Lucy Tomlinson hops on the Middle Eastern bandwagon and heads for Didsbury’s corner of Palestine
While Middle Eastern food has long been a stalwart of the British food scene, there has been a bit of a revival recently.
The immense popularity of Sabrina Ghayour, Rawia Bishara, Ottolenghi and Honey & Co has put a trendy filter on the incredible flavours and textures of this region; beautifully styled imagery of heaving, ripped open pomegranates, dishes dusted with colourful spices and vibrant produce.
One could compare them to three shaved hamsters snuggled up together...
So far so yum, but one particular nation hasn’t been all that well represented in this Middle Eastern food resurgence – Palestine.
Baity, a new-ish independent in Didsbury, wants to bring us all the joys of Palestinian food. It’s very much in the stylish category, with a pared-back, muted colour scheme - all the better to showcase a rather splendid 90-year-old olive tree in one corner.
The menu is similarly restrained (with only four main courses) which is generally a sign of self-assurance and also pragmatism - though I do hope they start to add more dishes soon.
The starters can also be ordered as small plates, so we decided to go for a hybrid approach and order four starters and two main courses. Perhaps this was a moment of over-confidence in our eating abilities. Still the staff kindly boxed up what we couldn’t manage so nothing went to waste.
For our sharing plates starter marathon we ordered hummus bil lahem (£7), a jazzed up version of the chickpea favourite with spicy lamb, a very salty (but still pleasant) dish of halloumi (£5), and batata harra (£4), a chunky and satisfying bowl of spiced potatoes.
We were tempted by others. The sumac veggies looked good, as did the fattoush salad, but in the end we went for the kibbeh (£7) and I’m glad we did.
Truth be told, they do not look quite as attractive as the other dishes. One could compare them to three shaved hamsters snuggled up together, or, if you a familiar with the oeuvre of Roald Dahl, three vermicious knids. And that’s just the non-anatomical, family-friendly comparisons. But, while they are not the most beautiful foodstuffs, they are some of the best kibbeh I’ve tried. The secret is the bulgur wheat shell that is perfectly crisped, in contrast with the fragrant lamb mince inside.
As noted, mains are more restricted, with only one vegetarian dish offered. I went for musakhan (£13), which is basically half a chicken dowsed with sumac and roasted, then perched on a thick mattress of sumac-infused khubuz (Arabic bread, ideal for soaking up those precious chicken juices.)
Look closer and you’ll see a layer of onions, slowly fried to bring out the sweetness, plus a scattering of toasted pine nuts. I did try to eat this with a bit of decorum (i.e. with a knife and fork) but really it’s a get-your-hands-greasy, rip-it-to-shreds-you-old-carnivore kind of dish. Be prepared to ask for more napkins.
The lamb and aubergine saniya (£13) is a dish that has many variants in the Middle East (you could draw parallels with moussaka and even shepherd’s pie). Lamb and aubergine is a classic and delicious combination, here given a bit of zing with a roasted red pepper sauce on the side. I’ve seen it before with tahini or hummus but really enjoyed this version.
By this point we were completely stuffed, but bravely decided we must try the knafa cheesecake (£5), as it’s a bit of a signature dish. ‘Knafa’ refers to the pastry layer topped with the most velvety cream cheese, flavoured with vanilla and rose, finished with shredded kaitafi and a sprinkling of pistachios. If you like your desserts rich, creamy and indulgent (and who likes them poor, thin and mean?) then you really have to give this a whirl.
We also managed to fit in some baklawa (£4) and coffee (£2) before we rolled out of our chairs, grasping our box of leftovers in our greedy claws and dragged ourselves home.
Baity is not currently open during the day, which is a shame. It is also completely dry (which means no BYOB either). While I respect that choice, that will make it more difficult to run as a dinner-only proposition. So I’m crossing fingers for a lunchtime opening, which will suit Baity well and make acquiring the best cheesecake this side of Nablus just a little bit easier.
Baity, 743 Wilmslow Road, M20 6RN 0161 613 5473
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. 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.
Halloumi 6, hummus bil lahamm 7, kibbeh 9, battata harra 7, musakahn, 7, saniya 7, knafa cheesecake 9, baklawa 5
Lovely and friendly
Pared-back and muted - but it has a nonagenarian tree