Not everyone is familiar with Manchester. Dear reader, I am your guide so please pull up a chair. Manchester has been my home for the last eight years; we have a fickle relationship where I determinedly leave for pastures elsewhere and then she beckons her finger like a beguiling temptress and I come crawling back. This time, however, I have packed my meagre possessions and driven away with no plans to return. The Manchester chapter has ended, and, after all this time, I am sorry to leave. Even though I won’t miss the skyline of cranes and the constant drizzle, there is a great deal I have come to love about this city. For instance, the glass-domed library, the artwork splashed across buildings in the Northern Quarter, and the old red brick mills.
Manchester is a proud city, aware of its history and musical culture. Here you can be yourself yet this has, naturally, led to a hub of hipsters, more so than London – unbelievable, I know. Aside from the men sporting moustaches and cropped trousers, within the food scene veganism is on the rise and specialist coffee shops suddenly crop up like daisies. As the only major city in England without a Michelin star, Manchester seems almost defiant, instead focusing on street food pop ups, food fairs and independent cafes utilising large industrial spaces with bare brick walls. Admittedly, this can slip into cliché, if it weren’t for the food.
While living in this northern cultural hub I tended to eat in. A chef’s salary occasionally means no fun allowed so food adventures were cheaply found at home instead. Therefore I didn’t venture to all the restaurants on my list, for example, I yearn to one day eat at the much-acclaimed Where The Light Gets In, or stop for dinner at The Creameries and the recently applauded The Sparrows. So, while reading this tribute to Manchester’s upcoming food scene, please take it with a pinch of salt. Much like my similar list of London eateries, these are eight of my favourites.
Thank you, Manchester. You have fed me well these last eight years. Those other pastures are calling my name so while Manchester goes from strength to strength I will be gallivanting around Mexico, a taco in each hand, and covered in factor 50 sun cream. I have to maintain this pallor somehow. Adiós!
To kick things off is an old friend from London. When I last visited Dishoom in Carnaby we ordered too much and Fiona took the leftovers home in a doggy bag. I promised myself I would finish that dinner when Dishoom opened in Manchester and, I’m happy to say, boy did I keep that promise. The food is delicious and plentiful – yes, once again we over-ordered – and the no-bookings system has been streamlined. Although you still need to queue outside, it’s not for long until you are hurried to a table in the bar and drinks are delivered by a smiling waiter. After a couple of gulps of beer you are whisked into the cathedral-sized dining room bedecked with regal portraits and stained glass windows. There we tucked into succulent grilled chicken, lamb shank biryani hidden under a lid of buttery puff pastry, and Dishoom’s famous black daal.
32 Bridge St, Manchester M3 3BT
If you find yourself mooching along the canal in Ancoats you are sure to find Pollen Bakery. You don’t expect to see an artisan bread maker in a marina but hey ho, this is Manchester after all! Pollen sells sourdough and rye loaves, cakes and buttery pastries, including their famous stuffed cruffins, and also offer an in-house brunch menu of poached eggs or tiramisu French toast. I’ve had the pleasure of devouring one of their handmade brie, grape and pickled celery sandwiches as a quick lunch on the go, and please try their pastries – flaky crisp layers of puff pastry, and you can practically smell the butter. Speaking of butter, they sell the tangy, cultured butter from Fen Farms Dairy that I have lovingly savoured then sobbed for when finished. And with that, they won me over.
Cotton Field Wharf, 8 New Union St, Manchester M4 6FQ
MyThai was an unexpected gem. Nestled in the depths of the Northern Quarter it’s a restaurant you could accidentally stumble across after drinks nearby. The shopfront is unassuming yet its extensive menu immediately draws you in as every single dish contains something mouth-watering, such as crispy duck, spicy lemongrass broth, chilli and lime dressing. Inside, there are no pretences – MyThai is what it is. My friends and I crowded around a table near the open kitchen and we could hear the sizzle of cooking meat and the crashing of pans. Food is served on inelegant plastic plates and bowls, like cheap picnic-ware, and rice is presented in a retro moulded cone, but that is easily forgiven because the flavours are exquisite.
G19, Smithfield Buildings, 42 Tib St, Manchester M4 1LA
It’s no secret that I love pub grub. A cosy pub complete with a bottle of wine for two, a glowing fire and warm food is a dreamy way to spend a winter’s afternoon, and every now and then I find a pub which delivers this fantasy of mine. Call me what you will but I have standards, people. The Wharf was a local favourite both in winter with its alcoves, soft light and wingback armchairs, and the summer thanks to the bustling beer garden. Although you can go drastically wrong with classic pub food, this pub delivers what it promises, including sausages, buttery mash and onion gravy, and those staple Thai starters such as sesame prawn toasts with sweet chilli. Time slips by as you sip wine and share a bowl full of sticky toffee pudding in the warm glow of The Wharf.
6 Slate Wharf, Manchester M15 4ST
A few years ago, just after New Year’s Day, Calum and I uncharacteristically whiled away the day at the spa. (It was a Christmas present, ok, we were supposed to be mudding but ended up sitting in a tiny shower cubical covered in salt body scrub, not quite the indulgence I had in mind.) On our way home we spontaneously stopped for dinner. Don Marco kept on catching my eye, which isn’t hard amidst all the grey buildings in Deansgate, but its Italian al fresco dining area scattered with heaters pumping out warmth was enough to make me insist we stop for a plate of pasta. There is something so comforting about a warm restaurant, the room scented with garlic, and a bowl full of fresh pasta ribbons coated in rich wild boar ragù. Even though you can rustle up a mean carbonara at home for a fraction of the cost, the ambience and geniality of Don Marco makes you wish your own dining room was a cosy Italian trattoria.
1-3 Campfield Avenue Arcade, Manchester M3 4FH
This restaurant is a secret. Just off Albert’s Square is a door leading to a descending staircase; the hidden entrance to Armenian Taverna. I have visited twice, the first time before their refurbishments when it really was a pokey little taverna with scarlet painted walls, and black and white photographs of all their celebrity guests. Since then, however, it’s had a face lift sparking confusion when I arrived with my friend, Georgie, and I honestly thought we’d walked into the wrong restaurant. Now it is sleek with gold walls, shiny white table cloths and even sparkling gold cutlery. Luckily, the food hasn’t changed! Similar to Persian cuisine, Armenian food includes juicy grilled kebabs, koftes, herby tabbouleh and their own lavash flatbread. We gorged ourselves on huge mezze platters of falafel, yershig sausage, and baba ganoush and hummus before tucking into Armenian grilled meats for main courses and then waddling home.
3-5 Princess St, Manchester M2 4DF
Much like other restaurants on this list, you could simply pass the front door of Bundobust without realising, eyes sliding from Subway on the left to the photo shop on the right. The door is scuffed and patched with wooden slats. The only indication of the restaurant beyond is a luminous green sign showing an outstretched tiger. Styled like a canteen, long sharing tables stretch the length of the room. My friend, Amber, and I squashed onto the benches to eat the Indian street food served in paper tubs, greedily slurping the tarka daal with plastic spoons, pulling chunks of paneer and grilled mushrooms off the kebabs and sharing the last spoonfuls of their salty, sweet bundo chaat. Street food doesn’t require manners.
61 Piccadilly, Manchester M1 2AG
Bab is hidden down a dodgy side road in the Northern Quarter. Find it if you dare. Bab serves kebabs. Not just any kebabs, these are posh kebabs that require a knife and fork. Vast, fluffy flatbreads are adorned with a pile of colourful toppings and sauces. My friend, Frida, and I started slowly, opting to share olives, hummus and feta along with a kebab packed with chilli-flecked halloumi. Before long we were wolfing down the floppy flatbread with little dignity, and days later we were still reminiscing about that halloumi – enough so for me to go again. This time I changed course, choosing kebabs with charred monkfish and couscous, and lamb and feta, finished with sharp radicchio. Much like most of Manchester’s fare, Bab is messy, greasy, and finger-lickingly good food.
14 Little Lever St, Manchester M1 1HR
Rudy’s Pizza, Trove, Asha’s, Soup Kitchen, Mowgli’s Street Food, The Art of Tea, Hispi, Sugo’s Pasta Kitchen, Erst, The White Hart at Lydgate