Kebab houses and gloomy urban backstreets are common bedfellows, but if you’re expecting a review of Manchester’s newest kebab specialist, Bab, to be dour then prepare for disappointment. While the new venture from Northern Quarter residents The Pen and Pencil does inhabit the puddled alleyways of back Piccadilly, this doesn’t mean it’s an unlovable eyesore. In reality, it sits away from the noise and crowds like an undiscovered gift at the back of the Christmas tree.
Bab’s food pitch is that it focuses on one simple thing; the kebab. Did you know that the word kebab comes from the ancient Persian for “health food”? No, maybe not, because I made it up, but isn’t it exactly the kind of thing that COULD be true? Kebabs are a universal language, they’re in more countries than Coca-Cola and they translate better than Google. From takeaways in Trafford to restaurants on the banks of the Bosporus, they’re all things to all people, which is why they’re perfectly suited to being elevated to tasty, healthy food in a lovely ambience.
Smart choices include the simple-sounding little plates of octopus and thoum
As it’s a relatively new opening, Bab still has the boxfresh scent of sawdust pervading the warm, casual space of tall tables and bare lightbulbs. On the evening we visit, the music and service are low-key but pleasant, and in a moment of good fortune Pink Floyd comes on just as my companion takes her first sip of the fruity Pink Pangaen cocktail. It’s all Money.
The smart menu is split into an uncomplicated trio of Meze, Kebabs and Non-Babs (which is to say, other mains). Smart choices include the simple-sounding little plates of octopus and thoum (a kind of middle-eastern garlic dip) and the salad of roast figs, green beans and currants. From the kebab menu it’s the lamb adana with feta and pomegranate, along with the vegan-friendly superfood salad from the non-kebab side.
The fig salad is surprisingly, deliciously, warm. The figs, green beans and mounds of flaked almonds and fat currants are all well-prepared, but it’s the lashings of floral Alderley Edge honey which adds a perfect sourness to the fruit.
If there’s a better octopus dish in Manchester or surrounding regions then I am yet to find it
The second meze plate is filled with baby octopuses and a healthy dollop of a thoum sauce that’s deep and rich, but still hums with garlic and sumac. The octopus is the real joy though and the tiny morsels have been so skilfully cooked – tenderised and then chargrilled – that you’ll be fighting off all comers. It seems like a clever move to use pieces that are only the size of squid, as it’s likely to attract even those who are normally put off by the chunky tentacles of the bigger brother. If there’s a better octopus dish in Manchester or surrounding regions then I am yet to find it.
The vegan superfood salad is a generous Ottolenghi-esque pile of fresh produce. Maximum taste comes from the bouquets of mint and coriander piled on top like salad leaves. Dig deeper and there’s sweetness from oranges, figs and pomegranate, all sat with the earthier flavours of raw Romanesco, kale, bulgur wheat and quinoa . It’s all the greens and all the grains, and you’ll feel all the better for eating it.
If you’re a doner lover who’s concerned that they’ve gussied up your beloved elephant’s leg beyond recognition then rest easy
If you’re a doner lover who’s concerned that they’ve gussied up your beloved elephant’s leg beyond recognition then rest easy. On top of a crisp, freshly-made flatbread, the lamb adana boasts thick slices of spicy, merguez-like lamb sausage. There’s heaps of salad and all the creamy yoghurt sauce you’d ever need. It’s exactly what you want from a kebab and all without the need for fourteen pints of premium lager.
This crew have turned a Saturday night afterthought into a date-night knockout. Go see them.