Jul 9, 2014
Jonathan Schofield goes for the original rice and three
THE first rule of This’n’That is you can’t find it - unless you’re a regular.
It’s a bit like Deborah’s house in the Pulp song ‘very small with woodchip on the wall.’
The second rule is upon leaving This’n’That you’ll bump into a posh tourist saying: “I say, I read in all the magazines, FHM, The Chap, that This’n’That is quite the thing for a cheap eat Mancunian lunch. You couldn’t tell me where it is? There’d be a shilling in it for you.”
Every person who half knows anything about Manchester food knows of This’n’That.
National journalists are the worst using the venerable cafe as a fallback option when asked about the value-end of the food market in the city. They’ve been told by a friend of a friend of a friend about it ten years ago and stored it for a ‘list’ article. Hence its celebrity and very own tourist trade.
Still, it deserves its reputation for longevity alone. The place opened in a mythical time when David Bowie still wore face paint and cars were beige. It’s thought of as ‘the pioneer’.
There are plenty of other curry cafes in the area, Yagdar for example, remnants of the former Asian controlled ragtrade hereabouts, but This’n’That is the best known. Whether it actually pioneered the concept of rice’n’three is a fact lost in history but it’s the cafe we all credit.
After the fourth time of looking you’ll find This’n’That on Soap Street. The name is perverse. This is one of the few back alleys to have escaped gentrification in the Northern Quarter. The crumbling, damp, deformed little thoroughfare is the urban landscape equivalent of a human target on Channel 5’s Bodyshock.
Inside This’n’That is equally raggedy-arse.
If Reds, the Americana food purveyor in Albert Square cost £1.5m to fit-out, This’n’That cost 30p. It’s a bit like Deborah’s house in the Pulp song ‘very small with woodchip on the wall’. In fact you could imagine a lugubrious but insouciant Jarvis Cocker perched on one of the plastic bus shelter seats reading a curled at the corners paperback.
I was here on a mission.
We’re doing a Best of MCR Cheap Eats article beginning with short reviews of places such as this. Thus I had to locate a full meal, no discounting allowed, for around a fiver in the city centre. This’n’That felt right.
My rice and three cost £4.90. Bingo. I had rice, two meat and one veg, but you can get the ‘three’ in any combination of meat and veg. I thought what the hell, live a little and got a chapati too, which was either 40p or 50p I forget - more expensive than the fit-out anyway.
The pile of Basmati rice was lovely, a lamb steak curry was sturdy, a chicken curry lacklustre but a spinach, potato and carrot veggie curry was heroic.
The food filled me. It provided spice - and all those curries and rice bunched up in a chapati sandwich was the bee’s knees. The food won’t win any beauty competitions and I’m not sure it’s better than Yagdar but hey, it’s the pioneer.
The staff smiled, the place even at 2pm on a Wednesday was satisfactorily full. People talked.
I, Billy-no-mates, people watched.
The wine range was extensive as Cheshire Life say, consisting of free jugs of tap water or sugary soft drinks. I had the water.
I left happy. And sober. For once.
Round the corner, upon leaving, there was a dandy chap with a monocle and a smoking jacket. He waved me over: ”I say, I read in the magazines, FHM, The Chap, that This’n’That is quite the thing for a cheap eat Mancunian lunch. You couldn’t tell me where it is? There’d be a shilling in it for you.”
This’n’That, Soap Street, off Thomas Street, City centre. 0161 832 0708