Thursday, 28 April 2011

Dubay Caffe

Claremont Road,
Moss Side

Rice and Chicken: £4.50

Deep in the heart of Moss Side, further up Claremont Rd than most people ever go, past the Sudan Satellite shop and the cheap mattress places, is a Somali restaurant-cum-takeaway called Dubay Caffe.  Gathered outside are collections of Somali men and boys, inside is the owner - a cheerful Manc-Somali who doles out hefty portions and happily explained everything when I told him that I had never eaten Somali food before.

Until I read this review, I had never even thought about Somali cuisine.  Somalia, best known for its vicious civil war and lack of functioning government since 1993, does not figure on most people's culinary maps.  If Dubay Caffe is representative of Somali food, however, more people should get out of the Indian-Chinese-Italian rut and try some.  Somalian is a very accessible cuisine, seemingly drawing elements from Ethiopian (injera-like bread), Indian (pilau rice, rotis and chapattis), and Italian (spaghetti and tomato sauce) cuisines, in addition to using recognisable ingredients like potatoes and carrots and including little more than a tingle of spicy heat.  Nothing too scary, here!

I ordered the rice and chicken and the owner threw in a curry for free.  Each of these dishes filled its own take-away container, which is exceedingly good value no matter the cuisine.  The chicken came with large chunks of potatoes and strips of carrot, all covered in a dry rub of spices and salt.  Although a little too salty, the chicken was moist, the potatoes perfectly cooked, and the carrots retained both their crunch and taste.  The free curry was fruity and much less salty than the chicken, containing small pieces of lamb (not too fatty) and large golden pieces of potato that had soaked up all the juices.  The rice, unusually, was the stand-out dish featuring cinnamon and cardamom spicing, gloriously sweet slivers of caramelised onion, the occasional golden raisin, and a meaty undertone that lent it depth.

With Dubay Caffe now firmly on my list of new favourite places to eat, I hope to find other Somali cafes and restaurants to experience.  After I had eaten Ghanaian for the first time, I wondered whether African food could ever become mainstream in the way that Indian has.  If Dubay Caffe is anything to go by, African food should have no trouble.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Back's Deli

Heaton Moor used to be overrun by wine bars and hairdressers. Now it's swiftly becoming overrun with delis. Between Back's and Pokusevski's at the railway end, and Blue Corn and the newly opened Easy Fish Co in Moor Top, lunchtime is now a difficult decision.

Back's sells a wide range of reasonably priced sandwiches, cakes, deli foods (stuffed peppers and vine leaves, potato salad, coleslaw etc) and snacks. To drink, you can get an orange juice pressed in front of you in a contraption that brings to mind a gadgetry tv show for kids.  Or they can blitz you up a smoothie, which at £2.10 for a good-sized (but non-recyclable plastic) container is a healthy bargain.

Rather than a sandwich, I plumped for a selection of deli foods so that I could pick and nibble throughout the afternoon.  Piquant peppers stuffed with really good cream cheese and floating in olive oil.  Some more cream cheese. Olive and sun-dried tomato tapenade made in the kitchen at the back.  Good-quality ham and chorizo. Dense and moist carrot cake with tangy cream cheese icing and a liberal sprinkling of nuts. It was an excellent selection.

The Back's staff are all friendly and there are a few chairs and tables inside for when the weather isn't as glorious as today's.  When in Heaton Moor, do as the Heaton Moorians do and grab delicious and home-made food from one of our delis.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Afghan Cuisine

86 Wilmslow Road

Manchester M14 5AL

Kobeda and naan: £3.50

Afghan Cuisine inhabits a shop in Rusholme that previously hosted three restaurants in as many years.  Luckily, Afghan Cuisine's killer combination of delicious food and reasonable prices means that it should be able to stick around for a while.  Rusholme is increasingly changing from the Curry Mile into the Kebabi Mile, with an increasing number of Middle Eastern kebab-and-flatbread places opening up with their roots in Iraq, Lebanon and the Arabian peninsula.  Afghan Cuisine offers slightly different options and has an Afghani and Central Asian clientele, judging from my fellow diners on a sunny Friday afternoon in April.

Unfortunately, I didn't have the time or the money to eat any of the more interesting sounding dishes, so I settled on a kobeda and naan, both of which were cooked fresh by the friendly man behind the counter.  The naan was the best I had eaten in a long time.  Thin in the middle, fat and puffy around the edges, plenty of air bubbles, and a stretchy and flavourful dough.  It was almost as long as my forearm, and formed the bed for a long kebab scattered with chillies.  The kebab was served with two sauces - a minty yoghurt and a chilli and coriander one that reminded me of salsa.  Both enhanced the spices in the kebab without being pugnacious.

Along the increasingly identikit Curry Mile, Afghan Cuisine provides dishes that are different from the norm.  Next time I visit, I intend to sample them, especially if they are as good as their kobeda and naan.

Monday, 4 April 2011

This & That

3 Soap Street
M4 1EW

Rice and three curries: £4.80

This and That on Urbanspoon

This & That is one of Manchester's many curry cafes, serving large portions of cheap and generally authentic Pakistani food to the city's huddled masses from wipedown-friendly hole-in-the-wall premises.  Unlike other curry cafes, though, This & That (tucked halfway down an alley at the Shudehill end of the Northern Quarter) does not serve curries packed with the kind of flavourful spicing and distinctive flavours that are these cafes' hallmark.  Instead, I was served watery and uninteresting curries that had little to distinguish one from the next, were cooked to a uniformly mushy texture and were made from ingredients that were neither fresh or fresh-ish.

The saag lamb was mostly saag, which is not a bad thing when it is cooked with plenty of spices and has not been boiled into submission, a la Yadgar.  This & That's version leached an unpleasant amount of water onto the plate (as did the other two curries), felt slimy, and tasted of little more than over-cooked spinach way past its use-by date.  The two pieces of lamb were dry and tasted more of the saag than of meat.  The two meat curries - one chicken and one lamb - looked different but tasted the same.  The chicken, spongy and clearly reconstituted, had no flavour, and the curry reminded me of the sort of yellow stodge served in institutional canteens.  The lamb in the lamb curry was marginally better than that in the saag, but while the curry was orange-brown it could barely be distinguished from the chicken one. The heat on both curries packed a punch, disguising their flavourlessness.  This & That's website (yes, a curry cafe with a website! describes their food as "unique." It is unique, because every other nearby curry cafe serves better food.

This & That, once many people's favourite, should be delivering better food.  On a Friday lunchtime just after Jumma prayers, it should be packed out with lunchers from the nearby mosques. Instead, it was me and a couple of men talking vividly about their friend who glassed someone. It could be time to call time on this Manchester institution.