By Jo Cooksey
As Ancoats continues to evolve from Manchester’s ugly duckling into a sophisticated urban swan, the eatery openings there also continue. Two Vietnamese establishments, Nam and Viet Shack opened within a few weeks of each other and as a lover of South East Asian food, I was cock-a-hoop.
I visited Nam on Cutting Room Square first and interviewed the restaurant’s owner and namesake, Nam Tran. Discovering his interesting journey from a suited and booted office dweller to an entrepreneurial restaurateur, while enjoying some of his delicious food.
The venue itself is modern but cosy, with a palate of exposed brick, natural wood, tiles and dark blue tones. It’s industrial but with a softer edge. On the ground level is the bar and eating space and downstairs is a listening space than can also be hired for private functions.
Nam’s family emigrated from Vietnam to Britain in 1984 and settled in Derby. He is the youngest of seven children and the only one to be born in the U.K. His Father, a highly regarded Maths teacher and his Mother, naturally wanted the best for their children and aspired for them to enter the professions. There are doctors and dentists among Nam’s siblings and originally, he trained as an engineer, before moving to Manchester and working at pharma giant, Astra Zenaca, as a financial analyst.
However, Nam is a creative soul, who loves music and the club scene and eventually he began a side career as a DJ in and around Manchester. He saw how the Northern Quarter had grown and developed and realised that Ancoats was following suit. So four years ago he started looking for a site of his own to develop. It took three years before he found the Cutting Room Square site and another 12 months to get it off the ground. In the meantime, it became a bit of a family project, with his relatives helping out where they could. In fact, his business partner is one of his brothers, a Manchester GP.
The venue is as much about the music, as it is about the food and Nam refers to it as an audiophile bar. This sees him collaborating with another DJ, on a playlist that is perfectly balanced to provide a relaxing atmosphere, without intruding on your conversations. I have been in half a dozen times since it opened, as it is just a short walk from my office and I can concur that I always come out feeling very chilled, having enjoyed chatting with my pals, instead of shouting at each other over the bass.
Regarding the food, the menu is small but perfectly formed. There are the French influenced sandwiches, Bánh Mì, made with crusty baguettes and filled with Char Sui, marinated minced pork or vegan tofu. Vietnam’s most popular dish, Pho, a combination of broth with rice noodles is there, in both meat and vegetarian versions. Nam’s Mum insists on making the broths for her son’s venture herself. There are also dry noodle Bún dishes, generously proportioned translucent Summer rolls and Goi, Vietnamese salads.
Everything on the menu is under a tenner and the first time I ate there I had Pork and Prawn Summer Rolls with the most stunning peanut sauce for £5 and a bowl of pork Bún for £6. £11 and I was stuffed. They also do a fabulous lunch deal. A half Bánh Mì sandwich, with a small bowl of Pho, prawn crackers and a soft drink for £5. Bargain.
The food is light, fresh and fragrant, with all the authentic pzazz and zing of a Hanoi street food market. Truly a little gem. Ancoats is becoming a real culinary delight and I’m starting to wonder if I should move there.
We paid for our meals at Nam and as always, the review and opinions are our own and unbiased.