I have, for quite a long time now, allowed a gnawing resentment to fester regarding the status of lunch in the daily mealtime hierarchy.
Dinner is the main event, it goes without saying. The meal which the entire day builds towards. Breakfast, meanwhile, not only gets the ‘Most Important Meal Of The Day’ honours bestowed upon it, it also benefits from the mountain of marketing fucking brunch has received over the last few years in a way that lunch most certainly fucking does not.
Brunch is, after all, just breakfast where you get a bit pissed, but with more potatoes involved. Sometimes you might have a bit more chorizo than you usually would of a regular morning as well. But, essentially, it’s buzzword bullshit that robs from two superior mealtimes to deliver a wholly underhwelming event involving too much hollandaise and some very fucking questionable mimosas. Yet where is the associated credit for lunch that breakfast enjoys so much of from this late 19th century portmanteau?
Lunch, it seems to me, is still treated like a working effort. It’s a mad dash to Tesco Express or Sainsbury’s Local for a meal deal that some arsehole in your office will then ‘hilariously’ slag off before you eat it in front of your computer. It’s a gap to be filled. Sometimes, obviously, you might make it to Morrison’s in Piccadilly Gardens and go fucking bananas on the salad bar or the hot counter before writing off the rest of the afternoon while doing that ‘definitely concentrating on some important work and not just shopping online for a new coat’ stare at your computer screen until the second the clock strikes five. You do you, king/queen.
Even if you swerve Morrison’s and go buck wild on jerk chicken and goat at the seminal Rita’s Reign in the Gardens, there’s still a good chance you’re getting pissed wet through in the process and still having to eat at your desk.
None of this feels leisurely, which is what every meal should be. All mealtimes should be a total detachment from work and the stress related to it. Of course, they unfortunately cannot always be that, but the intent should be there. And lunch should not be playing second fiddle to fucking brunch. I cannot stress that enough. A lovely late lunch with a few drinks that organically flows into an evening session is hands down better than trying to throw 14 glasses of Prosecco down your throat in the space of 90 minutes and subsequently wondering round the Northern Quarter absolutely trousered at one in the afternoon.
Which, I guess, brings me to the point of this article and the meal which solidified my impassioned belief that we are, all of us, deserving of a glamorous lunch every now and again. As a treat. To remind us all that our afternoon meal should not be for the sole intention of powering us through another three or four hours of mundanity. It can be a reason to luxuriate. A soiree through small plates and big wines. An ascent from a casual late afternoon into a hedonistic early evening.
So when I found myself hidden away from the bruised and fit-to-burst Manchester sky a few Saturday afternoons ago, sequestered in a corner of the astounding Another Hand on Deansgate Mews, observing chef Julian Pizer work his magic from just a matter of yards away, I knew there were few dining experiences which could deem themselves superior.
The restaurant itself radiates a Danish energy, all carefully curated and calm. Brickwork and bottles, industrial and artistic. The staff operate at a zenlike level which permeates through to the diners. Every table that is seated here during my two hour stay make a similar series of noises between pockets of conversation. Complete contentment with every sip from the spellbinding wine list. Astonished gasps and groans from half full mouths as the initial bites from each plate are devoured.
I find myself muttering the first of an under breath “fucking hell” as I dive into the halloumi, sourced from Martin Gott’s St.James farm in Cumbria, soaked in fermented honey. Between mouthfuls I knocked back a glistening, psychedelically tinted South African chilled red by the name of Pink Moustache, which I swear transforms shades in front of me like the innards of a lava lamp. Instantaneously I know this is the best halloumi I’ve ever sunk my teeth into, slicing it across Lavosh crackers and offering more delighted obscenities with every bite.
Then comes the lamb belly porchetta. Three very ‘you had my curiosity, but now you have my attention’ words if ever there were any. Then it arrives. A trio of discs has never appeared more enticing since you could buy GTA, GTA: London and GTA 2 in a single bundle for the old PS 1. My knife predictably doesn’t have to do much work here. The meat melts off the blade and then around my molars, that first hit knocking me west like the lad off Ratatouille when he has his first forkful. I could write 2,000 words on this plate alone and every single word would be “FUCK”, like McNulty and Bunk examining a west Baltimore crime scene.
The accompanying kohlrabi salad should not merely be treated as a supporting cast member, either. It packs it’s own punch that doesn’t just serve to cut through the furiously good flavour of the lamb, but elevate the dish with the contrast between crisp and juicy, fresh and fatty (in the best way).
On the other half of my table sit the fried potatoes, replete with soft herbs, gordal olives and labneh. Crispier than a bag of McCoys on the outside, fluffier than a newborn penguin on the inside, rounded off with the enticing tang of the labneh, which I liberally smother on each bite, transporting myself from Manchester to the Middle East via the Mediterranean between both plates.
Then my gastronomic odyssey hits Basque Country, and a burnt cheesecake that will make you want to book a flight to Bilbao the second it brushes your lips. This is paired with an unexpected dessert wine that made my tongue and inner cheeks go berserk. If you, like me, ordinarily stay clear of dessert wines because they’re for eccentric old psychopaths, rethink everything. Both my waiter, Matthew, and Julian himself wax lyrical about it to me as an atomic bomb of flavour detonates across every tastebud on my tongue.
Next to my final triumphant glass of chilled red the pair of wines looks like a Fruit Salad sweet too, which is obviously a great quality in a restaurant teeming with nothing but great qualities.
Four glasses, four plates and two hours deep and I am spent. The South African wine swirling round my body has me ever so slightly paranoid that I am beginning to look a bit insane, but not enough that I actually care about how I look. A solo lunch for the ages that has me laughing out loud at its depth and breadth of quality, care and attention. Seeing a chef of Julian Pizer’s quality work so close he may as well be performing ‘an audience with…’ is always an immense priviledge. He elegantly and patiently prepares, plates and serves his dishes directly to each table. This is cooking in which, clearly, enormous pride is taken in producing, with enormous pleasure being taken in consuming.
I barrel out onto Deansgate Mews wanting to tell everyone I come across about the meal I just had. The four glasses of wine probably have something to do with my excitability, but nevertheless, I feel it important to spread the word of what is going on behind an unassuming set of doors just behind the Great Northern Warehouse. Obviously, given Another Hand has already been the very worthy recipient of Manchester Food and Drink Festival’s ‘Restaurant Of The Year’ award, word has already long since spread, but even more shouting from the rooftops can’t hurt.
The staff all assure me the evening menu is where it’s at and I am safe in the knowledge, after only a handful of plates from the daytime offering, that it is indeed next level. But this is a love letter to lunch, and with that being said, I implore every single person who reads this to swerve the pockets of Big Brunch, if only for one weekend, and glow up your lunch instead.