Never mind new opening mania, this lot have gone the distance
Manchester’s restaurant scene is currently like a revolving door with its relentless flow of openings and closings.
But with the news that one of Chinatown’s oldest restaurants, Kwok Man, is to close after over 50 years in continuous business, and that Cafe Istanbul’s owner Sacit Onur has put his restaurant on the market in order to retire after 35 years, we thought it time we disregard the mania for all that is new and shiny to take a closer look at Manchester’s longest standing restaurants... give the old-timers the attention they deserve.
Feel free to post your memories in the comments below.
Mr Thomas’s and Sam’s Chophouses
Opened: 1867 and 1872
Signature dish: The famous corn beef hash cake
Thomas Studd, who gave his name to the pub restaurant, opened the premises as a public house during Manchester’s era as one of the world’s wealthiest and most important cities. Sam’s, just around the corner, was opened five years later by his brother, Samuel. At the time, a Chophouse was a general meeting place with beer – usually for men only - where businessmen dined and networked over hearty plates of grilled meat on the bone and fine wines. Architect Robert Walker was commissioned to extend the original premises in 1901 and the decorative hand-cast terracotta blocks, Accrington brick and Victorian tiling finishes are Thomas’s most distinguishing features. Inside, its tiled arches and intense green lustre remains almost completely original.
Salford artist LS Lowry was Sam’s most famous regular, having gone to art school with the then owner. A specially commissioned bronze statue of him has sat at the bar since 2011.
The French at The Midland Hotel
Signature dish: The menu has changed dramatically over the years, but chef Adam Reid's Great British Menu winning dish, 'Golden Empire', is a knock-out.
Manchester’s Midland Hotel originally housed a 1,000-seat purpose-built theatre and a roof terrace, at a time when guests were expected to take health and safety matters into their own hands. When it was first built, before the World Wars, it had a German restaurant in the basement. Although dining options in the hotel have evolved over the years, it was always a destination for fine-dining. The Queen Mother dined in the hotel's Trafford Restaurant in 1959 and The Beatles were famously refused access to The French for being 'inappropriately dressed'.
The French received a Michelin star in the very first UK guide in 1974, but has never been awarded one since. In those days, Chef Gilbert Lefevre’s solidly French menu included escargot and caviar next to Tournedos Rossini at a whopping £2.70. Under its current guise headed by Adam Reid, they are desperately trying to regain a star whilst pretending not to be bothered about it.
The French, The Midland Hotel, Peter St M60 2DS Tel: 0161 235 4780
Signature dish: Crispy dim sum basket
Owner Wing Lau and family left Shanghai in the 1950’s, as a result of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and he set up his first restaurant in Liverpool’s Chinatown. A formidable character with a love of fine things and passion for food, Wing soon opened a second restaurant in Manchester, this time on Cross Street, rather than over in Chinatown.
In 1988, his niece Jenny came over from Shanghai to help her uncle and it is she who now runs the restaurant. Uncle Wing has moved back to Shanghai, but still likes to check on how things are going in Manchester, because he knows what he wants and usually gets it, especially in the kitchen.
In our 2013 review (here) Jonathan Schofield did the maths and worked out that “A 1960 opening date makes Rice Bowl the fourth oldest restaurant in town I reckon, after Sam’s and Thomas’s Chop Houses and The French at the Midland. It's the second oldest if you go for an establishment that is purely a restaurant, the oldest if you go for a place that’s still owned by the same family.”
Rice Bowl, 33a Cross Street, M2 1NL Tel: Tel: 0161 832 9033
Signature dish: Mackhan Chicken
This family-run, old-school Indian restaurant has been serving the people of Manchester for five decades, offering a bit of nostalgia along with your naan.
Originally based on South King Street, it moved to the current basement unit in Carlton House, Albert Square in 1992. A fire January 2015 caused them to have to close for six months but thanks to the support of regular customers and a massive refurb, business has been better than ever since re-opening.
Most of the staff have been there for over 30 years working their way up through the ranks from kitchen porters to head chefs. Rajdoot claims to be the first Indian restaurant in the UK to use a traditional Tandoor clay oven and they still do. The décor reflects a calm traditional feel featuring folded linen napkins and a long decorative lampshade in the main dining area which is always a recognisable talking point for customers returning to dine every decade.
No windows or natural light allows diners to escape the hustle and bustle of Manchester and truly immerse themselves in a traditional North Indian setting. “We have actually not made any significant changes over the past 50 years and that’s probably our secret”, says Suman Mali – daughter of the present owner.
Rajdoot, Carlton House, 18 Albert Square, Manchester M2 5PE Tel: 0161 834 2176
Signature dish: Lconak smbuk (minced lamb, aubergine and spicy carrot salad)
Arman and Arusyak are the third Armenian restaurateurs to run this venue which has been based on Albert Square for almost fifty years. The restaurant underwent a re-brand and refurbishment at the end of last year to reflect a cooler aspect of Armenian culture and architecture incorporating symbols, colour, symmetry and natural materials such as carved wooden doors, cool stone walls, decorative ceramics and intricately embroidered fabrics.
In our review a year ago (read here), before the refurbishment, we said: “The interior of the Armenian Taverna needs to be spot listed as The Manchester Museum of the 1970s”. But now the mural, which spanned almost the whole length of the restaurant, has gone along with the multitude of signed photographs of 'celebs' who visited when it was the bee's knees in the seventies, including one of George Best, of course.
Chef Evangelos has been heading the kitchen pass for the last 24 years and his menu manages to encompass much of the subtlety of this rich cuisine. Familiar hot and cold starters such as hummus, mutabal and tabbouleh sit alongside well known dishes such as lamb shashlik and slow cooked Armenian stews. They also offer the opportunity to enjoy a variety of lesser known Armenian wines.
Armenian Taverna, 3-5 Princess St, Manchester M2 4DF Tel: 0161 834 9025
Yang Sing, George Street, Chinatown
Signature dish: Spiced lemongrass lobster or dim sum.
This well-known Chinese restaurant will celebrate its 40th anniversary this year. Opened by Tim Kwan Yeung and his son, current owner Harry, it’s now being co-run by the third generation; granddaughter Bonnie. Bonnie credits the restaurant’s longevity not to luck or any marketing magic, but to blood, sweat and tears. Even as chef patron Harry approaches his 70’s he still works every day - with occasional time off to watch MUFC games.
“Across four decades, we have seen grandparents on first dates, the birth of their children, their marriages and then the birth of their children,” Bonnie told us, “it is very heartening to see several generations of the same family walk through the door. We have a shared history and heritage. Yang Sing means something special to many Manchester restaurant-goers.”
The low point was a devastating fire in 1997 but the support of many local businesses, suppliers and the community meant they were able to rebuild and get back on their feet. The restaurant’s recovery featured in a five-part TV documentary series The Yeung Ones.
Yang Sing, 34 Princess St, M1 4JY Tel: 0161 236 2200
This & That
Signature dish: Rice 'n' three
This hard to find restaurant, down a dingy Northern Quarter back alley, has been serving delicious home cooked Indian curries for over thirty years. The original owners sold up around fifteen years ago and relocated to Bolton under the name Rice ‘n’ Three, which was named after the signature concept of eating a pile of rice along with three curries chosen from a canteen style offering of that day’s choice.
Other major UK cities have similar pockets of low price Asian daytime diners, but it seems that the famous rice 'n' three institution is uniquely Mancunian. The traditional curry caff sprang up from a need to feed the hundreds of local garment industry workers who began arriving from the Indian sub-continent. This & That recently had a refurbishment, replacing the red and yellow plastic seats with modern communal bench seating, a lick of paint and Haçienda stripes, naturally.
The makeover hasn’t affected the food, which tastes exactly the same as it did two or three decades ago. The daily menu is fixed to the wall, so you can decide what you fancy whist you’re still in the queue.
This & That, 3, Soap St, Northern Quarter, M4 1EW
Signature dish: Branzino al Forno (salted sea bass)
This is the only venue in our list of Manchester’s oldest restaurants to have been awarded the Les Routiers ‘Newcomer of the Year 2016’ award. Confused? The independently owned restaurant recently underwent a £400k refurbishment to celebrate its 31 year anniversary and current owner Adam Karim has added contemporary features including a fresh pasta and dessert station as well as an Italian marble bar, new windows, booths, tables, chairs and lighting.
Don Giovanni’s was originally created as an authentic Italian restaurant for the descendants of the thousands of Italian immigrants who came over in the late 1800’s to work in Manchester’s mills and factories. They consider themselves to be the pioneers of modern day Italian food and the ones responsible for introducing generations of Mancunians to genuine Italian cuisine. Remember, in 1957 Italian food was considered so exotic, the nation was fooled by a television prank showing spaghetti being harvested from trees.
Don Giovanni’s, Peter House, 1-2 Oxford St, Manchester M1 5AN Tel: 0161 228 2482
Koreana, King Street West
Signature dish: Bulgogi
In the mid-eighties, Koreana was the first Korean restaurant to open in the UK outside London – which seems almost unbelievable considering how ubiquitous their national dish, kimchi, is these days. The restaurant is owned by Alex and Hyun Kim whose parents previously ran a thriving, long-established banqueting resort in Korea.
For years, they've been trailblazers, patiently introducing generations of people to Korean cuisine’s unique style and taste. Koreana were the first to bring bulgogi; grilled marinated meats, to the city centre, as well as the now renowned Bibimbab; a Korean specialty of rice, seasoned vegetables and various marinated seafood or meat, topped with egg and served in a traditional heated stoneware pot.
Koreana, 40A King St W, M3 2WY Tel: 0161 832 4330
Signature dish: Meze
Dimitri’s Bar Taverna has been serving Mediterranean dishes and mezze on Deansgate for over 25 years. During that time it has expanded from a single unit to the five it now occupies in Campfield Arcade and the venue is capable of accommodating up to 300 diners. Dimitri’s latest expansion included a downstairs Taverna and an outdoor arcade allowing for alfresco dining.
A pioneer of the current fashion for small plates, Dimitri was inspired to open his restaurant after his uncle took him to a Greek mezze bar as a youngster. They’ve gone for traditional red and white checked tablecloths and vibrant timeless decor, along with live music nights for customers to relive happy Greek island holidays throughout the year.
Dimitri’s, Campfield Arcade, Deansgate, Manchester M3 4FN Tel: 0161 839 3319