Speaking volumes for the city's unique and diverse palate, the curry cafes of Manchester and their signature dish of ‘rice and three’ feed huge numbers of diners each week with affordable (cheap, even?), authentic and - most importantly - delicious Indian food. In contrast to the evening or buffet affairs found on the Rusholme Curry Mile, these are generally seen as a lunchtime option. Their near-ubiquity ensures that what essentially amounts to a full, specialist meal can be had for around a fiver - and on a lunch hour. Here’s just a few of the best established options. And if they're just a bit too burny? Go cool that mouth down with a pint at the pub.
Manchester curry cafes
This & That
Perhaps the city’s worst kept culinary secret, This and That sits down an alleyway so grimey that a tree has uprooted through an adjacent building, as if in an effort to get away. This, fortunately, is no reflection on the quality of the food inside a canteen that serves straight-up, authentic Indian food - albeit in a setting reminiscent of a '70s school canteen. However, the dodgy decor only serves to emphasise the quality of the curries and snacks, all dutifully dropped down a rusted dumb waiter throughout the day. Lunchtimes get very busy with just about everyone. It’s all worth a punt, but the spinach - usually available with lamb - is truly special.
Beyond City and United, loyalty between Yagdar and This & That is one of Manchester’s stickier points. Fortunately, both are very good indeed, and unlike their sporting counterparts, fiercely local. Yadgar’s doesn’t deviate much from the tried-and-tested formula, and that's a good thing. The food is fresh, tasty and far from trendy, and there’s free tap water available if needs be. The kofta served are particularly notable, and it’s worth starving yourself into a foul mood to make room for a chapati alongside your rice and three.
A new addition to Chorlton’s vast range of eateries, Chapati Cafe is amongst the more affordable food options in the area, matching its elder rice and three brothers in the city centre in price, whilst perhaps offering a little more elegance than most. The thali influenced choices usually balance two meat with two veg options, served with rice on a metal tray. And whilst the presentation at other, older cafes is usually somewhere in the realm of the devil-may-care, it looks better here and customers at Chapati are encouraged to mix and match flavours. There’s free water but, this being Chorlton, slightly less reasonably priced beers and glass bottles of Coke also serve as refreshment.
The running theme here seems to be simplicity, and Lily’s, located on a trading estate in Ashton-Under-Lyne, is so unassuming that you could mistake it for a cold storage unit. In reality, it’s not far from Ashton’s train and tram stops, or their mega Ikea, and proudly serves arguably the finest vegetarian Indian food in the North West. Deviating from the usual rice and three formula, its loyal customer base pick and choose from a broad selection of chaats, puris and other traditional, street food type dishes. Headhunted chefs from Mumbai and Gujarat also expertly prepare a range of delicious sweets.
The central, yet discreet, location down an alleyway opposite Piccadilly’s Roadhouse keeps this place just for those in the know. Marhaba seats no more than a dozen diners at once, which means it lacks the bustling atmosphere of the likes of This & That. It’s well regarded, first and foremost, for its freshness - something that's pretty much guaranteed, given that the full range of curries (and there are more than a few) and chapatis are cooked to order. The decor and atmosphere is basic even by the standards of the local lunchtime curry trade, but the restaurant melds its own unique variety of table service with excellent value and just some really, really good food.