Bakchich Manchester, 4, The Quadrangle, Chester Street, Manchester, M1 5QS – Visit Now
Over the years, many Manchester-based Lebanese restaurants have come and gone. Older readers might remember the wildly unpredictable Cedar Tree in the Northern Quarter – when it was good it was great, but when it was bad it was very bad indeed (think Middle Eastern Fawlty Towers).
Bakchich have gone for full-throttle authenticity
These days we have chain restaurant Comptoir Libanais, and the more independent Bakchich, which has a successful sister restaurant in Liverpool. But while Comptoir Libanais could be accused of watering down their menu for British palates, Bakchich have gone for full-throttle authenticity, boasting a menu full of exotic Lebanese dishes in a bright open venue with a buzzing souk-style feel.
These ideals don’t stop there – alcoholic drinks are off the menu, giving a welcome respite from neighbouring venues such as Nandos and Zouk, which, as good as they are, do tend to attract a rowdier crowd than you’d like on a midweek evening. Indeed, this mini strip of restaurants, set in the Quadrangle just off Oxford Road, is slowly becoming one of the city’s go-to food districts, most notably with Korean fried chicken restaurant Chimaek attracting remarkable word-of-mouth from clued-in locals.
The first thing you’ll notice is how beautiful the food is. Each dish is bright, colourful and full of bold ideas and punchy flavours. Plus that coal fire aroma in the air helps confirm everything is cooked and prepared on-site (apart from the bread, provided by a local Lebanese bakery).
We begin with the halloumi meshawi, a glass bowl packed with thick squeaky chunks of halloumi cheese on a snappy olive and tomato salad, with mint and pomegranate seeds scattered on top. The whole thing is crisp and delicious, a perfect introduction to the menu.
Jewaneh meshawi, aka chicken wings with garlic and harissa sauce, rubber-stamp the focus on top-quality produce. The wings are plump and meaty, nicely chargrilled round the edges, pairing nicely with the homemade dips.
If you’re looking for a healthier option, the vegetarian mezze for one is the best in the city. Everything’s here, and more: fluffy hummus, nutty baba ghanoush, zingy tabouleh and a trio of speckled falafels – crunchy and firm on the outside but with a pleasingly soft centre, not to mention a bowl of handmade breads.
For mains, the lamb tagine is a must. Slow cooked British lamb shoulder, marinated in saffron and ras el hanout (a North African spice mix, similar to garam masala), served with caramelised prunes and apricots, plus sesame seeds scattered across it for good measure. Bakchich manager/owner Amine, who darts from table to table, stops by to tell us this is a celebratory dish, used to commemorate special occasions. The sweet flavours from the prunes and apricots, mix beautifully with the rich meatiness of the lamb. The quality of the meat is second to none, flaking apart just like slow-cooked lamb should, without the slightest hint of gristle or sloppy fat.
As good as this is, the mixed grill is the go-to dish for meat-lovers. The plate comes crammed with food, all based around these four skewers of grilled meat: shish taouk (marinated grilled chicken), lahma meshawi (marinated lamb, coated in Lebanese spices), kefta meshawi (minced lamb mixed with chopped parsley and onions) and chicken kofta (minced chicken with parsley and onion), served alongside a light crunchy salad and subtly-spiced rice. The chicken skewers are remarkably tender, overflowing with flavour and impossible to put down, while the lamb skewers are a more intoxicating prospect, full of dark, earthy flavours with a sinful edge.
One of the more interesting sections of the menu is the ‘manakeesh’, or to dumb it down a notch, the Lebanese pizza. This is a handmade flat dough, with a liberal coating of oregano and a choice of toppings. We opt for halloumi and Armenian sausage (soujoc), to create a kind of distant, more exciting, cousin of the pepperoni pizza. This could easily satisfy two people for lunch, for little more than a fiver.
We attend in the middle of the recent snowstorm, which inevitably leads to a power cut towards the end of our meal. The restaurant is packed out but Amine and his staff are unphased, cheerfully lighting candles and relying on the trusty coal fire grill to keep everyone smiling and satisfied. It’s this kind of personal touch that helps Bakchich towers above its rivals, in both cuisine and location, delivering a warmth and charm that can’t help but win you over. And the fantastic food doesn’t hurt either.
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