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Tusk Examined

Sarah Tierney goes for gourmet burgers and gets distracted by gourmet cocktails

Published on December 19th 2012.


Tusk Examined

TUSK is a new African-themed bar in the Northern Quarter. It's next door to another newbie, Hunky Dory, and stands where Walrus used to be. It's run by the same team as Walrus, hence the nod in the name.

It was a Baileys-esque, chocolatey wonder that went down like a milkshake (dangerous)

I'd been imagining an overdone, Lion King version of Africa in Tusk – zebra skins and grass huts. Thankfully, the interior designer had imagined something else.

Tusk glances towards Africa rather than tries to recreate it on High Street. It has a bohemian, Northern Quarter vibe thanks to the recycled furniture and exposed brickwork, which sit alongside batik fabrics and the occasional animal horn.

 

InteriorInterior

 

In the stairwell are salvaged block prints from a mill in Hyde that exported fabrics to Africa in the nineteenth century. (The only others remaining are held at the Whitworth Art Gallery and MOSI.) In the bar area, the jewel colours of the upholstery stand out against the warm hues of the wooden floor and packing crate tables.

It's small, warm and a little bit rustic – a very pleasant place to step into on a cold night.

Tusk's food menu is focused on gourmet burgers. There are five to choose from: wild boar, lamb, spiced bean, and the two we ordered: jerk chicken and beef. Prices range from £6.50-£8.50.

I was feeling jaded by the idea of gourmet burgers (I averaged about one a week last month) but these reignited my enthusiasm.

The beef option is a huge beast of a burger – not something you can eat with one hand while reading the paper, but a knife and fork job. The meat is made with three cuts of beef (chuck, brisket and flat rib mince) creating a textured and intensely flavoured bite. It's welded to a stack of onion rings with melted applewood cheddar and sits on a bed of gherkins, crispy lettuce and ripe tomatoes. It was cooked just right for me – a little bit pink in the middle and oozing with juices.

Big beast burgerBig beast burger

The jerk chicken is an easier eat if you like burgers that you can actually pick up and fit in your mouth. Like the beef burger, the flavours are strong but well balanced. It's a satisfying, comforting feed, and one I'd go back for.

The range of food options is limited but the detail in each is impressive. The home-made salsas that accompany are lovely – particularly the mango salsa served with the jerk chicken. You also get a mug of short, slender skin-on fries to dip in the home-made ketchup.

Tusk had specifically invited us to try their gourmet burgers but we couldn't ignore the cocktails being artfully created at the bar. The world probably doesn't need the phrase 'gourmet cocktail', but I'm going to use it anyway.

There's a section on the menu called The Big Five (all £8) which contains cocktails that taste more complex and distinctive than any I've had elsewhere.

The difference is in the home-made infusions, syrups and bitters that they're based on. I chose The Cape Buffalo which is made from black pepper infused gin – a bizarre but successful taste combination. The pepper gives it a little kick, while the apricot and blackberry puree sweetens.

Photographer Emma knew what she wanted immediately – the African Elephant which is made from raisin infused rum, white chocolate, hazelnut and banana. It's a Baileys-esque, chocolatey wonder that goes down like a milkshake (dangerous). She loved it. I coveted it. It's another one for a return visit.

Cocktail funCocktail fun

We thought we'd try a few more cocktails to see if they could keep up the standards. The Ebony and Ivory (£7) is dessert in drink form – a dark chocolate liqueur with a hint of orange and topped with a layer of fresh cream. I recommend this one and the African Elephant if you want Christmassy treat.

The signature cocktail is Tusk, which is served in an outlandish conch-shaped glass, and like all their cocktails, garnished with fresh fruits, from star fruit to pineapple to strawberries. It's a sharp, sweet gin drink. Refreshing rather than indulgent.

Like the burgers and the décor, the cocktails are all about the attention to detail. They're going for premium ingredients – in every element of the food and drink – and they're putting a lot of effort into the presentation and execution. It's an obvious formula, which makes you wonder why so many places don't follow it.

So good food, great drinks, and the African concept worked too. I'm usually averse to concept bars, particularly ones that want you to pretend you're somewhere else, be it Ireland, New York or a beach in the tropics. Tusk might be channelling the Serengeti but I felt right at home.

Find out more about Tusk.

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Helen Ramsbottom shared this on Facebook on December 20th 2012.

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