Plaza café, Manchester

Plaza 01

If only it still existed. A legend in the 1970s, this small Somali café, run by Charlie Ali, was open until 4 am, serving a range of simple curries at modest prices. At the height of its popularity, the speciality was Chicken Biryani which came with very yellow rice, raw onions in a tomato paste, and the special sauce. This was ordered as hot, very hot and suicidal. Apparently they also did a beef version, but there seemed some doubt about the provenance of the beef, so chicken was the safer option.

In order to add to the Biryani lore I recall the onion dish had a red spice paste on it. The infamous sauce was a thin grey/brown (khaki?) gravy, possibly of lentils and maybe other vegetables, with a layer of iridescent oil floating on top. It had a red glow, I think, but that may just be a false alcohol induced memory. Anyway, the hotter the sauce the thicker the layer of red oil so I suspect it consisted of oil infused with red chilli – the more the hotter! We often joked about the chicken being Alsatian. A 9 shilling portion was enough for 2 people with the chicken and rice being served together in a large pile on an oval platter. Happy days!

Now, the portions were large and so you always ordered a half-biryani; to order anything else was to endanger life. Cost about 4 shillings and sixpence, or 22.5p in new money. A whole one was the outrageous price of 9 shillings [45p]. We lived quite close by in Alexandra Park, and this was a regular haunt. One evening the police were outside questioning a student. One of the upper floor windows opened, where there were more tables, and a glass of water poured out onto the police below. The police rushed up the stairs, but all the water glasses were empty…

Not for the faint hearted, but loved by its regulars.

There’s a new place opened now, run by Carlie’s daughter Farida and her husband, called Buzzrocks.

The Plaza on Upper Brooke Street

The Plaza on Upper Brooke Street

The menu - 1980s prices but the same choice

The menu – 1980s prices but the same choice


11 responses to “Plaza café, Manchester

  1. I used to eat there regularly in the mid 70’s as a student. As I recall it there were six strengths of sauce: mild,medium,strong, extra strong, suicide and killer.I used to like strong (seemed to have extra flavour and complexity!?), but never tried the hottest three. People who had taken drink to excess used to do silly things like drinking the sauce for a bet.
    We were never sure whether it was actually chicken, but I never had any issues after eating there, and Charlie was a lovely character. The rice was very yellow (turmeric rather than saffron I guess!) Excellent poppadoms too.

    • Went regularly between 1968-71, especially in ’71 as I lived around the corner in Dickenson Rd. Great cafe, though I don’t remember there being different curry sauce strengths on offer! It was always just a half chicken biryani for me, always tasted fabulous. I remember the rumours of it not really being chicken but never suffered any after effects. Did have a strange tasting “chicken soup” once, just once. Those were the days.

  2. As medical students we used to eat regularly at the Plaza, not deterred by the comment written on the back of a cubicle door in the male student’s toilets at the Manchester Royal Infirmary across the road which warned “have you got the Plaza tangle this morning?”

  3. I ate there many times between 1972 & 1976 – always the fabled 1/2 chicken biryani with killer sauce.
    I have just returned (today) from Manchester with the last of three (of five) children’s belongings each of whom have graced the portals of Manchester University (two linguists one chemist) and by chance drove along Upper Brook Street. Amazingly, after 43 years absence on my part I was pretty sure I recognised the spot and comparing the 1979 picture with today’s Google earth image it would appear that the old haunt is now a dodgey looking ‘Florida Fried Chicken’ establishment. Good to see that it continues to uphold the fine tradition of food for the masses…

  4. I seem to recall there was one level above suicide – “cremation”. But my eyes were streaming at medium.

    • Don’t ever recall hearing ‘cremation’ – my memory of the name of the hottest was ‘killer’ as mentioned above, but (oral traditions being flexible things) it’s perfectly possible that this was a variation.
      Dan the man.

  5. A student there from 1976 to 1980 I recall fondly the suicide sauce on the chicken biriani. That red ‘sheen’ has been drunk by the drunk on more than one occasion. (me). I can also proudly boast that said cafe even featured in the best man’s speech given by my brother as he referred to the groom having fallen asleep face down in the ‘pillow’ rice on his stag night. Happy and simpler days indeed. Bat.

  6. I was a student in Manchester in early 70s & remember the Plaza, often visiting early hours of Sunday & Thursday. Byriani was great, my favourite Indian dish ever since. I remember the bacon & cabbage as well. Another favourite dish was liver & chips, an odd dish to be served at an Indian restaurant. I shudder to think what animal the liver came from. Never did me any harm though

  7. Used to frequent this cafe as a student late 70s and early 80s. Never went more than a hot myself and my eyes were streaming. Absolutely a mountain of bright yellow turmeric rice everyone called pillow…lol. I had a couple of male friends and a brother who managed to master one of the killer sauces and if you could finish it all (heaps of the stuff) you were presented with a tee shirt emblazoned with “Suicide Sauce Survivor”, they were worn at Uni as a badge of honour! I recall all the kitchen staff would come out to watch and make sure you had eaten it all! Then a round of applause before the reckless one would head off super quick to the loo!
    Most folk only ever ordered a half portion as the portions were huge server in tin bowls. Everything was on the generous side, including the warm welcome from Charlie and staff. Only water to drink in opaque (from use) plastic ‘glasses . What was great was the times it was open. You could go out for a while night to the clubs or Shebeens and get a curry at the Plaza after luck by out time! Happy daze! 😉

  8. 1979-1981 had many a happy night at “The Plaza” usually turning up around 2am.
    We even played cards with Charlie a few nights.

  9. Pingback: Moss Side — from no-go zone to culinary hotspot - Hyphen·

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s