I'm starting to see a pattern forming. Turns out my favourite club in these parts, The White Hotel, rests in a defunct, corrugated Salford auto shop, and perhaps one of the best places to eat sits on Talbot road, snuggled between a couple of rough and ready garages who's vehicle repair skills thankfully won't be surveyed here.
One thing seems certain, as Manchester spreads out into its disused units, the best stuff can now, more than ever, be found in unexpected spots and spaces. Welcome to The Blue Nile in Stretford, a humble little cafe that serves up Ethiopian dinners so hearty, that they’ll do for tomorrow’s as well.
An interior chock with trinkets and soundtracked by North African music – periodically interrupted by Youtube adverts for smartphones and similar – does little to allay the idea that you’re in for something a little different. The of warmest welcomes from owner Tiggy bolster the perception that you’ve perhaps popped round a family friend’s for tea, too. Then plates come, in home-cooking proportions but boasting cooking standards that are every bit restaurant standard.
To begin, light spinach and cheese parcels were nothing too intricate, although an intriguing bittersweet dressing cut through the rich pastry. I thought it was maybe tamarind, close but not quite apparently, all recipes are a closely guarded secret, so let me know if you manage to work that one out.
The main event in Ethiopian cooking is of course the injera. An airy, spongy pancake that provides the basis, quite literally, for your meal. The fermentation process uses a starter much like sourdough bread and this is continually kept alive in successive batches, if that all sounds a bit Chorlton, it won’t surprise you to know the ‘teff’ flour used is only available from local vegan supermarket Unicorn just down the road.
The result is a slightly sour and nutritious staple that’s incredibly moreish. We chose to furnish ours with spiced beef stew and hand minced beef as well as a selection of vegetarian salads and curries. Light and sweet beetroot and fresh leaves alongside the comfort-food flavours of spinach, chickpea and lentils really mean you could quite happily stick to the veggie stuff and leave more than satisfied. That said, rich beef stew had the hearty punch of a 12-hour cooked chilli and the slightly more fragrant ground meat added further, delicious complexity.
Most seem to roll out the door with a doggy bag in hand but we were determined to finish our lot, and the promise of freshly roasted coffee beans was wafting through the air by the time our injera was done. A treacly, smoky shot, if you can handle it, is the perfect way to finish matters.
It’s hard to think of many more places round here that fit quite so snug in to the category ‘hidden gem’. Prices are quite scandalously cheap for the fare on offer, plus you can even BYOB, and that’s before I even get to the peacefully relaxing atmosphere. If you ask me, a trip down Stretford’s Blue Nile needs to be your next eating out adventure.
The Blue Nile Cafe
287A Talbot Rd, Stretford, Manchester, M32 0YA