What's Cooking At The Printworks (May 2003)

What's Cooking At The Printworks (May 2003)

Let's get one thing straight about the Printworks -- you really don't come here for a romantic night out. It's brash, bold and enormously popular with the thousands of young people who flock here - especially at weekends - to have fun until the wee small hours of the morning. The Printworks used to be exactly that -- HQ for the Daily Mirror. Revamped spectacularly a couple of years ago, it has helped transform an area previously a bit down-at-heel and on the wrong side of town. How things have changed. Opposite is the new Urbis museum and Cathedral Gardens -- old and new combined in an attractive quarter which is certainly no poor relation to the southern side of the city centre.

Eateries in the Printworks are all owned by national concerns -- but that doesn't mean you can't eat well. The Waxy O'Connor's Irish theme pub (pictured above), for example, has three resident chefs (all from Ireland) who cook real-deal Celtic grub like soda bread and Irish stew as well as offering fish and seafood dishes from the Emerald Isle. A starting-point for many new visitors to the Printworks is probably the Hard Rock Café -- famed for its burgers. Before you get sniffy, the Hard Rock burgers are in a different league to the take-out variety. They are huge and come medium rare, with fries, lettuce, tomato and onions. The basic HRC is £7.75; their cheeseburger is another 60 pence and bacon cheeseburger £8.95. Veggies are catered for - there's a meatless burger served with coleslaw and rice. Burgers aside, there are substantial starters - things like potato skins, nachos, and chicken wings. A "Combo" at £13.95 offers a little bit of everything. Not for the faint-hearted is the Pig Sandwich, that's hickory-smoked pork with barbecue sauce. The menu also offers huge sandwiches stacked with roast beef, Cajun chicken and a BLT - all about the £7 mark. It might sound a lot but you're paying for the ambience (loud rock music) and the music memorabilia the place is famed for. Puds here are predictably and humungously fattening -- chocolate chip cookie pie, fudge brownies, and coal floats with ice cream.

A pretender to the Hard Rock's American style is the recently opened Old Orleans bar/restaurant. The ambience is all dim lights and French Quarter-themed with the food focus on Cajun fare. The Mardi Gras grill offers half a Cajun chicken breast, a rack of BBQ ribs, a 4-ounce rump steak, onion rings, mushrooms, fries or baked jacket potato plus coleslaw. But there are also interesting choices like marinated alligator meat, again with steak, fries or baked potato. And bison burgers. Or how about moules with burnt chillis, or Cajun catfish with a sauce blended from chorizo, tomato, and garlic. House wine is £10.95 a bottle and the list is basic -- Pinot Grigio, Jacob's Creek, E and J Gallo -- but good value. There's a Kids' menu - chicken fajitas, mini-pizzas, hot dogs etc. -- all around the £4 mark. It would be difficult to spend more than £20 a head here but very easy to pile on a couple of pounds in just one sitting. There's also a 20-ounce ranch steak on offer at £15.95. Like the Hard Rock, Old Orleans does burgers, ribs and puds of the apple pie, waffles, and ice-cream sundae variety.

Spicier tastes are catered for nearby at Riki Tiki Tavi, located on the first floor of this huge complex. Here the schtick is that the eaterie offers a combination of Indian/Chinese/Thai-style dishes. So starters range from tom yum soup and Thai fishcakes to spring rolls and vegetable samosas all at £3 to £4. Main courses follow the same pattern -- from Malaysian beef rendang to Thai red duck curry, Peking crispy duck, and Indian lamb rogan josh. Even the beers have regional boundaries as you can choose from Singha, Tiger and Kingfisher. Yes, it's gimmicky, but it's fun and affordable. Until 7pm, there are set menus for £10.50 offering two courses. Between 12 and 4pm, you can even get a selection of dishes for £2.95. They include chicken chow mein and Peking Duck pancakes.

Over the road at Henry J Beans it's very much back to the American theme with nachos, "Fatboy combos" of chicken wings, garlic bread, and potato skins. Burgers are all of the same ilk and around the same price as at Hard Rock and Old |Orleans - they also have a "kick ass chilli" served with rice and tortilla chips, and a Portobello mushroom sandwich, with pesto, roasted peppers and melted Swiss Cheese served with rustic cheese bread. The more health-conscious can try a range of salads, including one with chargrilled tuna nicoise-style with eggs, green beans and new potatoes for £7.95. Wines here are very reasonably priced -- £9.95 for house white and red, and champagne is a very reasonable £19.95 for the house variety (£105 for Dom Pom). The Lunch special between 12 and 3pm serves up a selection of dishes for just £4.75.

In different mode is Wagamamma -- a noodle bar with a very distinct ambience and eating philosophy. It offers fresh nutritious food in elegant surroundings built in canteen-style. The service is fast, but it is not fast food. Starters include chicken dumplings filled with cabbage, Chinese leaf, Chinese chives and water chestnut served with a chilli, garlic and soy sauce. There's also stir-fried chicken, shiitake mushrooms, preserved and pickled vegetables in an oyster and garlic sauce, garnished with a dried shrimp, ginger and dried red chilli paste served with Japanese-style rice. You can slurp low-fat Miso soup, before going on to the main courses -- all built around rice and noodles. The combinations are of infinite variety -- chicken, seafood, stir-fried vegetables and pickles. Some hot and spicy, some less so. It's not a destination restaurant and you wouldn't linger here more than the time it took you to eat. But the grub is very special.

Also a little different from the American-style places is Nandos -- basically a menu based on chicken served with fiery Portuguese piri-piri sauce. A whole chicken is £8.95, which by anyone's standards is a bargain; you can get chicken livers in Portuguese roll for £4.25. And they do have healthy salads here, along with the platters for the porkers -- one of which comprises two whole chickens, chips, rice, three salads and coleslaw (£30.95, since you ask). Desserts include frozen yoghurt, and mango sorbet. House wine is a very cheap £8.95 a bottle and there's vinho verde (when was the last time you saw that on a wine list!) for £10.95. After you're done you can take home the bottled Nandos sauces which go from mild lemon and herb to extra hot.

Last port of call in the Printworks proper is Tiger Tiger -- a Singapore-themed bar, restaurant, and nightclub offering food and drink on a grand scale till the early hours. The restaurant serves international classics with a modern twist - smoked salmon and peppered boursin stuffed chicken breast with a soft herb mash and sun dried tomato oil (£10.95). Or roast breast of homey glazed duck with herb cous cous and roast peach (£11.25). And their £3 lunch is surely unbeatable - any main dish for just £3 between 12 noon and 5pm (with dessert an extra pound).

If you find the Printworks all a bit OTT - and some people do - there's always Zinc, right opposite in the Triangle complex. Owned by Terence Conran, Zinc offers decent, simple food -- lots of steaks with various sauces, fish dishes, and Mediterranean-style tapas for the light eaters, and real deal chips. Things are a little more sophisticated here than your basic burger and fries. Next door is the perennially popular Pizza Express, which now offers a wider range of choices along with their tried and tested formula of pizza, salad and wine. They include a chicken salad, goats cheese pizza, and pasta, too.

Tiger Tiger image provided by Contact Media

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