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Habas – A Yorkshireman goes East (and we don’t mean Hull)

Unless I’ve missed it previously, Zhug is making a Manchester debut on the menu of Simon Shaw’s eagerly anticipated third restaurant in the city, Habas, which opened in early June in the former Panama Hatty’s site on Brown Street.

Brought by Jews from the Yemen a century ago, Zhug is the Israeli national chilli paste, mixing parsley, coriander, and assorted spices. I first discovered this fiery condiment on the counter of Soho’s vibrant Palomar restaurant and in the pages of Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem. I slather it over shawarma; at Habas it accompanies homemade garlic and herb flatbread with hummus.

Potato skins filled with sliced lamb

Other dishes feel very Ottolenghi, the Guardian Weekend readers’ passport to Levantine dinner party heaven. So familiar that maybe it lessens the excitement of Habas. Still what’s not to like about small plates such as Middle Eastern raw slaw with pomegranate molasses; batata harra – spicy fried potatoes with dill sour cream; beetroot hummus with Greek yoghurt and dill (main image); feta cheese, wilted spinach and sunblush tomato filo cigars; spiced lamb ‘jackets’ – fried potato skins filled with spiced lamb, served with mint yoghurt. 

But is it a culinary game changer? One Manchester Confidential reviewer, of Persian heritage, accused it of ‘culinary appropriation’. Fair comment? There may be a certain residual bias against a classically trained Yorkshire chef’s temerity in tackling cuisines not ‘his own’. Certainly Habas is a lurch east from his twist on Shaw’s ‘Iberian-influenced’ food at El Gato Negro (Spanish) and Canto (Portuguese).

Simon Shaw feel the MIddle Eastern project is a natural progression

Shaw is very much aware he is surfing a certain ‘Zhug Zeitgeist’, telling me, a friend and supporter from El Gato’ first stirrings in the Pennine village of Ripponden: “It’s phenomenal just how much people’s appetites have evolved over recent years. 

“Back in the late Nineties you’d have struggled to have found Middle Eastern restaurants outside London. Even there, they existed largely to feed the local community, people from those countries living in the city.

“Times have changed and there’s a whole new wave coming through. It’s an amazing style of food, simplistic but with a real depth of flavour. It’s what excited me about it as a chef and I think it will have really broad appeal.”

Habas cuisine is a picture on a plate

Like El Gato Negro and Canto, the menu centres around a generous number of small plates, coupled with larger dishes and feasting platters. 

“Middle Eastern cuisine has many influences and Habas is a fusion of all,” says Shaw. 

“It’s about ingredients. There are lots of connections to Spanish food, the Syrian lentils, lamb meatballs and spiced aubergine dishes enjoyed at El Gato Negro all lean towards the style of cuisine. I suppose part of my mind was already on it.”

Habas means fava (broad) bean) in Spanish and also is the name of a settlement in the Yemen, where zhug is the relish of choice, no doubt.

Batata harra – spicy fried potatoes with dill and cream

Habas, 43a Brown Street, Manchester M2 2JJ. 0161 470 9375. Opening hours Thursday-Sunday 12pm to late (food service until 10pm, after which we’d recommend continuing with suitably-themed cocktails). Expect opening hours to be extended when the industry’s current staffing issues are resolved.

The bar is the place to try Habas’s cocktails, prepared with a Middle Eastern twist