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Jonathan Schofield finds Withington’s pride and joy as good as ever when it comes to value and quality

Written by . Published on July 31st 2007.


Aladdin needs a rub of a magic lamp. To say it looks tired is an insult to exhaustion. It sits on a parade of shops without pride a little way down from the Red Lion pub in Withington. The awning needs replacing and the signboard needs a good scrub. Even the best genie might have its work cut out.

The alchemy of amateurishness pulls it off. The scatty and batty interior lends a homely appeal, as though all the south Mancunians here have been personally invited round to a mate’s house for some nosh.

Inside there’s a charcoal grill, almost in the porch, and tables and chairs to the right with extra seating upstairs. It would be pleasant to report that the interior was the Alpha to the exterior’s Omega, but no. It’s not scruffy and unkempt like the façade but it’s odd.

Artists have an expression for when they make works from articles they’ve come across whilst out and about, they call these ‘found’ pieces. Aladdin is like this, the management at some point found some terrible stone-cladding, some fake brick wallpaper, some airline promo posters for Middle Eastern places, a weird cat tapestry and other bric-a-brac and then piled it all into this suburban ex-shop.

Yet it works, the alchemy of amateurishness pulls it off. The scatty and batty interior lends a homely appeal, as though all the south Mancunians here have been personally invited round to a mate’s house for some nosh. In that case it would be rude to giggle at the host’s taste in fixtures and fittings.

The food is as eclectic as the interior and is wonderful. The rich variety of freshly prepared spicy dishes from the Middle East (or more correctly Near East) is the main attraction – vegetarians can find a huge array of good stuff here too. It's a case of sod the awning, when the hummus is a fresh, oily and zingy as this.

We ordered a big pile of dishes to arrive all together and only one didn’t work, whilst another was outstanding. A third dish was a real surprise, which for the jaded tastebuds of a food writer is a real result.

Anyway this is a sample of our nosh: hommus sharworma (grilled lamb from a spit, pitta bread and hummos dip - £3.60), Sujok (spicy lamb sausages - £3.50), mixed kebab (herbs, three skewers of chicken, lamb etc - £9), Kafteh (classic spicy lamb mince shish kebab - £5.90).

A beauty was the maklobeh (£8). This was lamb with rice, a big fried aubergine, pine kernels and a green salad. It was a star, the lamb cooked tender and the gritty flavour of the aubergine working with a scattering of oily pine nuts to great effect. As usual at Aladdin the dish to look at was an aesthetic disaster but for these flavours and these prices that’s not an issue.

The delicious surprise of the evening looked even worse: like a cowpat on a plate. It was the ejeh, an omelette cooked with parsley, onions, garlic, various herbs and served with pitta bread for £4. The man in the kitchen who beats these eggs and mixes these ingredients knows what he’s about. This dish may have looked wrong but it shimmered on the tastebuds like a mirage in the desert. Despite all those down to earth ingredients it was as light and witty as an Omar Khayham verse. Get it if you go.

The dunce of the class was a fish dish with salmon marinated in spices and cooked on the charcoal grill (£11). The oily flesh and most texture of the salmon didn’t work in the slightest with this style of cooking, the result was cloying and faintly nauseating. A Mediterranean fish such as a red mullet would work a whole lot better.

Pudding was a shared Kenafh (£3). This was delicious, a sort of sweet shredded wheat but enjoyable all the same, made up of shredded pastry baked with honey, sugar and nuts.

The winelist was exceptional. Or it is if you choose the right off-licence to visit. Aladdin is a bring your own bottle place. I’d not had chance to get anything before arriving so had to make do with a bottle of generic Australian red from the off-licence over the road. The name of the off-licence is Iffy which summed up my choice which was worse than the salmon dish. Wish I’d stuck with the salted yohurt drink here for £4 a jug.

Aladdin food is delicious, filling and cheap. The interior is charming and fun. The service is warm and forgivably chaotic. The façade is horrible. Still never judge a book by the cover eh?

Rating: 14.5/20
Breakdown: 7/10 Food
4/5 Service
3.5/5 Ambience
Address: Aladdin
529 Wilmslow Road, Withington
0161 434 8588

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

AislingJuly 31st 2007.

This is the best restaurant in manchester- cheap and cheerful but tasty as!! My friends and I are obsessed - lovely staff too and a great atmosphere!

RaceJuly 31st 2007.

I was dragged there as a child (even once for xmas day)and loathed it, yet near a couple of decades on and I have transformed into a loyal regular, including my other half, whom had never even considered this type of food a few years ago. The service is efficient, the place is quirky in decoration but clean as you like, the food is always bang on once you find your feet(tapas style)and the price is spot on too. Iffy's is shocking so grab your vino before you park up !!!! Fab little hidden gem.

Gail DuncanJuly 31st 2007.

Yes, what a little gem. I've been here a few times and the food has always been great. Great value too except for the kebabs which I think are a little over priced.

markJuly 31st 2007.

i completely agree. this is a fabulous restaurant (or cafe) and should be tried by everyone. the iffy offy accross the road does have some good wines, just need a little thought.

morganJuly 31st 2007.

you hit the nail on the head jonathan. many people overlook this place because of the shop front but it really is great. and when you can't get a seat (often from my experience), get a take-away!

AnnaJuly 31st 2007.

Aladdins is good and I have enjoyed many a lovely evening there but there in this Lebanese section is Bawadi in Cheetham Hill. It is just at the start of Cheetham Hill Road, not far from the MEN arena and is far superior to the Cedar Tree in my opinion. The staff are really friendly and the food out of this world. Their lambs liver with chilli and herbs is to die for. Please can you include Bawadi in this as it more than merits a mention x

aladdinsbiggestfanJuly 31st 2007.

I had another fantasic night at aladdin last week - great budget option, BYOB (never hurts) and consistently efficient service and great food. It was rammed on sat night - and rightly so. a jewel in the south manchester crown....

peter ridleyJuly 31st 2007.

I have eaten here many times since the time it opened. The food has always been 1st class. As for the wine try the Chataeu Musar, a great Lebanese wine that really complements the food. Funny that its also available at Iffys!!

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