“ Princess Street, City Centre, Manchester, M1 7DL,0161 244 5353 „
East Z East is my favourite restaurant in Manchester. In fact, I think it may even be the best Indian restaurant I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing. No superior curry houses immediately spring to mind so yes - I will give it that accolade!
The original East Z East restaurant in Manchester is located adjacent to the Ibis hotel on Princess St. They have since opened a bigger and bolder restaurant on Blackfriars St (just off Deansgate) which is known as East Z East Riverside. I have been to the newer restaurant on several occasions and found the food to be just as delightful. However, my preference is for the original restaurant which is smaller but consequently much more intimate and vibrant than its counterpart. I also believe that a new East Z East restaurant has now been established in Preston but I have yet to try it. This review is purely based on my experiences of the original (and best!) restaurant.
As you first approach the restaurant, you will immediately notice something eccentric and unique. The front door is attended by a man dressed in some rather eye-catching traditional Indian attire. He will greet you and usher you through into the restaurant. To me, this makes a nice change from the current and somewhat unpleasant trend of putting a man on the door to try to drag any unwitting passer-by into their restaurant.
The current chap who holds this important position only recently took over from the original doorman, who was seconded to the Riverside restaurant. I started going to this restaurant over 2 years ago and that original old man on the door was there standing outside - whatever the weather - ready to greet you. Since his departure, I have noticed that the new doorman has a tendency to take a position just inside the door, which is warmer for him but not quite as welcoming to the diners. Maybe the new guy has to take a bit of time to build up his resilience to the weather before he can attain the lofty status of his predecessor!
As I alluded to earlier, the restaurant is quite small and therefore (since the number of tables is maximised) the waiting area is pretty small. There's only a couple of seats around the bar area and during peak times this area does get a little crammed. At its busiest, you're likely to be waiting for a table for anything up to about 40 or 50 minutes but mostly you'll get in within half an hour. I don't really mind the wait, it gives me chance to enjoy a nice refreshing pint of Lal Toofan (an excellent Indian lager produced from basmati rice) while propping myself against the bar. If this is not your thing, you can book a table but I have observed that this does not necessarily guarantee you a table immediately upon your arrival. I have seen people who have booked and had to wait ten minutes or so before being seated - so I prefer to the more impromptu turn-up-and-wait approach!
The décor is contemporary, dark and plush. The glass tables are accompanied by comfortable black leather chairs. The black marble floor and dim lighting give the restaurant a cosy and inviting feel. The atmosphere is vibrant and lively - usually because it's so busy - but it is also strangely intimate especially if you get a table for two adjacent to the big glass front of the restaurant.
Great - so, I hear you cry, what's the food like? Well it will probably come as no surprise that I regard the food as excellent. It seems I'm not the only one either - this restaurant is the only restaurant I know of in Manchester that has received a 5 star rating from the Metro newspaper. It also has several other accolades recognising its standing as one of the finest restaurants in Manchester.
Every good curry starts with a few poppadoms and East Z East serve them with aplomb. No - I said aplomb not a plum! - although (coincidentally) that is one of the chutneys that is available in the accompanying pickle tray. Special mention has to be given to this accompaniment which contains about 8 small pots of pickles/chutneys including old favourites such as raita (yogurt and mint sauce), mango chutney, and lime pickle as well as some more unusual dips - garlic pickle and the aforementioned plum chutney.
The poppadoms themselves are warm, crispy and pleasingly lacking in excess cooking oil. They contain flakes of dried green chillies which give an added kick to their flavour.
I usually follow the poppadoms with a starter and there are plenty to choose from. There is a huge range of chicken, lamb, seafood and vegetarian based starters. I usually go for the kebabs (shami or seekh) but one of my favourites is aloo tikka, which is spicy mashed potato mixed with lentils - battered and deep-fried. I can also highly recommend the chicken seekh kebabs which are pretty fiery and a perfectly mouth-watering way to go into the main course.
If the range of starters is impressive, the range of curries is simply mind-boggling! You can order traditional old school favourites such as Madras, Bhuna, Korma etc. but these dishes only make up about 5% of the menu. I can guarantee that the first time you cast your eye on the menu you will be bamboozled by the vast numbers of strangely named chef's special type dishes. I know I was! The best advice I can give is not to be put off by the names and just read the descriptions below each curry to make an informed decision on a dish you might like.
I've been going to this restaurant on a regular basis for the last 2 years and I haven't tried a third of the dishes that catch my eye - mainly because the dishes I have already tried are too good to give up!
It would be impossible and inaccurate of me to describe every dish on the menu - so I'll just give you a general overview and a couple of recommendations.
The food is described as traditional Punjabi cuisine. I'm not entirely sure what the main characteristics of Punjabi cooking are but I like it! The curries tend to be quite thick. You won't find vast amounts of sauce in these dishes and the curry doesn't swim in a little pool of residual oil as you might find in some other restaurants. However, the dishes are still certainly amenable for naan-dipping. That's a naan, not a nan - there wouldn't be enough sauce to do that!
The curries also tend to be quite highly spiced, which seems to be the main feature of Punjabi cuisine. Luckily though, for those with a low tolerance for spicy food, the waiter will always ask how you'd like the curry to be spiced i.e. mild, medium or hot. Personally, I like highly spiced curries but I always go for medium since I get the feeling that asking for hot means that it will be HOT, if you see what I mean.
Alternatively, you could always go for a Korma or Makhani dish, which are very mild and creamy curries.
I have two or three personal favourites which I can highly recommend. Firstly - I love the chicken madras. This is an old school favourite which is widely available in just about any Indian restaurant up and down the country. I spent my formative years eating Indian food from takeaways which didn't offer much in the way of choice and so I developed a liking for madras - a fairly highly spiced tomatoey curry. I can say that East Z East's take on this traditional dish results in a culinary delight for me! It is hot not by virtue of having an extra spoonful of chilli powder in it but by the inclusion of a variety of spices. The depth of flavour is amazing and leaves a pleasant tingling sensation in the mouth!
Secondly, I'd recommend the Shahi Keema Handi, which is a minced lamb curry cooked with lentils, scrambled egg, onions and tomatoes. This dish is very thick and tasty and perfect for those (like me) who like a few lentils in their curry.
Finally, I also really like the Balti Garlic Chilli Chicken. This is perhaps not a very traditional curry but nevertheless is extremely enjoyable. I find that the combination of garlic and chilli is wonderfully complementary and brings a fantastic flavour to the dish.
The size of each dish is just about right - not overfacing but not too small to be disappointing. There are plenty of choices for accompaniments to your main dish including several different types of bread - naan, paratha, chapatti etc. as well as a few different styles of rice. I'm a man of simple pleasures so I like to go for either naan bread or pilau rice. The naans are huge, warm and tasty affairs that are served on a hook. I could be wrong on this, but East Z East may have pioneered this popular style of serving naans in Indian restaurants. The pilau rice is also excellent. It is slightly brown in colour and not the hideous mish-mash of green, bright yellow and sudan red which can be the case in lesser restaurants. I have been told that this brown colour is in fact the traditional style of pilau rice - indicating that the rice has been coloured by gentle cooking with browned onions rather than being subjected to various food dye treatments!
The restaurant has a good choice of desserts to finish off your meal. However, I'm usually too full to manage one so I can't really tell you much about them except that they always look fresh and well presented as they whiz past my table!
No meal (especially Indian) is complete without the right drink to rinse it down with and again (perhaps unsurprisingly) there is ample choice at East Z East. I will mostly go for a beer - Cobra and Lal Toofan are both available on draught. There isn't a great deal of difference between the two - both lagers are a very refreshing accompaniment.
There is also a range of bottled beers in the fridge which I never really look at too closely because draught is better.
There is an extensive wine list and this is definitely a good option to go with the curry. The house white wine is an Australian Semillon Chardonnay which is pleasantly zesty and perfectly complementary to the food. It is also very good value (considering typical restaurant prices) at just less than a tenner!
For drivers or non-drinkers, you can't go wrong with a jug of mango lassi - a traditional thick, fruity yogurt drink which is perfect for quenching a burning mouth!
So you've had your meal and are feeling well and truly satiated - what now? Well, the bill arrives and it's time to pay. Fortunately though, East Z East is extremely good value for money. Generally speaking, a meal for two (including starters, a few drinks, main dishes and a couple of accompaniments) will cost around £30. This is perhaps slightly more expensive than some other Indian restaurants in Manchester but for the extra quality it's well worth it.
There are a couple of good tips here in relation to the bill. Firstly, always make sure you carefully check every item on the bill. Quite often the restaurant is so busy that the person operating the cash till is swamped with orders and this can result in mistakes on the bill. Secondly, if you're dining on a budget you could pass on the poppadoms. When you order poppadoms (which are fairly pricy at 55p each anyway), it will automatically come with the pickle tray and this adds a £3 supplement to your bill. Therefore, if you choose to pass on these nibbles, you'll save yourself about a fiver.
The bill always comes with a comments card which you are encouraged to fill in. The service is generally just as good as the food and I always leave positive comments. I also make sure I name a couple of other Indian restaurants that I frequent - just to keep them on their toes!
If you are of the female persuasion, you may also get a complementary red rose, which is a nice touch.
Overall then, I would highly recommend a visit to East Z East in Manchester. It's a great culinary experience and well worth the money. If you decide to take my advice, I'll probably see you there since I'm hardly ever out of the place!
Halal Punjabi cuisine in stylish surroundings.