ARMENIAN TAVERNA REVIEW
by Jonathan Schofield
Sept 22 2011
I HAD a meal with George Best recently. He was black and white. There
was also John Mundy, one of the Nolan sisters I think, someone
very glamorous called Cassie Baker and Sam Wanamaker, the actor and
filmmaker. All in black and white and all loving the Armenian Taverna.
All in all the re-visit to the Armenian Taverna was great fun. The
prices didn’t break the bank and the antique design of the place
provided a constant conversation point.
After the meal I rang up the National Trust. Apparently they are moving
away from their portfolio of grand stately properties in vast manicured
acres and are looking to acquire more humble premises, that capture
a time, a fashion and a mood: ex-Beatles’ council houses for example.
I suggested they stake an early claim on the Armenian Taverna when
the present goodly owners decide to call it a day.
The menu claims the basement Albert Square restaurant opened in 1968.
The evidence from the decor backs this up. It has all the crazed charm
of a grandparent’s chintzy front room, a mix and unmatch of trinkets,
pots, pictures and wall coverings so old fashioned they’ve gone from
being contemporary and delightful through to being naff and ridiculous
and ended up amusing and appealing.
The two dimensional traditional Armenian dancers’ mural with Mount
Ararat in the distance is so badly drawn but done with such enthusiasm
you can’t help but smile. On our visit we reckoned we found the gay
one. And the boss one.
The black and white pictures of the ‘stars’ – I can barely remember
BBC local newsman John Mundy – complete with endorsements for the
Armenian Taverna are like a echo down the ages of San Carlo’s present
fame galleries. Did Carlo nick the idea from here?
The whole place makes you grin.
The food makes me full.
This is lamb-based fare from the Near East, as it used to be called,
before people got confused and started calling it the Middle East. I’m
not au fait with Armenian food and its traditions strangely enough
but it appears similar to Syrian, Persian and Turkish grub.
The dishes here though don’t carry the subtlety of Persian food.
The Armenian Taverna’s take on goulash (£12) for instance, is massive
and looks like an explosion in a paint factory dominated by brown hues.
The lamb is marinated for two days, apparently, and then slow cooked
for six or seven hours. There’s red wine in there, bay leaves, thyme,
cloves, split peas, barley, the kitchen sink, frogs and snails and
puppy-dogs’ tails. Maybe even sugar and spice and all things nice.
The combination is a great onslaught of flavour and food with a lovely
bubble of rice as well. Winter’s coming folks. If you need bolstering,
this is your boy.
The Madznov kebab (£10.50) was similar in scale. But this time it
came with spiced minted lamb with yoghurt, pitta bread and a fried
egg on top. It also looked a mess, in fact radioactive, and was as
vast and wholesome as the goulash but compromised by an egg that
wasn’t runny enough.
Decent sides such as an oily black olive topped hummous (£4) helped
things along as did a bottle of an aggressive Chateauneuf du Pape
The only disappointment was a Kunafeh (£3.50), which should have been
light and rich and sweet with walnuts, syrup, almonds and spices under
a shredded pastry cover. The problem was that the shredded bit was
dryer than Les Dawson’s sense of humour – I think I saw his picture
at the back of the room. The Armenian needs to be more careful with
this dessert, which really was a desert.
Still, all in all the re-visit to the Armenian Taverna was great fun.
The prices didn’t break the bank and the antique design of the place
provided a constant conversation point. There’s a good range of fish
and veggie dishes as well.
If you’ve not been since before the Berlin Wall came down, or before
Manchester made any Olympic bids, then try it again. The aesthetics
of the food won’t appeal but the decor, flavours and scale might.
You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield
ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL. £1000 to the reader
who can prove otherwise, and dismissal for the staff member who wrote
a review scored out of twenty on a freebie from the restaurant.
The Armenian Taverna Victoria Buildings 1-7 Princess Street, City
0161 834 9025
Rating: 13/20 Food: 6/10 Service: 3/5 Atmosphere: 4/5