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REVIEW: Aladdin | Withington

Ruth Allan on an old, shabby and rammed Arabic and Middle Eastern restaurant

Written by . Published on February 10th 2015.

REVIEW: Aladdin | Withington

ALADDIN looks like a Turkish granny’s front room.

Sure, it could do with a refurb, but like your gran’s front room, it’s perfect just the way it is.

There are clashing carpets and cat tapestries, pictures of historic ruins and fake bricks everywhere. I don’t even know if they still make Aladdin’s funny little light fittings any more. But everyone loves the place.

The restaurant is so rammed that we have to wait over an hour for a table - and I’m still kicking myself for forgetting to book a table when I bump into the chef Mary Ellen McTague after dinner. “I LOVE Aladdin,” she raves. “The food is great – plus you can bring your own wine with you and go mad!”

Alladin: everyone loves the placeAladdin: everyone loves the place 

Fatoush and hummusFattoush and hummus

Despite its popularity, the menu’s changed little since Aladdin opened in 1988. It remains impressively compact - confident even. Small plates (meze) rove across the Middle East stopping off in Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Palestine and Turkey. As well as hummous, there are bready salads, piles of grains and parsley and baked or fried parcels like kibbeh (croquettes of bulghur wheat or potato, stuffed with mince or veg), bourak and falafel. Meze take up about 70 percent of the menu, yet kebabs, rice pots and casseroles can be excellent too.

I particularly love the salads. Dishes like fattoush (£3.20) are such a faff to make at home - yet Aladdin’s is a simple tour de force. Yotam Ottolenghi has some great recipes for this kind of stuff, yet this explosion of lemon, tomato, parsley and deliciously crispy pieces of pita is so perfectly balanced I’m at a loss as how to make it. A special hot pot (Aladdin Pasha £9) made from fingers of pressed lamb mince, melting into an onion, tomato and grenadine syrup sauce is another high on this visit, and the yoghurt and garlic chicken kebab (£7.50) lives up to its chargrilled looks.

Garlic chicken kebebGarlic chicken kebeb

2Aladdin Pasha

Aubergine comes many ways. We umm and ahh over baby ones stuffed with peppers, garlic, olive oil and walnuts (makdous) or makmour (similar, but more dippy) and everyone’s favourite baba ghannouj (aubergine dip with yoghurt, garlic, tahini and salad) before plumping for a smoky moutabal dip (£3.20). Here, it’s served exactly as baba ghanouji, minus the salad bits. It might be our messy eating, but the table ends up covered in mint, parsley and paprika.

Dessert names and descriptions border on the pornographic; I have not read the words ‘sweet cheese (creamy look)’ (£3.50) in a situation that I would welcome my work colleagues into before. But it is what it is. A confection of sugar syrup, crushed pistachos and cream-laden cheese that’s by turns smooth and crumbly. Kenafh (£3.50) is a baklava-like shredded pastry with festive spice; a Middle Eastern mince pie oozing cinnamon, crushed nuts, and warm honey. A nutty Arabic espresso does the trick on the side.

The only disappointment is the bourak (£3.20). Having yearned all week for Ottolenghi’s ‘exploding halloumi bouraks’ depicted in Saturday’s newspaper, Aladdin’s turgid cheese tubes did not rock my boat. The cigar shape may be traditional, but frozen spring rolls sprang to mind. 

Disappointing bourakDisappointing bourak

Aladdin’s competition is Petra by the hospital on Upper Brook Street – another out the way spot - and Chorlton’s Turkish Delight where you can sit in the back room and order fabulous kebabs. Nectar Bistro, also in Chorlton, was a little chilly on a recent visit, but the food’s still good.

Aladdin feels like an occasion, though, and that’s probably what makes it the big guy on the Middle Eastern scene. The food is reliable, and like Mary Ellen says, you can bring your own bottle of wine to share and have a great night out for £20 a head. Sure, it could do with a refurb, but like your gran’s front room, it’s perfect just the way it is.

Follow @ruthallan on twitter.

All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship.

Aladdin, 529 Wilmslow Road, Manchester M20 4BA. 0161 434 8558

Rating: 14.5/20

Food: 7.5/10 (Moutabal 7, cheese bourak 4, Aladdin Pasha lamb stew 9, chicken kebab 7, sweet cheese 8, shredded pastry dessert 8  fattoush 9)  

Ambience: 3/5

Service: 4/5

Ruth recommends: Booking ahead and wearing your comfy eating pants.

Give a miss: Kissing your date in the car afterwards. 

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, 18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20, we get carried away

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

AnonymousFebruary 10th 2015.

Good review, really makes me want to try the place. Is there a typo about the location of Petra though? I think it's on Upper Brook Street rather than Ancoats-way.

Reader XxxFebruary 10th 2015.

It was open before 88 - I took my wife there for our first date back in 1986! I don't think the decor has changed much since then either. Still eat there often and the food is always great.

MikeFebruary 10th 2015.

It's good, I prefer Sultan a couple of doors down though (the original owners of Aladdin who left then came back)

pollolocoFebruary 10th 2015.

great place....consistently good meze although I'm not mad about the kebabs....the meat just isn't that great in quality.

AnonymousFebruary 10th 2015.

Nectar Bistro in Chorlton is much better.

TimFebruary 12th 2015.

Petra is at the Hathersage Road end of Upper Brook Street (very close to another great little restaurant, Seoul Kimchi).

AnonymousFebruary 12th 2015.

Been gong there for years and years...Great place....

Dan McGlynnMarch 6th 2015.

Can't believe there's been no mention of Chorlton's Jasmine as a rival. I think it is probably the closest in terms of menu, and also BYO. While Aladdin will always have a special place in my heart, I do feel the food is not as good as it once was. Jasmine wins these days for me.

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Latest Rants

Dan McGlynn

Can't believe there's been no mention of Chorlton's Jasmine as a rival. I think it is probably the…

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Been gong there for years and years...Great place....

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Petra is at the Hathersage Road end of Upper Brook Street (very close to another great little…

 Read more

Nectar Bistro in Chorlton is much better.

 Read more

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