Traditionally, dive bars have not been considered go-to dining destinations.
As a rule of thumb, they’re where you go for a cheap drink, for a party, or to weather out your bender when you’re crashing and don’t feel ready to face the light of day.
They tend to be grubby spots where you can never find a menu (because they normally don’t exist), your seat is likely to be held together with duct tape, and you only use the bathroom if it’s a real emergency.
But we’ve found one in Manchester that is bucking the trend – and serving up some amazing Asian-inspired street food to boot.
Yes, the kitchen at Dive NQ has been taken over by the team behind the massively successful Zumu sushi restaurants in Wilmslow and Hale, and they are currently slinging out some seriously good scran.
Located in an old nightclub down a Northern Quarter backstreet, we can remember the days when Dive NQ was Noho live, and then Moho live; when there was a stage where the kitchen is now, and we’d come as students to dance to drum and bass and get very messy indeed.
Coming in years later for food, we can’t help but acknowledge it feels a little strange to be dining somewhere where we’ve sweated it out in a rave. But not in any way strange enough to put us off the hugely appetising platter of sushi and teriyaki that lands in front of us. We’ve heard great things about this pop-up.
The platter is artfully laid out: a green block of wasabi has been carefully crafted to look like a dainty leaf, and an accompanying pink mountain of pickled ginger is pleasing on the eye and the tastebuds.
Loaded with a big mix of sushi, there’s spicy tuna maki, salmon and avocado rolls, a healthy amount of salmon and tuna nigiri made with super high grade cuts of fish so soft and supple it melts in the mouth.
The sushi rice itself is perfectly done: light, fluffy, and just slightly sticky. It’s clear from the first bite that Zumu know what they’re doing here.
They’re not stingy with the soy, either – always nice to see. There’s a huge bottle on the table to help ourselves to which we get stuck into with gusto. It would be rude not to, right?
On the grill front there’s flavourful morsels of chicken yakitori and tsukune (chicken meatballs), and bacon-wrapped spears of asparagus. And accompanying all this is a bowl of salted edamame beans – Japan’s answer to padron peppers.
Served with a refreshing slice of lemon, it’s hard to go wrong with edamame. These offer a tasty little nibble on the side.
With eyes bigger than our bellies, we keep going, tucking into lightly battered popcorn shrimp drizzled in a sweet chilli sauce, dynamite cauliflower bites, and a couple of steamed Chinese bao buns for good measure.
The baos come out warm and we pluck them straight from the steaming basket. Filled with crispy fat pork and an unusual yet pleasing addition of deep-fried apple slices, plus a spiked chilli mayo and a sprinkling of coriander, they hit the spot.
Everything, as promised, is delicious. There’s a surprise favourite, however, which turns out to be the dynamite cauliflower dish.
A veggie twist on the classic prawn dish, it lives up to its name, offering a real explosion of flavour. Heavy on the soy, with added chilli, garlic and paprika, we just cannot get enough of this one and continue to rave about it throughout our meal.
By this point we’re really full and feeling sad because the huge menu has so much more to offer.
There’s a raw bar section covering everything from sashimi and tataki to ‘sushi tacos’ topped with avocado and mango salsa and small plates of traditional Japanese starter favourites like gyoza, tempura and karaage.
But alas, we can’t eat any more. Not today, anyway.
A real hidden gem, you need to get down to try out the Zumu takeover at Dive NQ for yourself before they’re gone. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Food served between 5-10pm Monday to Friday, 12-10pm Sat and Sun. Diners can get 25% off until the end of July by quoting ‘intro offer’ when booking. See menu here.