I've just spent a lovely afternoon tasting great food and wine in the company of Polly from Creative Tourist, Matt from Northern Quarter Manchester (both great sites to check out whether you're a local or visitor to the city) and fellow vegans Andrea of Chocolate and Beyond, Sophie of Hasta La Vegan and Sophia who organises the fabulous vegan Tuesdays at the Salford Arms. The venue was Oak Street Cafe in Manchester Craft and Design Centre. Owner Karen explained to us how with the exception of one or two dishes the food they serve is vegetarian with lots of it being suitable for vegan or gluten free diners. Chef Liz has been known to whip up dishes at short notice for visitors with multiple food allergies and they pride themselves on having something for everyone. The emphasis is on local, fresh and ethical fayre using suppliers such as Unicorn, Barbakan and Marble Beers.
We started off with this flavourful tasting plate. The thai tomato soup tasted like the best kind of homemade tomato soup, delightfully fresh with a nice surprise of toasted peanuts in the bottom. Next to this is a cup of Yam curry which was probably the stand out dish of the afternoon, everyone around the table absolutely loved it. It was a really creamy coconut curry with big chunks of yam and just the right balance of heat from the chilli. Next to that was a flatbread topped with homemade falafel and leek tart with a flaky pasty base. The flat breads are part of the standard cafe menu and the other dishes are great examples of the changing daily specials that they serve.
The cafe always has tasty salads and the examples today were no exception. On the left in the photo is an unusual mix of rainbow beetroot and cho cho which is a type of Mexican pumpkin! It was beautifully flavoured with lemon zest and fennel giving it a sweet tang that I thought was inspired. On the right is Bombay potato. This was no ordinary Bombay potato though as this appeared to consist of chunks of baked rather than boiled potato which took it to another level.
This plate was beautiful to look at as well as taste and is filled with baked baby aubergine drizzled with tahini dressing and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. The cafe has recently got a license so alongside the food we also got to try the wine range. They do a white, rose and red which are made by a small family run co-operative in La Mancha, Spain which are all vegan and which were great matches for the type of fresh, fusion food that the cafe serves.
The afternoon was finished off by trying samples of the cake they had in the cafe that day, two of which were vegan. The banana, date and walnut tea loaf was made with spelt flour and the sticky toffee date flavours would go really well with coffee. The cafe serves both caff and decaff and also a nice range of loose leaf tea blends.
I really, really enjoyed the Chocolate, Amaretto cake. Liz told us one of her tips for vegan cakes was to use Oatly instead of soya cream. The ganache topping on this cake was perfect so that's a tip I'll definitely be remembering. Liz will also take orders for vegan Christmas cakes and offers non fruit but still seasonal varieties too. I only started going to this cafe a few months ago but it's become one of my favourite places in the city centre. It feels like a calm little oasis, has free wifi and of course there's all the wonderful artist studios to have a look round too. I'll leave you with this little film they made last Christmas that gives you a bit more of a look at the place.
Craft Centre Christmas from Manchester Craft on Vimeo.