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.