Sunday, 23 January 2011

The Armenian Taverna, Manchester

Exotic, retro, homely and sumptuous!

Many years ago, I visited Manchester and passed the Armenian Taverna on my travels. Instantly, I became intrigued. Armenia is a country that some people have never even heard of, never mind their cuisine so this eaterie was definitely going to be one of a kind. I knew Armenia was nestled in between Russia and Turkey, so judging by my mutual love of Borscht and Imam Bayildi, it was a dead cert to win my tastebuds over. Upon moving to Manc, my mission became to finally seek out this promising tavern.

The restaurant began to win me over as I descended its subterranean steps. I'm a sucker for a good old fashioned 70s style restaurant, a decade when brash,garish decor was in, chavs and N**do's were non-existent and dining out was still a luxury, not a weekly pleasure like it is for most of us now. The basement was illuminated a sleazy yet cosy shade of red, calling my hungry belly down to dine. What a delight I had in store! This place combined a chilled, sunny holiday vibe and British granny's sitting room retro kitsch. I felt as if I were in a quirky museum as I was shown to my table as the walls were adorned with a mix of souvenir kitsch and tacky jumble sale ornaments of days gone by. I'd almost forgot I was here to eat!

The menu was just what I expected and my tastebuds had longed for. An eclectic mix of Turkish-style, Arabic, Russian with a pinch of Greek, this colourful menu provided loads of veggie treats for me and the meat eaters had their fair share of kebabage.
I started with an aubergine dip, a sumptuous velvety blend of aubergine, yogurt and herbs, served with beautiful pitta straight from the oven. The main event was a veggie couscous and was out of this world. The couscous was fresh and fluffy and its crowning glory was the beautiful medley of curried veg- aubergine, courgette, okra and other faves blended in to make a taste explosion. All main courses are served with a boat of Armenian special sauce- a wicked tomato and pepper gravy for added zing. Furthermore, if you needed any more 70s cuteness, the plates were those gorgeous ones popular back in the day decorated with pretty flowers!

After this feast, I was stuffed to the gills and couldn't manage dessert. Nor could I manage a potent coffee as I had work in the morning (I'm a terrible coffee drunk!)However, in the name of research, I checked it out next time and spotted some right Turkish delights- Baklava and K√ľnefe. Hmmm, my stomach is pestering me to go back....

Armenian Tavern, that's a big thumbs up from me. Here's to another 40 successful years in business!

Armenian Taverna on Urbanspoon

Fu's, Manchester

Fu's, glorious Fu's!

In my quest to visit every restaurant in Chinatown, it was high time I broke my Try Thai habit and ventured into unchartered territory. At first, I was going to try the Great Wall as it had a purse-friendly offer on (business lunch £4.50) but as I descended the rickety stairs into the sleazy basement, the staff looked ever so unfriendly and the restaurant looked like a condemned council flat from 'Grimefighters' complete with furnishings that looked as if they had come out of a skip. I ran as fast as I could before I could catch anything (hopefully it will close before I have a chance to visit it as part of my New Year challenge). Then I spotted Fu's.

Fu's doesn't have any garish signage, nor does it do any special lunchtime deals- this place relies on the sheer brilliance of its food and word of mouth in the Chinese community. It is tucked away above mainstays like Try Thai and China City, the name of the game here being back to basics with its food doing the talking. The decor is informal like a cafe but nonetheless crisp and clean. No tacky paper lanterns here! There are no stereotypical Chinese souvenirs littering the walls, but pieces of football memorabilia and photos of stars. The tables are all set with chopsticks, indicating this place is geared up more for Chinese people and foodies, not drunken stag parties of louts slobbering over their chicken chow mein.

There are two choices of menu here, one typical menu what Brits are used to and one specialist Chinese menu with what I call 'Bushtucker Trials'- you know, the feet and private parts of cows and chickens. Although I consider myself an intrepid explorer in the foodie world, I stuck with the 'normal' menu being veggie. To start, I had veggie hot and sour soup (I am so predictable) and for mains, tofu in black bean sauce.

CONGRATULATIONS FU'S!! You have won Manchester's best Veggie Hot and Sour soup! This H and S was the most amazing I've tried since coming to Manchester. Velvety yet with bite, a great distinction between both hot and sour tastes, this soup can join Edinburgh's Panda Inn and Liverpool's Chung Ku in Britain's best hot and sour hall to fame. Let's hope the main course measures up...

It did. Wow, what a huge portion, I thought I was going to need a doggy bag. The single portion of EFR was enough for two,the main course consisting of huge chunky tofu slabs gently marinated in the blackbean sauce, garnished with spring onions. Beautiful. Fu's, you have the winning formula. Unobtrusive yet friendly service, informal yet not chavvy atmosphere, authentic, filling dishes suitable for veggies, a brilliant drinks menu and even potent coffee!

Try Thai, you have very stiff competition now on your doorstep, but you're both my babies, it'd be cruel to pick a favourite one!

Fu's on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Tokyo Season, Manchester

An oasis of calm in jam packed Portland Street!

I don't believe in New Year's resolutions as I believe if you want to change something in your life, it should start ASAP and not be dependent on a particular day in the year. When I moved to Manchester, I set two challenges for myself: 1. to experience something different every week, be it bubble tea or a fish pedicure, and 2. to visit every restaurant in glorious Chinatown! When I popped into Tokyo Season, I killed two birds with one stone.

Tokyo Season is a wonderful Japanese restaurant on the outskirts of Chinatown on Portland Street, and is situated in the basement so you don't have to look at Magic Buses belching out fumes and scruffy chavs coming out of Yates's, erm well, belching!
As soon as you step into this little slice of Japan, the calm and tranquility envelopes you into a cosy yet unstuffy culinary paradise and the exquisitely dressed waitress makes you feel welcome. I visited on a Sunday afternoon and was lucky enough to get a traditional booth. The booths mean you have to take your shoes off and enter the seating area via a sliding door, the seats being slightly sunken in relation to the table and floor. Very 'Lost in Translation'! Being inexperienced in all matters Japanese, I opened the menu (and my Vindaloo- blinkered eyes) to discover what treats were on offer. Previously, my Japanese experiences had been limited- I love the veggie sushi in Tesco for example, but my eating out experiences were bad. The first was in 2005 at a Berlin bar named Silberstein (I know, what a Germanic name) which was pretentious with weird, scruffy staff hankering for tips, and the second was in my earlier review at No 1 Sushi, Edinburgh. Tokyo Season offered an outstanding choice of dishes and even though veggies normally draw the short straw when it comes to dealing with the cast of Finding Nemo that Japanese restaurants tend to offer, it was clear to see here which dishes were herbivorous. I chose a lunch special for £7.99 which included a drink (Japanese green tea for me!), a stirfry of veggies and yakiudon noodles and 4 pieces of sushi.

The tea was cleansing and I chose a refreshing Aloe Vera water to down my meal with. This tastes like normal flavoured spring water but with Aloe Vera globules inside, making even drinking something as boring as water exciting!
The Yakiudon were a dream. These noodles have a brilliantly chewy texture and were fried with minicorn and mushrooms, flavoured with soy sauce. Heaven.
My sushi platter was like a work of art! Our hostess explained what was in each small parcel, one of them was rice encased in tofu skin which was a pleasure for the senses, and were served the proper way with ginger to cleanse the palate after each morsel, and wasabi for the daring vindaloo queens amongst us.
As I digested this feast, I took in the calm surroundings, the cool bamboo furnishings making me yearn for a country I am yet to visit.

This bountiful lunch deal was rather filling, but it left me hungry for my next visit. I highly recommend you escape from the garish lights and too cheap to be true buffets and visit Tokyo Season to rest your eyes and mind from the rat race of central Manchester. Believe me, your soul will thank you for it!

UPDATE:In March 2011, we paid a return visit, ordered a business lunch (not the cheapest or biggest portion in Chinatown, mind) and were rudely told no meat was included in this set lunch (Yes, I'm a veggie anyway, but nonetheless I found it impolite, a sign of penny pinching.) Then, another gentleman came in and she told him there was a service charge for sitting in the booths what she failed to tell us, not that I can see what difference it is whether you sit on a normal table or a booth.
Finally, as we came to pay, she told us we couldn't pay with debit card if we were getting a business lunch. When challenged, she came up with a cock and bull story that it costs the restaurant 50p per card transaction which is ok on a normal meal but not on a business lunch. At this point, we were truly lost in translation. 'Next time,' she warned us,'if you get business lunch again, you bring cash, yes?' No, missy. There won't be a next time. Or any further recommendation.

Edited Jan 2012

Tokyo Season on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Al Nawaz, Manchester

Left a bad taste in my mouth- and that's before I read about its murky past!

Oh, the Curry Mile, street of delight and mystery. If, like myself, you're not a Mancunian and have little local knowledge, it's hard to know which are the best restaurants in the city and which are going to confine you to the bathroom for the weekend. It's rather like a game of Indian roulette! When choosing a restaurant, I try not to be taken in by bright Blackpool illuminations and eager touts forcing you in for custom like a Turkish bazaar, and base my decisions on a healthy balance of nice price, great quality and excellent service. However, last week I was blinded by the light and hindered by the inclement weather, so chose the nearest restaurant to our parking space, the Al-Nawaz.

The Al- Nawaz appears gloriously tacky from the outside, fluorescent lighting reminiscent of a Benidorm nightclub in 1984, but the real treat is the entrance. When you enter the hallowed portal, the focal point is actually the floor. It is glass and has fishtanks embedded into it with some glorious koi carp! What a treat! However, look past the fish and the restaurant is rather disappointing. The decor reminds me of a church hall and chav christenings, all long tables, stark walls, chipped paint and cheapo furniture. There is absolutely no atmosphere and has all the ambience of a job centre. Hopefully the food will spice things up....

To start, I feasted on popadoms and a huge chutney tray which were free- brilliant. This treat was let down by the incompetent staff, who, as they took away our dirty plates, they laid our dirty cutlery back down on the table- tight, lazy and dirty. This was a bad sign and set alarm bells ringing off- if they can't be bothered to provide clean cutlery, what the hell does the kitchen look like?! Also, the family next to us had just left, and their disposable tablecloth was wiped over with a j-cloth! HELLO! They are called disposable tablecloths for a reason, tightwads.

The meal arrived promptly and was actually quite pleasant. My vegetable madras was packed to the brim of beautiful fresh, succulent greens and was vindaloo hot, a single portion of Pilau was enough to feed two. The peshwari naan was filling and cakey and was a slightly different recipe to normal with a few glace cherries thrown in. Yum. However, as the restaurant was lacking in ambience, the meal wasn't really enjoyed- I just wanted to shovel it down and go next door to my beloved Treats. I felt like I'd gatecrashed a party and had to hurry out for some reason.

Upon leaving, I made my obligatory toilet assessment and my god were they filthy. To top it off, the mens bogs had 'gents' handwritten with marker pen on the door!

Sorry, Al Nawaz, you were distinctly average. And if I wanted to have a further excuse for not visiting, I read the below article. Cockroach kebab anyone?

THE boss of a restaurant on Manchester's 'curry mile' has been fined after a court heard it had been crawling with cockroaches.

Magistrates were told a public health inspector had found a 'well developed' infestation at the Al Nawaz restaurant on Wilmslow Road, in Rusholme, last summer.

The court was told that manager Gopal Dangol, 64, was ordered to shut it down after the inspection. He was fined £2,500 and restaurant owner Elite Chain Ltd was fined £12,500. The restaurant has since re-opened under new management.

The court heard that the inspector went there on July 24 last year after a customer made a complaint. Barbara Gora, prosecuting for Manchester council, said: "He saw live cockroaches running around the bar area, over shelving and on drinking glasses.

"Live cockroaches were also found around the washing up sink, under the coffee machine and over electrical equipment.

"A live cockroach was also found in a foil food container. There were also a number of dead cockroaches, which was indicative of a well-developed infestation."

Dangol, from Buxton Road, Stockport, and the firm had earlier pleaded guilty to five offences under food hygiene regulations.

Miss Gora said salad had been left next to raw meat in a fridge and the refrigeration units were in a poor state of repair. She said samosas and onion bhajis had been left out overnight at room temperature. Waste food and unclean kitchenware had also provided a source of food for the cockroaches. The waste bin was also full and overflowing.

She said: "The council prosecutes these matters because the public health is being put at risk. These defendants are clearly putting their profits before public health."

The court was told Dangol had a previous conviction for five food hygiene breaches while he was manager at the New Tabak restaurant on Wilmslow Road in 2007.

Barry Cuttle, defending, said Dangol had worked in restaurants as a waiter, a chef and a manager all his life. He said: "He's a family man. He hails from Nepal. He has worked very, very hard and very honestly and sincerely."

He said Dangol had already resigned from his job when the inspector visited but had 'copped a rocket' because he was still there while the firm waited to appoint a replacement manager.

He said the firm's pest controller fighting the infestation had needed access to the flats above the restaurant, but the residents often would not let them upstairs.

He said the restaurant was now under new management and he had been told by accountants that Elite Chain Ltd had ceased trading. Dangol was fined £500 for each offence - a total of £2,500. He was ordered to pay £1,124 costs and a £15 victim surcharge.

Elite Chain Ltd was fined £2,500 for each offence - a total of £12,500. The firm was ordered to pay costs of £1,124 plus a £15 surcharge.

Dangol was told by magistrate Catherine Feeney it was the worst breach of hygiene regulations she had seen in 30 years in the hospitality industry. She said: "Hygiene is important because people can become ill and die. You're in a very prominent position on Wilmslow Road and it's totally unacceptable."

(Copyright Manchester Evening News)