Marcus Kelly offers alternatives to the chains, helping you get more for your money
This generation of students has become known as the ‘foodie generation’. The desire to eat out is engrained in our minds and we’re surrounded by options to explore. Manchester has got plenty of chains, I’m talking Nando’s, Wagamamas, Café Rouge, Ask and Pizza Express (to name a few) yet finding tastier eateries to replace these household names seems just a little bit too much effort and we’re put off by the generally incorrect assumption that they’re more expensive. Don’t get me wrong, these chains aren’t bad, but you can find better on a similar budget.
Avoid Nando’s. Nando’s is probably the biggest player in the game right now due to a growing love of chicken, whilst perhaps the horse-meat fiasco has seemingly reduced our passion for beef. But what has Nando’s got that other places don’t? Vegetarians aside, the majority of its customers seem to tear into the half chicken and the two measly sides. The £10 for that meal can comfortably cover a meal in one of the upper-end restaurants in Manchester. For an alternative meal out, I’d suggest The Oast House in Spinningfields. Despite being part of the illustrious group who own the likes of Australasia (a graduation dinner favourite) and The Alchemist, the prices are anything but extortionate. Your £10 half chicken doesn’t seem such good value when faced with their trademark (yeah, they actually TM’d the name) £9.95 Hanging Kebab, dripping in sweet chilli and ginger sauce whilst dangling over a plentiful portion of chips to lap up those overflowing juices. The al fresco grilling hut for cooking all their meat proves it’s worth more than that famous portuguese peri-peri palace.
Next up, Wagamama’s. I’m a sucker for Wagamama’s, the ambience, the waiters and the food are always great, but the prices stop me from residing there day in day out. With Manchester’s collection of generic asian buffets, Wagamama’s is a trustworthy place to dive into but £9.40 for a Chicken Katsu Curry or £9.30 for their Miso Chicken Ramen does not compare to the increasingly popular sushi and noodle bar Umami (snuck in between the Aquatics centre and Footage), whose £5.95 2 course lunch menu has been attracting those in the know since it opened. The menu’s constantly changing, one week you’ll be biting into prawn tempura followed by chicken katsu curry (no different to Wagamama’s) and the following week you’ll be savouring their gyoza before digging into some spicy pork and prawn noodles. Whilst the waiting staff may not be the most cooperative, the bustling vibe and good, cheap food, you’ll soon forget why your student loan was decreasing on Wagamama’s fruit juices before you’ve even ordered your food.
Another chain that has grown over recent years is Pizza Express. Teaming up with Orange Wednesday has done it no harm. Yet their £9 pizzas are easily surpassed when faced with those of Gusto’s in Didsbury. The vast leather booths, and dark lighting already make it more attractive than the Ikea-esque decor of Pizza Express; moreover, their pizzas are a level above. From pizzas such as the Peking (our favourite chinese pancakes made into a pizza) to a more classic Diavola, Gusto’s offers you a chance to escape the monotonous world of the Americans or the La Reines and really see what a £10 pizza should taste like.