Kelly Bishop goes in for a three chilli kick
I visited Jūb on the hottest day of the year so far. The mugginess took me back to a month I spent island hopping in Thailand. Much of my trip had involved fending off mosquitos insatiable for my lightly poached flesh while consuming so much coconut milk that I began to expand spherically like Violet Beauregarde and almost grew an impenetrable hairy shell. All I can say is thank Buddha for elephant-print yoga pants and their elasticated waists.
Jūb apparently means ‘kiss’ in Thai and I would happily plant a big smackerooni on the chef
Back in the less-hip end of Ancoats, overlooking Ashton Canal, Jūb (formerly Vivid Lounge) used to have a bit of an identity crisis going on. Thankfully, they have gone full Thai and had a Wes Anderson-esque refurb; all pastels, colourful plates and a great big tree in the centre.
Jūb’s website humbly proclaims them ‘the best Thai eatery in Greater Manchester’ so I was curious, if a little sceptical. There are some hefty contenders for that title, even if tom yum has been usurped (or should that be u-slurped?) by pho among food sipsters of late.
Half the dishes on the menu are labelled ‘pinto’. A sweet-as-palm-sugar waitress seemed confused about the term, telling us that these dishes didn’t come with rice. Is it a creative variation on pintxo, those little bar snacks you get in northern Spain? Other, larger dishes are categorised as either ‘pot work’ (soups, stews and curries) and ‘wok work’ (stir fried dishes).
Motivated by heat, thirst and the risky nature of picking a wine that would stand up to the kaleidoscope of Thai flavours, we ordered a couple of pints of the restaurant’s own quaffable Jub Jub lager. The small wine selection is listed with minimal detail, but we spied a bottle of Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc being delivered to the next table.
The food materialised in as random a sequence as their menu numbering system. As it’s the norm in south-east Asia to order a tuk-tuk-load of dishes (big and small) to share, rather than insisting on a procession of ‘private’ dishes as we Brits often do, I consider this a tick in the authenticity box.
My first forkful was ‘Nham tok moo yhang’, a grilled pork Thai salad (£7.50). The warm slivers of pork (higher welfare stock from Mettrick’s Butchers in Glossop) were tender to the point of perfection and had sopped up all the punchy Thai flavours of lime, lemongrass, fish sauce and - the herb of dreams - Thai basil. Crisp cucumber and little gem provided contrast. It sang like a, er, red-whiskered bulbul.
Jūb apparently means ‘kiss’ in Thai and I would happily plant a big smackerooni on the chef responsible for that salad. Labelled with the maximum three chillis on the menu, I expected more of a kick, though. Perhaps they were toning it down a bit for the British palette, I thought, as I dunked a decidedly shrimpy prawn cracker (£2.95) into the dressing.
Our wild card dish: Gaeng leung goong, or homemade sour yellow curry with prawns (£14) proved otherwise. It was more deeply savoury than sour, the shellfish stock base could have been elevated with more lime. Crimped raw green papaya brought something texturally and visually to the dish but not much flavour. The prawns were large and meaty though. Labelled with just two chillis - the grading system needs a tweak. As a lone tear trickled down my cheek, a woman approached to check everything was ok. ‘Spicy?’ she smiled. I asked if she was the owner and she gestured broadly around the room, ‘I prefer to be called staff: cleaner, pot wash, I do a bit of everything’.
‘Grandma Jūb’s pad Thai with chicken’ (£10.50) was characteristically caramel-sweet with a good helping of splintered peanuts and plenty of grilled chicken and crispy tofu snuggled amongst the translucent, flat noodles. Beansprouts, pea shoots and shredded carrot brought freshness and crunch.
The fish cakes with Thai herbs (£5.90) were spot on, lemongrass-sweet and the colour of monks’ robes. My pickle-fearing other half loved the accompanying syrupy (and lightly pickled) veg. Nipping to the cleverly covert loo, I was impressed to notice that a non-surgical cosmetic procedure had been included with the meal, my lips had developed a touch of the Angelina Jolies from all that chilli - bonus!
There were no desserts on offer when we visited, no biggie as we were stuffed, but I’d love to see someone do a perfect street food style sticky mango rice in Manchester. Maybe Jūb can nail it? As I was settling up, I spied a bowl of fresh cherries on the bar and asked what they were for. ‘They’re for you!’ beamed our glacé waitress, handing me a small dish of them. I’m not sure if I inadvertently blagged them or if they do this for every customer, but they were an idiomatic finish to a bloody good meal. The best Thai food in Manchester? Definitely maybe.
Jūb Thai, 149A Great Ancoats St, Manchester M4 6DH
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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.
Pork Papaya Salad 9, Fishcakes 8, Pad Thai 7, prawn crackers 7, sour yellow prawn curry 6
Genuinely friendly, upbeat and happy to help. But you do have to order at the bar.
Light, bright and cool on a roaster of a day. Could be a bit cosier though.