Review: Manahatta, Merrion Street

The latest of Arc Inspirations’ bars delivers a bite of the Big Apple in the Leeds’ up-and-coming Greek ‘quarter’.  Rowan Grant spent an evening sampling their cocktails and food.

New York is a theme that’s almost exhausted itself through the medium of music, interiors, design, fashion and food – the list is endless.  Nevertheless, Manahatta has been selected from Arc’s portfolio of brands to be rolled out across the north. Its second branch opened this week in Greek Street – the area of the city expanding rapidly with hip, stylish eateries and pubs. Bar hoppers of Leeds are well acquainted with the Arc brands across the city, from student haunts The Box and Trio, to the Banyan chain that’s quickly spreading through Yorkshire.

From the street, we entered into the basement floor bar-area.  Interior styling is polished, industrial and minimal: exposed brickwork painted white, buffed concrete floor and textured metal finishes.  Seating areas are completed with leather furnishing in red and blue: not the obvious shade you might find on the stars and stripes, but muted tones adding a subtle accent.  Behind pretty glass light fittings glares huge, fake windows lit up in garish yellow.  One can only assume that the stylish light fittings did not illuminate darker parts of the building so well.

As we neared the bottom of the stairs a Maître D’ greeted guests – checking if they were visiting for food or drinks. Although, upon our arrival, he disappeared, leaving us at a loose end wondering what to do about our dinner reservation.  Apparently no-one could help with our reservation other than him.  Thankfully he re-appeared after five minutes.

The food menu offers a variety of dishes with a global, rather than the obvious New York theme. The waitress tells us this is a taste of Manhattan street food, such as katsu chicken curry and miso marinated cod. The odd dish has a themed name, such as the Ultimate Rockefeller Breakfast and the Liberty Burger. The waitress told us that our food may take some time as the chefs had a buffet to cater for. I’m not entirely sure it was appropriate to find out that we had to wait in line to be served despite having a reservation, but thankfully the dishes were worth the wait.

My guest and I opted for Chicken Sidewalk Burger: Crispy coated chicken, mayonnaise, BBQ sauce, tempura onion rings and skin on fries (£11.95) and the vegetarian Broadway Burger (£10.95): Spiced black bean burger, Sriracha ketchup, courgette fritter, mayo and skin on fries. The chicken was moist, the crumb was wonderfully crispy, served as though it was modelled on a skyscraper, with a barbecue skewer holding the whole thing together. I can’t say much more on the presentation of the food as the lighting was so dim. My guest’s bean burger had visibly been prepared from scratch, not too heavy, and well-seasoned. One of the best vegetarian burgers she’s had.

For dessert my guest had Banana Foster (£6.25): white chocolate, shortbread biscuit crumb, banana ice cream, crispy banana, and hot rum caramel sauce. I ordered the PBJ Ice Cream Sandwich (£5.95): peanut butter ice cream and strawberry jam, in a fried hirata doughnut. The desserts certainly delivered quality over quantity, which we were thankfully for after a heavy main course. We agreed the ice cream was either made in-house or had been well-sourced – flavours were subtle and coloured seemed natural, the texture – velvety and creamy.

Finally – the drinks. We opted for cocktails with our meal to sample the full Manahatta experience. The cocktail menu is extensive (around 25 concoctions) and difficult to work through (not helped by the lack of light!). Cocktails are categorised in meaningless sections: Classic NYC, Uptown and Downtown. Each creation is accompanied by an irrelevant narrative. I found my way to Manahatta’s take on the Espresso Martini – the Highline Martini (£7.25). I will always question if the classics should be messed with but on this occasion their resident mixologist delivered. They’ve swapped vodka for tequila, coffee liqueur for white chocolate, and added mint flavouring (and kept the espresso shot). This version was refreshing enough to have two.

Manahatta certainly conveys New York’s style and scene without the tacky themes you might find in American-style diners. To some degree its efforts in delivery can become style-over-substance, but nevertheless it provides a great option for date nights, parties, mid-range luxury food or after-work drinks in Leeds’ new nightlife district.