I’ve come a long way since my first idle / drunken bet in a Russian restaurant back just after Christmas in 2008. So what have I learnt over the course of the year? The biggest was probably that I can drink lager, which I had always tended to avoid previously. The strangest countries brew beer. Thumbs up to Indonesia and Ethiopia; thumbs down to Korea. In terms of beverages I would also like to recommend the meaty red wines from Argentina and Chile and the lethal zombie cocktails over at Keko Moku. The jury is possibly still out on Ukrainian kvass!
Food-wise the most unpleasant thing I’ve tasted all year would be Ghanaian kenkey – if a foodstuff is described as ‘partially fermented’ it is now well and truly off the radar for me! In general I found the sub-Saharan African meals were generally an uninspiring starch + protein + sauce combination. In contrast, there is a wide range of Middle Eastern places, most of whom do really good food. Though having said that, the only meal that I think made me feel ill would have been the Iraqi buffet early on, and that was more to do with reheated food than the ingredients I think. The most unusual thing I ate though would probably have to be crocodile soup out at Ellesmere Port’s South African restaurant. In general throughout the entire year I was not let down by a single soup. Soups really summed up the vast variety of national cuisines tried, and were always a great choice.
So what would be my overall recommendations? In the city centre I think the Portuguese Lusob just pips the Japanese New Samsi, with honourable mentions for Argentina’s Gaucho Grill, Malaysia’s Ning and Spain’s El Rincon de Rafa. In south Manchester, the Loch Fyne fish restaurant would have to take the crown, though I am very keen on Croma’s inventive take on pizzas. A playfully inventive menu also gives newly-opened Puddleduk the prize for north Manchester dining over its closest competitor, Prestwich’s Le Tagine. Best overall atmosphere would probably have to be the German Christmas markets; most unusual the Ethiopian Habesha, best USP the pour-your-own beer at Belgian Tapsand best all-you-can-eat blow-out may well be a toss-up between Genghis Khans and Tropeiro.
Eating Around the World in 80 Meals has been a hard journey. This is partially due to other time commitments Paul and I both had, but largely due to the volatility of the dining scene in manchester during the depths of a global recession. There were a number of places we attempted to find, only to discover they had shut down – King Cobra (Sri Lanka), Che (Cuban), Luna’s (Trinidadian), West Bank (Palestinian), Inkaa (Peruvian), Kurdland Grill (Kurdish). And a number of those places reviewed here have also ceased trading by the time of writing – Marmara (Iraqi), Horus (Egyptian), African Emporium (Ivorian), Le Tagine (Moroccan), Uluru (Australian), Dubai (UAE) and Shimla Pinks (Indian).
What surprised me about the countries sampled? I was expecting more from the Caribbean; all Caribbean restaurants seem to be owned and run by Jamaicans. Where are all the Antiguans / Trinidadians / Barbadians? I suppose I was also expecting to find influence from Sudan, Algeria and Senegal. And considering that the newspapers are full of scare stories about East European immigration following EU enlargement I would have hoped to have seen more of those nations represented than just Poland, Lithuania and the Czech Republic (and the latter bar pre-dated Czech accession to the EU by a number of years!). Unexpected surprises would be the refugee communities from the horn of Africa, the thriving Jewish neighbourhoods of north Manchester, and the fact that there is such an extensive choice of Nepalese restaurants in south Manchester.
In general I found this quest threw up many surprises, and lead me to areas that I had never before visited. I now feel that I know a lot more not only about the varied cuisines of the world but also about my own home town. In the course of 15 months I have explored more of Manchester than in the previous 15 years, and considerably cultivated my palate en route.
Here’s to the next quest!