 0161 832 8688 

Rating: 13/20
Food: 6.5/10
Service: 3.5/5
Ambience: 3/5

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.


Burger, simple does itBurger, simple does it

Menu wearing a headMenu wearing a head

Hey, look we've found some furniture that doesn't go with the other furniture, let's chuck it all inHey, look we've found some furniture that doesn't go with the other furniture, let's chuck it all in

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

Yian PhillipsFebruary 16th 2012.

My review of you, doing your review....

Having been sat at the table next to you whilst you were conducting your "review", I felt it was more like you were taking over the venue. I thought the art of a food critic was to be discrete and under the radar. Personally, if I was a member of staff you might have got my back up.
You were loud and irritating. I'll give you 8 out of 20.

On Panama's
I have been to Panama Hatty's on a number of occasions this year already and previous years. The staff have always been excellent and accommodating. The food, to me, covers all bases in a good way. It's always hot, well spiced and that's me having personally been about 10 times over the past 12 months.
It is good for a lone diner, a couple, a family or a large group booking. They cater for all, having been part of those group in there.
They even cater for my VERY fussy friend Darren, that's saying alot!
Keep up the good work guys.

Mr Yian Phillips

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Jonathan SchofieldFebruary 16th 2012.

And how do you know it was me? Next time come and say hello. But since there were only two of us in a half empty room I'm not sure you have the right man, although I admit I can be a tad loud. Anyway do you think the review fair?

AnonymousFebruary 17th 2012.

Yian. You are a hero to me. You're a dab hand with a hammer, and on your first point that nail took it right on the bonce.

paulFebruary 16th 2012.

I cannot see the point in going for a meal if i know I can do better at home

6 Responses: Reply To This...
avoFebruary 16th 2012.

You could go for a meal because it's convenient, for a special occasion, to escape doing the chores at home, for the ambience and service, for social engagement and interaction, to sample the extensive wine list. If everyone had the mindset that you do, nobody would eat out.

I've not been on here for months and note that the majority of your posts are invariably negative.

JayFebruary 16th 2012.

Couldn't agree more Paul. I don't see the point of places like Panama's who offer neither anything exciting, authentic, not different.

JayFebruary 16th 2012.

*or different

avoFebruary 16th 2012.

People go out for dinner for myriad reasons; to escape the chores, because it's convenient, for social engagement, for the ambience of the venue, to try out different cuisines, to sample the extensive wine list...

If eveyone thought like you, there would be no food and drink scene.

paulFebruary 17th 2012.

If I were planing a special occasion Panama Hatty's would not be on my list.

avoFebruary 17th 2012.

and not all the "Paul" posts are mine reason above

February 17th 2012.

Panama Hattys used to be great. The good service was the first to go; then they downsized the menu removing some items and changing the recipes for the remaining dishes. When they turned the lounge area into an extension of the restaurant we stopped going.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousFebruary 19th 2012.

I agree with this completely. The service went down hill as well and we gave up. A shame, it used to be our favourite place.

JS3February 17th 2012.

Been a couple of times and can't complain to be fair. Are there any better/authentic Mexican places in town other than the downstairs one on Portland St?

AnonymousFebruary 20th 2012.

I wasn't too sure where to go for a meal at the weekend and ended up in panama hatties. Funnily enough we had a very similar meal although I did opt for the burger which you have kindly included a picture of.

I struggle to see how you can rate the service there any less than a 4.5, you must of been a real prick.

I also found your breakdown of the starter a little vague AKA non-existant which for me, ruined my review experience.

Overall I'd rate this as follows

Review of decor 5/5
Creative Writing 5/5
Review of food 2/5

I genuinely do feel bad for pointing out the negatives in your review but I felt it was important for you to understand that if you do insist on doing something like this again, its a key factor to actually talk mainly about food but on the plus side, I think you have a bright future ahead of you in writing horoscopes.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Donald DuckFebruary 20th 2012.

I think if you're going to aggressive, one should always be brave enough to put a name to the comment.

Jules KhanMarch 5th 2012.

Jamie's Italian - great venue but at what price?

Went for lunch at Jamie's new "Jewel In His Crown" last week. Food was fresh and tasty. Atmosphere fab. Great value. Then we hear that the place is being run on 17 hour shifts for the kitchen staff...thought slave labour was a thing of the past. Shame on you Jamie.

AnonymousMarch 6th 2012.

i take it your not really from the industry then Jules? It still happens - usually in Rosette and * places granted but does still happen. they're probably on a 4 day week to make it work

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