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Habas Manchester
Address43A Brown Street, Manchester M2 2JJ
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Moorish, and very moreish too!
Restaurants Of Manchester (Thursday 3rd June 2021)
Key: 5 stars = World Class!   4 stars = FANTASTIC   3 stars = GOOD   2 stars = OK   1 star = Poor

Habas - Review June 21 Habas - Review June 21
Habas Menu By Any Other Name & Sea, Sun, Basbousa
Decor & Ambience World Class
Any restaurant headed up by Simon Shaw is going to look great isn’t it?  El Gato (all of them) look spot on, so does Canto too.  So a Middle Eastern inspired venue should be no exception right?  And it isn’t.  The whole place teems with excellence in terms of décor, and presents a really homely yet moody feel.  The basement location only adds to said moody feel.  It’s a bit classier than the last time I was down there, when it was a controversial £10 flatiron steak joint.  Tables and fittings are clearly very expensive and the long planned launch which has been pending for a couple of years now, has been done to a high standard.  A great first impression!
Some people may not like the lack of windows.  Dare I say it; many punters do like to be seen in such places, and do a bit of people watching during their mid-range dining experiences.
Habas - Review June 21 Habas - Review June 21
Mezze Platter Tiger Prawns
Value World Class
Small plate dining, as in play here, can get up there in terms of costs and those £7 plates can easily rack up once the bill hits your table.  In this case though, the £7 plates, and £14 ones for that matter, were broadly decent value all in all.   Drinks are acceptably priced for the mid-range with cocktails well under a tenner, and wine markups sitting at OK levels. 

With all factors considered, the £180 that we parted ways with felt absolutely what you’d expect to pay for an experience on this level, with wine, cocktails, plenty of food, and service.
That good old ‘discretionary’ service charge which I’ve regularly berated for years, applies here.  In fairness, we were directly asked if we’d like to pay it, which was refreshing.  But still, just add 10% to all the menu prices and pay your staff more.  End of story.  And if people chose to tip further on top of that; bonus.
Habas - Review June 21 Habas - Review June 21
Chicken Wings Roasted Cauliflower
Food & Drink World Class
So, Middle-Eastern is probably one of the worst represented cuisines in the UK.  Badly made hummus, greasy shwarma, processed flatbreads and slack renditions of Ottolenghi recipes with awkwardly shoehorned in pomegranate molasses, are the norm.  Here in Mcr we have a pretty dire line-up of too, if truth be told. I used to live in the middle east, and miss the food regularly.  Usually being in London is the only way to get a quality experience in the bag, so I’ve been more than a little excited about Habas’ food.

A mixed mezze platter sounded like a wise way to get going, whilst enjoying a couple of cocktails.  These were belters,  made with precision and care.  The mezze platter showed good variety, and showcased some stunning hummus, was above the pre-ranted norm.

Prawns, a set of 6, were well presented and came semi unshelled to make it easier for the customer.  Heads on to retain all that juice, which we gladly sucked out, Spanish style.  Delicious.  Lamb skewers were charred on the outside, as with any proper middle eastern meat, and super flavoursome too.  Octopus was a table favourite.  3 generous tentacles in a rich, smoky tomato based sauce, which gave a BBQ note to the plump flesh.  Lovely.  The Batata Harra, akin to Patatas Bravas, were another firm favourite.  Blanched to within an inch of their life, and then fried.  The inside was so soft that it should also have passed for mash, with a super crispy exterior, seasoned perfectly.  Such simplicity pulled off so well is always impressive.  And the Persian rice was tasty, well cooked, and added a bit of important carb to the platter.

We ended with a Chocolate Babka and a Date and Orange cake, the latter of which was deep, rich, moist, and a truly indulgent and also proper feeling way to end the experience.

In summary, Moorish is probably the best way to summarise the cooking here, more than proper Middle Eastern. There’s 100% elements of Spain and Africa in there, which makes sense really as again, it's a Simon Shaw restaurant and Spanish is his core passion after all.  A few dishes on the menu were straight from El Gato's, and kitchen staff were wearing Canto t-shirts, which tells the story.
Habas - Review June 21 Habas - Review June 21
Persian-Style Rice Chargrilled Octopus
Everything was tasty, but also had backnotes of opening night haste.  The prawns were a bit overcooked probably due to their deshelling prior to cooking.  Leave the shells on. If people moan about it being messy, then they don’t understand how to eat prawns properly.  The cauli was also a bit over/very soft.  The lamb skewers were on the edge of being blue, as much as we didn’t mind that personally.  And the chicken wings, whilst tasty, had really soft skin.  A huge no-no in our book.  Having had some amazing crispy ones for lunch at another venue, only reinforced this view.

And the Chocolate Babka pudding was a huge miss.  A dry slice, which wasn’t even saved by the stunning coconut ice cream rocher which paired with it.
Habas - Review June 21 Habas - Review June 21
Batata Harra Lamb Skewers
Service World Class
As per the décor, you again know what to expect based on past experience of the stable.  Our outstanding server, Oliver, was from El Gato, and ran his section like a boss the whole evening.  Every table was looked after to the highest order, and our was no exception.   Apparently, most of the front of house guys were new though, but there was no notable sign of lacking experience anywhere, which is astounding at the moment.  Things were friendly, well versed, effortless and staff gave the impression of being there for weeks.  That’s the highest compliment that you can bestow at the moment really, since most of the staff had only been there for a matter of days.
A slightly disorganised greeting left us waiting about unacknowledged for a bit when we landed, plus a couple of little service points whilst at our table, but nothing to mention.  You’d be a fool to at the moment anyway. We gladly paid the 10% service charge which I moaned about earlier as Oliver completley deserved his tip! But we would rather tip our server than the restaurant.

And don’t refer to the dishes as ‘tapas’ in the menu tour.  Again, it’s not supposed to be Spanish
Habas - Review June 21 Habas - Review June 21
Medjool Date and Orange Cake Chocolate Babka ‘French toast’
Overall World Class
There’s an unwritten rule in the food writing game; you don’t review venues when they’ve just opened, although many people do just to get in there with that first write up!  But you should give places time to bed in and showcase who they really are.  However, there’s a very openly written rule in play at the moment too.  You don’t slate anywhere at all, no matter how bad it was, because places are struggling with both getting back into the swing of things, finding enough staff to operate properly, and all manner of other reasons.  However, there's no need to invoke the latter rule here, and Habas has hit the ground jogging at a solid pace.

Yeah, it's not really Middle Eastern, granted.  If I came here with an Arabic mate they'd be confused, but we are in Manchester and I've never been a huge fan of calling things 'authentic' outside their homeland anyway, as usually it's nonsense and nowhere near the mark as it just can't be.  But the wares on offer at Habas are delicious, multifaceted, and it's just a lovely place to spend some time.  I love the dining room.  It's 100% right up there as one of the cosiest spaces in the city and ticks all the boxes for me.

To summarise, it's my favourite Shaw venue to date, which is surprising really since it's also possibly the best value too. We need more Middle Eastern influenced dining rooms to be opening.

It's very Moorish, and very moreish too! That’s probably going to be this articles's tagline to be fair.
A few teething points, as can only be expected.
Habas - Review June 21 Habas - Review June 21
Little Road Shiraz 2019 Habas Wall Logo
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Habas Reviews

Simon Shaw is bringing Middle Eastern flavours to the city with his third venue, Habas.   Once again offering a small plate style of dining as he has with his other restaurants El Gato Negro & Canto. Opened June 2021 ~ Restaurants Of Manchester (May 2021)

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