Back alleys – (before I go any further, please get your mind out of the gutter) – public toilets/pigeon breeding grounds/areas you generally wish to avoid unless you are a pigeon/nefarious character.
However, Soap Street in Manchester's trendy Northern Quarter, is very definitely a back alley, but very definitely one you don’t want to avoid. Running down past Trof NQ, it's barely big enough to swing a cat in let alone get a Smart Car down, it's grimy and a bit smelly - but halfway down sits This and That, a Manchester curry house/legend that’s been doling out rice and three for the past 20 odd years.
The outside has been jazzed up with a trendy mural (well, this is the Northern Quarter), but I’m sure the inside hasn’t been touched since it opened. Plastic seating that looks like it’s come from an ex-Wimpy and a simple bain-marie for serving food school dinner style – the menu on the wall is the only decoration in the place.
But it’s not the atmosphere, the surroundings or even the fellow diners, that draws the crowds – it’s the cheap, tasty, food that This and That churn out so quickly.
I’ve been twice lately, always at lunch time and always after a colleague has muttered the magic ‘c’ word. We pile out and jam in to any car we can find, head up and join the familiar queue that snakes out the door and in to the aforementioned alley; chatting, deciding and eyeing up other people’s plates as they pass by.
First time I went up I had to try the rice ‘n’ three; the dish This and That is famed for. The man behind the bain-marie loads a plate up with steaming, fluffy rice whilst you point out which of the stainless steel troughs you fancy a ladle of, which are then slopped on in a generous, school dinner style way.
I tried the mild keema (mince), bombay potatoes and the lamb saag. The meat in both dishes had benefitted from a long, slow cooking; even though I had the mild keema there was still a bit of a kick. The lamb saag wasn’t bursting with meat, but a heady waft of aromatic space helped make up for that. And for less than a fiver I really wasn’t going to complain.
Second trip up and I was caught, just as I stepped inside the door, by a smoky, sweet char – to my left was a little bbq griddle that I hadn’t seen last time, replete with sizzling keema kebabs that were then slapped in to large roti (chapatti). I had to get me some of this, especially as I realised it was half the price of the rice ‘n’ three (post-Christmas visit with very depleted finances).
Opting for the small version was a good plan; two large keemas were placed on a doughy roti and smothered in salad and chilli riata, with some chillies and coriander for an extra fresh kick. I didn’t need the chillies as the keemas had been superbly spiced with dried red chillies and heady cumin. Delicious and only £2.50. Ok the roti was a bit leathery, but it cost £2.50 so what leg have I go to stand on to be grumpy about that? It was certainly better than the ones you get at the takeaway.
This and That isn’t going to win prizes for looks, fashion statements or for testing the boundaries of modern gastronomy – however for a cheap, quick lunch that is freshly cooked and chock full of flavour, I think you’ll struggle to find anything better in the city. Some people have complained that there isn’t a shit load of meat in their dishes – it costs less than a fiver and you’re too bloody fat anyway, a bit of veg will do you good.
Ps Not sure I want to share this place with you as it’s pretty small and the lunch queue is always quite large. Please make sure you save me a seat if you get there before me!
Pps Check their website/Twitter as they post what’s cooking each day, so you can plan what you want before you visit (or choose in the line as people walk past, that’s my tactic!)
Ppps Sorry no photos, Blogger is being rubbish and not letting me upload - will amend as soon as I can!
Price range from £3.30 for rice and three veg to a heady £5.40 for rice and four meat.
Food – 7/10
Atmosphere – 8/10 (if you don’t mind sharing a table)
Service – 7/10 (you do most of the service yourself, but the chaps are very nice)
Value for money – 9/10
Total – 31/40
Go again – Already planning to!
This and That, Soap Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester M4 1EW – Website – Twitter – Facebook – 0161 832 4971