Sophie Rahnema searches for the food of the Gods, but is it more Greek tragedy?
“God has heard my prayers for gyros,” said one lady on Facebook when we broke the news that The Real Greek would be opening in the Corn Exchange. And many shared her sentiment.
We pay close attention to Facebook commenters. They are a barometer for our audience. A cross-section of our people. We would be nothing without our Facebook community, and they without us.
I’m not speaking Greek when I say that this moussaka is microwaved leftovers
For example, how would I have known that my university education was a total waste of time without one helpful man calling me “thick” a couple of weeks ago? Thanks again, Dave.
Whatever it is, the social media barometer is reading “hot” for The Real Greek. At the time, Greece was one of the only countries allowing Brits across its borders and it seemed that sexy images of pita bread stuffed with chips and grilled halloumi were sending the general public wild.
My childhood memories of this ancient country include getting stung by a jellyfish and crying at a plate of head-on prawns so I’m hoping this Ionian experience in the heart of Manchester will retrieve some happier nostalgia from my mind palace.
The Real Greek has done what it can to soften its Corn Exchange home's corrugated steel and concrete by draping twinkly fairy lights across the ceiling and adorning the front door with a large flowering tree that twists around the frame.
The pink flowers that embellish the entrance are Bougainvillea, a common sight set against the white-washed walls of sun-soaked Greek Islands, but a far-flung dream in Manchester. A dream that ushers me into the restaurant on a cloud of holiday memories and sunburnt shoulders. Shh! It’s working.
The restaurant lives under the same London umbrella as Franco Manca - Fulham Shore Group - so a little less authentic than I would usually choose, but I shall close my eyes and think of the all-knowing Metaverse.
Unsurprisingly, the menu is meze-style. Meze, tapas, small plates, Manchester is awash with teeny tiny portions encouraging diners to share and taste their way through kitchens. But this menu is huge. It’s impossible to try everything, a cross-section of classic dishes will have to serve as the sample for now.
Cubes of halloumi (£5.95) are fried and drizzled with Greek honey to - I can only imagine - induce eventual addiction. The salty-sweet combo of the precious nuggets gets me good and the gold rush is over before it began.
It’s not a total nosedive from here, but the altitude drops slightly when I tear at the Greek flatbread (£3.40) that is far from soft and pillowy - it’s crispy and tough but necessary to scoop up some intensely citrusy taramasalata (£4.75). This is miles ahead of the grainy pink nonsense you get at Tesco.
As is always the case, I’m prepared to leave this restaurant humming with garlic but Melitzanosalata smoked aubergine dip (£5.75) saves my public for another day. I scoop it up with my cardboard bread and I look to the Greek gods for some seasoning, but they do not heed my prayers. Instead, they send moussaka (£7.35) and a loukaniko sausage (£6.75) that is meaty and piquant with a great snap of the skin.
I’m not entirely sure that the Greek national dish should have such defined right angles and I suppose it is technically “warm”, but I’m not speaking Greek when I say that this moussaka is microwaved leftovers. Which isn't always a terrible thing.
I often use food to connect myself with my Middle Eastern background, and while Greek cuisine is a far cry from Persian, something about the reheated lamb in its sauce reminds me of school lunchtimes. I would often amble in with a reused yoghurt pot filled with cold loobia polo (Persian lamb and green bean rice).
It’s obvious this kind of dish does not make for great restaurant fodder but it would be criminal for The Real Greek to leave moussaka off its menu. I would suggest you save it for a rainy day and assemble it at home yourself with the requisite time and love it deserves.
The Real Greek serves souvlaki (£6.75), not gyros. The difference is the way the meat is cooked. Gyros is more your traditional meat carved from a rotisserie spit scenario, and souvlaki is grilled on skewers. The lamb meatballs stuffed into this thick flatbread wrap have seen neither of the two methods but the thing is impressive nonetheless. I can see why the Facebook crowd were climbing over themselves to get to these European chip butties and I will be back for an easy lunchtime fix.
Chicken Monastiraki (£7.25) is my star. Grilled chicken is tumbled across garlicky tzatziki with red onion and chopped tomatoes. This has the hum I’m looking for and is a wonderful little dish full of fresh flavour that I manage to finish despite being stuffed like a fat little Instagram souvlaki.
I’m not sure how “real” The Real Greek can claim to be but for the Pizza Express of Greek restaurants, it serves its purpose well.
“Not massively great, but still Greek food,” commented another Facebook user. And I think they might have it bang on.
The Real Greek, Corn Exchange, Exchange Sq, Manchester M4 3TR
Follow Sophie Rahnema on Instagram @SophieShahla
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidentials 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 popcorn 9, flatbread 4, taramasalata 7, melitzanosalata (aubergine dip) 4, moussaka 6.5, loukaniko sausage 6.5, chicken monastiraki 8, lamb meatballs souvlaki 8
Swift but matronly
Impossible to make the industrial space feel like a sun-soaked taverna