MAXINE GORDON heads for new York bar Manahatta to check out its £5.50 lunch

LUNCH for £5.50 in a swanky new city centre bar – what's the catch?

That was the thought going through my mind as I walked through town to meet my friend Lisa at Manahatta, the new restaurant and cocktail bar that has opened in the former Banyan site in Little Stonegate.

The notion of a £5.50 lunch seems at odds with the glitzy allure of the place which underwent a £400,000 refit before it opened in November.

Design-wise, the destination is more New York than old York. Step inside and you half expect to see Carrie and co from Sex And The City conspiring over cocktails in a booth.

It was Monday, and I was on a lunch break, so there were to be no cocktails today.

Instead, I considered the soft drinks options because the £5.50 lunch deal I had my eye on included the choice of a fizzy drink or fruit juice. I chose a fresh orange and considered my cheap-price choices – eight in total.

If you're feeling more like a brunch, you could be tempted by High Line: three buttermilk pancakes with fried chicken, bacon and maple syrup; or the full English breakfast, which has a veggie version and also the option of gluten-free bread.

A club wrap with chargrilled chicken, pancetta, tomato, cheese and skin-on fries is another selection to tempt the tastebuds – while the Mexican one comes with falafel, sweet roast peppers, grilled corn, black beans, avocado, salsa, rocket, chipotle mayo and sweet potato wedges (and happens to be vegan too).

There's a deluxe burger promising a gut-busting double beef burger in a brioche bun with skin-on fries.

Another wrap is on the list – this time featuring 4oz of steak with mushrooms, caramelised red onion, melted cheese and skin-on fries, but there is a £1 supplement for this.

In fact, supplements loom large on the menu. Want to go XXL with your full English? An extra sausage, bacon, egg and hash brown is yours for £2.50. Want to switch from skin-on fries to sweet potato fries? That will be an extra £1.50. Add cheese or pancetta to your burger, £1.25, thank you very much.

Trying to be healthy, I picked the Sunshine Powerbowl option, looking forward to a superfood plate of avocado, golden and red beetroot, spinach, turmeric quinoa, roast sweet potatoes, pickled onion and red cabbage with an agave and wholegrain mustard dressing. It sounded a lot and fearful of being overfaced I hesitated over whether to add some protein to the dish in the shape of chicken, halloumi or falafel (at an extra charge of £2.50, £2.50 and £2 respectively). Decisively, I chose to add some chicken, but lamented that my £5.50 lunch was now an £8 one.

From this month, the £5.50 lunch menu is available daily except Saturday. In a separate deal, from Mondays to Wednesdays, the main menu is half price at Manahatta. Lisa chose from that, picking a favourite: Cajun chicken fajitas (£13.25 at full price).

Our waitress Grace was cheerful and attentive, although I did have to ask for the £5.50 menu when I arrived as it wasn't on the table alongside the main one, nor was it offered.

When our dishes arrived, I was glad I ordered the chicken. The salad looked more poor man than powerbowl, arranged without any artistry and not hugely appetising. Half the bowl appeared to be filled by torn spinach leaves, and there was a small amount of quinoa and a few pieces of beetroot and a handful of avocado chunks. The three pieces of chicken were tooth-breakingly crunchy and I ate them with caution. The dish was better in the eating – the salad, once drizzled in the honey and mustard dressing, passable and filling for a lunchtime meal.

Lisa's fajitas were better: the chicken pieces thick and tender and pan-fried in a hot and tasty spice mix. The meat was served in a skillet with sautéed peppers and onions that were sticky and sweet. Lisa wrapped them in warm tortillas along with the guacamole, sour cream, cheese, lettuce and tomato salsa which was served on the side. Again, gluten-free tortillas were offered on the menu.

Lisa struggled to finish her lunch – defeated by the four tortilla wraps in the serving.

Feeling full, we passed on desserts and had a coffee – a flat white for each of us, although my order was for a decaf.

Lisa gave her drink the thumbs up, and from its dark brown colour, it certainly looked more like coffee than my pale decaf version. I made a note, to forgo coffee should I visit Manahatta again. Hopefully the cocktails are better.

Which brings me to the question: would I go back?

Well the £5.50 lunch is a tempting offer, and if you can resist the supplements, it certainly amounts to a good deal. As does the half price menu. The food wouldn't win any awards, but it was decent bar grub, and Manahatta is a lively, trendy spot that is fun to visit with friends.

However it does make me think the full-price menu is on the expensive side.

My Sunshine Powerbowl is listed as £9.25 on the full-price menu – and if it is the same size as the lunch portion, I would have to say that is poor value.

Lisa's fajitas were a bargain at the half-price offer, but expensive at £13.25.

So if you are looking to eat out on a budget, the message has to be: go when the deals are on, otherwise you may feel short changed.

Manahatta, 3 Little Stonegate,York

T: 01904 635146


Food: OK 3/5

Ambience: New York 4/5

Service: Good 4/5

Value: Great deals 4/5

Reviews are independent and meals paid by The Press