Jonathan Schofield finds another place to love in Manchester
THIS is a good place to dine.
There’s a lively atmosphere even on a Monday night and everybody seems all smiles. It’s that Ancoats magic again. Every time I cross the river of traffic that is Great Ancoats Street I seem to enter into an oasis of sweetness where revellers revel in a more elegant manner that in the rumbustious Northern Quarter. Yes, bluebirds sing, deer skip around Cutting Room Square and fairies hand out envelopes of money signed by Santa and sealed with a kiss.
Fortunately my bindi wearing days are behind me, although I do like to wear a fez when writing reviews
Well maybe not. And maybe it’s only been so gentle natured when I’ve ventured up there, and maybe at 11.30pm everybody has a massive scrap and cuss like defrocked priests. One can only go off personal experience.
Viet Shack is the first restaurant you hit in Ancoats after walking up Newton Street from Piccadilly Gardens. It faces onto the great river of traffic, which provides endless activity to entertain the eye. I liked to see all the vehicles of all shapes and sizes buzzing past.
The food at Viet Shack, which started with a stall in the Arndale Market, is marvellous and the service, as stated, very friendly - but please, please people don’t ask me three times how’s the main course in four minutes of setting it down. I don’t need to be bothered before I’ve tasted the food, immediately after I’ve tasted it and then shortly after the first mouthful.
That said, it’s worth taking all the mouthfuls you can. The Ca Bong at £7.40 is a beauty of fresh raw tuna, avocado, chillies and a sesame oil dressing. Stare at it and then mix it all together and let the palate lift off. I could go in day after day and eat this. The Bap Cai Chien (£5.80), crispy cauliflower florettes with another mix of spices and sauces, adorned with greens and more chillies, were just as good and a bargain price. Given the French colonial influence on Vietnamese food, the word ‘chien’ in the dish was alarming but it turned out that the bark was worth the bite.
The sea bream fish main called Ca Hap (£14) was another bargain. This was a full fish with absolutely glorious flavours held into the bream by a coat of foil while cooking and then given a punch of lime by the punter. The beef steak rice dish aka the Com Thit Nuong (£11.30) looked the part but the steak, despite its pinkness, lacked tenderness and in truth the dish was a little dull compared to the previous glories.
It should be noted that the pickled veg with many of the courses added a richness to the dishes. And speaking of rich, a glorious Pandan, or sponge with ice cream and a Vietnamese coffee custard at £6 was as good and as light as any sponge my mum made - and they were legendary.
Out of five dishes, I would rush back for four. The excellence here made me want to sample others on the menu. I love the range of Manchester city centre food at present. The sponge was interesting as it showed how food cultures cross-fertilise each other, in this instance from French to Vietnamese.
Food in its cultural promiscuity is the antidote to the latest issue we have to worry about in the unending tyranny of identity politics. There has been much discussion recently about how festival-goers adopt or adapt the dress of various ethnic groups without any thought to what that dress might mean aside from thinking it makes them look good. Some people see this as a by-product of colonialism and choose to be offended rather than seeing it as daft exhibitionism. They call it cultural appropriation.
Global food couldn’t exist without appropriating methods, even recipes, from both sides, from what were dominant or what were repressed cultures. Fortunately my bindi wearing days are behind me, although I do like to wear a fez when writing reviews...but I'll stick, as a northerner, to a flat cap in future. Just in case.
Viet Shack, 65-67 Great Ancoats St, Manchester, M4 5AB
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.
Tuna 8, cauliflower 8, fish 8, beef 6, sponge 7
Knowledgeable but calm the questions after the food is served
Light-hearted and vibrant