Manchester Evening News

THE NOODLE HUT CAUSING A BIG STIR

JENNA CAMPBELL HEADS SOUTH FOR AUTHENTIC THAI DISHES

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IN WYTHENSHAW­E’S Civic Centre – the heart of Manchester’s largest district – jutting out in front of Iceland supermarke­t and The Works, sits a long grey wooden shack. The owners of this establishm­ent have never been busier.

Owned and run by Rabbie Promnat and her partner Mike, the aptly named Rabbie’s Noodle Hut does exactly what it says on the tin – or in this case, its shack.

Walk through the precinct and you’ll quickly pick up on an array of Thai aromas wafting through the air – from the tangy perfume of tamarind and pungent fish sauce to the heady and floral fragrance of star anise.

Rabbie, originally from Thailand, moved to the UK via Holland more than 20 years ago, went to university here and became a quantity surveyor. However, when she was made redundant during the pandemic, she quickly found herself reconnecti­ng with her roots.

Having grown up watching her mother cook traditiona­l Thai dishes, many of these staples were passed down to her – it would just be some years later before she would share her own cooking skills with others.

In 2020, armed with those recipes, she gained the permission of the Wythenshaw­e Civic Centre to launch her own dining concept, but rather than take on a unit, she built her own hut in her back garden, creating just enough space for her kitchen and a serving hatch, and opened it in the middle of the shopping centre.

Mike, who would later become her partner, came across the noodle hut as he scoped out the area following a move to Wythenshaw­e from Scotland. “I met Rabbie six months after she opened the first one, which was down by Specsavers, it was right in the middle, much smaller and designed for her to work on her own,” he reflects.

“When I met Rabbie I was one of her customers at first. The first thing I do when I come to a new city is I find a good car and motorcycle garage, and an Asian eatery – and this was the first place I found. It was so good I was going back everyday and because it wasn’t super busy at the start we would just sit and chat and eventually we got together.

“Then I started helping her on my days off as I’m a nurse at Wythenshaw­e and work a lot of night shifts. At first it didn’t really seem like a big deal as we didn’t have loads of customers, and it was just nice to be able to spend time together.

“But about 18 months into Rabbie running it a lot of customers, many from Hong Kong, started to trickle in. It was one day in April 2021, we didn’t have any seating other than some chairs outside and then out of nowhere there were around twenty people queuing and we weren’t ready at all.

“We drove to Costco that evening, bought portable tables and chairs, picked up our gazebo from home, and built from there. It was crazy every day, we went from around 20 customers a day to upwards of 80.”

Having built up a strong bond with their customers, particular­ly those who have moved from Hong Kong and settled in Greater Manchester, Mike and Rabbie found that it was their authentic cooking and commitment to serving up a small, but carefully considered menu, that kept people coming back.

“We’ve asked a lot of our customers from Hong Kong about what draws them to us here in Wythenshaw­e and all of them say it’s because they like Thai food,

Mike but also they follow recommenda­tions from their peers off of Hong Kong forums. It’s word-of-mouth really,” says Mike. “We also have an exceptiona­lly high quality, we pride ourselves in it and it’s probably to our detriment because we lose money by keeping standards high, but it’s not all about that is it. It’s about providing a great experience, and we’ll never serve something that we wouldn’t eat ourselves.” In December 2022 they decided it was time for an upgrade as they looked to create a space for their loyal customers to sit and enjoy their lunch. “One reason was that I kept smacking my head on the hut because Rabbie built the original for herself,” Mike laughs.

“We closed just before Christmas and then built this place from scratch by ourselves from the ground up including the structure, roof and walls, and the electrics were done by our friend. We use portable gas and barrelled water, so it’s very improvised in some ways. We re-opened further down the street in February 2023 and since then we have had a lot of customers, a mix of British and people from Hong Kong.

“We have to fund it all ourselves in terms of bricks and mortar, but it’s counted as a portable unit so you avoid things like business rates, so your outgoings and rent tend to be lower, which allows us to sell to customers at a cheaper price. We had the opportunit­y to go into a unit, but we decided to rebuild [the hut] even though it was freezing last January and hard work, because it’s got an unique selling point, we’re really proud of it.

“We work really hard and we spend about 80 hours a week here and probably only get around £4 an hour after all the costs are taken out, but you get that strong feeling of pride that makes you want to come in and do it again every day.”

Step over the threshold and it’s almost like entering the Tardis – from outside you would never think they could fit so much in. As well as a small kitchen space where Rabbie, and their other cook Candy, who is originally from Hong Kong, tend to the noodles and fresh soups, the hut features a small dining room, with just about enough space for 20 people.

Homely and down-to-earth, Rabbie and Mike have worked together to make their small hut a haven for their customers, carefully picking out lighting and art for the walls, while the table and chairs are tightly packed in, reinforcin­g that feeling of community between their customers.

The day we visit, a young boy and his mum are grabbing their lunch together and having a lively

All of Rabbie’s cooking skills have come from when she was growing up in Thailand

conversati­on with Mike, who seems to have built up a strong rapport with them both. Then there’s a couple who live nearby who have popped down for some chicken and rice, joking with each other about Mike and Rabbie’s cheeky cat. You can’t fake connection­s like this, the strong sense of community is palpable.

A lot of their success is down to Mike serving as the hut’s gracious host, but as he admits, the real star of the show, the glue binding it all together, is Rabbie’s cooking.

A chalkboard in the dining room features street food classics like the stir-fried noodle dish pad Thai, which, if you peek through to the kitchen you can see Rabbie cooking as she adds beansprout­s, noodles and various meat and vegetables to the large wok. The vegetarian pad Thai costs just just £6, while the beef, chicken and tofu variation is £8.50 – there’s so much you’ll have enough to take home for tea.

The noodle soup is an instant antidote to the winter blues, a simple base of stock, water, cloves and sugar cane is carefully built upon with additions like mouli, a type of white radish that’s adds a sweet and tangy aftertaste, while star anise and cinnamon balance it out.

Flank and brisket cuts of beef are both offered, and while they can be tricky to cook, they are some of the most flavoursom­e. Both are marinated and tenderised, making for the softest, and most delicious texture. When added to the soup, which Candy spends hours taking care of, you know you’re in for a real treat. There’s also the option of Hai Nan, a Thai take on the popular Hainanese chicken rice dish that’s extremely popular throughout Southeast Asia. The comforting dish is often served in makeshift street food stalls and can take on many guises, but in Rabbie’s case the succulent chicken thighs are served on a bed of ginger rice. She also offers beef flank with rice and grilled chicken – all have proven to be very popular.

“This might shock you but all of Rabbie’s cooking skills have come from when she was growing up in Thailand and just watching her mum cook and sampling it. She’s had no formal training and there are no strict recipes,” explains Mike.

“I don’t just say this because she’s my partner, but if you put any food in front of her she would turn it into a meal that would be better than one you had been cooking for 10 years. And she says ‘how can’t you do this,’ but honestly she’s just gifted at it.

“Being Scottish, I’ve made porridge every day for years, then one day she offered to make me oats having never cooked with them before. She threw together some oats and milk, nuts, fruit, and other bits, put it in front of me and it was honestly better than what I had been making for decades because she just has that knack for it.”

They don’t skimp on ingredient­s either. Mike has been known to cycle from Wythenshaw­e to Wing Yip supermarke­t in Ancoats early doors just to get the right beansprout­s. Some of the meat comes from Smithfield, where he’s built a strong relationsh­ip with producers – and as ever for Rabbie and Mike, it’s all about quality.

“The problem we have now, well it’s not a problem as such, but we want to expand, but our cooking relies on Rabbie, so finding someone who does what she can do, in the timeframe, is a limiting factor.”

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 ?? ?? Mike , Rabbie and Candy
Mike , Rabbie and Candy
 ?? ?? Rabbie at work in the hut
Rabbie at work in the hut
 ?? ?? Chicken soup
Chicken soup
 ?? ?? Prawn pad thai
Prawn pad thai
 ?? ?? Takeaway chicken pad thai
Takeaway chicken pad thai

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