Manchester's Curry Mile – spicy Bollywood of the north

by Andrea Wren

Manchester's Mecca of spice, Rusholme, boasts the highest concentration of Asian eating places in Europe. For foodies with a penchant for fiery, it's time to discover the city's famous Curry Mile

The Smiths gave Rusholme an entrance into popular culture with the song 'Rusholme Ruffians', but aside from being referenced by a somewhat depressed-sounding 1980s singer, the area is celebrated entirely in its own right. That's because Rusholme has the Curry Mile.

Located on Manchester's Wilmslow Road and a short ride on the number 42 bus from Piccadilly Gardens bus station in the city centre, the Curry Mile is a glorious land of Indian restaurants, takeaways and sizzling kebab houses set amongst a technicolour backdrop of stores selling colourful spices, vegetables and all manner of Asian cooking essentials (as well as spangly slippers).

Curry origins in Manchester

Manchester has provided a diverse range of Asian foods since the 1950s, when the first ‘curry houses’ started up as cafés in the city centre to feed the textile mill workers from the Indian subcontinent. Some of these cafés still survive and are dotted about near the warehouses of the Asian traders’ around the city's Northern Quarter, though Rusholme exists in its own right as the epicentre of the finest fiery food in the North.

At last count, there were 64 restaurants and 28 takeaways along the region’s famous passage to Indian food, and the area draws over 15,000 visitors a weekend, each wanting to taste its range of restaurants, cafés, takeaways and sweet shops. Whether you are begging for Balti or think Bengali is more your bag, there are cuisines on offer to accommodate any tastes that care to try them.

Where to eat

Darbar Restaurant (65-67 Wilmslow Road; +44 (0)161 224 4392; serves mainly Kashmiri and Pakistani meals, and the manager says of the menu, “The food is very traditional, not particularly adapted to British tastes unless customers ask for it. A high proportion of our customers are Pakistani and we offer the dishes they like.”

So, popular fare at Darbar is the fairly simple, Pakistani cuisine that locals and family members request. This includes Lamb on the Bone – a speciality which takes over eight hours to cook properly for the fullest flavour, and is heated up with the inclusion of bird’s eye chilli powder to give it a kick. Chicken Chilli is another favourite – though contain very non-traditional tomato ketchup as an easy way to add some sweetness to the dish!

If you want to try one of the oldest restaurants in Rusholme, head to the Sanam Sweet Centre & Restaurant (169 Wilmslow Road; +44 (0)161 224 3852), a firm favourite amongst many. While it serves a wide range of Asian foods and offers a takeaway service, a lot of folk come here for its speciality Indian sweets – sticky semolina balls and halvas are enough to satisfy the sweetest tooth.

For a good range of vegetarian foods and South Indian cuisine, The Punjab Tandoori (177 Wilmslow Road; +44 (0)161 225 2960) is a dependable choice with reasonable prices – though the décor leaves a lot to be desired (which is pretty much the case for many of the restaurants around this strip). The byrianis here come recommended.

While spit and sawdust can be part of the joy when visiting Rusholme, a plusher dining experience can be had in Lal Haweli (68-72 Wilmslow Road; +44 (0)161 248 9700) which is fairly contemporary in its inside décor. The menu features Indian and Nepali dishes as well as kids' choices and a new healthy options menu with dishes which are low in salt content, free of ghee and artificial colouring and with a calorie/fat content graph.

For takeaway, you can't really beat Abdul’s (121 Wilmslow Road; +44 (0)161 256 2627), something of local Manchester celebrity chain of curry take-out, with others dotted about the city. Abdul's is a place that I've frequented since back in my student days (many moons ago), and here there will easily be something to suit your taste and budget.

City centre curry

Bathing in the garish Bollywood-style neon is a must-do at night, but if you are looking for curry but not the Rusholme experience, or haven't the time to escape the city, then my choice would be eastZeast, which cooks up excellent Punjabi food.

There are two branches of this restaurant in the city, the most central being the eastZeast Ibis, located in the Ibis Hotel (Princess Street, Manchester; +44 (0)161 244 5353) and the other being eastZeast Riverside (Blackfriars Street, Manchester; +44 (0)161 834 3500), just on the Salford border. There is nothing that can quite beat their delicious huge naan breads, brought out on big 'naan trees', and the Karahi Murgh Tikka Makhani (£8.95) is simply gorgeous.

Whatever you do though - if you're in Manchester, make it your mission to eat a good curry.

Where to stay

Manchester has an excellent choice of accommodation to suit all budgets. If you can afford to splash out, I highly recommend the Rocco Forte Lowry Hotel (50 Dearmans Place, Chapel Wharf) - a five-star hotel I have stayed at on a couple of occasions and which I adore. Rooms are very contemporary and luxuriously understated, and the hotel is actually only minutes from the eastZeast Riverside restaurant, so perfect for dinner there!

I would also recommend the new Crowne Plaza Manchester (70 Shude Hill, Manchester) - a very stylish new hotel located very close to Manchester's Northern Quarter, which has excellent nightlife. For a hotel right by Piccadilly train station, Malmaison Manchester (Piccadilly, Manchester) is also a great choice and often does special weekend deals.

Andrea Wren

I'm a freelance journalist and travel writer living in Manchester, England, where I was born and bred. I write for a living on many subjects for publications such as The Guardian, Candis, North West Business Insider, Zest, Wanderlust, and some of the in flight magazines like easyJet Traveller. My itchy feet need frequent scratching, and I am passionate about exploring the world and its wonders. However, my dog Ruby and cat Seymour see to it that I do not stay away for too long, but seeing as the dog is 11 years old (she can't have many years left, bless her paws), and the cat is officially owned by my son, it isn't far off before I can go away more and for extra time :-) Not that I am wishing my dog's life away, of course.