When it comes to kebabs, Manchester seems to have it skewered.
The humble sandwich, once derided as the food of the late night drunk, has never found such expression.
Whether it’s shawarma, doner, gyros, souvlaki, shish, sheekh, kobeda or shami, you’ll find it.
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And now there’s One Star Doner Bar at Escape to Freight Island to add to the mix, which is definitely at the end of the boutique.
It’s called that because its creator, Brad Carter, is the chef behind Michelin-starred restaurant Carters of Moseley in Birmingham – he launched his kebab project while his restaurant was closed due to Covid.
The result is a Michelin-style breakdown of the kebab’s key ingredients, from pide bread sourced from a Turkish bakery to doner meat made with Cornish lamb, but without the haute cuisine prices, you’ll pay £10 for kebabs at One Doner star.
To put my review in context, I’ve been on something of a kebab odyssey the last few weeks.
Kebabs elevated to top-tier rankings during my tour include Levenshulme Bakery (for many the Holy Grail), Jaffa in Rusholme, Bab in the Northern Quarter, and Venus in Longsight.
So how does One Star compare to the competition?
To answer the question, I have a team of tasters, including two Greek Cypriots who I would think might know something about kebabs.
Just a pint of Pomona Phaedra in the evening, we ordered the Lamb Doner and Chicken Shawarma – (both £10) – to prove Brad’s claim that the kebab “will taste as good at 2pm as it does at 2am”.
Starting with the bread, the kebab immediately scores highly – I’d put it next to Levenshulme Bakery or the acclaimed German Doner for perhaps higher quality.
There’s a nice crisp texture from the plate to the outside, while the center is soft and fluffy, without compromising structural integrity crucial to its function.
We are divided on which meat is better.
There is something ‘cheating’ with the chicken. Brad has borrowed from the kings of roast/fried chicken, the Koreans; using gochujang to marinate the thigh meat.
The chili sauce gives the garlic chicken an unmistakable sweet flavor that, as I know from making Korean fried wings myself, is simply irreplaceable.
However, my vote goes to the lamb doner meat, which is made by blending lamb shoulder with frozen milk to produce a texture that would compare very favorably to pastrami.
The effect is still similar to that of a doner, but there is a light, airy touch that lifts it above any other doner meat I’ve tried.
Salad filling and sauces at One Star are also of the highest standard. Tossed with a myriad of julienned onions, white cabbage, and pickled chilies, it’s topped with an easy-to-go chili sauce, soothing yogurt, and dried chili chips.
The most enthusiastic supporters go to the coleslaw which hits the spot through a combination of refreshing vegetables and rich flavor: turmeric and soy sauce make an inspired combination.
Completing the picture is a long green Turkish-style blistered pepper, whose flesh retains plenty of texture and flavor.
The conclusions of my fellow tasters are very positive.
Nik, the Greek Cypriot, declares it a “really cool concept”, while his compatriot Fivos was impressed but still thinks Levenshulme Bakery is king.
Richie, who has done extensive research, gives One Star a big thumbs up but declares that Al Aqsa in Longsight is king with its mix of shawarma, kobeda and tikka.
Imraan says the bread and coleslaw elevate the kebab to the top notch, but not above the Rusholme cafe Jaffa, where, I agree, the salads and condiments are top notch.
Personally I would put One Star together with Levenshulme Bakery for general impact.
It definitely wins on presentation and balance, but on satisfaction, availability, and price, Levenshulme is hard to beat, as is its particular combination of fillings, including a delicious red cabbage.
I’ve never been to Escape to Freight Island before (inside the converted Mayfield development next to Piccadilly), but this unbeatable combination of Pomona beer and kebab will have me coming back… very soon.
One Star Doner, Escape to Freight Island, 11 Baring Street, Manchester, M1 2PZ Opening hours 16:00-23:00 Wednesday and Thursday 12:00-00:00 Friday 12:00-11:00 01:00 on Saturdays and from 12:00 to 20:00 on Sundays.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.