For a vegetarian, the self-proclaimed ‘home of buttermilk fried chicken’ might seem like a peculiar restaurant choice.
Due to the rise in veganism and so-called healthy living, more and more plant-based eateries are popping up in Manchester. With the likes of V Rev Vegan Diner and Bundobust so accessible – both of which I can’t wait to try, along with weekly food fair Grub MCR (which always has a great vegan/vegetarian option) – the predominantly poultry-based menu at Yard & Coop would seem like a no-go for us herbivores.
I thought so too. That is until I was checking out their menu online (admittedly a weird pastime) and saw a call to vegetarians stating that some of the popular eatery’s mains can be substituted with crumbed halloumi. That’s right, cheese lovers. Fried cheese covered in breadcrumbs. You’re welcome.
Now, I am a cheese fiend and, for me, halloumi is a tasty, squeaky, savoury slice of heaven. Since morphing into what my mum likes to call ‘full’ vegetarian early last year, the Cypriot cheese has become my go-to ingredient. Often veggie options can be lacklustre, usually something with ricotta – which I hate – or tomatoes – which I also hate – but recently dinner in the veggie world has started to become interesting.
I’d been to Yard & Coop in my previous meat-eating life and enjoyed it. I’d visited mid-week with a friend for his birthday, wolfed down a chicken burger and a glass of wine and almost fell asleep on the train back to Stockport. This time, I take Housemate, a fried chicken fan, and we head out for lunch on a busy, wet Saturday afternoon.
Both full of cold, we’re seated in one of the coop booths by our waitress, Heidi, and, like two fussy old women, we ask if it’s possible to make us both a hot water with lemon and honey. Housemate, who drinks the stuff like nectar when she’s harbouring the lurgy, visibly lights up when Heidi says it’s no problem.
“Feels a bit wrong, this,” Housemate announces through audible sniffs. “Sitting in a coop. Eating chicken.”
“Almost cannibalistic,” I agree, scanning my menu in a bid to figure out what might go best with crumbed halloumi.
Dressed in jeans and white tees, the staff are casual which adds to the laid-back atmosphere, but it’s easy to spy them among the diners. Not that you need to, they’re attentive and friendly without being too eager.
When Heidi returns with our drinks, I ask how the whole veggie option thing works. It’s not marked on the menu, but suggests you ask a member of staff for details. She talks me through all the ways I can substitute chicken for cheese, from burgers and kebabs to loaded fries. So I opt for their signature pick ‘n’ mix style chicken, chips and sauce, choosing the (cutely named) Not Chicken Nuggets, fries and Korean sauce as per her recommendation. The range of sauces is exhaustive and there’s something for everyone. Housemate picks Dirty Bird Fries – a bowl full of chips, bacon, cheese, fried chicken thighs and sauce. We also order a portion of man ‘n’ cheese balls. Just because.
“If I was hungover,” she proclaims, snaffling a chip. “This would be my idea of heaven.”
Similarly, my meal is the stuff of a hungover girl’s dreams. The halloumi is delicious, covered in seasoned breadcrumbs and the Korean sauce is honey-sweet, the perfect accompaniment.
“There’s so much stuff,” Housemate says, moving her fork around her plate to demonstrate. “Usually you get to the bottom and there’s dry chips everywhere. These are great.”
I shove a mac ‘n’ cheese ball in my mouth, lamenting the days when I was able to tuck away more food.
Heidi appears at our table with an offer of a Malteaser brownie. Housemate and I look at each other forlornly.
“I want to,” I say, sadly. “But there’s no room.” Housemate agrees.
The casual atmosphere in Yard & Coop makes it the ideal place to meet up with friends at the weekend, or after work. Its family-friendly, with a separate children’s menu and a mural of children’s colouring-ins of chickens. The décor is paired back, yet quirky, with a welcoming bar right near the entrance.
For the Northern Quarter, some of the meals are a little on the pricey side. While both our meals were under a tenner, some of the burgers were priced at £11-£15, which is a little steep in comparison with Yard & Coop’s neighbours like Trof or Common. But they do have fantastic names. Housemate takes a snap of ‘The Massive Cock Burger’ and pops it on Facebook with a little chuckle.
So, if you’re in Manchester and looking for a relaxed place to have lunch or a post-work dinner and drinks (the cocktails sound great), then I highly recommend Yard & Coop. I’ve never considered it a place to eat since becoming a veggie and am pleasantly surprised by the wide range of tasty, filling options. Just make sure you wear stretchy trousers and save room for pudding.