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San Juan, Chorlton, Reviewed

Gordo goes loco, proper loco, on Beech Road

Written by . Published on April 4th 2013.

San Juan, Chorlton, Reviewed

THE first time Gordo ate Spanish food was in 1967, in a beach café in Palma Nova, Mallorca. His fat little legs had already turned pink but he didn’t mind. Because George Best was playing an impromptu game of football twenty metres away.

From memory, although at the time he thought them to be horrid things, the girls gawping at the fifth Beatle were as fit as butcher’s dogs, which was why Gordo’s Dad had got himself a pair of silver-coated aviator sunglasses, spending most of the meal staring at the beach action, and not at George Best. Gordo's elder brother, reaching puberty at the time, was spending a lot of it in the toilet. 

Tortilla de patatas arrives. Better than Lunya's, it is just ever so slightly warm, with the egg touching on runny in the middle; lovely and moist, a superbly balanced sweet, yummy big Spanish savoury pancake.

Topless women were a new thing to Gordo's family. 

Eight year-old Gordo only had eyes for the food.

He was delighted with that first go at Spanish cuisine. Two fried eggs, sausages and chips. And they had Heinz tomato ketchup. Spain wasn’t all that bad after all. Obviously, his elder brother had been winding him up with stories of rice being used for anything other than milk puddings along with sausages that set pale, spotty English bottoms on fire.

Many years later and Spanish cuisine has become a firm favourite, an antidote to numbingly bland low-grade ‘Italian’ restaurants and the tsunami of  'modern British with a twist'. Show Gordo anything 'with a twist' and he can tell you one certain thing; it's going to be pants.

San JuanSan Juan

With Spanish food, especially the tapas, neighbourhood restaurants and mother’s home cooking, we are starting to see some good stuff. God bless Ferran Adria, but that cuisine will see a demise faster than the ‘nouvelle cuisine’ of Gordo’s heroes of the late eighties.

Today, we see real solid, hugely enjoyable restaurants like Cambio de Tercio on the Old Brompton road in Kensington, London with a dish of suckling pig. The shoulder, skin all crispy and crackly, the meat so tender you could pierce it with a straw,

Twenty years later the place is still packed with olive-skinned, chino-wearing, blue shirted and blazered Spanish aristocracy and impossibly handsome sons, daughters and wives.

The new wave ‘with legs’ include Jose Pizzaro's tapas bar on Bermondsey Sreet, a work of art and easily the best in the UK. To be honest, Jose’s gaff could beat the guys over in San Sebastian. He has opened a restaurant down the street in the capital recently. Gordo hasn't been there yet to eat. But he has had one of the best bottles of Spanish wine ever one sultry afternoon. Falling in love with the beauty on the other side of the bar.

Here in the North West, the best in Gordo's world up until now was Lunya, over in Liverpool, one of the favourite meals of 2012; squid paella with squid ink.

But now there is a new mistress. A tiny place on Beech Road, Chorlton. It’s definitely an equal to Lunya and is called San Juan. Take a sense of humour and an appetite with you. It's cramped, steamy, loud and on fire. It smells of strong, earthy and passionate food.

Gordo called in one day for a quick pint of a well-kept draught San Miguel. Trying an olive gifted on an old ashtray, he was stopped dead in his tracks.

This was a showstopper of an olive, tiny, shivering and glistening, it became huge on the palette. Salt and Carmen in one mouthful.

Gordo will never forget it.

Some time later he walked back in with his trusty guide to this strange area of Manchester where the bourgeoisie has proven yet again that it doesn’t need governments to re-invigorate areas. Schools get sorted out in months, not years, along with a number of shops selling wooden toys. When that happens savvy restaurants aren’t far behind.

This one is a blinder.

The second visit found Fatty murdering another pint of San Miguel squashed against the wall opposite the bar, grinning stupidly at his guide. Plates of food wafted past him, teasing. Gordo was getting the culinary equivalent of aroused. 


The atmosphere, on a busy Saturday evening was loud and exciting. The shockingly cold wind outside was now being kept at bay by the warm generated from the dining crowd, wrapping Gordo up with a blanket made from loud anticipation and little squeals of delight from around the tiny room.

Sat down half an hour later, the wine arrived. A Rioja, £19.95, was a little pleaser for the price. Boquerones, small juicy anchovies, sharp yet smooth and more of those olives. Apparently, the owner, Juan, had to buy fifty tins of olives at four pint volume as nobody wholesales these in the UK. He won’t serve any others. 

Tortilla de patatas arrives. Better than Lunya's, it is just ever so slightly warm, with the egg touching on runny in the middle; lovely and moist, a superbly balanced sweet, yummy big Spanish savoury pancake.


Then comes four slices of toasted bread, kissed by olive oil and a smear of spreadable chorizo, each topped with a crispy-bottomed fried quails egg. Runny yolks (kill Gordo right fucking now); with half of it dripping down his chin, Gordo is in seventh heaven.

Fried prawns in a batter full of seasoning and dollops of mayo just kept on being friendly. Lovely quality. The spare ribs were good, they would have been great had they not since been overshadowed by Barry the Chef's at newly opened Dog Bowl. 

Fried prawnsFried prawns

The experience offered at Juan's is like being in a bar in the back streets of Palma, or indeed Bilbao where Gordo had a similar experience. He was looking for a Michelin restaurant; it had closed. He then walked into a bar (wittily called 'The Bar') at nine thirty. Nearly empty, Gordo was about to walk out but stayed for some good looking slices of jamon and a local red wine.

One hour later there was a queue outside to get in. Gordo left at midnight after nearly fourteen courses, and an awful lot of that red wine.

So, you may have gathered, Gordo likes San Juan. You should try it. For a small, cosy neighbourhood tapas bar, it's worth travelling a long way for.

On a Bank Holiday Monday, Gordo is jumping on the tram to get there. When he arrived, it too was shut. Therefore the poor quality pictures folks, and lack of prices. The prices are as usual for tapas dishes, three to five quid or so.

Kill to get a table.

Oops. Nearly forgot. The octopus with warm, melting waxy slices of potatoes.

When Gordo is 89 and about to die, there will be no buggering of to Switzerland spending £29,000 at Dignitas.

He will hire a good car, take a trip to Fat Mary’s in Whalley Range, get six wraps of H, go to San Juan and eat that Octopus.

Then, ride the needle to heaven in the bogs.


You can follow Gordo on Twitter here @GordoManchester

San Juan
56 Beech Road, ChorltonM21 9EQ, 0161 8619558

Rating: 16.75/20
Food: 8.75/10 (tortilla 10, olives 10, boquerones 8, ribs 7)
Service: 4/5
Ambience: 4/5

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.

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

AnonymousApril 4th 2013.

San Juan is probably the best place to eat in chorlton, it puts pretty much every tapas place in manchester to shame and has done pretty much since day one after lorenzo left. you're right about it being cramped though, it's a nightmare trying to get a table unless you turn up in the first 5 minutes after it's opened some days.

Bacon OnthebeechApril 4th 2013.

Great place.
Please could you credit the exterior photo of San Juan to my website; Bacononthebeech.com
My review:

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Jonathan SchofieldApril 4th 2013.

Sorry Bacon, that should already have been done and permission sought. Apologies. Gordo forgot to take one. Naughty boy.

Bacon OnthebeechApril 4th 2013.

No problem at all, he may have got it from Designmynight who I just noticed 'borrowed' it first.

Helen TaylorApril 4th 2013.

Damn you! It's practically impossible to get a table at San Juan already, even if you are a regular and don't mind waiting at the bar drinking sherry while the lovely Juan promises to get you the very next one. Now everyone is going to pile down to Beech Road and make it even harder. Some local secrets should stay secret grrrr!

1 Response: Reply To This...
John KilgariffApril 5th 2013.

Totally agree! Myself & the missus were planning a rare night out tomorrow having obtained the services of a babysitter....DAMNIT GORDO!

Wall-EApril 4th 2013.

Glad to find out about this place as my favourite local tapas la casona is to be replaced by a vintage tea rooms.

Daniel CoultasApril 4th 2013.

eugh, a somewhat inappropriate distasteful end to an otherwise fair and pleasant review and i'm no angel.

5 Responses: Reply To This...
Mark GarnerApril 4th 2013.

Interesting comment Daniel, we've been debating whether or not to keep this in. That is, the last paragraph. We intend to debate the point.

AnonymousApril 5th 2013.

Well you certainly sound like fun Mr Coultas.

John KilgariffApril 5th 2013.

I'm in.........

AnonymousApril 5th 2013.

I quite liked this review, I think its one of gordo's better efforts including the end.

Poster BoyApril 8th 2013.

Pathetic glorification.

OscarApril 5th 2013.

"Dying in a "bog" in Chorlton", its not whether the comment is in bad taste, its the lack of ambition I find so upsetting.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Man InashedApril 5th 2013.

This tickled me

Amy GreenApril 5th 2013.

The Olives are immense!

Jessica RobertsApril 9th 2013.

Those of us who live in the Beech Road area are fortunate to have Bar San Juan on our doorstep. I've been to Evuna on Deansgate, and San Juan is miles better.

Wall-EApril 17th 2013.

Tried it at the weekend. Very good though not quite as good as the review suggests. The quails eggs with spreadable chorizo was great. A few too many ratatouille dishes for me and not enough stews. Would still rate it as better than el rincon though.

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