Jonathan Schofield likes the buzz at one of Manchester's most popular restaurants

There are some restaurants in the city that always seem busy, Albert's Schloss, Caffe Grande Piccolino, The Ivy, San Carlo, 20 Storeys, El Gato Negro…and that Burger King in Piccadilly Gardens, honestly it's never empty. 

Akbars on Liverpool Road is similarly  busy. 

Waiters darted between tables with smiles so wide I wondered if they were on drugs

Liverpool Road in Castlefield is becoming a new Rusholme: if not a 'Curry Mile' then a 'Curry-couple-of-hundred-metres'. The street has morphed into a centre of sub-continental food appeal, particularly popular with the region's Pakistani and Bangladeshi populations. 

The busiest restaurant by far on the stretch is Akbars which drags people in from all cultural backgrounds with its combination of theatre and food. 

The theatre comes courtesy of its popularity. Of course there are couples and even solo-diners but Akbars is a magnet for celebrations, partying groups are strewn everywhere across the large dining area on my Wednesday visit. 

The thronging hordes proved a problem during lockdown (damn, I hate mentioning that vile time) when the restaurant was closed down by the council for a short while for 'unacceptable scenes' of 'overcrowding' and failing to 'implement social distancing controls, both inside and outside the premises'. The sheer amount of customers can also be a problem for residents. 

They are a victim of Akbar’s success. On my trip the place was so packed and the human chatter so loud I can't remember if there was any music playing. That is a good thing. Give me the music of diners talking over a merciless bass beat. Meanwhile waiters darted between tables with smiles so wide I wondered if they were on drugs: can anybody be that happy in their work?

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Inside a packed Akbar's on Liverpool Road Image: Confidentials

The food is very good.

The star of the show for me was the paya (£12) from the 'Gourmet Delicacies' section of the menu. This promises the food will be 'cooked with masterful techniques and with a special blend of exotic spices' to 'achieve a unique taste of Mughal Asia'.

Maybe not ‘unique’ but paya is unusual in the city centre for being a dish featuring ‘sheep's trotters’ (sic) that have been slowly cooked for several hours. This means the meat absorbs the rich sauce it comes with, this also means the meat falls from the bone beautifully and is full of that softy, earthy, lamb flavour. You might say these ‘trotters’ are no mean feat. Combine everything with excellent pilau rice (£3) and this is a real winner of a dish. 

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The feet of the sheep was a winner Image: Confidentials
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The excellent garlic naan (£3.50) is a useful scoop for the sauce and the lamb too. In 2006, when Akbars opened, I reviewed the restaurant for City Life magazine. That year it appeared in the 'new' section of the Food and Drink guidebook I edited. I've got a copy in front of me. For Akbar's the principle of 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' applies. The opening lines of the mini-review in the book describe the vast hanging naan that still casts shadows over meals. Not that this was a Akbar's innovation for the city. The bloated naan first arrived in Manchester with EastzEast on Princess Street.

The poppadum (£1) and pickles (£2.50) should be mentioned in despatches too but it was another oddity which sticks in my mind 

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Big face naan bread, seventeen years and still going strong Image: Confidentials
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Damn fine pickles Image: Confidentials

This was the chicken nimbali (£6) in which the marinated flesh of the fowl had been grilled and topped with melted cheese. Onions, tomatoes, spuds and peppers were along for the ride. This strangely un-Indian dish with its unexpected combinations was moreish in the extreme, one of those dishes you find yourself half way through before you know it, shovelling the food into your mouth, eyes glazed,  as though you've not eaten for days. 

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A strangely un-Indian dish, chicken and melted cheese Image: Confidentials

None of the dishes were a failure. 

The aubergine sizzler (£5.50) was perhaps the poorest as the aubergine, as its wont, was soggy, yet the heat in the dish pulled it through. The dhindi bhuna (£5.50), an okra dish, was better, spicy, yet felt healthy, but the chicken badami (£12) with its strong, toasty, flavours of almond and its rich, smooth, delicate, creamy sauce was very good.

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The aubergine sizzler, a bit soggy Image: Confidentials
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Bhindi bhuna an okra ride Image: Confidentials
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Chicken badami, smooth with a big almond blast Image: Confidentials

The smiles on those waiters faces never slipped all through the meal. Our waiter was good on advice too - it was he who led me to the paya payday. 

The visit to Akbars on Liverpool Road was a joy, great for people watching as we knocked back our wine and G&Ts. The food was of s high standard and the whole occasion one that I would gladly repeat in future and will gladly recommend. Book, though, it’s busy.

Akbars, 73-83 Liverpool Rd, Manchester M3 4NQ

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The bill Image: Confidentials

All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidentials and completely independent of any commercial relationship. They are a first-person account of one visit by one, knowledgeable restaurant reviewer and don't represent the company as a whole.

Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you’re passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.

  • Food 7/10

    Pickles and poppadum 7, aubergine sizzler 6, bhindi bhuna, 7, chicken nambali 8, lamb 8, paya 8, naan 7

  • Service 4/5

  • Ambience 4/5