TO THE SOUTH OF Manchester city centre lies Rusholme, home to the original Curry Mile. the combination of a large South Asian community and lots of hungry students has given rise to a range of curry restaurants which attract an estimated 65,000 diners per week to this stretch of Wilmslow Road.
But the city has many other great places to eat South Asian food, and some of Britain’s best pubs, so don’t limit yourself.
The Classic: Rusholme
The Sangam is friendly and has great food, but the smaller Punjab is worth a special mention for its amiable staff and wide-ranging menu. It’s the only restaurant on the strip to serve dosas (huge, crispy South Indian pancakes with various fillings) alongside the usual bhunas, baltis and dansaks. It also has famously good vegetarian choices, with rare delicacies such as tinda (baby gourds).
On the off chance that you’re not stuffed, skip the run-of-the-mill desserts offered by even the best curry houses, and head to the Sanam Sweethouse for fragrant Indian sweets.
Avoid the many mediocre watering holes around Rusholme and head for the Albert (5 Walmer Street), a traditional South Manchester Irish pub. It’s a snug, slightly tatty place with photographs of Irish literary greats on the walls. The Whitworth, overlooking Whitworth Park, isn’t a bad place, although it helps if you like Guns ‘n Roses.
Further Out of Town
Further on the bus out of town is Withington where Moon Restaurant is dependably good, but the Red Lion pub is the main draw.
This seventeenth century coaching inn (which hosted Withington’s ‘court leet,’ a leftover of the area’s medieval privileges, until 1841) has plenty of cozy seating inside, but if the weather’s up to it, search out the benches overlooking the bowling green at the back, preferably with a pint of Marston’s Pedigree.
Forget the overpriced, shiny restaurants of Manchester’s ‘regenerated’ city centre and head into the Northern Quarter for huge portions of authentic South Asian food and ridiculously low prices.
Set up to serve workers from the neighbourhood’s textile wholesalers, gems like Kabana (Back Turner Street) and This ‘N’ That (3 Soap Street, off Thomas Street) serve up regularly-changing menus of meat and vegetarian dishes and the famous ‘rice + three’ offers – rice and three curries, usually for less than a fiver. Most are only open until mid/late afternoon, so if you’re combining with a pint, you’re looking at a boozy lunch or an early start.
In contrast to the scrubbed-down basics of the curry houses, the up-and-coming Northern Quarter’s bars are bohemian and trendy.
But in amongst some of the more vacuous newcomers nestle Dry Bar, a classic venue of 1980s/90s Madchester, and live music stalwart Night & Day (both on Oldham Street).
The palatial Nawaab looms over the main Stockport Road in Levenshulme. A converted cinema, it seats hundreds, but at the weekend you may still have to wait in the bar to get a seat for the buffet, with its vast array of dishes.
Catering to its Muslim fan base, the Nawaab is alcohol-free, but for a great pint head back towards Manchester city centre and turn right down to 170 Barlow Road. On the corner near Levenshulme Library is the Blue Bell, a genuine community pub. Landlord Mark Dunn runs gardening competitions for the local kids and offers the side room to residents’ and campaign groups.
This is a Sam Smith’s pub and, luckily for anyone drinking there, it serves a wide range of the traditional Tadcaster Brewery’s excellent beers, ranging from lager, through a range of real ales, to dark porters and the wonderful Oatmeal Stout. In true Sam Smith’s tradition, they are all at bargain prices.
Curry-lovers on a diet should head for Chorlton.
At 489-491 Barlow Moor Road, Asian Fusion’s contemporary take on Indian food includes ‘sizzler’ dishes, spicy but without the drowning of ghee that piles calories onto many curries.
20 minutes walk east takes you to Coriander, which also serves excellent low-fat, fresh, additive-free Bangladeshi food, with especially good vegetarian choices.
Next door to Asian Fusion is the Azad Manzil, a more traditional option, established in 1964.
Chorlton has a bewildering array of places to drink, including old school pubs such as the Trevor and the Beech – good for pints in plastic cups to drink on the Green in good weather. The Bar on Wilbraham Road is always lively.
But for really outstanding beer, head to the Marble at 57 Manchester Road. This unassuming little pub serves a range of beers from the Marble Brewery, a microbrewery in East Manchester whose main pub, the Marble Arch, isn’t on this list solely because of its desolate location on the fringes of several industrial estates.
It’s worth a visit, though, for its splendid Victorian tiling – and superb organic, vegan beers. Marble Chorlton standards include Lagonda IPA, Manchester Bitter and Ginger Marble (yes, it does taste of ginger), but there are often seasonal and festival specials.