Everyone's talking about Amma's, and with good reason - Ruth Allan
A great place to eat can make the back end of nowhere worth visiting - and new Keralan restaurant Amma’s Canteen, on the outskirts of Chorlton, feels like a destination already.
There’s no denying it’s in a bleak spot, though. Located opposite Southern Cemetery on Barlow Moor Road, the area is defiantly residential, poked with the occasional grave retailer – and the few other places to eat around here (such as Coriander), don’t appear to have seen a lick of paint since the 1980s.
Yet Amma’s is a joy. The wooden frontage has yet to be rained into submission and inside it's all jaunty trompe de l’oeil wallpaper and feature filaments. This is a lovingly executed space with most of the budget spent, I suspect, behind the scenes.
Food doesn’t disappoint. Chef Saju Ravindran cooks with a rainbow of freshly toasted spices. The story is that the Keralan-Brit spent years working his way around chains like Loch Fyne and Las Iguanas. He’s finally got his own place - and good vibes abound.
A vegan dosa (£7.25) with coconut chutney and sambar ‘soup’ is typical enough – yet the replacement of the usual potato filling with spinach and kidney beans is inspired. Elsewhere, a chickpea snack (spiced sundal £2.95) comes pocked with tiny gems of fresh coconut and wedges of spicy green mango. Mango is a totally different beast when it’s unripe, and I’m a convert.
If I had to pigeon hole it, I’d say the cooking is south Indian meets local produce. Stuffed kozhukattai (£5.75), for example, is a silken Indo-Chinese dish: perfectly limpid, crimped dim sum are filled with peas and carrots and topped with ‘poor man’s relish’; all buttery-clear shallots, smoked chilli and tamarind. We’re in memorable territory already.
Another highlight is the cauliflower bezule, inspired by the street food of Mangalore. Sticky florets demand to be shared and there’s enough turmeric involved to heal a legion.
Lentils are a thing too. Choose from falafel-style Masala Vadai with red cabbage and yoghurt slaw (£4.65), or nut-packed crispy okra (Porucha Vendaka £5.25). Spicy ‘hummus’ on the side is uplifting, the overall effect a little on the dry side. Thair Vadai (£4.65) sees lentil doughnuts smothered yoghurt and fresh ginger. I’d enjoy this with the ginger dialled up to 11 - but it works.
Ravindran has tried to make most dishes gluten free. In the case of the Chilli Paneer (£6.95) he’s coated each cheese cube in non-gluten flours (rice, chickpea) tamarind paste and chilli. The result? Dark and sticky dirty food that just happens to be GF and veggie.
Nothing to fault in the non-veg department, either. Slow-cooked smoked garlic and mint spring lamb curry (Kari Kulambu Porantha, £14.25) comes with the flakiest, buttery-est porantha while Alleppey fish curry (£13.95) is a kindly companion to the menu’s more leftfield moments.
East-West fusion can be tricky but Amma’s Mess (£5.95); rice pudding, cardamom cream, pomegranate seeds, fresh mint, little fried crispy bits) is a patchwork dream. Softly poached golden plantain with a palm sugar glace and vanilla ice cream (£5.25) is a wonderful variant on banana custard.
The only low point - and even then, I’d still order this over most curries - is the okra. Drinks are a little limited too, with just two wines to choose from, but they’re offering BYO ahead of launching a drinks menu proper.
I like everything about Amma’s, actually. The contrast between location and food, the sun-kissed flavours of every dish, the way Ravindran comes out and chats to everyone about their meal, quizzing them about what they like, what they’d change, is great. Plus Ravindran’s wife Ganga is doing a great job front of house.
Amma’s reminds me of another Indian restaurant, Prashad, which started out in Bradford. The Prashad team are co-founders of Bundobust, have an excellent cookbook, and award-winning restaurant. It’s early days, of course, but if Amma’s is as promising as this meal suggests, it might not be a hidden gem for much longer.
Amma's Canteen, 285 Barlow Moor Road, Manchester M21 7GH. Tel: 0161 291 1682
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)
(Dosa 8, Spiced Sundal 8, Masala Vadai 7, Okra 5, Thair Vadai 8, Stuffed kozhukattai 9, Lamb 9, Fish 7, Amma’s Mess 8, Plantain 7)
A lovingly executed space in a bleak spot
Ganga is doing a great job out front