The last time I visited The Armenian Taverna was about a decade ago and my faded memory is of something akin to the Mos Eisley Cantina, it certainly had character. And a fair amount history too, as this cherished little restaurant’s been serving Manchester for more than 40 years now and has seen a trio of owners in that time.
Late last year the decor received a refresh and apparently they’ve been getting regular visits from United midfielder Henrik Mykataryan, so I checked the fixtures to make sure he´d be busy and booked myself a table.
For those unfamiliar with Armenian cuisine (I´ll admit to a quick map check myself, it shares a section of Turkey´s eastern border) think Middle Eastern with a taste of Eastern Europe, so sort of eastern meets eastern then. Rather like the food in nearby countries the highlight is undoubtedly the mezze style dishes so we began with a shared starter in an attempt to sample plenty of them. Our food arrived on a stand you might expect to see for your afternoon tea, although I´d take this over cakes and butties any day of the week.
Meat dishes included yershig, a crisp spicy lamb sausage in tomato sauce, tender lamb meat balls called kufta, and borek, filo pastry parcels filled with fragrant mince. We also had the usual tahini based dips of hummus and baba ganushe as well as vine leaves and some delicious fresh salads and cabbage slaws. This food is no doubt familiar with most, but it was very well executed. Traditional Armenian lavosh bread was served on the side, it was a bit of revelation too- for anyone out there who eats their own weight in pitta before their main course arrives, this super light wafer thin flat bread could well be your saviour.
Last time I came to The Armenian Taverna all those years ago I was with someone who had quite a penchant for cheese pies, so they would certainly have appreciated this next dish. Personally my problem with cheese pie has always been that it didn´t have any meat in it, step forward panirove pelani. The best way to describe it would be like little meat ravioli in a cheese sauce baked with a bread top. Served with a shot of vodka on the side of course, it all felt like the work of an eccentric genius to me. Our other dish was more of the mainstream, the mixed khorovadz, a delicious selection of charcoal grilled lamb chops, chicken, pork and vegetables. Both mains were crying out for a robust red and we chose the karas red, a bolshy Armenian blend of Syrah, Tannat, Malbec, Petit Verdot grapes which, it would be fair to say, was right up my street.
We ended where we began with a shared dish and some homemade cakes, the layered honey cake was the pick of the bunch, although perhaps we should´ve tried the baklava instead.
There will probably be plenty who mourn the loss of the idiosyncratic side of this little tavern, with its now more sombre and stylish fit out in place, but then it´s nice to focus on the food, and we ate really quite well. As luck would have it we visited on a scorching hot day when the prospect of delving down below wasn´t necessarily so desirable. But then that´s not something we have to worry about too often in Manchester, and The Armenian Taverna´s charm as a little underground getaway from all going on at street level is still very much alive and well.
The Armenian Taverna
3-5 Princess St, Manchester, M2 4DF