I love these kind of days. The great bowl of sky is bright peacock blue and clear all the way across from one sky scrapper to the other. Only thin white streaks scud across as planes drift soundlessly from one destination to another. It is warm, not uncanny for this time of year but maybe for Manchester which will no doubt be entering rainy season before long lasting all the way to Christmas. Today, though, it is that perfect temperature, warm with a bracing wind. My long coat dances around my legs like a ball gown as I wander across the city. I am off to a bakery.
Manchester has been my home on and off since I was 19 when I moved here for university. Even so, I still don’t know it. University is a bubble; the Manchester I saw included the bars within easy walking distance from my front door, the nearest supermarket, and my university building. The rest of the actual city, the culture, the tram journeys, the suburbs, the surrounding country were part of the undiscovered land that unfortunately wasn’t on my radar whilst I hid in the library attempting to cut down my dissertation word count. My friend, Anthony, and I were frequent visitors of a bar called Font, renown for their bunting and £2 cocktails which probably contained next to no alcohol, and their addictive chilli chicken melts which Anthony inhaled in loving greed. Our distinct lack of imagination when it came to meals out, or dare I say it Anthony’s, not that I want to shift the blame but he really loved those chilli chicken melts, probably earned Font their weekly bonuses. At the time, though, I just couldn’t comprehend eating somewhere else, let alone leaving the small and grimy student suburb – the thought was frankly absurd. Font was the perfect place for our gossiping over skinny fries and milkshakes – Anthony’s hangover cure of choice.
Today is the day I plan to explore. It is not a task one can achieve in a day though I grant you. Each day off will give me an opportunity for a new gastronomic adventure and discover what Manchester has to offer.
Pollen bakery is hidden amidst the railway arches behind Piccadilly Station with a couple of wooden benches outside the unit for customers searching for sun. I arrive late in the day so there are no fiendish pastries left (note to self – get up earlier) so my eyes are drawn to some jaw-dropping loaves sitting perky and proud on the shelves. There are a couple of rye loaves with dark crisp crusts, but like a magnet I am pulled towards a straight sided loaf, so smart and precise in its shape, covered in colourful seeds. It’s like a strict headmistress wearing a suit made of glitter. This is the bakery’s 5 Seed Sour, made with wholemeal and stuffed with seeds. The crumb is dense and salty, perfect for a sharp marmalade and crumbly cheese. I buy it and it’s handed to me in a paper bag, and I leave feeling incredibly mature that I just bought bread from an actual bakery.
Now, I need to buy cake. The Northern Quarter is bursting with tea shops, cafes, artisan delis but I know where I’d like to go. BonBon Chocolat Boutique has always caught my eye thanks to its Gothic gloom; the black walls, the Day of the Dead skulls, the dim glow from the lamps illuminating the truffles, chocolates and cakes. There is no innocence to chocolate here. The weather is growing warmer and as I step into the shop I spot a sign for ice creams. Perfect! While chatting to the girl serving me, I ask for an ice cream recommendation and she suggests Sticky Toffee Pudding. I leave with a box of squidgy flourless chocolate cake and a large cupful of rich and caramelly ice cream and which I slurp up happily as I make my way home.