Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Helen Bakery

Stockport Rd (opposite North Western Street/diagonal to the Nawaab monstrosity),
Manchester M19 3WN

Naan: four naans for £1
Keema Naan: £2

I finally get to scratch off a place on my I Want To Go There list.  Helen Bakery has to be the strangest place I have visited since beginning this blog.  The premise is that it serves only two things: Naan and Keema Naan.  The shop is divided in two by the counter top.  Behind the counter top is a tandoor oven and a man continuously making naans from little balls of dough.  Watch him, he's mesmerising.  In front of the counter are a couple of stools and a poster for a dodgy garage on an industrial estate.  This is not somewhere you will be hanging out for hours on end; this is somewhere you go to get delicious, pillowy, freshly baked naans hot from the oven, and then leave.

The keema naan is essentially a pizza.  It is a naan topped with a paste of keema (mince), tomato and spices, then heated and scattered with some green chillies and maybe some veg if there's some in the kitchen.  It is delicious and will make you fat.  But gloriously so.  And as it is only £2, it is a cheap lunch, dinner, or pre-meal snack, depending on the state of your impending obesity.

Should you be in Levenshulme (or, given how good it is, the entire A6 corridor) and in search of a bread-based snack, Helen Bakery is where you need to go.


90 High Street,
Manchester M4 1ES

Rice and three curries: £4.70

The Northern Quarter's many rice-n-three-curries dives (and they are always dives, even if they get swanky new signage like Al-Faisal did) are famous throughout Manchester.  Shoppers, workers, mosque-goers, travellers, all pass through cafes of seemingly identikit functional uniformity in order to get a plate piled with boiled, fried or pilau rice (depending) and whatever curries are available on that day for under a fiver.  These places vary in quality and specialise in different areas.  One constant, however, is Yadgar's supremacy on the curry front.

Even before you consider Yadgar's superior saag aloo or use of lamb that isn't 90% fat and gristle, it already has a couple of distinct advantages on the other rice-n-threes.  Rather than being located down a safety-defying back-alley (I'm looking at you, Cafe Marhaba), or on a corner that seems to sneak up on me every time (hey there, Kabana), it is right on High Street, is easily visible, and doesn't require a map or excellent memory to find. Secondly, it doesn't look too bad on the inside - it's bright, it's clean, and the water jugs on the tables are kept filled.  I'm a sucker for an obvious location and attention to detail, so Yadgar is ahead in my books before I've even sat down.

Onto the food.  The rice - boiled or fried basmati - is nothing special.  The curries, however, are.  The saag aloo, in particular, is incredible.  The saag is steeped in flavour, definitely plenty of garam masala and chilli, but also perhaps some lemon and coriander, too.  The lamb curry was a spicy sauce (lots of chillies again, but no overpoweringly so) with chunks of good-quality, tender, and flavour-packed lamb.  The daal was the least interesting, as it was a yellow-lentil concoction with more heat than flavour, but it was passable and bulked out the meal somewhat.  The portions could be more generous, but you get a large ladle-full of each curry, and the rice is the perfect amount for this.  You won't be left with any dry rice at the end, but you also won't be left with any stray pools of curry sauce.  Searching for good quality meal that will keep you going even through post-Christmas sales shopping? Go to Yadgar.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

I Want To Go There

I thought I should update the list I made two months ago.  I've also only included places that I can afford right now.  No looking to a brighter future here. 

Dah dah daaaah:

1) Lily's Indian Vegetarian (Ashton-Under-Lyne, Indian)
2) Habesha (Gay Village, Ethiopian)
3) Baekdu (Northern Quarter, Korean)
4) Hunters BBQ (Northern Quarter, Indian)
5) Koffee Pot (Northern Quarter, British)
6) Choupan (Cheetham Hill, Iranian)
7) Helen Bakery (Levenshulme, Middle Eastern)
8) Lahori Dera (Longsight, Pakistani)
9) Afghan Cuisine (Rushholme, Afghani)
10) Jerk Junction (Whalley Range, Caribbean)
11) Dubay Caffe (Moss Side, Somali)

Saturday, 11 December 2010

London - Noodle Bar

33 Cranbourn St
Westminster, London WC2H 7AD

Sliced Beef La-Mian: £6

Having one of those pre-interview "assessment days" meant that I got to spend some time in London this week.  I bombed out of any possibility of getting an actual interview when I failed to read some key instructions, and so to cheer myself up I went to Noodle Bar, an unprepossessing (so unprepossessing that I walked up and down that section of the street to see if there was another better-looking place), fast-food, Chinese place on the fringes of London's Chinatown.

Now, I am not, generally, a fan of eating sit-down food in Chinatowns (snacks are a different kettle of fish, however).  I think that in large cities, better Chinese food can be found on streets without elaborate arches and too many tourists.  Noodle Bar, however, came recommended from the Chowhound discussion site, and I couldn't risk being in a city with lanzhou noodles and not filling myself up on them.  So off to Noodle Bar I went, hopes high and spirits low.

The first hurdle was explaining what I wanted, and that I definitely didn't want any of the over-fried, greasy stuff in the metal container in the window.  I tried, "Hi, do you have lanzhou noodles?"  This was met with a blank stare and, "Noodles, yes, we have noodles" as the waitress gestured to the metal container.  "No, lanzhou noodles, where you make them" was my really helpful reply.  I realised I had no idea how to communicate what I wanted.  "They're in soup...with meat?" was my final burst of articulateness.  The waitress nodded, "Yes, soup noodles, la-mian noodles."  I had no idea what la-mian was, but I couldn't get any further in trying to explain lanzhou noodles without any Chinese language skills.

What the waitress brought was exactly what I wanted.  A fragrant broth of beef stock, coriander and some other spices, chewy noodles in a small mountain soaking up the broth, with slices of beef and green veg scattered across the top.  The usual soy-and-vinegar combo and chillies in oil were in plentiful supply, and the restaurant itself was cheerful and busy, split evenly between white people eating the greasy window stuff and Chinese people eating steaming piles of noodles.  The man sitting next to me was digging into about three different bowls, and looked really happy to be doing so.  I did the same.  I finished the bowl in about eight minutes, slurping away at the last drops of broth that I could force onto my spoon.

My only other experience of lanzhou noodles has been at the Nan Zhou Hand-Drawn Noodle House  where I ate at least six times this summer.  London's Noodle Bar can't beat it on price (Nan Zhou does a huge bowl for under $5 whereas Noodle Bar's is £6), but I think it has a slight edge in the broth stakes.  At Nan Zhou, you can order your noodles "shaved" (thick and flat) or "pulled" (thin like spaghetti), and due to my poor attempts at communication I don't know whether this is possible at Noodle Bar.  Certainly in terms of originality and price for central London, Noodle Bar cannot be beaten.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010


1 Hillcourt Street,
Manchester M1 7HU

Vegetable Dumpling Soup (med): £3.20 (http://www.eatgoody.co.uk/menu/eatgoody_menu_10.pdf)

EatGoody is the second Korean place to open in central Manchester this year.  The first, Baekdu, on the Shude Hill edge of the Northern Quarter, was originally a cafe at the back of a Korean grocers in Ladybarn.  EatGoody, on the other hand, seems to have sprung from nowhere.  Its neighbours are an eclectic bunch.  Just off Grosvenor St with the Footage and Deaf Institute, it is next door to a bike co-operative and the Sugden Gym.  Diagonal on York Street are the evangelical Kings Church, a madrassa, and an LGBT centre.

EatGoody is Korean.  It doesn't serve sandwiches or pies.  Instead it serves bibambap (rice, veg and egg that continues cooking while you eat it), dubap (rice or noodles with a meat or veg topping), ramen (a noodle soup with meat or veg), kimchi (pickled cabbage - ubiquitous in Korean food), dumplings, rice cakes (not the rice cakes you buy at the supermarket, rather like small, flat discs of noodle), tempura, pancakes and other dishes, as well as their daily specials.

Being cold and poor, I chose the cheapest of their soups and settled downstairs by a radiator, on a pew (there were chairs but the pew was directly in front of the radiator and my hands were freezing).  The walls are lined with bamboo canes and littered with Koreana - small figurines and pictures of people, native flowers and buildings.  A lot of Korean students frequent this cafe, and it has an earthy-hipster vibe: rough wooden benches, cool magazines, dimmed lights, Korean TV and K-pop, and staff who look they belong on a catwalk.  It's a nice place to cool (or heat) your heels for an hour or two, and they also serve a variety of Korean soft drinks and cheap coffees.

The soup arrived in a large polystyrene coffee mug, which didn't bode well.  However, as I felt like I was about to plumb the depths of hypothermia, I didn't dwell too much on its presentation.  The broth was flavoursome, spicy, and the absence of all-consuming thirst later on means that it isn't just MSG-n-water.  In the broth were strips of egg, slices of red chilli, spring onions, sticks of carrot, and three large dumplings.  A word of warning, if you're vegetarian, this is not the soup for you.  The dumplings definitely contain meat, and were the better for it.  As I drank the soup and chewed the egg (a surprisingly good addition), I noticed that the Koreans, too, were also tucking eagerly into their bowls or rice or noodles.  The prices could be a tad cheaper, as I think £3.20 for three dumplings in a medium portion of soup is about 40p too expensive, but I'm willing to let this slide due to its convenient location to the universities and because it's a new and unusual addition to my go-to places.  My mouth tingling and my hands, face and feet able to feel again, I wrapped up and trudged out into the icy darkness, all the better for having had that soup.

Should there ever be a Grosvenor-Hillcourt-York Streets get-together, let's have EatGoody cater it.

Saturday, 27 November 2010


I had a bit of an experiment going this week. I was working at Salford Uni from Monday to Friday, and with a tenner in my pocket to burn on lunch, decided to see if I could get good quality and tasty lunches for under £2 per day.  Salford's also a bit of a blank slate to me - I worked there for a few weeks about five years ago, but I haven't crossed the Irwell since.

Day 1: Adelphi Cafe.
17 Oldfield Road
Salford M5 4NE
Bacon on Toast: £1.50  (on a barm: £1.70)

Almost total unfamiliarity with the area around Salford Uni meant that some hungry striding ended up at the Adelphi Cafe (also a newsagents) for want of a better choice.  I was the only person there. I'd been drawn in by the possibility of "bacon toast £1.50" on the sandwich board outside, but was slightly put off by the packaged offerings in their counter. Luckily, the bacon sandwich was tasty, and they didn't skimp on the bacon. Thick slices of white bread, plenty of butter and four rashers = perfection.  The Daily Mail was gathering ketchup stains on the table  (I'll only read the Mail when it's a) free, and b) there is nothing else to read, not even a menu or the back of a fag packet) so I got to get myself all lathered up into a faux-frenzy over asylum seekers, Muslims, gays, women, the youth of today etc.

Day 2: Caribbean Flavas
New Bailey St
 M3 5FP

Jerk Chicken and Flat Dumpling: £1.80

Venturing further afield (0.8 miles, according to GoogleMaps), I went to a small Caribbean take-away that's slap-bang-next-to Salford Central Station.  It wasn't line-out-the-door busy, but is obviously a favourite amongst local office workers and the local population.  Caribbean Flavas offers a lot of food: jerk and curried chicken, two different kinds of wings, mac and cheese, roti and various fillings, and a lot more besides.  As my lunch choice was listed under the Sides section, I was preparing to have to splash some cash on something more substantial (or 50p on a Wispa).  When a man slapped down something wrapped in plastic that weighed only slightly less than a brick, I was intrigued.  In case I didn't like this hefty wodge, I went to eat outside in the freezing cold down by the canal so that I wouldn't embarrass myself in the shop.  I shouldn't have feared: my lunch was a dense flat-bread about the size of a personal pizza (the "dumpling") slit in half and stuffed with jerk chicken and generous lashings of sauce.  It was so good.  The chicken was recognisable as chicken (no reconstituted spongey stuff here), the sauce was peppery and sweet, and the bread was firm enough to not disintegrate but had enough give and a slight sweetness to make it interesting even in the parts the sauce hadn't reached.  I ended up only being able to eat £1's worth, but I didn't start feeling hungry again for about nine hours.  Bargain.

Day 3: The Farm
Corner of Church St and Birchin Lane,
Spicy Tomato, Pepper and Chilli Soup: £2

I wanted to check out the student protest so I trekked up into Manchester.  I've waxed lyrical about The Farm before, so I won't take you through the litany of incredible things about it again.  I wanted one of the roast pork sandwiches, but as I was still a bit full from yesterday's lunch and it was a bit parky outside, I decided on soup.  The soup wasn't as good as I had been expecting.  It was tasty, with a nice tingle from the spices, and the tomatoes and peppers definitely taste-able, and the huge hunk of baguette was fresh and went well with the soup, but there was something missing.  Maybe it was because I deep-down wanted that roast pork sandwich.  Maybe it was that the portion size was a little too small.  I don't know.  I had a nice chat with the owner, though.  He's a nice bloke and will tell you the provenance of anything he sells.  I should have had that sandwich. 

Day 4: Adelphi Cafe (again)
Same as before.

I was curious about the community-run Creation Cafe diagonal to the Church of St. Stephen and St. Peter on Chapel St.  I went in, opened the door to the cafe, and was greeted by what looked like a hundred pensioners playing bingo with the enthusiasm of someone who's stuck in a home.  I couldn't face it.  So I made my excuses ("Oh, this isn't Salford Uni," and the woman at the desk was good enough to say, "No, love, that's a bit further on") and went for a bacon sandwich and a read of the MEN.

Day 5: Shlurp
Brazennose House East
Brazennose St, 

Manchester M2 5BP
Large Lentil and Winter Vegetable Soup: £1.95

Shlurp's an on-and-off fave of mine.  Sometimes all I want is one of their thick and piping hot soups, other times I can't stand the smugness of their signs.  Today, all I wanted was something I could wrap my cold cold hands around, and maybe hold up to my cheeks when no one was looking.  The soup was delicious.  It smelled a bit gross in the bag, a bit like a stale fart, but once the lid was open the smell was the mingling of stock, lentils, root vegetables and heat.  I shlurped it down, and it wasn't too thin or thick, it actually tasted of the veg in it (potato and carrot, I reckon), and although there were no chunks of unidentifiable vegetables, it did its job of warming me up, brightening my day, and putting a hearty spring in my step.

So, at the end of the week, I'd spent £8.75 on five lunches at four different good-quality establishments.  Quite the bargain when you look at the signs a lot of places have offering fancy sandwiches for a fiver or salads with too many bizarre ingredients for three quid.  All of the places I visited are simple, friendly, and offer food that you want to eat at lunch.  Put down that portabello mushroom, tallegio and sundried tomato panini with aioli dressing, and get a heart-warming soup or bacon sarnie down you instead, you big jessie.

Friday, 19 November 2010

I want...

Lanzhou-style noodles. These are rice noodles that are hand-shaved (for the thick ones) or hand-pulled (for the thin ones). Typically they come in a beef broth with lots of vegetables and slices of beef or meatballs. Yum.


198 Mauldeth Rd
Manchester M19 1AJ
0161 432 5246

Dishes fall between £5-10.

South Indian food is not your bog-standard, Saturday night take-away Indian. Sindhoor is only the second South Indian restaurant in Manchester (as far as I know, anyway, the only other one is Lily's Vegetarian in Ashton), and it doesn't shy away from plunging the diner into unfamiliar territory.

There are no chicken tikka masalas here, and the korma (or Kuruma as they style it) tastes better than any korma you've had previously.  There is a whole page devoted to dosas (huge rice flour pancakes with fillings) and uttapams (a thick rice flour omlette-like pancake containing vegetables), which the vast majority of non-Indians will never have heard of or tasted.  There are also other oddities that celebrate the Indian obsession with Chinese food (Indian-style, of course) in dishes such as the deliciously sticky Chilli Chicken.  

The chefs at Sindhoor aren't afraid of packing a punch either.  Their dishes are jam-packed with spices and chillies, and the flavours are multi-layered, expanding in your mouth.  The portions are large, but don't leave you with that heavy and bloated feeling as so many of Manchester's curry houses do.  For such deceptively large portions, the prices are reasonable, clocking in at between £5.50-£8 for almost all dishes. 

For an unusual and satisfying menu (albeit slightly tardy service), head to Sindhoor and stuff yourself on dishes you'll have to explain to your friends when you tell them about it.

Sindhoor South Indian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, 15 November 2010

Monday, 18 October 2010


Address: 69 Thomas St, Manchester M4 1LQ
Tel.: 0161 835 2447

Keema kebab, salad, naan: £3
Rice-and-three: Under £5

Kebabs shouldn't just be for messy drunks at 2am.  Luckily, Kabana (a rice-and-three place tucked down a Northern Quarter alley) recognises this, and serves up a keema kebab that would go unappreciated by lagered-up lads on their way back from a night out.

Kabana's keema is packed with spices: cumin seeds and chilli skins will get stuck in your teeth.  It also doesn't contain any of the gristly bits that squeak as you bite down on them, unlike the many other kebabs I have sampled elsewhere.  Furthermore, they are charcoal-grilled.  You can watch the chefs do it, should you not be trying to listen in on the clientele's possibly criminal conversations.  Best of all, it's served on a thick and pillowy naan that soaks up the keema's juices (and how juicy it is) and any of the yoghurt and chilli sauces you've ladled on.  The naan valiantly avoids disintegrating despite how long it will take you to work your way through the, count 'em, three keema kebabs you're given for £3.  This cafeteria-style hole-in-the-wall, inhabited by the dodgier members of society and containing only plastic picnic benches, serves up the best-value dinner or lunch I've yet seen.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Wong Wong

Address: 28 Princess St, Manchester M1 4LB
Tel.: 0161 228 1717
Honey Roast Pork Bun: £1.10
Sweet and savoury buns/pastries: 50p - £1.50.

The other Chinese bakery in central Manchester.  Like Ho's, it's up a short flight of stairs.  Unlike Ho's, it's realised that people might want to hang out in a well-lit and trendy interior rather than a dingy linoleum cavern.

As you walk in, on your right there's a cabinet filled with different types of buns.  About half of these fillings are something-and-pineapple.  Including pork, hot dog, chicken, and some other bizarre combinations.  The roast pork and honey bun is a burning-hot mess of liquid yellow sugar and chunks of chewy pork and fat encased in a chewy bun.  It hits the spot for a quasi-savoury sugar rush, but little else.  The bubble teas taste like the chocolate and strawberry milkshakes you had as a kid.  The Frijj ones with the list of unpronounceable ingredients as long as your arm.  The pastry cabinet holds red bean cakes, green bean cakes, a variety of flaky pastries, and some sad looking pancakes.  There is no time to peruse, instead you are hurried by the women behind the counter as you make snap decisions.

Although Wong Wong has a better environment than Ho's (cheery yellow walls, windows that overlook Princess St) and a larger selection of sweet and savoury snacks, its rushed feel and strange ingredient choices can be off-putting.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

I Want To Go There

In no particular order (and some will no doubt have to wait until the job situation improves):

1) Red Chilli (Chinatown, Chinese)
2) Lily's Indian Vegetarian (Ashton-Under-Lyne, Indian)
3) Kabana (Northern Quarter, Indian)
4) Red and Hot (Chinatown, Chinese)
5) Cebu Cafe (Northern Quarter, Filipino) - it's closed down, apparently.
6) Habesha (Gay Village, Ethiopian)
7) Seoul Kimchi (Upper Brook St, Korean)
8) Baekdu (Northern Quarter, Korean)
9) Hunters BBQ (Northern Quarter, Indian)
10) Koffee Pot (Northern Quarter, British)
11) Sindhoor (Burnage, South Indian)
12) Choupan (Cheetham Hill, Iranian)
13) EatGoody (Universities area, Korean)
14) Helen Bakery (Levenshulme, Pakistani)
15) Lahori Dera (Longsight, Pakistani)
16) Afghan Cuisine (Rushholme, Afghani)

Ho's Bakery

Address:  44-46 Faulkner St, Manchester, M1 4FH

Tel.:  0161 236 8335

Roast Pork Bun:  £1.20
Char Siu King Bun:  £1.30
Three mini buns for £1.20

Ho's is a Chinatown institution.  Up a short and grubby flight of stairs, the roomy bakery serves a variety of sweet and savoury, Chinese and Western cakes, buns, dumplings and pastries, with soups and soft drinks also available.

A helpful sign taped to one of the pillars explains why their prices have risen fairly dramatically (although they remain on a par with Wong Wong, Manchester's other Chinese bakery) in recent times - a combination of worldwide food shortages and increasing millers' costs has resulted in more expensive ingredients with the cost being passed onto the customer. 

I, for one, am still willing to pay £1.20 for a roast pork bun, or between 50-80p for a sweet pastry or dumpling.  The pork buns and redbean dumplings, especially, are worth the cost.  Roast pork and onions in a thick, but not cloying, red sauce enveloped by a densely fluffy white bun makes a tasty lunch for those who venture up the steps.  Similarly, the glutinous bite of the sesame-encrusted dumplings filled with a creamy red bean are always top of my list when I visit.  Other favourites are the custard tarts, honey buns, curry buns, and melon pastries, all of which are handed over by the cheerful staff.  The soups, while hot and satisfying, are often overstuffed with peas and contain enough MSG to make you guzzle water until bedtime.  But as every Chinese cafe and restaurant heaps on the MSG like it's going out of fashion, it's hard to hold this against Ho's.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Bread and Butter

Address: Tib Street, Manchester M4 1LG

Carrot Cake Cupcake: £1.50 ish
Guinness Cake: £1.50 ish
Diet Coke: £1 ish
Latte: £1.80
Panini: £4.20 in or £3.20 out

After Teacup had snaffled a good portion of our change, my friend Jess and I went on a hunt for cake that we could afford.  I'd heard of a café on Tib Street, near Rags to Bitches and with low expectations we hunted it down.  Immediately recognisable from its pink frontage, Bread and Butter looks like yet another tweeshop appealing to the middle-class indie set.  If you go inside and ignore the hipster clientèle, you'll be in for a reasonably price but unreasonably delicious treat.

As a Manc, the first thing I noticed was how normal and northern the staff are.  The interior may be artistically shabby, but the cakes and deli counter show you that good honest food is the name of the game here.  A huge slab of Guinness cake (chocolate cake containing Guinness to "bring the flavours out, according to the owner) was quickly plonked in front of me, a dense triangle of moist chocolate with a slight hint of beer and topped with a thick flower of cream.  The carrot cake cupcake was similarly tasty, with a thick layer of cream cheese icing and all the flavours of a normal-sized carrot cake.  Other cakes lined the window - large scones, strawberry cake topped with an inch of creamy icing and giant strawberries, a pear and banana concoction that needs to be tasted.  The drinks, like the cakes, were normal prices - a latte cost £1.80, while the cakes are all around the £1.50 mark for giant slices.  Around us, cool kids munched on chunky soups, mezze plates, and paninis crammed with fillings.  The small room was packed but didn't feel crowded, and the service was attentive but not overbearing.

Bread and Butter should be on every cake-loving Manc's list of places to munch.  Any disappointed Teacup-goers should go round the corner to Bread and Butter instead.  Better food, better drinks, better prices.


Address: 53-55 Thomas St, Manchester M4 1NA

Mungo Jerry Smoothie: £3.95
Blues Brothers Smoothie: £3.95
Americano coffee: £2

I loved the Northern Quarter long before it needed shop signs to tell you it was "alternative."  In between the clothing wholesalers, the dodgy pubs tucked down back-alleys (how do they stay in business?), the endless "quirky" clothing shops, and the trendy bars there are some gems to be found.  Sadly, Teacup is not one of them.

Teacup, owned by erstwhile Manc DJ/lenged Mr Scruff, looks nice, smells nice and feels nice.  After it's done nicely pocketing hefty chunks of hard-earned cash, however, the niceness wears off pretty quickly.  I was there with a friend from London. London friend (we'll call her Jess) gasped (no, really) at the prices on the menu.  "You couldn't even get away with these prices in London," she said as she stabbed her finger at the coffee menu where an Americano (normal coffee, to non-coffee drinkers) is two quid.

All juices, smoothies and milkshakes are £3.95, as are most slices of cake listed on the menu.  Unless they're giving me a full quarter of the cake, that's not a price I want to be paying.  Forking over almost £4, I expected a giant (maybe a pint, or a tad less) Blues Brothers smoothie, thick with yoghurt and berries.  What I got was a slightly watery affair in a normal-sized glass.  It was tasty, but it wasn't worth the money.  Jess felt the same.

With bright light bulbs hung low enough to bang your head on, the subsequent daylight robbery feels a bit like paying for the privilege of an interrogation in a twee tearoom.  Teacup appears to be catering to the trendy-hipster crowd, with its cooler-than-thou staff and faux-cutesy décor, but to everyone without a trustfund it is unaffordable.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

The Farm

Address: Corner of Church St and Birchin Lane, Manchester
Tel.: N/A
Roast Pork Sandwich: £2.50
Ice cream: Small £1.50, Large £1.80

The owner is a sheep-farmer, his brother is a pig-farmer, together they have created easily the cheapest and most convenient cafe in Manchester city centre.  Round the corner from the Arndale under a corrugated roof, you can sit at a rough wooden counter and stuff your face with barms crammed with succulent roast pork, crunchy chunks of crackling, sweet apple sauce, and thick and herby stuffing.  Should you want something else, perhaps a wild boar sausage, or a bacon sandwich, or a pot of small-production chutney or jam, these are all available for incredibly reasonable prices unseen anywhere else.  The jams are two for £3 and the chutneys two for £4, all sandwiches are under £3.  You don't get that in Tesco.

After a roast pork sandwich, what better than handmade ice cream in familiar and unusual flavours. Baileys, raspberry cream, vanilla, blackcurrant-licorice - The Farm has them all.  Even when it's been cold and rainy these past few weeks, I haven't missed an ice cream yet.  The blackcurrant-licorice is my particular favourite because it balances these two strong flavours well, and the overall taste is quite wintry, an unusual characteristic in a dessert wholly associated with hot summer days.

With the cheap-cheap prices, locally-sourced produce and bucketfuls of flavour, it is imperative that people support this small cafe with irregular hours (it closes when the pork runs out), or it's back to chain restaurants and Greggs as the only affordable options within spitting distance from Market Street.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Vnam Cafe

Address: 140 Oldham Rd, Manchester, M4 6BG
Tel.: 0161 205 2700

Pho: £5.50

Considering the depths of despair I plumbed following my last foray into pho, I considered consigning my love for this Vietnamese super-dish to memory only.  I could stick to my South Asian and British favourites and forget the love affair my taste buds have with Vietnam.  But, while trying to find Bubble Café's address for the last post, I stumbled upon a glowing review for a small café straddling the cultural divide between the Northern Quarter and Ancoats.

Opposite Wing Yip's cash-n-carry megastore and the Royal Mail sorting office  is a curious string of shops.  In between signs only in Chinese, hairdressers, salt-of-the-earth sandwich shops, and windows filled with electronic goods, is Vnam Cafe.  Its small sign gives little away, "Authentic Vietnamese and English Food," but the menu in the window hints at the extent of the chefs' culinary prowess.  Ignore the prosaic lunchtime sandwich offerings geared towards those whose jobs don't allow them to luxuriate in a bowlful of just-right noodle soup for lunch.  Due to my pho fixation, I did not venture to try any of the large number of barbecue dishes on the menu, but I will absolutely be returning to eat my way through the listings.

I ordered the pho bo (beef pho) for a very reasonable £5.50.  What arrived fifteen minutes later perked my spirits up no end.  It was the pho I had wanted when I made my ill-fated trip to Bubble Café.  Crunchy noodles covered with coriander, onion and bean sprouts, with a plateful of coriander, bean sprouts and sliced hot chilli on the side.  The beef was sliced thin and was tender from the burningly hot soup.  Although the beef seemed to have been cut roughly, it added a great meaty flavour to the spiced broth.  The noodles were al dente and did not descend into a mush at the bottom of the bowl, and I made sure to eat every single one. Rather than lime, a single wedge of lemon came with the dish, which was a drawback in some respects (as I like pho with a citrusy tang), but the piles of coriander, chilli and onion that were available meant that little other flavouring was necessary.

As a future lunchtime haunt, Vnam Café checks every box.  Cheap, clean, friendly and delicious, with an extensive menu that demands I return, I certainly will be venturing down the unfashionable end of Oldham Street again soon.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Bubble Cafe

Address: 72 Portland Street, Manchester M1 4GU
Tel: 0161 244 5755
Pho: £6
Bubble Tea/Slushy/Milkshake etc: £2.50

Has pho hit Manchester? This tasty Vietnamese noodle soup, chock full of coriander, chilli and lime with a delicately flavoured broth, took America (or at least its culturally literate urban areas on the East and West coasts) by storm.  But when I returned to Britain, nobody had heard of it. Then, as I was obsessively trawling through restaurant reviews online, I came across one for Bubble Cafe, a new place on the edge of Chinatown that "specialises" in bubble tea (tea, smoothies, slushes or milkshakes with jelly pieces or fat tapioca balls) but also serves Vietnamese dishes such as pho, bun bo and hu tieu noodle soups, banh mi (baguettes stuffed with pork, pickled vegetables and pate), spring rolls, and salads.

Pho is the perfect lunch - a light broth, al dente rice noodles, paper thin slices of beef, crunchy bean sprouts, shredded coriander (stalks and all), circles of mouth-burning chilli, and a couple of limes split into quarters. Sadly, Bubble Cafe provided none of these pleasures.

The first indicator that something was wrong was when the woman behind the counter told me that they only have chicken pho. I asked if they had any beef but was met with a shake of the head. Soldiering on, I also ordered a passionfruit slush bubble tea and sat at one of the tables to wait.  

What was delivered to me was not pho. The broth tasted like instant chicken soup, the noodles were mushy, the only evidence of the coriander was a few straggly pieces, and a single quarter of lime adorned my plate. But the worst thing was the chicken. The pho soup is meant to be so hot that it cooks whatever ingredients are thrown into it, resulting in tender slivers of beef and fragrant spices and herbs. The chicken in Bubble Cafe's pho had been pre-cooked and was torn into chunks, making cold and fatty islands scattered across the bowl. A disappointment in every respect.

The bubble slushy provided a stark contrast to the so-called pho. Flavourful (no doubt provided by chemicals - as in all bubble teas) with succulent tapioca pearl, it provided a tasty and moreish counterpoint that would make me return, but only for drinks. I should have taken my cue from the East Asian students sitting around the cafe, all slurping on bubble teas but none eating any food.  

My hunt for pho in Manchester continues apace.


I love food.  I love eating it, tasting it, smelling it, finding it.  Manchester has a lot to offer, and what it has is always expanding and changing.  Currently unemployed, my budget affords only cheap eats (each meal can't go over a tenner, and most will be way under that), but I've never let that stop me from eating delicious food before.