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Habesha Reviewed

Jo Milligan goes to Ethiopia in the Village and enjoys a foamy pancake

Written by . Published on March 12th 2013.


Habesha Reviewed
 

THE HABESHA night-out didn’t get off to a promising start. 

There’s no way to be prim and proper without knives and forks. Fingers are very much the order of the day. My napkin was orange after only a few mouthfuls although the husband remained pristine by licking himself like a cat every few minutes. 

Habesha is upstairs which isn’t a problem in itself (I can just about manage a flight of stairs on a good day) but these stairs were challenging. 

You enter via a takeaway on the corner of Sackville Street in the Village and head up a steep spiral staircase encased in metal bars to prevent you being tempted by the lure of pizza below. 

The temptation is reduced by the evil smelling bin right by the stairs to inform your senses what you weren’t missing by continuing up to the restaurant. (If you’re still tempted by the takeaway, its entrance is separate, a couple of metres further along.) 

Upstairs was a little revelation. 

This is one of Manchester’s very few African restaurants and the only Ethiopian inspired offering. So maybe that was the reason why at 6.30pm on a Monday night there were several customers, and the place had a convivial atmosphere. 

The warm colours and African fabrics and wall decoration made it seem homely, even inviting. In fact with the TV in the corner it almost seemed liked you’d popped round a mate’s house. TVs in restaurants are normally something that make me purse my lips disapprovingly but here, somehow, it just seemed right. 

Inside and up the stairsInside and up the stairs

The staff were all smiles and even offered me a tester of Ethiopian wine before I went the whole hog and ordered a small glass. 

I was warned that it was ‘different’ which it was. The Evian I had ordered as a wussy fallback option surplus to requirements. The wine had an astringent quality but was pleasant and the slightly vinegary taste complemented the spicy food. 

If that doesn’t sound like your thing, they do an Italian wine too. The Ethiopian lager, which was called St George’s (some stories say St George was originally Ethiopian, he’s their patron saint and also has one of the most remarkable churches in the world dedicated to him – so cheers), was sweet yet refreshing but not a million miles away from other lagers you’ll have tried before. At only £2 it was great value but watch out for the 50p price hike on a weekend. 50p – how dare they? 

St George's tippleSt George's tipple

There are no starters or puddings so had no choice but to dive straight into the mains. These, going through the food books, were authentically presented and delivered - if authenticity is your big concern. 

We were advised that one course each is enough but some people have more and share them. We went for three courses between two and I would definitely recommend this as the vegetarian option, Yetsom Beyaynetu (£6.50) made a great side dish. 

It consisted of a pleasing little row of dollops of creamy spinach, red and yellow lentils, cabbage and salad were all placed on a giant spongy pancake called Injera. These little dollops had a classic hearty home-cooked feel and were best mopped up with our mains by some more of the foam-like Injera – the latter is a yeast-risen flat bread made from Ethiopia’s teff flour, a type of cereal suited to the high ground of the African country.

Dollopy foamy pancake - yumDollopy foamy pancake - yum

We also opted for Doro Wat (£5.90), a chicken leg and thigh marinated in a spicy sauce with a bonus boiled egg lurking in the depths, and Kitfo (£6.50), a minced beef dish which were also accompanied by rolled pancakes. 

Doro Wat and KitfoDoro Wat and KitfoThe Kitfo was described as hot but actually it was subtle and delicately spiced, reminiscent of cardamom. I say ‘reminiscent of’ because when I tried to pump the waiter for more information regarding the actual spices involved he merely smiled enigmatically and told me they were special Ethiopian spices brought over from Africa. 

It is offered on the menu as raw, medium or well-done so I decided to be adventurous and have my first ever Ethiopian steak tartare. Raw Kitfo is really rare Kitfo and excellent it is too, full of flavours betrayed its exotic origins. The Doro Wat hid tender, juicy chicken but the sauce was more glutinous and the deep flavour overpowered the milder, meeker chicken. 

This isn’t a place to take your maiden aunt. 

There’s no way to be prim and proper without knives and forks. Fingers are very much the order of the day. My napkin was orange after only a few mouthfuls although the husband remained pristine by licking himself like a cat every few minutes. 

This isn’t the sort of place where you’d feel embarrassed or uncomfortable with a splodge of sauce on your cheek (I speak from experience). Indeed it’s the welcoming atmosphere that makes you forget to leave and want to come back, while the nosh will provide a real experience for foodies and those seeking something different. 

Habesha is especially good for veggies and vegans as the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, one of the oldest Christian churches with an unbroken tradition of worship, has many fast days free of meat, and these have become incorporated in Ethiopian food traditions. 

The astonishing rock-cut church of St George in Levenshulme...nope, sorry read that wrong...in EthipiaThe astonishing rock-cut church of St George in Levenshulme...nope, sorry read that wrong...in Ethiopia

By the way, the editor had told me to go along to Habesha as it was one of the surprisingly interesting entries on the Manchester Tripadvisor top twenty for restaurants and Confidential had never visited. 

It’s probably not that high in priority if you were to be recommending places to dine in the city to tourists and guests, but it does show that Tripadvisor can take you places you never expected to visit. 

ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL AND PAID FOR BY THE MAGAZINE.  

Habesha 29-31 Sackville St, City, M1 3LZ. 0161 228 7396 

Rating: 13.5/20 

Food: 6/10 Yetsom Beyanetu 7, Doro Wat 5, Kitfo 6) 
Service: 4/5
Ambience: 3.5/5 (but read the description above)

PLEASE NOTE: Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20, we get carried away.

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11 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Kevin PeelMarch 12th 2013.

Been meaning to go here for ages but never got around to it. Think I'll pop down this weekend after your review!

EllieMarch 12th 2013.

Sounds interesting and different - don't know if I could do it justice until I get my finger-nails shortened!!! ha ha!
Thanks for write-up!

grangeMarch 12th 2013.

St George was Turkish

4 Responses: Reply To This...
James KayMarch 12th 2013.

Sigh... I think the author believes that to be the case too and that's why she actually wrote, "some stories say St George was originally Ethiopian". "Some..."

Is it not easier to enjoy the reviews and rants rather than looking for things to pick people up on?

LukewarmdogMarch 12th 2013.

I dunno.. wiki says he was Greek. Born in Syria Palaestina, part of the Roman Empire around 280 AD. Half way down the article says that Gibbon thinks he was probably Turkish. Quite what George thinks, we'll never know.
Looking forward to visiting

TimbucMarch 12th 2013.

Oh no he wasn't.

TimbucMarch 12th 2013.

This place looks really good to me. It's going on my list.

AnonymousMarch 12th 2013.

There is also the Merhaba Cafe on Claremont Road in Moss Side which serves interesting Ethiopian food

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousMarch 13th 2013.

as does the newly opened Asmara Bella on Port Street.

AnonymousMarch 12th 2013.

Yes, the Merhaba got a good review with Mancfoodian - See mancfoodian.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/merhaba.html…

AnonymousMarch 22nd 2013.

I went in a little while ago with an Eritrean refugee I was trying to help out. The food was really good and with the Ethiopian TV on in the corner and everyone chatting away to each other it was like being in an East African social club. Nice.

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