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Bawadi, Cheetham Hill Road, review

Jennifer Choi finds a garlic-olive-oil-parsley house party at Bawadi

Published on December 7th 2009.


Bawadi, Cheetham Hill Road, review

...And what a house party it was.

But just like any good house party, it's not in the smartest of places, situated in the midst of the blight that bites Cheetham Hill road. Fortunately Lebanese restaurant Bawadi is a five minute or so walk away from the back of the MEN Arena, on the left beyond Park Inn.

Shish taouk (£7.95), kafta khoshkhash (£7.95) and samaki hara with tahini (£12.95) all came with fluffy rice and bore the secrets to cooking fantastic food; no pretence, no ingredients en vogue or presentational gimmicks, just honest food that somehow defies the healthy-food-always-tastes-healthy law.

The place was empty when we arrived, all 42 covers were laid and the dining area was notably hazy. Turns out, like any good house party, the extractor couldn't quite cope with the amount of food being prepared, and the hosts (Lebanese owner and chef, Hisham, and his Vietnamese sous chef - pictured here) were busy prepping in the kitchen. So after poking our heads in to say hi, we hunted round for the bottle opener and a pen and pad to write our own orders down before choosing a spot to settle.

Bawadi operates a BYO policy (no corkage which is a bonus) - a rarity in this city but feels just right with its atmosphere. We brought in the local brew, a Chateau Musar 2001 vintage* (£17) made 15 miles north of Beirut. Chateau Musar is a bit of a cult wine, polarising opinion with what is described as a "volatile acidity" but at the same time garnering favourable comparisons with those from Bordeaux. More importantly for tonight Hisham signaled his approval by asking for a glass. Our bottle of blended cab sauv and co made instinctive sense with the lighter-fleshed and more citrusy of our food choices; but was a little overpowered by the saucier lamb dishes. So perhaps we'll just stick with the offie across the road next time.

As we gave in our scribbled orders, we cheekily asked to sample the unnamed, made to order dish glimpsed earlier in the kitchen. This was a plate overflowing with cauliflowers sat atop aubergines and mixed with tomato halves and carrot slices. The whole was dressed generously in garlic, parsley and olive oil. The cauliflowers were served warm, its florets golden from the same roasting that softened the other cooled vegs. Visually a bit 'homemade' but tastewise the contrast of temperatures and textures gave good value.

Moving to the mezzes, we had the falafel (£3.50), tabbouleh (£4.75) and hummus bel lahmeh (4.75). The falafels came in mini-donut form and could have done with a little less crunch and a little more moistness but were pleasant nevertheless.

The tabbuleh was one that would've made any Lebanese proud; a modest pyrex bowl holding the perfect balance of crisp and juicy from bits of bulgar wheat, tomatoes, shallots, mint, lemon and the star of our show: an abundance of parsley. It's a little revelatory when such pedestrian ingredients and such a familiar combination can pack such bold flavours. Couscous, eat your heart out. Our hummus dish was taken to the next level with minced lamb and pine nuts playing in an edible bowl fashioned out of a creamy purée of chickpeas and tahini. A drizzle of olive oil rounded off this small but substantial plate, providing a marked contrast to the last two and pointing us firmly in the direction of the richer delights to come.

It's hard to pick a standout between the mains. Shish taouk (£7.95), kafta khoshkhash (£7.95) and samaki hara with tahini (£12.95) all came with fluffy rice and bore the secrets to cooking fantastic food; no pretence, no ingredients en vogue or presentational gimmicks, just honest food that somehow defies the healthy-food-always-tastes-healthy law. My marinated chicken cubes were simple and expertly-executed; the kafta served with everything you can hope for in a spicy sauce; and the delicately battered hara (cod loins to be precise) wore an elegant coat of sesame goodness.

For the tremendous quality of its food, Bawadi really has no airs or graces. It will, and did, just as happily serve our next table a bowl of chips and bring the vinegar with a smile. I know a house party, which is what this felt like, is no place for judgement, but as we nibbled on our baklava (£3.50) and sipped our sugary mint teas (£1.50) and arabic coffee (£1.80) by the chiminea, I still lamented for them. Ignorance is definitely not bliss and borders on disrespect at this gem of a café.

Bawadi's menu hasn't changed in awhile, but that goes for the prices as well as the food. And 60-odd menu items should last more than a handful of visits. For those pre or post-MEN gigs, this could be the perfect warm-up act.

* Obtaining our Chateau Musar was no small feat, only made possible courtesy of Phil at Winos who pulled out the stops to get that single bottle to yours truly in less than 12 hours. Phil - you are a legend. Click here.


Rating: 15/20
Breakdown: 7.5/10 food
3.5/5 service
4/5 ambience
Address: Bawadi Café
135 Cheetham Hill Road
Manchester
0161 832 2345

Mon-Sat 6-11pm
Sundays 4-9:30pm
(Hisham tells me they're soon to be opening for lunch)


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: Gordo gets carried away

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

JennDecember 7th 2009.

Evo, I stand corrected re: price rises. One of my companions have informed me that there were indeed stickers over prices on the menu. Having said that, ours was a party of 3 that evening and you will see that the bill came to just over £50. We had 2 courses each with coffee and shared a portion of baklava, which filled us up nicely.Also, whilst its neighbouring foodstalls might serve awesome food, they lean more towards Indian/Pakistani takeaways and there aren't any sit-down joints comparable to the kind of food and atmosphere that Bawadi offers. For what it's offering, I'd say the prices were still competitive. (Even if it would be raking it in in Rusholme!)

NorthernGeezerDecember 7th 2009.

Do they do pies?..........................just asking like, cos i'm on a mission.

EvoDecember 7th 2009.

Last time I ate at Bawadi was a month or so ago and prices have definitely increased over the last two years, the real significance of which is felt in the 'starters'. I like to create a mezze of several dishes but at an average of £4-£5 per dish you are soon way beyond 'cafe' prices even before a main course. And whilst agreeing that some dishes are fantastic in flavour the portion size of the starters leaves a lot to be desired -particularly when considering cost of raw ingredients (and proximity to Cheetham Hill's awesome foodstalls). I understand that lack of regular custom has forced prices up but it now means I class this as £40 for a meal for 2 and for me that just isn't where Bawadi should be placed. Relocation toward the constant human traffic offered by Rusholme could increase custom and lower prices for a place that would still maintain it's niche through sheer quality of product.

JenniDecember 7th 2009.

We went to this place a couple of years ago and were really impressed with the food. However, we haven't been bacl. And that's because we went to eat early evening ended up feeling really awkward and 'exposed' - no one else was in there, the lights were really bright. If they could make the atmosphere a little more cosy for evening diners, with some candles and installing a dimmer switch I'd be going back - I still have daydreams about their amazing hummous now.

Salford SalDecember 7th 2009.

Love the food at Bawadi - ordered some take out food on one occasion and it was delicious, not mega portions, but satisfying. Price about £40 to feed 3 of us, but I could have ordered everything on the menu! Very good food.

suepabsFebruary 20th 2011.

What's happened to Bawadi, has it moved somewhere else ? Went to Cedar house last night and it wasn't a patch on Bawadi

KnowitallSeptember 5th 2011.

This comment has been deemed inappropriate by editorial staff, and has been removed.

KnowitallSeptember 5th 2011.

This comment has been deemed inappropriate by editorial staff, and has been removed.

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