Manchester's hidden Ethiopian restaurant doesn't make the best first impression... but the food (and the coffee) make up for it
BY LUCY LOVELL
Eagle-eyed diners will spot that Habesha is accessed through a set of discouragingly dirty steps in the corner of the takeaway, although many probably give up and buy a kebab.
Aside from a small Habesha sign on the side of the first floor dining room, the Ethiopian joint is almost invisible from street level.
Unsurprisingly, the restaurant lay hidden for years, ticking over on a reliable stream of regulars.
The waiter and co-owner tells me and my pal: "For the first five years we didn’t have any English customers... now people are coming on recommendations, reading reviews on TripAdvisor, friends tell them to come - we have more English customers now than people from our community."
Over the years the clientele may have grown and evolved, but the interior seems to have remained the same. It’s been eleven years since Habesha first opened its (kebab shop) doors, and thankfully there’s no bare brick walls, Edison lightbulbs or industrial-chic pipework in sight.
Inside it’s homely, almost dauntingly so. Regulars recline at the bar watching the news on a flatscreen TV, people eat using their hands with skill and grace I can only dream of, and traditional textiles and crafts cover the walls.
We start with a couple of Ethiopian beers. St George larger (£2) is refreshing, but generic: it’s clear that people don’t come here for the booze.
For newbies to Ethiopian food, the cuisine tends to revolve around injera, a sourdough flatbread which is fermented for days to give it a sharp, lemon-ey taste.
The airated bread is used as a huge shared plate, from which various stews and vegetables are eaten. Extra portions of injera are served on the side, which diners use to scoop up fillings with their fingers.
The menu warns that Awaze Tibs (£6.50) is hot and spicy, but in reality it’s gently warming, with rich flavours of onion and tender lamb. With more of a stew consistency than a curry, the best part is the buttery sauce, all the better mopped up with porus strips of injera.
Veggies needn’t be put off by the meaty dishes. Yetsom beyaynetu is essentially a veggie platter, with portions of spicy red lentils, yellow split peas, stewed cabbage, and spinach piled neatly on the flatbread.
In addition to the more-ish flavours, Habesha is revisited for the dining experience - eating from a shared plate has a comforting communal feel, and eliminates any food envy.
We round off dinner with an Ethiopian coffee, which we’re told Habesha roast themselves. It’s a potent, oily brew which would make some coffee connoisseurs gag, but I like it. Served black and short, it has a burnt, peppery flavour ending on cardamom and spices. A spoon of sugar takes off the edge.
It’s affordable too - with the bill coming in at just £20 for a hefty dinner for two. The one star hygiene rating does take some of the shine off the price tag, but - without wanting to excuse poor hygiene - there are a lot of boxes to tick, and good restaurants can be caught off guard if they’re unprepared.
It might be enough to put some people off, but the scores of regular customers speak volumes.
It might not deliver on first impressions, but Habesha is making a lasting name for itself with affordable, rustic and filling food.
SOURCE : MANCHESTER EVENING NEWS