Eating Out In Manchester's Studentland (2006)
Manchester has moved on a lot since the days when the favourite student eaterie was a place called The Plaza in Victoria Park. Run by a rum character called Charlie, its 'menu' consisted of delights such as the Kamikaze Curry and the Suicide Special. Both consisted of huge mounds of chicken and rice with nuclear amounts of chilli powder. Subtle, it was not.
The city now has one of the biggest student populations in Europe and these days most of them fight shy of actual cooking. Which means the restaurant and takeaway market is more crowded than ever before in terms of places to eat. The 'student zone' stretches from Withington, Fallowfield and Rusholme in the south right into the city centre with new apartment blocks and halls of residence for the ever-expanding student population. Rusholme and its legendary Curry Mile will always have a special place in the hearts of youngsters on a tight budget, which must of course include room for lashings of lager.
Trusty old reliables include the Sangam, open since the early 1990s, which offers non-Westernised dishes too along with the usual suspects like bhuna and biryani (try the Indian-style roast lamb). The Hanaan also curries favour with vegetarians as well as those who loved the fired-up flavours of their lamb and chicken. The Punjab specialises in vegetarian and southern Indian dishes like masala dosai, a pancake stuffed with vegetables and coriander chutney. Gogis (formerly the Royal Naz) is unmissable at the beginning of the curry mile and is a new venture for manager Gogi, who worked at the Shere Khan for 20 years. Local MP Gerald Kaufman is a big fan of the Tabak, which does an all-you-can-eat Sunday buffet. But nostalgia freaks now with kids at university might prefer to revisit the Sanam, one of the few originals on the block which are actually left from the old days before the Curry Mile was 'discovered'. This is one of the few places left which does not serve alcohol and the menu is completely Halal.
Interestingly, Rusholme now has a fair range of other cuisines and café-bars available too. Even the pubs, some of which were frankly dodgy, have had a decent spruce-up. Fans of Middle Eastern fare might want to check out the Fatoush Lebanese restaurant on Wilmslow Road, which does flatbreads and kebabs at very reasonable prices. Next door is the Bar Raki, another Middle Eastern enterprise. Further down Oxford Road towards the city centre is the now well-established Moso Moso , a huge barn of a place offering a comprehensive list of Chinese and Thai cuisine with about 600 dishes to choose from! There are about 400 covers here and the menu is vast, which isn't always a good sign. But, courtesy of entrepreneur Raymond Wong, this place has a first-class reputation and the prices are extremely affordable. The only problematic thing is choosing what to eat.
Next to the main campus at the Manchester Metropolitan University is Umami (pictured above), a new pan-Asian restaurant and noodle bar on Oxford Road. Named after the elusive 'fifth flavour' which is said to characterise the appeal of much ethnic cuisine, it's a far cry from the basic places, which used to be the lot of student diners. Two entrances - one from the Aquatic Centre and one from Oxford Road - bring you down into a smart and contemporary dining basement dining area which is fitted out with generous bench seating and (in the best Japanese minimalist tradition) not a lot else. The chefs here have been gleaned from some of Manchester's best Asian restaurants - and they have created an exciting fusion menu using influences primarily from Thailand, China and Japan. Noodles figure prominently, as you would expect, along with a wide choice of ramen, sauce-based and wok-fried noodle dishes. Nothing is bought in at Umami with everything, including the sauces; prepared in-house ensuring there is no compromise on quality. If you're in a hurry at lunchtime, try the lunch express menu or if you fancy a takeaway, there is a 20 per cent reduction on the main menu price.
Not everyone is a fan of spicy food and many students are still idealists who give up the pleasures of the flesh (as in meat) - even if it's just a youthful phase. For these veggie devotees there are more choices than ever before. The most quirky of them is probably the Greenhouse, on Great Western Street, in Moss Side. It opened nearly 30 years ago and is basically unchanged since. Here you will find meat-free soups and pates, nut roasts, soya sausages, all manner of dips such as hummus and tzatziki as well as pasta dishes too. They specialise in Sunday 'roasts' and even supply fake 'salmon' and 'scampi' for those who don't like food with a face. It's licensed and most of the beer ands wine is organic, with a rare selection of English fruit-based wines. A blowout here will probably cost less than £15 a head - and it's the kind of place, which really is a one-off if you like that sort of thing.
More fashionable veggie fare is on offer every day at the legendary On The Eighth Day, a collectively owned enterprise which has been around even longer, for over 30 years. A recent foray into evening dining didn't really take off but the café on Oxford Road is still a very popular choice indeed and there are very good reasons why. The food is imaginative, and impeccably fresh, with lots of choices which have moved on from the stodge-fests of days gone by. The bill of fare includes Thai spiced broccoli, miso and mulligatawny soup and dishes like cauliflower and lentil bake with a creamy sauce - plus lots of curries and stir-fries.
On the edge of the city centre is Cornerhouse, which opened way back in 1985 and has seen several makeovers since. The main place to eat and drink is now upstairs and there are always several hot dishes to choose from along with soup, sandwiches and wraps. The view from the restaurant is great and it has the kind of buzz you only get in the city centre. Just over the road from the Cornerhouse is a new Italian eaterie, Felicinis. Its sister restaurant has been around a fair while in Didsbury - and this place costs a bit more than all the above. It's typical Manchester trendy in style so expect dishes like crispy duck pizza, bruschetta and lots of steak and fish. It is a great place to go when the parents are around to splurge a bit. When they are not, check out also the much-praised Soup Kitchen, on Stevenson Square. It is what it is. Fresh soup (six varieties every day) with fresh ingredients and fantastic flavours. But there is probably nothing better for that time-honoured academic tradition - the student hangover! Other specialities here include doorstep sandwiches, a hot dish 'special' such a fishcakes, cottage pie or toad-in-the-hole - and home-made cakes.
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