SPARROWS nesting in the archway opposite Umezushi? Surely some mistake. Wasn’t Unit 3 earmarked to be that Japanese restaurant’s offshoot KIAA (Kitchen In The Arch), billed as a “painless one stop shop for all your sushi making needs”? There’d also be a prep kitchen where ordinary mortals could be tutored in the arcane secrets of sushi/sashimi?
Well, that’s not quite taken off yet; instead they’re currently playing host to one of the tiniest, most playful diners in town.
Fiendishly hard to find thanks to Victoria Station’s bridge refurb cordoning off direct access, The Spärrows is worth your patience big time. The umlaut is the giveaway for this homage to Spätzle, those Swabian egg noodle dumplings created by scraping chunks of dough into boiling water. Spätzle translates as ‘little sparrows’, which they resembled in flight when shaped by spoon in the traditional way.
If all this suggests a certain culinary monoculture, think again. These Spärrows wing it across several national dishes, all involving eggy, flowery dough, with co-owner Kasia Hitchcock (above) eager to encourage you to pair them with her speciality saké.
Personable Kasia, originally from Poland, has been supplying the Japanese fermented rice tipple to Umezushi since its inception and this bond led to this new venture alongside partner Franco Concli. He’s from Trentino in Italy’s far North, which shares food influences with Austria, Germany and Switzerland.
And this is just the starting point for a menu that ranges from handmade Polish pierogi to pelimeni (stuffed Russian dumplings), from Tyrolese goulash (lighter on the paprika than the Hungarian version) to a sauerkraut ‘super salad’.
Saké and sauerkraut sounds a marriage made in heaven but we couldn’t look further than The Spärrows’ Austrian house wines, reasonably priced at £6.50 a glass – a Grüner Veltliner white and a Zweigelt red.
The interior is as Zenlike as Umezushi opposite. Seating barely 12 and stark white, leavened only by shelves of sake and fruit in wooden bowls, the cafe is smaller than the impressive open kitchen alongside, where Franco is celebrating the dumpling and pasta in all their forms.
Does that suggest stodge? Forget it. Gnocchi have an ethereality that belies their composition from egg, potato and flour. Just dressed with sage, butter and Parmesan in classic Italian fashion, they were a treat for just £5.50.
Our Spätzle choice, for £1.50 more, featured a more substantial ‘inauthentic’ sauce of chorizo, cherry tomato, spinach and cream with a velvety slither to it. A nice contrast with surówka (£3), the lightest of sauerkraut salads. Their own-home-fermented kraut is combined with seeds, dried cranberries, parsley and olive oil.
Pierogi dumplings are another Polish staple. We thought the ones at Platzki in the Great Northern Warehouse were the best in town. It’s a close-run thing. We went for the cheese and potato filled option (£6.50) – rustic in a nice way.
Finally, the Russian-style Pelmeni (£8), filled with ground veal and dominated by garlic buttered breadcrumbs, were less attractive. Perhaps we had over-ordered. This is a drop-in place for a single dish plus a sake or wine for little over a tenner. They do breakfasts, too. The likes of scrambled eggs, spätzle, onion, cheese, peas, pickles and Vilenska smoked sausage.
You can wash that down with green tea if it’s not past the sake yardarm. A fascinating addition to the Manchester scene. It’s hard to get to for the moment but worth the effort.
The Spärrows, Unit 3, Mirabel Street, M3 1PJ. 07711 300116. Open Tue-Sat 10am-10pm; Sun 10am-4pm.