Ever since I moved to London I have tried to make my return visits to Manchester ones which are memorable and explorative for my friends and I. In spite of having lived in Manchester for some six years, it has been on the sporadic return visits that I seem to have better explored some of the city’s best ‘hidden’ restaurants (I say ‘hidden’ more in terms of geographic location and also not being a chain), although This and That has featured on a large number of ‘Best Cheap Eats in Manchester’-type listicles that I used to wile away my work days reading, and it also proudly proclaims itself to be ‘Manchester’s Favourite Curry House’ (I thought that was Mughli, which I have also never visited) on its website.
It was March 2016. My friend Carl and I went to the Chinese Centre for Contemporary Art and learned that Chinese Contemporary Art wasn’t really our thing and that our years lived in Manchester having avoided the gallery weren’t wasted ones. That isn’t to say that the gallery is bad – indeed, it is quite good – just that we have not yet reached a stage in our lives that it is something that we can understand and fully appreciate. As such, we talked about relationships and Lenten sacrifices.
We met a third friend just before midday and ambled through the Manchester rain for, at 12pm, the earliest curry of all of our lives. How did three twentysomethings manage to reach this age without having a breakfast curry? Why, a commitment to a healthy diet, of course, says the girl who used to eat nearly expired Nando’s chocolate cake at 7am.
My mother often says that she doesn’t think that I would like something because it would be ‘beneath’ me. To be fair to her, several of the restaurants that I have been to since I moved to London have been of the Ivy Café (one of my favourites) and SushiSamba (a disappointment) variety, and these are the restaurants I tend to tell her about so she can live vicariously through me. However, when listing my preferred restaurants, often they are those which lazy writers such as myself would call ‘authentic’, that is to say ‘a type of cuisine cooked by the person from the country that it originated’. Rent prices mean that this type of restaurant is usually situated in a less-than-glamorous side of town, and that if you are going out to eat with me you should either expect to have to wear a tie or follow me down an alley.
Alley it is. A wet, stinking Manchester alley. The entrance is a metal door.
After briefly wondering if I was leading them to a premature death, my friends were pleasantly surprised that there was indeed a restaurant inside and that the promise of three curries for £5.50 (£3.90 if you’re going all vegetarian) was true.
Tables and service are cafeteria-style, though the staff are friendlier than my school lunchladies even if on asking for a recommendation they just piled the food on (lamb, chicken, daal, all fine choices). The menu is a ‘day by day’ menu rather than a regular menu, so really it’s a place to go when you fancy ‘curry’ rather than if you have your heart set on a rogan josh or whatever your curry of choice is. There are sauces and onions which can be added free of charge next to the cutlery station and jugs of water.
The three of us were impressed with the food. Maybe I was just impressed with the portions and that it is quite different from your regular Indian fare. I have since learned that I have stomach issues with curry and so the saltiness that I have tasted may have had more to do with that than the fineries of the food itself.
It wasn’t enough to put me off though, and on another occasion I took an ex-work colleague who, impressed by the portion size and ‘authenticity’, vowed to take her boyfriend here. Seven months on, she still hasn’t. On a completely different occasion when I still lived in Manchester, my friend tried to take me to a rice and three café, but all of them (Marhaba, Yadgar) were closed, as was a Korean place, and we had to settle on Thai food in a supermarket, which was two thumbs up on the ‘authenticity’ scale.
This is a Manchester institution for a reason, and worth a visit if you actually like and can handle Indian food. What accolades I am giving here!
Carl has since become my ‘friend that I take to weird places’, including the gallery next door to the gallery that I had actually intended on going to in which we spent an uncomfortable minute alone in a mirrored box with an equally confused Chinese tourist, to a near-empty thuggish pool hall, and for Ethiopian food (more on that later). In turn, I am his ‘friend who takes him to weird places that he can later take other friends to). A friendship to be treasured indeed. Such a shame that he is moving to North Carolina.
This & That Café, 3 Soap Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester M4 1EW