Chris Taylor appreciates a crisp table cloth in Whitefield
Yara restaurant is hidden behind a bus shelter on Bury New Road. It looks inauspicious and humble, but with the tantalising prospect of fresh hummus and pitta while you wait for your bus into town. There is no commute that wouldn’t be improved by the addition of hummus. Indeed, there is no pursuit that wouldn’t be improved by the addition of hummus. It should be available on the NHS.
There is something about crisp table linen that elevates a restaurant experience above the ordinary
But it isn’t, possibly down to successive governments’ mismanagement. Who knows? This is a food review, not a political commentary, and throwing blame for the lack of free-at-point-of-use chickpea and tahini dip onto any post-Attlee government is not in my remit or field of expertise. What is, however, is an unwavering confidence in my ability to spot the good stuff among the cheap, gritty imposters. We’ll get to that later.
Yara, Whitefield is a large, open, nicely decorated restaurant with white tablecloths and smartly dressed waiters. There is something about crisp table linen that elevates a restaurant experience above the ordinary. Am I easily impressed? Yeah, maybe. But it’s increasingly rare, so I feel I’m allowed to be.
Olives were brought over by our polite and genial old-school waiter while we perused the menu. My dining companion, a veteran of the Manchester/Bury borderlands Lebanese restaurant scene, but a newcomer to Yara, recommended mohamara (£5.95), a spicy walnut dip, made with red peppers. I was sceptical, but it was very good. Delicate, with a nuttiness akin to a milder, more savoury satay sauce. Alongside, we had sujok (£6.95), grilled lamb sausages, full of flavour, with an appealing and balanced fattiness. Hummus shawarma (£6.90) was dominated by the lamb to the detriment of the hummus, but the addition of chopped pickled chillies added a pleasing heat. We ran out of pitta bread before we ran out of dips, and were left spooning mouthfuls down our gullet like unsophisticated, glutinous swine. I regret nothing.
A mixed kebab (£17.50) was three skewers of meat, chicken, lamb and kafta, made from minced lamb. It was perfectly cooked, not at all dry, but with the nice crisp, burnt edges you expect. Shawarma (£12.50) was also tender and punchy, spiced enough to be tasty, but without diminishing the lamb’s flavour. As a side, we had a mountain of rice, lentils and crispy onions called Mujadara (£5.25). Far from being a bland plate filler, it was textured and tasty, far more than just an accompaniment.
But this was all fairly straightforward food. Nothing showy or complicated. I began to get order regret, blinded by meat lust into ordering huge plates of lamb and chicken, while ignoring some of the more unusual dishes. Green beans cooked with chunks of lamb and onion in a tomato sauce. Whole leaves of spinach with onion, garlic, coriander and meatballs. A makluba, a mosaka, a whole sea bass cooked on charcoal. If the Mujadara had been that tasty, then imagine what they’d be able to do with everything else.
I often go to restaurants and there are maybe two things on the menu I would order. It makes repeat visits unlikely. Halfway through the mains, I had already made a mental note to revisit Yara to try different dishes. It would be, I think, the first case in recorded history of someone voluntarily returning to Whitefield.
Whether I will or not, remains to be seen, the prospect of a 30-minute tram journey gives every city centre dweller the heebie-jeebies, but if I’m ever out that way, and hungry for uncomplicated but tasty food, served with old-school customer service, and very handy transport links, I’ll have no hesitation.
We finished up with baklava (£4.50) and Turkish delight (£4). The Baklava was crisp and sticky, while the Turkish delight – just called “delight” in Turkey apparently – was nothing at all like the synthetic monstrosity that Fry’s churn out. It was light and delicate, and you can see why Edmund ratted out his siblings for some in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
As our taxi home drove out of Whitefield and through Prestwich I saw a line of people waiting to go into Karen’s Diner. Queuing up to have dead-behind-the-eyes staff take it in turns to call you ugly and swear at your children. Yara had about six tables in for the entire duration of our time there. Maybe this is what people want now. Are the days of crisp white linen, and polite, understated service dishing out solid but unspectacular food now over? You’d hope not, but Yara felt quaint somehow. A throwback to the sort of restaurant that you’d go to with your mum and dad for family meals and special occasions. It was comforting and familiar, and while nothing was out of this world, nothing was bad either. You’d hope there’s still a place for that today.
Yara, 184 Bury New Rd, Whitefield, Manchester M45 6QF
Follow Chris Taylor on Twitter @christotaylo
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidentials and completely independent of any commercial relationship. They are a first-person account of one visit by one, knowledgeable restaurant reviewer and don't represent the company as a whole.
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.
Mohamara 7, sujok 6.5, hummus shawarma 6.5, mixed kebab 6.5, lamb shawarma 6.5, Mujadara 7, baklava 6.5, Turkish delight 7
Old fashioned without being starchy. Polite and attentive without being overbearing. Couldn’t do enough for us.
Formal yet relaxed. Looked a bit like an estate agents from the outside, but comfortably familiar when inside.