Manchester’s Unicorn Grocery

unicorn outside

South Manchester’s Unicorn Grocery in unlike any supermarket I have found in the UK.   It seems completely foreign.

It is perhaps telling that it is situated in Chorlton, one of the most affluent areas of Manchester, where rock stars (most of them former rock stars, for the sake of accuracy) and footballers live alongside rich hippies and aspiring poets.  There’s probably a few employees of the BBC there, judging from the lack of regional accents. Chorlton essentially being an imported home-county, which I observe because it doesn’t really feel Mancunian at all.  And it has a village green.

Class may have something to do with the rudeness of some of the people you find in Unicorn, knocking you over, walking into you oblivious of anything but their NEED, their real dire need, to procure some obscure organic nut butter.  Jollying you along in the queue for the checkout in the hope that you, with your far more inconsequential purposes, will just hurry up and leave.  The atmosphere is actually not all that bad in the place, which is very bright, warm and colourful – it’s just noticeable that there’s usually one or two pushy mothers in there who only care about themselves.

Speaking of class, anyone who makes the switch from non-organic food shopping soon realises that money is a big factor in the organic food industry… which makes some people suspicious of whether or not the industry is just a massive scam.  It is certainly very easy to spend money in the Unicorn. However, if you maintain a strict relationship with your budget, it is also possible to do almost a week’s shopping there for about £20.

Two days ago I did my Christmas food shop there, and bought a massive bag of kale for 86p.  Some of the foods also have a non-organic variant, for example the dates, which enables you to buy big bags of pitted Iranian dates for 83p.  I don’t know of anywhere you can get dates that cheap (if you’ll excuse the unintended pun).  The vine tomatoes I bought, though perhaps not as ripe as they could have been, had a strong fragrance, making them a refreshing change from what you find in Tesco.  I was a little disappointed to find the sprout stalks not to the same excellent standard they were last year -but then organic shopping is often about being there at the right time, and I think I got there in between stock replenishments, as far as the sprouts were concerned.

The range of gluten-free supplies is fantastic, (though these are the £ burners) and the deli usually has very nice soups and cakes.  Gluten-free and diabetic friendly pies, burgers, sausages (all vegan/veggie), pastas, noodles… and I should mention the quinoa is the tastiest I’ve bought.  Popular health brands like Dragonfly, Happy Kitchen, Meridian, Clive’s and Laura’s Idea are all to be found in the Unicorn.  Going there has become something of an occasion.

Hitchcock’s, Hull

If I am often wondering about the lack of vegetarian restaurants in Manchester, perhaps it is less surprising that there are hardly any vegetarian restaurants whatsoever in Hull, East Yorkshire, the dreaded city of my growing pains.  What is very surprising then is the fact that my favourite place to eat is in that very city, and furthermore that it is vegetarian.

Hitchcock’s is found at the top or bottom of Bishop Lane, depending on where you’re coming from, in the characterful heart of the historic old town, situated along the town-side bank of the river Hull.  Ring the bell and you are ushered up the stairs into surroundings which reviewers of lesser imagination might deem ‘quirky’.   

In keeping with its otherworldly, glowing and cosy grotto-like layout, the restaurant operates on a unique basis:  the food served is part of an all-you-can-eat buffet, while the type of cuisine varies from night-to-night, depending on the preferences of whoever books first.

For instance, I have experienced Indian, English and, most recently, Persian/Middle-Eastern themed nights.  All of which have been fantastic.

Almost best of all is that specialist diets are readily catered for provided advance notice is given.  At the Persian night, Bruce made sure I was shown round the buffet so that wheat-filled delicacies could be pointed out and avoided, before presenting me with a huge platter of delicious spinachy stuff spread on gluten-free bread.  

Better than this, however, is the vast cake selection.  It is fantastic… if a little damaging if you have PCOS and must therefore limit your refined sugar intake (note to self:  will in future ask for cakes featuring alternative sweeteners).  People at our table for my friends’ Linda and Espen’s wedding reception hadn’t even started on the main course before making reference to and recommendation of the magnificent pecan pie.  The Tiffin is also remarkable.

A sample of the kind of foods you can expect at a Middle-Eastern night – kind of tapas style:

Beautiful vine leaves stuffed with rice, veg and mint,

Baked peppers,

Baba Ganoush,

Home-made hummous,

A giant rice cake made of the rice you get at the bottom of a pan,

Aubergine stew,

Peppery red lentils,

Omelette

In view of recent times, the price has gone up to £18 per head, with a midweek concession of £15, the place remains a gem nonetheless

For Bookings:  (01482) 320233

http://www.hitchcocksrestaurant.co.uk/

A gem among the cobbled streets

Earth Cafe, Manchester, UK

open             mon-fri  11am-4pm – sat 10am-5pm – sun CLOSED

address        16-20 turner street, manchester m4 1dz   

Perhaps my favourite cafe in Manchester.  Although in a cellar next door to the Buddhist centre, it has not been a part of the centre for 5 years now.   It still maintains the original Buddhist theme, with brass figurines of the Buddha and information about meditation to hand etc.

There is a mix of large and small wooden tables to sit at, as well as more intimate booths, perfect for a romantic occasion.

Always popular is the £6 food platter, which gets you 4 portions of food – up to 2 can be main courses, and the rest can be sides.  There are always gluten free choices available.  I tend to get the dahl, brown rice, carrot and apple salad, and roast potatoes.  The one criticism I have is that the variety of the food served rarely changes:  in other words, there is little variety.

Also available is an excellent smoothie and juice bar:  I often go for the Green Queen so I don’t miss out on my dose of green fruit and veg.

I can’t remember ever having any of the cakes, though they look good.  I rarely have enough room inside!

The atmosphere is that of a chilled canteen and the staff are friendly.