Not far from Stockport, the suburb of Gatley is a place on the up, due to its growing reputation as one of the North West’s go-to areas for exciting, forward-thinking cuisine.
Bhaji Pala, an all-vegan Indian restaurant just a couple of minutes walk from the train station, is at the forefront of this south Manchester food revolution.
Of course, with more and more people taking part in Veganuary, Bhaji Pala is the perfect destination for diners wanting to stick to a cruelty-free diet, without compromising on flavour.
And judging by the food tonight, this charming restaurant will no doubt be the reason more and more people turn Veganuary into a vegan-year.
The place is packed on a cold midweek night, with guests travelling in from all corners of Manchester. The charming staff take great pride in what they do, offering up an encyclopedic knowledge of every dish.
Every single thing on the menu is vegan, though you’d barely notice; the stunning mango and pineapple lassi was so creamy I had to check twice with our amused waiter, clearly used to such questions, to make sure it really was made with soya and not dairy.
The starters section is packed with mouthwateringly good small plates, from classics such as crunchy vegetable spring rolls and bhakawadi samosas (spinach, potato and an expert blend of spices, in a crispy pastry), to the must-try sweet potato chaat – a huge pile of sweet, spicy and savoury flavours, smothered in a soya yoghurt based sauce, with soft and crunchy textures intermingled throughout.
If you’re going to try just one dish at Bhaji Pala, make it this one.
The masala dosa is another excellent opener, a thick soft pancake, with a potato-style masala running all the way through – not just a dollop in the middle.
In truth, these small plates are worth a visit all of their own. They showcase a breadth of knowledge about Indian cuisine you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.
However, if you’re a starter-then-main kind of diner, you won’t be disappointed.
The tofu makhani is as decadent as any made with butter, ghee and cream. The kitchen team are clearly doing some form of alchemy to produce food as vibrant as this.
If you want something with a kick, opt for the potato-based Goan dum aloo, with a fiery Goan sauce.
Throw in a pot of bright, bold lemon rice and a naachni roti (a dark flatbread made from millet, but much softer and heartier than that might sound) and you’ve got yourself one of Manchester’s best curries, vegan or not.
Best of all, afterwards, you don’t end up with that heavy, bloated feeling all-too-common after a big meal out. Thanks to the wonder of plant-based ingredients, you feel full, certainly, but in a hearty, healthy, guilt-free way.
Bhaji Pala is something of a well-kept secret at the moment, but this will undoubtedly change as word spreads. Plan your visit now.