People say, ‘do what you love’. For me, that equates to spending a Tuesday evening with Shab and the team at the iconic Bonani takeaway in Cheadle, open since 1984. Between the phone answering, coordination with the kitchen where his brother Mohamad Kofi is head chef, and bants with the many, many regulars – we chatted about Bonani’s story.
“So this was opened by Dad and uncle in 1984. Dad’s been a chef since the 1960s in the UK and they opened up here. They had it for a few years, then Dad fell ill and uncle wasn’t too good either, so my brother and myself took over and we’ve been here since ’89.
[Worth mentioning that Shab started when he was 16 so it’s safe to say his first job’s going pretty well.] With the food scene in Manchester exploding in recent years, why has Bonani been around and so popular for so long?
“Consistency. Hard work, looking after people. A lot of customers are more like friends. So, people whose dads started eating there in the 1980s, they’ve grown up with this food, and now their kids are coming in. It’s just an all-round family business I suppose, isn’t it?”
Being open for 37 years means Bonani has seen through the food fads of your parents’ youth. When their regulars started to request groundbreaking items such as Doner kebabs – ‘give us one of those little babies you do’ – and pizzas, Shab was receptive to the community input and added Kebab and Pizza sections to the menu.
While they have a cult following in Cheadle, I’ll be honest: a takeaway menu of behemoth proportions as Bonani’s could be a bit of a red flag to a passer-by. Rest assured though, what you get when you order from Bonani’s original menu is what you got in its early years – all in the name of consistency.
“We maintain that tradition, we make the same curries over and over and over again, and people like that and they come back. Our madras is the same ingredients as when my dad started making them in the 1960s.”
And oh, that madras. Watching the food as it’s freshly made, it’s easy to see why Bonani is such an institution. They don’t skimp on ingredients and everything smells insane – special shout-out to the 14/10 Jalfrezi, it’s just really really good. Shab relays orders from his regulars, adding the nuances like ‘extra coriander’ and ‘extra garlic’ and it’s clear he knows his crowd.
But it doesn’t just stop at the menu requests. Due to super-popular demand (it sounds like the people of Cheadle really know how to get shit done) Bonani is open on Christmas Day and apparently it gets rammo. An order of fragrant Garlic Chicken Curry with generous cloves glistening like jewels – easily my favourite curry of the evening – does sound a bit more appetising than dry turkey tbf.
The curries are what you’d expect of a traditional curry house, but done to the highest standard. For me though, it has to be the succulent, spiced, and just very red skewered meats: lamb chops, lamb shashlik, mahoosive chicken wings and seekh kebab are served with bhajis in the Tandoori Mixed Grill. And the fresh naan bread that’s expertly rolled out and then slapped to the side of the clay oven, bubbling and browning – I can’t. All hail the tandoor.
Hanging out in the takeaway was so much fun, and an insight into what makes this gem so popular. The food is great, and watching Shab interact on such a personal level with literally everyone who walked in is reminiscent of when you were a kid in the supermarket with your parents and they’d stop to chat with the whole neighbourhood doing their weekly shop.
Armed with a metric fucktonne of deliciousness, I employed the prescribed method of enjoying a meal from Bonani’s: at home with about 7 others, eating and sharing and talking over each other.
It used to be that Bonani was only available to take out, but true to form, Shab is ready to change things up again and says that Bonani will be available to order on Deliveroo. Don’t miss this.