Bar San Juan
With Manchester’s famously drizzly climate, the idea of transporting yourself to the sultry streets of Spain may seem like a far-flung fantasy… but Bar San Juan begs to differ, bringing you as close to the quaint cobbled streets of España as you can get without needing your passport.
This tiny tapas bar is bursting with tradition and charm. It’s small, hot and steamy, the air thick with the scent of garlic and paprika and the hustle of people merrily eating, drinking, and weaving their way through the tables with hot terracotta dishes and precariously balanced glasses of Rioja.
You can’t book in advance, so you have to rock up and take your chances, and you’ll often find yourself having to wait a while at the bar for the next table to be free. But that’s all part of its allure, and rather than the wait infuriating diners, it creates a community of happy hungry souls, propped up on rickety stools at the narrow bar with sangria, or milling around on the cobbled lane outside with cold San Miguels on balmy summer evenings.
If people talk of cooking with passion, then San Juan is on fire. The dishes combine fresh and flavoursome home-cooked authenticity with just the right amount of refined restaurant presentation; cool and considered but void of pretension. The lamb parcels are crisp and salty on the outside and rich, succulent and tender on the inside, served on a sweet, sticky pink glaze; the patatas bravas sauce is thick, earthy and smoky, served with a side of aoili; and the gambas pil pil arrives in a fiery fizzling sauce of garlic, chilli and olive oil that’s too good to leave after you’ve devoured the prawns, demanding to be mopped up with a good hunk of soft white bread.
It’s outside the city centre on Chorlton’s Beech Road, but that doesn’t deter folk from finding it, its reputation pulling in punters from far and wide. My only reticence in spreading the word is it’s hard enough to get a table as it is. But Bar San Juan deserves to be shared, and if you find yourself killing time at the bar, keep the sangria flowing and spirits high – as this place is worth the wait.
By Louise Henderson, Manchester editor
Photos: Bar San Juan