Manchester Evening News on November 8th, 2007 at 10:53 am:
Ethiopian cuisine in Manchester
By Manchester Evening News
THINK you’ve eaten your way around the world in Manchester city centre? True we have an amazing choice of restaurants, including Indian, Chinese, French, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, even Armenian. But did you know there’s a new and exciting eatery in the city centre serving up delicious cuisine from Ethiopia?
It’s not the first country you’d think of when it comes to dining out but give Habesha a try and you might just be pleasantly surprised.
The first of its kind in Manchester, Habesha’s chef and owner learned to cook using traditional Ethiopian methods through parents and grandparents and now this amazing style of cooking is on offer right here on Sackville Street.
There’s a great selection of meat and vegetarian dishes, including the delicious speciality Doro Wot - delicious tender chicken marinated in lemon, sautéed in seasoned butter and stewed in red pepper, flavoured with onions, ginger and cardamom.
Next time you’re booking a meal, if you’re bored of the same old restaurants, why not give Habesha a whirl?
The venue is able to cater for weddings, birthday parties and other special occasions.
Review by Liam Hetherington on igougo.com.
At Habesha they really know what's what. And what's wot...
This Ethiopian restaurant is a real find. Located on the corner of Sackville Street and Richmond Street in the Village (actually only one street over from Canal Street) you might miss Habesha as first glance. It is located on the first floor over Istanbul Grill (hmm, there's Turkey for me right there...). You actually have to enter Istanbul Grill by a separate door, from where a caged-off spiral staircase leads up to what could quite well be another world. Where the downstairs takeaway is white-tiled and brightly lit, Habesha is dark and atmospheric with artworks on its moody dark-red walls. Where the Grill is loud with passing trade, Habesha beats to the strains of modern African music - think the melodies Paul Simon caught on Graceland but with a reggae beat. And where Istanbul Grill's trade comes from the Village party animals, Habesha seems to have a clientele of regular customers for whom this restaurant is a valued part of their social scene, whether it is for a meal or just a chat over coffee. Entering at 6 o'clock the place was well over half-full. Oddly, as Paul and I ate our meal the place emptied out - the reverse of pretty much every restaurant we've tried so far this year which have tended to fill up as the evening wore on.
The menu is not the most extensive in the world, with only ten Ethiopean dishes, and a couple of pizzas listed. We were brought cold bottles of beer as we perused. Ethiopian beer naturally. Going by the name of St George, this beer came in a bottle with a delightful yellow label written in Amharic depicting the saint despatching the dragon. The brew inside was was lovely honey colour - and rather honey-flavoured as well. It was certainly on the sweet side and really rather lovely. It was quite shocking to discover that this beer, imported all the way from the horn of Africa, sold in a restaurant, was only £2.00. Based on my experience of prices in other restaurants this year I would have expected the cost to be double that.
Most of the food on offer sounded appetising. I quickly ruled out gored gored as it mentioned in the menu that this was raw cubes of beef. At least the neighbouring kitfo offered the choice of minced beef either raw, rare, or medium. I was tempted by tibs. In particular, the wonderfully named Derek Tibs - I think he used to teach me at school! But this was described as dry-cooked lamb, and I felt the urge for something saucy.
In the end I went for doro wot. Doro simply means 'chicken'. Wot is the characteristic main dish of Ethiopia, a thick spicy stew. In the form it came here it proved to be a rich dark sauce tasting of onion and capsicum. This covered a chicken thigh and - strangely - a hard boiled egg. It was deceptively hot - my first comment to Paul was "Well, it looks like curry, but it's quite mild actually..." It was then that the first burst of spice hit the back of my mouth... The only cutlery provided was a spoon. This is used to transfer the food across onto a piece of injera. You then use the injera to roll or scoop the wot into an edible form. Injera is an Ethiopian flatbread - though bread is hardly the word. It was a half-metre diameter pancake-like affair, resembling an unrisen crumpet, or the foam from within a sofa. This had a spongey texture and a slightly sour almost lemony taste.
More injera featured in Paul's dish, but in a different form. He had chosen yebeg alicha fitfit. This was a pile of shredded injera, mixed with pieces of lamb, sliced green chili peppers and browned onions. This had a much more delicate taste than the wot (unless you were taken by surprise by a hidden bit of chili), with the lamb having been cooked in a mix of spices.
To be honest, there wasn't that much meat in the meals, but what you missed in terms of protein you more than made up for in carbs, as injera was used to bulk out the dishes. In fact we were actually served three extra injera, rolled up in a basket like hot towels, which we didn't even touch as what we had proved to be filling enough. I would also say that, despite not tasting particularly oily, I suspect that my wot, made using 'special Ethiopian butter' could have been quite high in fat. But even bearing that in mind, the meals were very good value - £5.90 for my wot, and £5.50 for the fitfit. This meant that we had enjoyed a meal for two with beer for £15.90 in total (excluding tip), which has to be one of the better bargains I have encountered on my food quest so far.
With its quirky menu, high quality, filling food and surprisingly low prices, Habesha is definitely on my list of places to revisit.