Hidden Gems: Wythenshawe's community noodle hut where Pad Thai is £6

A story of love and noodles at Wythenshawe's best-kept secret

By Ben Arnold | 25 June 2024

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It was after realising that Mike Swatton, a tall, genial Scotsman, had been coming to her tiny noodle hut in Wythenshawe’s shopping precinct on a daily basis, that Rabiap ‘Rabbie’ Promnat realised maybe he wasn’t just coming for the noodles.

“I saw this wooden shed, just sitting in the middle of nowhere, my first time in Manchester. [I was] the last customer of the day, I order myself a Pad Thai. Came back, Pad Thai, came back, Pad Thai, every day,” Mike says.

“I knew she liked me when one day, I was sitting, finishing my Pad Thai, and I looked up, and she was like that, holding a new bowl of Pad Thai.”

Rabbie, evidently a strong believer in the adage that the way to a man’s heart is through his belly, would sit and talk with Mike, day after day, until romance inevitably blossomed.

It’s no wonder. Her Pad Thai really is something else. It’s what she was given as a snack growing up on the family farm in the east of Thailand, ‘pretty much in the jungle’. “Kids now, they eat like chicken nuggets. When I was a kid, it was Pad Thai. It’s sweet, it’s salty,” she says. “So kids like it.”

Rabbie's Noodle Hut

Mike was working as a nurse at Wythenshawe Hospital when his Pad Thai obsession began (he still does a couple of shifts a week). Once they’d got together, he came on board to help with the fledgling business.

A friendly, welcoming presence, hewn from years of perfecting his bedside manner, he focuses on the front-of-house, greeting regulars, orders scrawled down with a black biro, while Rabbie conjures absolute magic in the tiny kitchen of her wooden hut, jutting out between The Works and Iceland.

Rabiap 'Rabbie' Promnat

It’s a business built from nothing. She’d never worked in a kitchen before, but when the pandemic curtailed her career as a quantity surveyor in 2020, she asked the security guard at the Wythenshawe Civic Centre who she might need to speak to if she wanted to open a new food business. Soon enough, she’d built a small hut with a few seats around it in the middle of the pedestrianised walkway.

A couple of years later, and she’d designed and built a new, much bigger hut with indoor seating at one end, and her domain at the other. Mike admits he can’t cook for toffee. “I’m a talker, been a nurse for 15 years, we’re open and we’re friendly,” he says, on what he brings to the table.

As for Rabbie – she’s busy cooking during this increasingly hectic service – Mike says what she does is ‘kind of improvised’, as she’s never been trained as a cook. Instinct is key, something that can’t be taught.

“Every bowl of Pad Thai you’ll get here will be slightly different. None of it is set in stone, it’s just about the flavour,” he says, adding that she’s known, on occasion, for upending a whole pan full of noodles or rice if it’s not quite right, startling when it’s in the middle of a service and there’s a queue of hungry customers, but also testament to Rabbie’s standards.

“The quality of the food Rabbie produces is so high, home cooked, nothing fake at all in it, and consistently cooked to the highest standards,” says Mike. “It’s not easy, we’re working 80-odd hours a week to bring this to people. You could take short cuts, but that’s not what people want. So being nice, great food, generosity. They’re the three things which keep people coming back.”

Inside Rabbie's Noodle Hut

Generosity is an understatement here. The portions Rabbie doles out are hearty. A portion of noodles, or her Thai-leaning version of Hainan chicken rice, or soup with rice noodles, beef shin and one of the most rich and complex broths you could imagine (it develops in flavour through the week, so by Saturday it’s in peak shape), all of these will serve two hungry people easily, and nothing comes in at more than a tenner. “That’s how I want to eat,” Rabbie laughs. “I might not finish it, but that’s what I want!”

Such has been their success that Rabbie says they could survive as a business with their regulars alone, many of which are from the growing Hong Kong community, and who travel from all over the region to eat here, not to mention from further afield having heard about it in Birmingham, even Mike’s native Scotland.

They’re also keenly aware of where they are. 34% of children in the Wythenshawe area live in poverty, so Mike and Rabbie try to make sure that they keep their standards high, but their costs low, so that as many people can enjoy their food as possible. Even if that means taking a hit themselves. When she first started in 2020, Rabbie was selling a bowl of Pad Thai for an inflation-busting £4.

Rabiap 'Rabbie' Promnat

“We know we’re underselling,” Mike says. “But we also know we just have to have that element of affordability.”

Everyone loves Rabbie’s Noodle Hut, and you can feel it. “The best food going on the Civic, that is,” says one gent walking past, unsolicited, but beaming from ear to ear. “You’ll be on patrol with the lads, and you’ll smell it from a mile away,” says one of the civic centre’s security detail. “It’s like a magnet, it just draws you straight in.”

Rabbie’s is soul food. It comes from somewhere deeper than most. But it’s more than that. She found her way into one heart with it. She’s found her way into Wythenshawe’s with it too.

Rabbie’s Noodle Hut, Civic Centre, Wythenshawe, Manchester M22 5RQ

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