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.