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Akbar's Restaurant Reviewed

Ruth Allan writes a sonnet for a quality curry

Published on December 15th 2011.


Akbar's Restaurant Reviewed

MANCHESTER can give good curry. There’s Yadgar and the Guardian reader’s favourite, This’n’That, in the Northern Quarter for ‘rice and three’.

Rusholme’s Punjab is good for vegetarian dosa and bhelpuri, while for something a bit more upmarket, we’ve got Zouk, several branches of East Z East and even the starched charm of Raj Doot. 

We have four starters, three mains (between two of us… I know), several beers and soft drinks and the bill still comes in under £50.

There's also Akbars.

Part of a chain that originated in Bradford, there are ten outlets, situated between Birmingham and the Scottish Borders. The Manchester restaurant is particularly bonkers: a cross between a fast food joint with pagers that beep when your table’s ready and a kinda fine dining establishment, thanks to décor that includes car-sized Buddhas and a scrubby cactus bed which runs down the length of the kitchen.

I’m not sure what these spiky plants have to do with the South Asian dishes served within, but there’s no need to make a connection. They are distracting to those waiting for a table and, thus, doing a good job. 

The Liverpool Road restaurant opened in 2006 and over the years I’ve found some dishes to be excellent, others below par.

The same was true of my most recent visit. The lamb nihari (£7.45), for example, is knockout. Oozing a wintery aniseed aroma, it’s a slow-cooked lamb curry brought to buzzing life with spice and served in rich gravy that makes you want to eat more than you can. I feel nostalgic as I write because food isn’t usually this bright or complex, and I have to accept the fact that I’m only going to experience this particular joy by ordering another lamb nihari. 

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Curry is best shared so I’ve taken my friend Ric with me. He tells me that he puts on two stone every Christmas because he loves eating so much. He does himself proud at Akbars, consuming a plate of chicken liver tikka (£3.45) in around 30 seconds.

This dish sounds full on; a friend recently balked when I ordered it suggesting it would taste like ‘curried pate’. In reality the coriander, yoghurt and ginger flavours, coupled with the grilling process mute the offal-ishness of the liver, resulting in crisp and contrastingly dense shards of meaty flavour. It’s complemented by daal (£3.45) on the side. Fat, delineated lentils, a gentle, tomato sauce and just the right level of fork resistance take this dish out of the soup category and into food terrain. 

We order naan on one of those antler-type structures, (“it looks like a deer hide” according to Ric) and a couple of roti. These are light and fresh. The outside is subtly pocked with indentations from being cooked on a searing slab while inside the ‘flesh’ of the bread is warm and absorbent. Both work with the nihari, less well with vegetarian dishes like rogan josh (£7.85), into which they seem to have thrown offcuts from finished meals. Peas, carrots, er….hot cucumber? It’s inedible. 

Starters don’t look up to much.

Fried, uncategorisable objects, garnished with iceberg and thick-cut cucumbers (again). The fish pakora (£3.75) is perfect, though, wedded in that greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts way to lightly curried batter. As Ric notes, it’s “What you’d want your fish from the chip shop to be like every time”. It doesn’t take a magician to get basics of this dish right, but perhaps what keeps us coming back for more is the fact that it happens so rarely. 

The atmosphere is comfortable and casual, curated by on-the-ball staff. Akbars is reasonable pricewise too.

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We have four starters, three mains (between two of us… I know), several beers and soft drinks and the bill still comes in under £50. A final word of warning: this is not the place for cocktails.

I try to order one at the bar and the waitress suggests I try cranberry, orange juice and vodka, cos "That’s a bit cocktaily". If you’re careful with what you order, though, it’s possible to have an exceptional meal here for very little. And the fact that it’s packed with birthdays, parties, friends and lovers on a Tuesday night suggests that I’m not the only one who thinks so.

ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL. 

Akbar's
73-83 Liverpool Road, Castlefield, M3 4 QN. Tel: 0161 834 8444. Click here          

Rating: 14/20
Food: 7/10
Service: 4/5 
Ambience: 3/5

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 gets carried away.

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

Daniel JamesDecember 15th 2011.

By far the best Indian Restaurant in Manchester, and one of the most reasonably priced - never had a bad meal here, It puts the restaurants of Rusholme and other Indian restaurants in the city centre to shame.

AnonymousDecember 15th 2011.

I agree Daniel, love this place

Chris Keller-JacksonDecember 15th 2011.

This is a regular haunt of our too, staff superb, excellent food (never had a bad meal or poor service) and the price is astounding. Scrub that - it is rubbish and over priced (I want to be able to get in next time I go - you can't book)

The Lamb Chop starter is one of the most heavenly things on this earth and I would gladly just eat 2 - 3 portions of that starter and be very happy.

Janie1509December 15th 2011.

I'm also agreeing with Daniel. Akbar's has become a firm favourite and it totally reliable as they always serve excellent food and the waiters are fantastically aware of every table they cover. Can't rate it highly enough and thoroughly recommend to anyone who hasn't tried it yet.

Jared SzpakowskiDecember 15th 2011.

Curated atmosphere? get real.

AnonymousDecember 15th 2011.

What was the other main course then ?

The lamb looks ace !

1 Response: Reply To This...
Hero
Ruth AllanDecember 15th 2011.

Well spotted anon - we had a very reasonable karahi chicken too.

James SmithDecember 15th 2011.

The best value for money in Manchester. Try the Chicken Balti, a simple curry done to absolout perfection! and the portions are huge! I can see why Ric gains two stone every year eating 4 starters and 3 mains!

ReaditDecember 15th 2011.

Dear Anon, why not read the story?

AnonymousDecember 15th 2011.

Nope, can't see it...any chance you could help me our READIT ?

AnonymousDecember 15th 2011.

*OUT*

AnonymousDecember 15th 2011.

going on saturday evennig (6.30ish), can you make reservations for a drunk party of approx 8-10 thirty something males?

AnonymousDecember 15th 2011.

The food is great but i wasn't happy they accepted AMEX at the bar but not in the restaurant. whats all that about?

Jamie BeeDecember 15th 2011.

Don't mind Akbars but was seriously annoyed when last time I went in I was told that I had to pay £10 deposit to have a pager which tells you when the table is ready, even though I was standing right next to the bar.

I prefer to go to Zouk and Mughli now instead

Barney HubbleDecember 16th 2011.

Mmm is the deposit new? Ive been quite a lot in the past, loved it every time. Great staff and food at amazing prices. I love it. Shame about the drinks prices and the sometimes long wait before but its one of the best places to eat in Manchester.

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