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Sand Bar Reviewed

Simon Binns can't stomach a foodie return to his student haunt

Written by . Published on November 2nd 2011.

Sand Bar Reviewed

SAND Bar holds a special place in my memory. I spent three years studying in the big orange university building opposite and as such, this louche and lo-fi hangout beloved of students, lecturers and oddly, cycle couriers, became a second home of sorts.

It was a great place for pint, a Northern Quarter kind of bar before the Northern Quarter really existed. I’m going back 15 years, when Sand Bar was the cool alternative to the vulgar Footage and Firkin across the road.

"To describe it as stodgy would be doing it a favour, and the only possible use I could think for it was as some sort of novelty grout."

After two previously aborted attempts to review the place for its food, I finally managed to find it open and with a fully-functioning kitchen last week.

I was encouraged. It didn't last long.

To talk about the food offering in Sand Bar feels like bumping into a university friend from 15 years ago only to discover they’ve turned into a massive twat. The tardiness that greeted us as we arrived and stood at the bar waiting for drinks quickly veered towards threatening urgency when I asked if I could order drinks, open a tab, then add the food and pay for everything later.

“No, you need to decide what you want to eat now. Where are you sitting?

“I don’t know. We’ve just walked in.”

“You need to tell me. Now.”

We were then handed the table plan and told to identify the table we were going to sit at. We looked around the corner and picked one out.

It was like an interrogation scene from 24. The four of us uncomfortably scanned the menu, which is on an entire wall next to the bar and eventually chose our lunch and our table. Whilst being stared at, with menace.

Annie, the vegetarian, ordered one of two non-meat dishes available, a cassoule. After 20 minutes, someone came to our table to tell us they didn’t have any of that, so they’d have to choose something else. Now.


As Annie was frogmarched back to the wall of food, Eddy wondered if it might have been a good idea to just wipe it off the blackboard menu if there wasn’t any left. We were all too scared to suggest it.

Annie’s second choice, an aubergine parmigiana (£6.95), was tepid, lifeless and dull, topped with breadcrumbs to hide the sheer boredom of a dish that lacked seasoning, flavour and purpose.

Kate ordered a pasta dish. Not the one that arrived, however. This one had bits of chorizo in and far too much chilli, presumably to hide the fact that the pasta was overcooked to the point of near mush. Some raw onion had been lobbed in there too, for padding. At £6.95, it was a piss-take of epic proportions.


Eddy’s pie and chips (£6.95) was ok – nice puff pastry lid, warming minced beef filling, bog standard chips, but the show-stopper had been saved for me.

The three discs of pork belly (£7.65) were dry - really dry - and brittle, like bionic rice cakes-cum-coasters, but they could only lie there in stunned fear of the biggest lump of colcannon mash in the universe. It looked like a punctured football, and tasted little better. To describe it as stodgy would be doing it a favour, and the only possible use I could think for it was as some sort of novelty grout. It was stupidly big. It overpowered the entire table, not just my dish.


Add some soggy green beans and beige water masquerading as gravy/jus/God knows what, and it all added up to what has to be one of the worst dishes I’ve ever been served. The tastiest looking thing about the dish was the string I picked out of the pork.

It was all wrong, wrong, wrong - service, execution, everything. It smacked of a place that just couldn’t be arsed trying with food.

Maybe it shouldn't bother. Sand Bar is a cracking place for a drink, full of lively people and lively conversation with well-kept excellent beers. The food should be stopped or re-thought. Now.

You can follow Simon Binns on Twitter @simonbinns

ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL. £1000 to the reader who can prove otherwise, and dismissal for the staff member who wrote a review scored out of twenty on a freebie from the restaurant.

Sand bar
120 Grosvenor Street, All Saints, Manchester M1 7HL


Rating: 8/20

Food: 3/10

Service: 1/5

Ambience: 4/5

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

Work Experience shared this on Facebook on November 2nd 2011.
RayNovember 2nd 2011.

Oh dear! Amusing article, Simon. Made me chuckle.

AnonymousNovember 2nd 2011.

8/20 Sounds genourous to me. Looks like it should be a 2/20

paulNovember 2nd 2011.

Looks like someone who doesn't know what they are doing trying very hard and failing

StephenNovember 2nd 2011.

"Annie, the vegetarian"
"Annie’s second choice, an aubergine parmigiana"

Annie needs to read up on parmesan?

AnonymousNovember 2nd 2011.

Had a pizza there last week. Swimming with grease!

Isabella JacksonNovember 2nd 2011.

Vegetarian Stephen, not vegan. Or is there a secret animal product hidden in pamasan that no one yet knows about?

1 Response: Reply To This...
StephenNovember 3rd 2011.

It's no secret Isabella. Parmesan is not vegetarian.

Just beerNovember 3rd 2011.

Get beer here, just beer, enjoy the beer, love the beer, have a chat, forget about time. Leave the food.

AnonymousNovember 3rd 2011.

Embarrassing that somebody who makes it their business to pass judgement on culinary matters doesn't know something as simple as the fact that parmesan isn't suitable for vegetarians. That's common knowledge it's not even a niche fact.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousNovember 3rd 2011.

Who gives a fcuk? Veggie weirdos...

ChorltongalNovember 3rd 2011.

Parmesan contain calf rennet... (copied from wikipedia): Production of natural calf rennet
Natural calf rennet is extracted from the inner mucosa of the fourth stomach chamber (the abomasum) of slaughtered young, unweaned calves. These stomachs are a by-product of veal production. If rennet is extracted from older calves (grass-fed or grain-fed) the rennet contains less or no chymosin but a high level of pepsin and can only be used for special types of milk and cheeses. As each ruminant produces a special kind of rennet to digest the milk of its own species, there are milk-specific rennets available, such as kid goat rennet for goat's milk and lamb rennet for sheep's milk.

Pretty gross even for a meat eater!

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousNovember 3rd 2011.

but tastes fantastic! where do you think your food comes from you veggie muppets?

AngeNovember 3rd 2011.

Parmesan is usually not veggie as it should contain rennet. However, a lot of cheaper Parmesan and Parmesan like cheeses are now made in big clinical factories and are often veggie. You have to look at the label though.

I actually think yo u are doing the Sand Bar a bit of a disservice here, I drink there a lot as I work at the Uni. It's never tried to be a foodie place, it's a real ale bar that serves some food. The chips are usually really good, the home made veggie sausages are really good. It's basic stodgy food designed to soak up some very well poured real ale.

1 Response: Reply To This...
StephenNovember 3rd 2011.

Parmesan cheese has protected status under European law, and as such is produced in a defined area, to very strict methods. This means that all of it fails the Veggie test. So any parmesan dish, pesto etc is out.

Yes there are alternatives, but they are difficult to source in the North West (Sheffield is the nearest stockist to Manchester). I think it reasonable to assume that had they sourced a veggie alternative they would point it out?

AnonymousNovember 3rd 2011.

I agree @Ange...it's like CAMRA doing a review of Australasia. Now that would be a good read.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Jonathan SchofieldNovember 3rd 2011.

Anon. I largely live in pubs rather than Australasia.

AnonymousNovember 3rd 2011.

Sand Bar's food offering has always been half-hearted; the problem is that they try to make it look like it's not. They shouldn't charge the same for food as Trof do over the road and not provide the same quality. If they don't have the facilities to cater, their offering should be dropped right back. Why not just do burgers? Really good burgers and nothing else?

Go to Sand Bar for the wonderful, extensive, well-kept beers, ales, porters, lagers, ciders. That's their strong suit that always has me walking past Trof.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AngeNovember 3rd 2011.

The food in trof is awful, over proced, over rated with awful service...

Swiss JamesNovember 3rd 2011.

Cracking review- what is with all the cycle couriers in Sand Bar anyway?

Lorraine ByrneNovember 3rd 2011.

Love the review ha ha ha

AnonymousNovember 3rd 2011.

won't be eating there ce soir

AnonymousNovember 3rd 2011.

I too haven't been near the place in over 10 years, having sworn never to darken its door again after similarly appalling service.

I remember the bell ringing for last orders and being served with a round of 6 beers for our party of 6. No problem.

I get back to the table with them and here's the same guy who'd just served me barking "Drink up! Now! Come on I said DRINK UP!" He continued on his merry way and we set about drinking up (and grumbling). Not 60 seconds later he was back, and now even more aggressive - literally standing over us and snarling.

I explained our gripe in a calm and reasonable manner. Why take the money if you're going to behave like that etc. and of course he beckons some meathead over and tells us to get out. Now.

We did. And not one of us has ever been near the place since.

I'm guessing many people have a similar story. Awful place.

AnonymousNovember 3rd 2011.

Typical Sandbar staff, real shame they take no pride in their jobs, they haven't for the past 10 years... Great beers yes but plenty of other bars/pubs in Manchester with same extensive beer range and the added bonus of pleasant staff.

Anna Bliss shared this on Facebook on November 3rd 2011.
AnonymousNovember 21st 2011.

Odd. I'd always assumed cheese was ok for veggies, given that it is not made of meat. See also vegetables.

AnonymousDecember 14th 2011.

I just wanted to point out the Ashley, the manager of Sand Bar, has actually contacted me to say the kitchen operations are being overhauled in the New Year and apologised for our experience, which I thought was worth a mention.

He also offered us a refund - which we refused as Confidential stands the cost for all its scored reviews.

But it's good to see management engaging with feedback from customers.


Simon BinnsDecember 14th 2011.

Oh, and that was me above btw...

Ash WrightJanuary 2nd 2012.

We at Sandbar have conveyed our apologies to Simon. We are very sorry to hear of his awful experience in our bar and have taken on board the points he has made. We do take great pride in what we do and we know we are far from perfect but it is very disappointing to know we still have a long way to go.

We would like you to know we will be making significant changes to the way we operate along with a kitchen refurbishment due to take place early in the New Year. After which we plan to invite you back and hope we can do a lot better.

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