I was invited to dine at Zouk's Manchester branch on Chester Street on Monday night to sample their Indian and Pakistani cuisine. I'd not been before and was very impressed (regular readers will know how critical I can be when it comes to restaurants and eateries!).
It's a large space over two levels and is stylishly furnished, but the size doesn't detract from a nice cosiness and good atmosphere. There is a cool outside space of wood and glass which is inviting even on a foggy autumn night (though mostly if you indulge in shisha pipes).
The staff are welcoming and highly professional without being in your face, just the right level of friendliness. I like the fact that you can see across the restaurant and into the kitchen where chefs work their magic over hot stoves.
So what did we eat? Some simple but tasty starters with roti bread, houmous and felafel. I know the latter is traditionally Middle Eastern rather than South Asian but these felafels were truly amazing. I am a bit of a felafel connoisseur, and having tasted fine examples several times at Dimitri's on Deansgate throughout the summer (and some disappointing bullet-like offerings at Fuel in Withington the other week) I was a little unsure. But these were fabulous - large, moist, infused with some lovely herbs and easily the best felafel that I, and my dining companion Susie, have ever tasted. The accompanying wine was good too, glasses of Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio.
Onto the mains and we shared a Vegetable Tikka and Mili Juli Sabzi. The latter is spicy skewered vegetables with an accompanying spice and herb sauce; the tikka a good selection of char-grilled aubergines, courgettes, capsicums, tomatoes, onions and mushrooms, served with rice and a spicy sauce. The fluffy rice was probably the best I have ever tasted and is served in the most fabulous little wooden pots. Elegant, tasty and, even better, all the food we chose was vegan.
My only gripe, and this is a fault with many restaurants, is why not advertise these vegan delicacies on the main menu under the vegetarian section with an asterisk to denote that vegan options are available? My 1000 friends at the Manchester Vegan Group would be pouring through Zouk's door if they knew the food here was so good. (I'm off to tell them about Zouk on Meet Up and Facebook now).
So, to summarise, I have been very fortunate to eat out on probably 40+ evenings this year so far, from Las Vegas to Criccieth, St. Petersburg to New York City. For what my humble opinion is worth, Zouk makes it into my top five restaurants of 2015, alongside Manchester's 1847, London Vauxhall's Bonnington, St Petersburg's Botanica and St Petersburg's Cafe Ukrop. I am planning my next trip to Zouk later this month with one of my gig-going friends, Dave.
The Mancunian Wave blog is taking part, as always, with bloggers all over the globe in ABC Wednesdays where this week we reach the querulous letter "Q".