Whether you first discovered them from following Exhibition Manchester on Instagram or have since seen a reel of that viral tiramisu drawer, Onda Pasta Bar are sure to have caught your eye - unless you've been living under a rock. Having moved from the multi-kitchen venue to their own digs in The New Cross this summer, they're really going from strength to strength. But is it all style and no substance? Time to check it out for myself.
I already knew that Onda was arguably the cream of the crop, having featured alongside the Basque fire cooking maestros, Baratxuri, and OSMA Manchester in Exhibition (yup, a city centre offering from the Michelin star spot in Prestwich). So I arrived at The New Cross - an independent bar featuring space for a pop-up restaurant - with high expectations. First impressions were as I thought; an industrial-style area scattered with tables, a bright yellow bar at the back and a DJ spinning tunes. We were even treated to the added extra of pasta prep right next to the dining space, so not only do you know your carbs are fresh as can be but this also provided some additional entertainment.
As a general rule, I'm not a fan of ordering at the bar when I'm after a restaurant experience. This didn't detract from our night though, as staff were really attentive and quick to take orders. That meant our pint of Flensburger lager (£5.50) and Beaujolias Villages (£9 a glass) were served promptly; the former a refreshing example of the German bev, while the latter was smooth and fruity on the palate.
Then we really got down to business with the food, alongside grabbing a second lot of our earlier drinks for good measure. It's a small plate situation here (as it often is with the most trendy spots), so we chose a selection for the table, digging in as and when each arrived. First up was the arancino Milanese (£7) served on aioli, a corker of a rice ball boasting a crispy coating, indulgent saffron risotto and melt-in-the-mouth short rib. Definitely a win. We were able to watch Michelin-trained chef Sam Astley-Dean prepare our next dish from the comfort of our table: the scallop and crab cappelletti (£14). This was the most delicately flavoured thing we tried at Onda, letting that seafood shine, and was accompanied by a creamy bisque. Our second pasta pick was on the other end of the spectrum; rich and hearty from a slow-cooked meat, tomato, and red wine ragu. Topping off the beef shin campanelle (£13) was a parmesan sauce and brown butter - yes please.
Mopping up anything left over on the plate? The garlic, parsley and mozzarella pizzetta (£7) - or mini pizza, to you and me. This delightful cheese and butter-laden masterpiece nailed the comfort food brief yet was fresh too, thanks to that blanket of complementary green herbs. It also had the biggest air bubbles I've ever seen in the crust of a garlic pizza bread, which made each bite extra light and fluffy. My other half was pretty beside himself, insisting he must uncover the secret of this 22-hour slow-proved dough for our own oven. Next time, we'll be grabbing a second one of these; perhaps that tempting 'nduja, mascarpone and honey number.
Overall, I'd say we probably could've added another plate of pasta or that second pizzetta into the mix without overdoing it - although not doing so did mean we had room for tiramisu (£8) without edging into the uncomfortably full territory. It came straight out of the Instagram famous drawer and was with us in an instant, granting spoonful-upon-spoonful of pudding-based heaven. We were pretty silent the whole time dessert was at the table, as we gobbled up generous amounts of the creamiest, spongiest tiramisu we've ever tried. That's a big compliment from my partner especially, since he orders one every time it's on the menu.
The DesignMyNight Digest
Onda Manchester delivered exactly what I thought it would: a laid-back dining experience where the freshest pasta dishes had simple yet moreish flavour combinations. Sides and antipasti were probably even more of a hit for us, with the best tiramisu ever coming in at the end to round off a wonderful experience.
💰 The damage: £80 for small plates between two and a couple of drinks each.
📍 The location: The New Cross, 6 Cross Quays Street M4 5ET.
👌 Perfect for: Relaxed dates complete with modern twists on traditional food.
⭐ Need to know: The New Cross has wine on-tap too.