When I booked my tasting menu at Manchester’s District, its website informed me that Discovery (£50 a head) encapsulated ‘a new life in the off-world colonies’ and ‘a new chance in a golden land of opportunity and adventure’.
I recognised, as many of you will, the quote from Blade Runner, Ridley Scott’s paean to a dystopian and dying planet. The film opens with Deckard (Harrison Ford) sitting at an Asian street food stall in a bleak and rainy L.A., ordering noodles. Made in 1982, it is set in a futuristic 2019. It’s now 2022 and, while we don’t have flying cars, we do have environmental entropy and Asian street food which, almost neatly, segues back to District.
District is a Thai eatery on the dystopian end of Oldham Street. Based on Bangkok barbecue stalls, it provides a culinary experience like no other in Manchester. There is no à la carte menu as such, rather a series of tasting menus based on price; £20, £50, £100 (I’m saving up my pension for that last one). There are no vegetarian or fish options, though they do mention allergies. To some, this might seem a bit hardball but as a vegetarian, fish-eating carnivore, I have no problem. The overall design, from the cool modernist interior to the open charcoal-fuelled kitchen and the sharp graphics of the menu logo, is tight and intelligent. There is life in this off-world colony.
The real blast is the food. I work my way through nine small plates of punchy perfection. This is serious stuff and not for the faint-hearted. The first dish of raw sea bass marinated in tiger milk on a bed of nam jim with purple yam and Thai basil is pure pleasure. The soft tender fish is married to a tangy, silky sauce that takes no prisoners.
It is followed by a series of tasty treats, each as astonishing and delicious as the next. A rib southern curry on the smallest roti comes with a ribeye and nam tok on an equally small tostada. A skewered secreto iberico with a tamarind jaew is paired with kohlrabi, candied tomato and peanuts. Corn-fed chicken paddles in a shallow pool of tom ka and shimeji. Of the mains, a final herdwick hogget rump is cooked rare on massman curry and potato. This is unrivalled cooking with an attention to detail and, above all, full Thai flavours.
A double dessert of a sweet and sour roselle with tom yum spices and a caramelised coconut, mango and rice praline arrives, called ‘It was only a Dream’. And it was indeed dreamy. Without even noticing, I’d managed to sup three cans of the excellent ShinDigger-brewed District Thai-pa. To quote another dystopian film, ‘I’ll be back’.
I walk out onto Manchester’s Oldham Street, full and a bit tipsy. The night is as dark and dank as a Blade Runner set. I hail a cab but am slightly disappointed to find that it doesn’t rise vertically to fly me home above the neon-lit city.