Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Top Ten Cheap Eats in Manchester

Need I bother with an intro? You know the score, it's January, we're broke, the weather's pants and we're getting sick of staying in. Given that the Guardian's version of Manchester cheap eats is hideously outdated, we'd thought we'd do the chivalrous thing and provide you with a selection of places to dine when dealing with a 5 week wait from one pay day to the next. The numerical order is simply for ease of reading purposes, and in no way is meant to resemble a reverse Top of the Pops. I ought to also pop in a disclaimer that as Rusholme residents, places listed are generally within easy reach of our natural habitat.

1. Yuzu, 39 Faulkner street, China Town

Chloe Sevigney supposedly claimed Yuzu served the only decent food in Manchester whilst working here. Having been both for lunch and dinner, I can verify her claim (though would contest the rest of the hip New Yorker's outlandish statement). Their lunch menu ranges between £5.95 and £7.95, with classic Japanese dishes such as tonkatsu and sashimi all served with rice and miso soup. We'd already checked out dinner and though disappointed at their lack of fish (on a seafood-based menu) I can confirm that their gyoza and karage are the best you'll get in Manchester and their ponzu dipping sauce takes fried chicken to a whole new level. Special mention also goes to showing China Town how to do ambience with simple and relaxing jazz tunes.

Yuzu on Urbanspoon

2. Al Jazeera, 22 Wilmslow road, Rusholme

Ty, the doorman at Jamie's work, really set our expectations high when he told us this place does the best rice in the whole of Manchester. Not comparable to the sticky white rice of Japanese cuisine, their offerings are just as honourable: flavoursome and perfectly separated grains. We've yet to arrive early enough for the Qabili Pulao (spelling varies) but I could eat their kobeda kebab time and time again. The chicken's not bad - flavoursome enough - but slightly dry when I tried it, though who's complaining when £4.50 gets you a half chicken with rice. I'm bold enough to proclaim they do the best naan in Manchester: lovely blackened edges and thin enough to stop the bloat. This caff, pretty it ain't (nor warm, keep your coat on!) but it's worth a trip for the kobeda kebab alone.

3. Frankie's Fish Bar, 178 Burton Road, West Didsbury
NOTE: This place has now been overtaken by 'Fishbait'. I'm yet to try their deep fried delights!
Posh fish and chip shop, Frankie's deserves a mention; at least for making it feel acceptable to eat deep fried food not just on Fridays (disclaimer: I am not condoning daily consumption). Haddock, chips and (at lunchtimes) a complimentary side comes in at £6.50. They regularly offer mackerel as a special for £3, as well as sweet potato fries if you want to mess with traditionalism. Their sausages are from Axon's down the road if saveloys were never your thing (personally, I miss them), and thankfully, they're not too posh for pies. It's not exactly buzzing with atmosphere but it makes a nice change to see a chip shop championing sustainability in fishing, and at a reasonable price, even for Burton road. Coca-cola in glass bottles adds a nice touch for kids (and Jamie), although you should obviously be keeping them away from fizzy drinks and fried food (I do try, but at 5'11 it's hard to store them out of his reach).

Frankies Fish Bar on Urbanspoon

4. Kyotoya, 28 Copson Street, Withington
I was apprehensive about this place for a while before I tried it. It was hard to believe that there could be another Japanese cafe in Withington, and that it would be any good. I'd already been let down by little Samsi, so I was hoping that Kyotoya would be my sushi savior when in need of a healthy hangover cure. I was pretty happy when it lived up to expectations. Talking cheap eats, you need to get the deal for 2 for £22. For £11 each, you share the following courses: miso soup, sushi, gyoza, chicken teryiaki and beef kimchi, served with rice. The first time we went, I asked if I could swap the gyoza for tempura (I was an uninitiated fool having never eaten gyoza before). Chef wouldn't hear of it and insisted I try the gyoza and the tempura for no additional cost. The main dishes also came with Chinese greens, and we had plenty left over for lunch the next day. Service has greatly improved over recent months as they seem to be more prepared for how busy they're likely to be, and on our last trip our party of eight were given complimentary ice cream "because it's a hot day". Nobu it ain't, but for Withington, it may as well be; this really is one of those 'hidden gems' you always hope to find... and now you have!

Kyotoya on Urbanspoon

5. Jaffa, 185 Wilmslow road, Rusholme

If ever a place could sum up Rusholme so well, it's this one: a total melting pot of ages, genders and nationalities. From students to families to business men in smart suits, Jaffa attracts everyone. A little apprehensive on my first visit as there didn't appear to be an orderly queuing system (how British of me!), but the friendly staff soon sorted me out. Within minutes I was munching happily away on a chicken schwarma, accompanied by a plate of mixed mezze (around £7 in total). Having seen some of the teenagers gorge on pizza-looking things, I was determined to go back to try the fatayer (the Middle East's answer to a steak bake). Personally, I don't think they're for me - slightly too stodgy, but Jamie enjoyed his, and so I still recommend you see for yourself. I was much happier with my falafel and another portion of mixed mezze; their hummus is beautiful and I love the chick peas in the spicy tomato sauce. They also usually have a special, for example lamb pilau with soup for £4.50. More please!

Jaffa on Urbanspoon

6. Phetpailin, 46 George Street, China Town
Most of the eateries on the list so far have been closer to the cafe persuasion, usually not offering alcoholic beverages nor being the kind of place you'd want to drink one. Phetpailin falls into the former category, but is one of those rare breeds of non-Indian dining establishments that every city needs - it offers BYOB. Though the menu itself isn't 'cheap', it isn't expensive, and being BYO, it certainly drives down the cost of a meal, thus justifying a dinner out in the bleakest of current account months. It's also great for groups - our friends had a leaving party here where we paid £18 p/h for a selection of starters and mains, and pretty much tried every dish on the menu (the tamarind duck and the panang curry being stand out dishes in my mind) with leftovers for everyone. A meal for two comes in at around £35, with two courses, though I suggest you attempt to skip the first course as the portions are generous (this is harder than it sounds: the mixed starter selection is a variety of deep-fried delights). Special mention also goes to Jamie's favourite, Choo Chee Pla, a tender tilapia fillet cooked with red curry paste, coconut cream and lime leaves; it's a little too hot for me to handle, but even Jamie - as adventurous as he is - chooses it every time.

7. I am Pho, 44 George Street, China Town
George Street, it appears, is faring well. Nestled next door to our above entry, we have I am Pho, another welcome addition to Manchester's China Town. All I've heard is good things about this place; unfortunately we didn't give the menu as comprehensive a seeing to as Hungry Hoss & Manchester Confidential (click for reviews). This Vietnamese basement cafe boasts brilliant pho (Jamie was thrilled when the waiter told him his pronunciation was 'spot on'!) in a variety of flavours as well as other Vietnamese classics such as summer spring rolls and Banh Mi. Jamie went classic (beef), and I opted for the prawn and pork; both delicious, and with the option to spice it up as much as you liked with fresh chillies on the side (as well as Thai basil, coriander and beansprouts). Our noses running, we were happy and most definitely full. I'd wanted a starter though had managed to resist as I had heard how large the portion sizes were. Jamie couldn't resist the Vietnamese chicken wings and can confirm that these are up there with his fried chicken favourites.

I Am Pho on Urbanspoon

8. Antalya Cafe, 78-84 Wilmslow Road, Rusholme

Another great Rusholme find, as recommended once again by Ty. Jamie couldn't get over how good his chicken schwarma was - stuffed to the brim with salad, chilli sauce and garlic yoghurt - all sat comfortably on a huge, soft piece of Turkish bread. It's £4 whether you sit in or take out, and it's worth sitting in as you also get chips with it if you do. There's not much to say about this other than it's the best schwarma we've had on the Curry Mile, and was worth every penny. I can't wait to go back for the marinated & barbecued sea bass, served with chips and salad. The price? A mere £7.

9. Seoul Kimchi, 275 Upper Brook Street, Victoria Park

Seoul Kimchi - a hybrid of Japanese and Korean cuisines - serves up great one bowl dishes that will see you through to your next meal time just as well as Shreddies, though it's hard to resist their other offerings (the gyoza nearly as good as Yuzu's). On various trips, we've managed to try their sushi, donburi, bibimap and bulgogi. The tastiest (and most expensive of dishes tried) was definitely the latter, experimenting with Korean surf and turf in the form of pork and squid; I developed serious food envy. The eel donburi was also delicious though I felt they were a little tight with their fish (though having recently seen eel on sale for £30 a kilo, I can see why). The prawn bibimap was also short on our fishy friends, though complimentary sides of kimchi and miso helped bulk up the meal. Expect to pay around £10 per head, and a little less for takeout at lunchtime.

Seoul Kimchi on Urbanspoon

10. Dosa Xpress, 19 Copson street, Withington
Having never actually set foot inside, I suppose this review ought to be taken with a pinch of salt, though I would argue that food which can survive the transit from Withington to Rusholme is likely to be even better on its home turf. Gobi Manchurian was the stand out dish in my mind, somehow feeling meaty despite its vegetarian status. The paneer chilli dosa was equally as good, and the individual pots of chutneys and sambars complimented it beautifully. I'm not well informed enough to be able to differentiate them all, but the one that tasted like South Indian pea soup was heavenly. The daal and butter chicken were also good, though I wasn't so keen on the Oothappam dosa; I'm happy to blame this on my ignorance as I was expecting something more like the traditional dosa, rather than an Indian take on the Spanish tortilla. This place is a bargain - £24 fed two of us over two meals, both times stuffed to the brim. A unique place with great home delivery!

DosaXpress on Urbanspoon

We make no claims that this list is all encompassing and would love to hear what other purse-friendly favourites you have to share with us; this is but a small selection of cosy and cheap eateries where we have enjoyed several meals, and hope you might too. Recommendations tell me that Vnam Cafe on Oldham Road, and This & That in the NQ are also worth a trip. If you want to taste the best falafel wrap you've ever had then Go Falafel at the start of Rusholme is the place for you, and at just £2.50 - with regular free falafel if you're waiting a while - it's healthily nudged its way into my favourite hangover food.