The Cuban street food concept has now landed in Manchester – but is it any good?
Who would’ve predicted the humble sandwich would become such an important yardstick for chefs?
The rise of street food has also triggered a need for things that don’t require a plate – and that’s allowed the sarnie to shine. Whether it’s a Vietnamese Banh Mi or an American lobster roll, we can’t get away from the things. A design classic, if you will.
One that’s been sorely missing from Manchester until now is the Cubano – a staple in Cuban street food and an epic beast of a sandwich. It’s what Finca specialises in.
Finca was set up by four friends in Liverpool following multiple trips to Cuba. It was their appearance on BBC2’s Million Pound Menu that piqued nationwide interest and led to their summer residency at Artisan on Spinningfields after backing from their CEO. So it’s Manchester that gets first dibs on the Finca boys (sorry Liverpool).
The décor is still very much Artisan, with a few added posters, but I’ve always liked sitting on the benches between Neighbourhood and Artisan anyway. Watching the antics of inebriated sun worshipers who’ve overdone post-work drinks at the Oast House never fails to cheer me up.
FINCA Cuban kitchen croquettes
Finca’s menu is concise – four large plates, five small ones, and two desserts – but you can tick off a good chunk of it between two of you.
We decided to try both of the cubanos on the menu – after all, that’s what got a big thumbs up from Fred Sirieix, and I place an inexplicable amount of trust in that man’s opinions.
The traditional meat version (£8) is packed with mojo pork shoulder, glazed gammon, gouda cheese, mustard, and pickle, coated in butter and fried into a flat, easy-to-eat sandwich. It is superb. The sharpness of the mojo marinade breathes life into the succulent pork, the rich mustard balances the sweetness out of the white bread, and the cheese melds it all together (though, still a joyfully messy eat).
A vegetarian version (£7.50) uses asparagus in place of pork and chucks in some watercress pesto too. It isn’t quite as good as its meaty sibling, but it’s a close call.
We’re less impressed by some of the smaller dishes. Tostones (£5.50) look stunning on the plate – twice-fried plantain discs drizzled in red mojo sauce and yellow garlic aioli, served with an avocado and mango salsa – but aren’t as impressive on the palate. They’re a little too salty, and all that frying has stripped away the natural sweetness of the plantain. We’d rather have eaten the salsa with a spoon, to be honest.
FINCA Cuban kitchen sweet potato fries
Then there’s the arroz frito (£5.50), a Cuban fried rice laced with spring onion, black beans, pickled pineapple, and, again, drizzled in red mojo and garlic aioli sauces. The rice had that strange non-texture that bags of microwave rice have, like the grains dissolve on your tongue before you’ve registered their arrival. This has got the makings of a perfect side dish with a touch of extra seasoning though – I reckon we just caught them on an off day.
Then the gouda and spring onion croquettas (£5) swooped in to save the day, spitting molten hot cheese all over the place and totally winning us over despite inducing third-degree burns on the inside of our mouths. They’re strangely reminiscent of a Findus crispy pancake, and we mean that in a good way. That garlic aioli’s back again though. It’s great, but it’s overly ubiquitous and unnecessary here.
Finca brings Cuban street food to Spinningfields
Dessert, too, was a triumph. Bunuelos and Mantecado (£5.50) are traditional doughnuts made with sweet potato and yuca. They’re drizzled with a salted caramel sauce and topped with Latin vanilla ice cream and honey spiced nuts. Those nuts were so divine than when my companion accidentally dropped some on the table, I rapped him on the knuckles with the back of my spoon.
Drinks-wise, there’s a respectable Cubanito (£8), the rum-loving pal of the Bloody Mary, and a just-nice-enough mango and vanilla daiquiri (£8) to please a sweet tooth.
Although it feels like some more care could be taken with seasoning (you can’t just drizzle the same sauces on every dish, even if they are bloody good sauces), Finca’s working towards greatness. Comforting, unpretentious, unexpected, and damn good fun.