“ Address: Greater Manchester / M90 1QX „
I've said it before and I'll say it again, I am not a fan of chains, be that restaurants, pubs or shops. Try to shop or eat at any airport in the UK, however, and you'll find it's impossible to avoid chains. Actually I wouldn't normally eat a full meal at an airport on the grounds of cost and lack of choice, but circumstances recently led us to dine at Manchester Airport's Giraffe restaurant.
Perhaps because it is one of the more expensive places to eat within the airport, Giraffe was busy but not packed like many of the other cafes and bars were. It was a Saturday lunchtime in September and the airport was heaving so it was nice to be able to put our bags down and get a seat somewhere relatively peaceful. As we approached the 'entrance' (for the food court is fairly open and doesn't have a conventional doorway) a member of staff came to meet us, a smiley, friendly young lady who seemed enthusiastic and happy to help. We were being directed to one of the free standing tables towards the centre of the restaurant when I spotted that one of the cosier booths had been vacated and I asked whether we could take that. This was fine although I had expected the table to be swiftly cleared and wiped and re-set before our order was taken and in reality only the dirty items were removed from the table, hence we later had to request serviettes and we sat with a slightly grubby table.
As befitting an international airport the menu offers an eclectic culinary tour of the globe. I was surprised not only at the variety of dishes, but also the range of ingredients used, and the inventive fusions of flavours and ingredients. We both picked out a number of dishes we really fancied but, in truth, there were very few things on the menu that didn't appeal. As well as standard 'mains' there are sharing platters as well as small tapas style dishes which would make a great snack with drinks, or could be grouped together to give you a chance to try a few different things. The sharing platters range from middle eastern style mezze with tabbouleh, and flatbreads and dips such as hummus and baba ganoush (£8.95), to a 'Bruschetta Bites' sharing board in which little pieces of toasted bread are topped with goodies such as artichoke, pesto and olives (£5.95).
Soup of the day comes with toasted garlic foccacia and, judging by the portion size we saw, seems to be good value at just £4.95. The soup of the day is always a vegetarian option and Giraffe is very conscientious in clearly marking meat free choices, and those dishes that use nuts among the ingredients or which are gluten free. There are four all day breakfast options ranging from a traditional cooked English (£9.25, but it does contain double sausage and double bacon so you might want to share this one unless you have a mammoth capacity for cooked breakfast) to a personal favourite dish of mine Huevos Rancheros (a Mexican dish which translates as 'Cowboys' Eggs, £8.25 - a full meal in itself served with salsa, chorizo, black beans and more). There are sandwiches ranging from £7.85 for the toasted goats cheese foccacia to a whopping £10.45 for the rump steak which is served in a crusty baguette with caramelised onions and a chipotle mayonnaise.
I opted for the sushi rice salad with smoked salmon priced at £10.95, while Himself - after much deliberation - picked the 'Falafel Deluxe Burger' which was priced at £9.95. We didn't have to wait too long for the food to come and the drinks arrived very promptly - a 'Giddy Giraffe' smoothie (£3.50) for me, and a pint of Red Stripe (£4.00) for Himself. The drinks selection included several other glabal lagers in addition to the Red Stripe, but was light on the ales/bitter side with only a London Pride to satisfy those drinkers.
While we waited for our meals to come we had a quick look at the 'decor'; situated in what is a pretty open location there aren't really any walls to hang things on so the only concessions to decor comprise a few mock signposts with the arms pointing to various destinations around the world. Furniture wise it's simple with American style booths providing the most comfortable option. High chairs are available for younger children and there's a kids menu with options such as 'pasta pomodoro', sausage, mash and beans, or grilled salmon fillet with vegetable and mash or fries. Mains for kids come in at about a fiver so while it's not cheap to bring a family (and you may well prefer to save your money to spend once you get to your holiday destination) there are at least a good range of healthy options.
My smoothie was very tangy and refreshing; it was made from papaya, fresh mint, banana, orange and lime juice. I'd have struggled to pick out the papaya, a fruit I love to eat in a fruit salad, but I really liked the use of fresh mint in this drink which gave a more grown up flavour to what could have been just a fruity blend.
When my sushi salad arrived I could have dived into it before it was placed on the table. It really did look terrifically appetising: fresh and colourful with vibrant colours and healthy ingredients. The bowl was lined with sushi nori (the drak green sheets of seaweed that are used to make sushi rolls) and the salad was made up of things like baby leaf spinach, avocado, grated mooli (a peppery white radish used a lot in Japanese cooking, but also frequently in Indian dishes), and mango. I was unsure about the mango when I read the description but it goes well with the spinach and it also balances the very hot dressing which is made using wasabi (a very hot root used in Japanese cooking, usually as a relish for sushi). The dressing was rather hot but if you are a frequent consumer of sushi you're probably familiar with it; it's a different kind of heat from chili heat and something of an acquired taste so if you've not tried wasabi before, you might not want to pay £10.25 for your first try. There was plenty of lovely smoked salmon in the salad, I'd really not expected there to be quite so much and it appeared to be pretty good quality with no odd bones and no brown bits. The sushi rice was just cooked and along with the toasted sesame seeds that were scattered over the salad, it added another interesting texture to the dish. I loved this dish and thought it was a brilliant mixture of textures, colours and flavours.
Giraffe serves what they call 'stacked' burgers, which means that as well as the burger there are lots of other fillings crammed in between the two pieces of bun. In this case there was succulent and sweet grilled red pepper, grated beetroot, halloumi and rocket. It wasn't the easiest thing in the world to eat but the combination of ingredients was great with an explosion of flavours in every bite. The falafel themselves were perfectly spiced and crammed with vibrant spices and fresh herbs. They had been cooked to crispness before the burger was assembled and remained crisp in spite of the other ingredients in the bun. The harissa was served separately in a small ceramic bowl, a good idea as not everyone enjoys this very fiery condiment. Himself added some to his burger and dipped some of his fries in the rest. The harissa was indeed hot and spicy but you could still make out the individual spices in the blend as well as a subtle smokiness which went well with the burger nature of the dish. The fries were nicely cooked and there was just the right amount to go with the burger: all in this was a good meal for the price.
Staff made enough checkbacks to show they were keen to provide a good customer focussed experience without hanging around when not wanted. Desserts were suggested (but declined as the main courses were very satisfying) and additional drinks suggested. The staff are clearly trained to upsell but we didn't feel like it was a hard sell at all.
It's rare that we would eat a full meal like this at the airport; if we buy anything it's usually a Boots' meal deal to eat on the 'plane'. However, I would certainly eat at this or any other branch of Giraffe in the future based on this very positive experience. It's not cheap by any means but the choices are original and exciting and the food quality is excellent.