Charango – Chorlton, Manchester

Having spent many years practicing eating, I have been largely been disappointed by every South American restaurant I have ever eaten in; so much so that I have stopped eating in them. Largely this is due to fried everything, substandard steak and the belief that smoked paprika and harsh chili are the only flavourings found throughout the whole of the continent.

It was with a heavy heart and many trepidations that I agreed to meet a friend at Charango, Chorlton’s South America tapas restaurant (I have similar issues with tapas, so you can imagine the state of mind I was in).

Charango has a large decking area to the front and big glass windows that open out on to it. Lovely if it’s a summer day/you’re in Europe; however this was Manchester, it was raining and it was the first day of a very full cold for me so I was not happy having to sit in front of them and wrapped myself in the boy’s jacket to compensate. The cold feeling wasn’t even tempered by the bright colours on the walls and the relaxed feel of the place – the tiling and lack of people in Charango positively exacerbated it.

To combat the cold in my feet and the one in my head I started with Mayan Hot Chocolate – ‘a pre-Hispanic recipe of ground cocoa nibs, ancho chili, annantto and spices.’ This was a soothing, warm concoction of full milk with a not too sweet, not overpowering chocolate flavour and an underlying warmth, rather than a full on spiciness (thank god). I’m not one to suggest miracle cures but my cold cleared up the next day whereas my colleagues at work suffered all week. Whether a miracle cure or not it’s certainly worth stopping by just for this.

We relocated indoors towards the back to see if I could warm up, it was very quiet but we were eating early (4pm Sunday). By the time we had finished the tables were half full and the place was starting to buzz.

Charango interior – with thanks to citylife.co.uk

As there were three of us we took advantage of the small plates at Charango and decided to share. Food came out quickly and mostly all together. A smooth, sweet and creamy pepper salsa coming out first with the rest of the plates being added a few minutes later.

I always order squid, I see it as a benchmark on the quality of the restaurant. Charango’s chili squid from the small plates menu was very well cooked, soft and tasty, apart from one or two pieces that came out slightly chewy. From the same menu we had the bacalo fitters, which were salty and soft, really moreish and the salsa served with them was smokey and fresh. We also had the fresh crab empanadas (small pasties), the pastry of which was lovely and crisp with a soft and fresh filling; the sweetness of the crab being off-set by the zingy spring onion and jalapeno.

Unfortunately there was no slow roasted pork or black bean and sweet potato stew left, but the quality of the rest of the medium sized plates made up for this. The Black Bean, Pork and Beef Feijoada really lived up to the description of being a ‘wonderful stew’ – the sauce was deep and savoury with a smokey underlying taste; the pieces of beef and pork small but wonderfully soft.

Pork Meatballs were quite large in a smokey, tangy tomatoy sauce – which livened up and complimented the sweetness of the pork. Puerto Rican adobo chicken skewers were small, but well flavoured and the minute steak and prawn skewers were expertly cooked with medium beef and soft prawns (again prawns are another benchmark ingredient I find).

Whoops – no pictures of the food – we ate it all before I could remember to take a picture!

Even though we were stuffed I was intrigued by Charango’s Mayan Gold Chocolate Cake – this was a squidgy, dark, rich torte with quite a strong chili flavour – unfortunately unlike all the other dishes which highlighted Charango’s expertise at layering flavours the cake had that annoying throat-hurting, harsh chili, rather than a warmth in the mouth. Although the lime creme fraishe did help somewhat towards extinguishing the fire in my throat, this was a disappointing end to a satisfying meal and I wish I had chosen the churros.

Mayan Gold Chocolate Cake

Charango is a great place to go for a sharing lunch/informal meal with friends and the chili based dishes, heavy with flavour and savouriness will soothe out any hangover/flu/cold/general malaise. The food is satisfying and warm with only a few mistakes (such as the cake). It is good to find a restaurant that recognises the different flavours and personalities of chilies and structures dishes around this; rather than in other places where it’s all jalapenos, smoked paprika and finger chilies only. This can also be seen in the pairing of salsas with dishes, and having more than one type of salsa available.

Charango scores extra points for the fact that their menu is made up of fairtrade, free-range, outdoor reared, responsibly and locally sourced ingredients without the exorbitant prices or continual menu boasting in every description of every dish as you would find with most other places – a very refreshing change and something I, and hope many others, will support.

Cost for three including: one dip, three small plates, three medium plates and one pudding (drinks were bought separately): £43.35

Value for money: 9/10
Atmosphere: 6/10
Service: 7/10
Food: 8/10

Total: 30/40

Charango, 456 Barlow Moor Road, Chorlton Cum Hardy, Manchester M21 0BQ – 0161 881 8596

Charango on Urbanspoon

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