The times they are a changin' for this Manchester institution, but it's not lost its USP – good beer and good food
You know how people compare places they like to a good pair of slippers? Reliable, familiar, comfortable, that kind of thing. Well, if you felt like that about Common, the owners have done the food and drink equivalent of throwing your cosy old Hush Puppies into a blast furnace.
First, they’ve got a completely new look. Remember the chipboard bar-front? Gone. Those wine-coloured seats in the back? Gone. The vivid pinks and greens? Gone too, all replaced by a new aesthetic, which we could call Scandi-Manc. It’s got the clean lines and muted colours, the wood. There’s now a horseshoe bar and an actual kitchen pass so that the poor staff can finally see daylight.
Then there's the re-vamped menu. Everyone used to talk about their dependable signatures – falafel salad, meat and non-meat chilli, and their cheeseburger – and, before you freak out, they’re still there: they couldn’t burn all their bridges now could they? But, there’s a lot of new stuff too. So, let’s talk about that.
Popcorn cockles, which it has been confirmed in a tweet are to become a “perma-menu” item, are about the best beer snack you could wish for. We imagine you take a jar of pickled cockles, drain ‘em, then batter, and fry. And charge £3.50 a pop. But, oh my, is it worth it. The salt and vinegar prove a wonderful match for the sweet, malty overtones of Wild Beer’s new “everyday” beer, Bibble.
There’s a new emphasis on small plates, with a three-for-£12 deal that we deem too good to pass up. We order four anyway, because we can’t justify eating three more fried dishes, adding a lonely, mitigating salad.
The Korean fried chicken (KFC) are nuggets of battered thigh tossed in a thick chilli sauce, which is usually made with gochujang (a Korean fermented chilli paste), sesame oil, garlic and various other things. You'll no doubt find better examples in Manchester's Korean restaurants but thigh gives welcome flavour and moisture over breast, even if the sauce is a little cloying.
Cauliflower cheese croquettes are the main talking point, as much for their flavour as their superlative size. So big they conjure images of some giant chef shaping them into cylinders with his gargantuan mitts. The filling has the yellow hue that suggests English mustard or French’s have played a role and, in the best possible way, it’s almost too rich and savoury to handle. Here, the fennel and radish salad comes to the rescue.
The salt-and-pepper squid falls a little short. It’s neither salty nor peppery enough to rival your average Chinese takeaway version and it comes with what looks and tastes like tartare sauce but should be lime mayo.
Some people don’t take well to change, but we say let’s not get all sentimental about it. Nothing is permanent and yaddyaddayadda. Yes, the DIY, mis-matchy feel was part of the charm. And for Mancunians of a certain age and persuasion, Common has been an anchor, an unimpeachable constant in an area that gets more easy to parody by the year. When you're over the mourning period, you'll find the new-look Common will quickly dispel any of that scepticism.
39-41 Edge St, Manchester, M4 1HW