This and That cafe is an institution of the Manchester food scene, and its sub-£5 ‘rice and three curries’ is a legendary lunch for good reason.
Wandering around the Northern Quarter on a weekday lunch time, you may well spot a trail of hungry looking office workers scuttling down what – to the uninitiated – appears to be an empty, dead-end side road. Follow these grey-suited food pilgrims and you’ll find one of Manchester’s worst kept secrets, This & That Indian Cafe. From the street the only indication of its existence is a single white sign, bearing only the name, a phone number and the words ‘rice and three curries’. This & That, however, isn’t a place that needs to advertise. Established in 1984, this family-run curry house has built up a loyal following, and a reputation as one of the best spots for a cheap lunch.
Even at midday on a Wednesday the place was packed with curry devotees, crammed along the communal tables or jealously guarding their counter-side stools. A large menu on the wall displays the curry offerings for each day – there are typically 3 vegetarian options and 6 meat or fish – but you could just as easily have a glance over the vats of gorgeous smelling curries lined along the counter to take your pick. You can stick to just the one dish, but everyone goes for the rice and three curries deal. It’s written everywhere, so it’d be rude not to. And when it’s this cheap – £4.50 for the vegetarian selection, a little more if you want meat – you can’t go wrong.
With so many hungry customers, This & That is a fast moving place – before you can finish saying ‘rice and three curries’ at the counter you’re handed an enormous plate of steaming Indian goodness. Then you’re confronted with the sides. Having noticed that all the regulars had a chapati, we had to as well, like the sheeple we are. At the end of the counter there’s a small table of condiments – chillies, chopped coriander, yogurt, etc. With the speed of the service and the excitement to eat (not to mention the challenge of finding a seat), this is easily missed. But skip it and you’ll regret it – these are the finishing touches your curry deserves.
We went for the three veggie curries, which on a Wednesday meant spinach and potato, kidney bean and potato and a daal. The yellow, coconutty daal was a pleasant belly-warmer on what was a very cold day. It didn’t knock our socks off – some more spice wouldn’t have been amiss here – but it was deliciously creamy, hot and filling, and you can easily rectify the lack of chilli yourself. Spinach and potato curry is usually a favourite of mine, but while this one was full-bodied and well-spiced, it was somewhat let down by being oddly sweet and a little too mushy. This same problem afflicted the veg biryani, available on Wednesdays as an alternative to plain rice. It seemed like an exciting extra, but ultimately it only distracted from the curries – I’d stick to the normal rice. On the other hand, the kidney bean and potato curry really hit the spot. It packed a rich, savoury punch that was perfectly complimented by the tangy yogurt raita – we told you not to miss the condiments table – and the real star of the show, the soft, pillow-y chapati. I’ve never before liked a chapati so much that I’d happily eat it on its own, although it is the perfect method of plate-to-mouth curry transportation. Today’s lesson: watch the regulars – sometimes it pays to be sheeple.
All in all, these might not the very best curries in the world, but for under a fiver – and in the centre of town – you get a mountain of honest, flavourful, home-made Indian food. With over 35 years experience of fuelling Mancunians with their famous rice and three curies, these guys know what their doing. You can be pretty confident you’ll leave with that warm glow that only being stuffed full of curry can provide.