Kevin and Rachel Choudhary give us the lowdown on what to expect from their ‘English market diner’
Street Urchin is an exciting independent 60-cover restaurant, which opened in June 2019. Conveniently situated between the Northern Quarter and Ancoats, it’s fast gaining a reputation for hearty, delicious dishes and an interesting wine selection.
Anyone who has eaten in Greater Manchester over the past few years might have already experienced Kevin’s cooking. So where else has he worked?
Everyone says they want to run their own restaurant but until you actually that key in your hand and it’s your responsibility, you haven’t got a clue
“I got my first cheffing job at around 17 and I’m 41 now, so I’ve been cooking for almost 24 years,” he told us. “I met Robert Owen Brown at Mr Thomas’s Chophouse when he was exec chef, then worked with him at The Bridge and then moved to Knutsford to help him run The Greyhound pub. I’ve known him for quite a few years.”
ROB has a very distinctive style of hearty nose to tail eating combined with classic sauces and lesser known fish or cuts of meat. How much of an influence has he been on Kev’s style of cooking? “I learned a lot from him because he’s a very, very good chef. I learnt about working with the seasons and how to link up flavours,” says Kev.
Is Street Urchin your first place?
“No," says Kev, "The Victoria in Altrincham was the first place Rachel and I ran for ourselves.”
“That was a little backstreet boozer, that no one could keep open," adds Rachel. "So Punch Taverns virtually gave it to us in 2006 and we did it up.”
So how did you turn The Victoria around?
RC – “We turned it into a restaurant basically. Much to Punch Tavern’s distress, we sold very little beer, which was the only tie-in, while our food sales went through the roof, thanks mainly to word of mouth. Most people came back and we were listed in the Michelin Guide and The AA Guide.
KC – “We tried to do seasonal menus which changed every 12 weeks. It was different to what we’re doing now because trends have changed, but it was a good learning opportunity. Everyone says they want to run their own restaurant but, until you actually have that key in your hand and it’s your responsibility, you haven’t got a clue.”
So why did you leave The Victoria?
RC – “We’d been at The Victoria for eight years and Punch Taverns said that ours was going on the list of buildings they were looking to sell, so we just thought we’d go somewhere else. But that was so difficult. It’s taken us four years to find this new unit. It was then another 18 months before we started building work.”
What made you take the leap to running a restaurant of your own?
RC – “You get to a point in this industry where you either become an exec chef or area manager or you do your own depending what direction you want to go in. I like the service side and Kev loves to cook. We are happy doing our own thing with full control."
KC – “You can get things done on a daily basis rather than having to go through a chain of command.”
So this place was a blank canvas that you could do anything with?
RC – “It reminded me of one of those back yards with balconies and metal structures. Also it’s a bit of a greenhouse thanks to our huge windows, so we wanted to be very relaxed and make it an outside area inside. Most of the furniture is, shall we say, vintage (laughs) and painted by me. And all the lights are vintage (off eBay.) I bought those over months and months and I was terrified it was just going to look like a complete bag of washing and not come together. Everyone laughed at us when we said we were going to build a garden wall but I really love it. It’s one of my favourite things."
How’s business been for the first six months?
RC – "It’s been good. There are still areas we have to work on, like our lunch-time trade for example. Although evening and weekend trade has been amazing and has exceeded where we hoped to be at this junction."
What do you serve at lunchtime?
RC - “People can come in and have a small plate and a side for less than a tenner, or whatever they want really.”
Is that more of a European thing? To come out and have an hour out to eat a higher quality lunch and then go back to work feeling a bit more refreshed.
KC – "I think we’ve slightly lost the concept of the lunch hour but I’m not sure just shoving a pasty down your neck does anything good for your soul."
Tell us more about your style of cooking?
KC – "I’ve always been a hearty cook – I’ve never been into nouvelle cuisine or anything like that. I’ve always liked food. We just try to use what we can get our hands on. Our ethos is that we ring round the suppliers, see what we can actually get at that moment and work out what we can create with it."
RC – "We thought, let’s be really relaxed. When it’s gone we’ll wipe it off the board. It just makes everything work better."
But what about regulars who get attached to a favourite dish?
KC – “We do have some signature dishes. We have a bisque with a classic base – more like a stew made with langoustine heads – then we add things like clams, mussels and some battered fish so it’s more than just a soup. We change what goes in it depending on what we can get that’s good – white fish, smoked fish etc. It helps us keep to a price point too. We can’t always afford to put Dover Sole or premium fish on, but we can use other fish from the sole family that aren’t being used so much.”
RC - "Regular customers know that some dishes will come back. We like to keep things interesting and it helps to keep waste down.”
Many restaurants claim to make everything from scratch, but you go into it at an even deeper level.
KC – “We make our own curds and halloumi cheese as well as labneh yoghurt cream cheese. We also make fresh bread every day; a standard white loaf and then a wholemeal or flavoured one. We weigh it all out last things at night and bake it first thing in the morning.
"We make our own stocks as well as pasta and ravioli and we have our own machine to make sausages. Literally anything that goes on the menu we’ll make ourselves, so our product is unique to us. Nobody will be able to offer exactly what we do."
There’s a homely quality to the food here - in a a good way.
RC – "What we do is kind of like peasant food. It’s simple food but that’s not to say it isn’t complex in its own way. But we call ourselves an English market diner, we’re not a fancy restaurant or a formal experience."
How do you keep the creative ideas flowing?
KC – "We travel quite a bit to be fair. We’ve been to Marrakech, Rome, lots of food tourism. In Rome we stumbled into some back street canteen kind of place and had rabbit and artichoke – it was the most beautiful thing, which inspired our Kentucky Fried Rabbit dish.
"You need to look at things and try and do something a bit different; what flavours can we use, what does it go with, what’s in season? I come from a semi-Asian family background thanks to my stepfather and Manchester is great for a wide variety of different restaurants and supermarkets. You can get anything you want here if you know where to go and get it. We’ve got so much on the doorstep it should be easy to be creative – it’s just about tapping in and using it.
"I think if you’re passionate about food, you should be walking around and having a look instead of spending your days off sitting in front of the TV. It revitalises and energises you."
If you need to change a dish for a customer with an allergy or a dislike, is it easier?
KC – “Because we make everything on site we can talk through any dish on the menu and tell people what’s in it. We’re happy to look at dishes and try and find a way to adapt it.”
RC – “People are coming in spending their money. We want them to come back and feel comfortable. Sometimes we all need to remember though, it’s only dinner, it’s not open-heart surgery. Sometimes its elevated to a point beyond the fact that we’re eating food."
KC – “We want to offer a relaxed chilled out atmosphere so, if you want to pop in and have a couple of small plates mid week and a bottle of wine, you can do.”
Ahh, yes, the wine. Talk us through that.
RC – “Without sounding like an alcoholic, I’m very interested in wine. I think it’s an important part of the offering and we’re not tied to one supplier. We have an interesting English wine on at the moment and even a Greek wine from coastal regions, which works especially well with fish because that’s how they’ve been produced. Organically the flavours have come together to suit the areas they come from.
"Our wine list is really compact with a view that it can change in way that we want it to go and if we see an absence it can be remedied. We have four or five reds and the same for whites, three of which can be ordered by the glass, and then we have a couple of roses as well.
"I’m also excited about our soft drink offering. I’m passionate about not going with the big corporations because I don’t believe that they’re good for the industry in general. We offer two very ethical brands, Karma and Lemonaid which both have foundations and we also use Fitzpatrick’s cordials which is one of the old temperance bars.
How would you describe Street Urchin if you could narrow it down to a couple of sentences.
RC - "Fresh, flavoursome quality food in a relaxed easy-going environment. We’ll always try and give people quality and value for money as well and everything will have been prepared and served by us."
KC – "And we’re an independently run restaurant, and we're passionate about what we are doing."
Street Urchin, 72 Great Ancoats St, Manchester M4 5BG