Mending Mental Health in Manchester’s Hospitality Sector

“I was working 60-70 hours a week, taking a hell of a lot of drugs, not eating a lot and I did that process for 10 years of my life. I suppose to some people I seemed successful because I was always in a new city, in a new venue. I wasn’t though, I was running away. I was hoping that if I changed to a new environment, to a new city, that my reality would change. But it didn’t, because I had these destructive habits that I would take with me.

– Paddy Howley, So Let’s Talk

To the overwhelming majority of hospitality workers, the above quote will, unfortunately, feel all too familiar, whether it applies directly to them or one (or several) of their friends and colleagues. As passionately as many champion the industry, there is also the growing recognition that an overhaul in its approach to mental health and wellness is drastically needed.

Publicly, Covid has pummelled restaurants, bars and pubs in a manner akin to Ivan Drago slaughtering Apollo Creed in the opening round of Rocky IV. The takings that have been lost coupled with the lack of monetary support from government an obvious, non-stop battering played out before a nation’s very eyes in the news and on social media. Yet behind the scenes, the emotional drain has been exacerbated beyond breaking point, with already very fragile workers leaving the industry in droves, unable to withstand another series of body blows in a sector that, even during the golden periods, demands an ungodly amount from those who serve within it.

Paddy Howley spent 16 years in hospitality, from glass collecting in a working men’s club in his hometown of Burnley to successfully managing and consulting for a number of venues across the country. His expertise was constantly in high demand and he earned well because of it. Yet his earnings brought him no stability or security. Quite the opposite, in fact. Instead Paddy bounced between rented accommodations while using his pay packets to finance the purchase of the substances that fuelled every single one of his 12-16 hour shifts. Unsurprisingly, it was not a lifestyle built for longevity.

Tucked into a booth at the rear of Albert Schloss’ sprawling, Bavarian influenced beer hall, Paddy is accompanied by documents on his screen and on the table in front of him. He sips a ruby red mocktail and, though his current workload is clearly still mountainous, it is one that evidently provides him with a great deal more contentment than his decade-and-a-half in the trade. This is because his work now is helping those within the industry, the people he once worked with. The people he once was.

Just over two years ago, Paddy founded So Let’s Talk, an organisation ‘on a mission to 86 the silence’ because, while giant strides are being made to shine a light on mental health issues within society and cease the stigma surrounding them, the same advances have not been replicated within hospitality, where heads are resolutely kept down, wary of upsetting the combustible head chef or exhaustively figuring out ways to keep the creditors from the door. It is a work-life imbalance Paddy knows all too well.

“I was given the opportunity to be a general manager when I was 20,21,” Paddy recalls, shooting an almost painful smile across his face as he delves back to the formative days of what would become a decade long cycle of almost catastrophic excess. “It was at Posh nightclub in Burnley and I had no real right to be in that position at that point in time. I was way too young. And with that job came some really destructive habits. My recreational drug use from a young age was through the roof. I had a really unhealthy relationship with alcohol.

“The most destructive thing was, if I wasn’t in work serving drinks, I was outside of work spending more money than I had on drink and drugs with people who do the same thing for a living. I used to see the industry as a lifestyle, not a job. I used to introduce myself as my title, so I’d be like ‘I’m Paddy the GM of…’ and I had zero disconnect from my job with my real life.

After almost 10 years of drinking, smoking and snorting his way across a variety of North West establishments, Paddy found himself back home in Burnley, physically and emotionally at odds with the apparent success he was supposed to be luxuriating in.

“Towards the back end of 2019 is how the catalyst of So Let’s Talk came about. I got the opportunity to work at a pop-up bar in Manchester over the Christmas period. They asked me to come in as a consultant, write a cocktail menu, train the team, take as much money as I physically could. Then they go ‘right, here’s five AFD’s (All Fucking Day) back-to-back’, so that’s five 16 hour shifts back-to-back. But instead of going home after those, I’d go out, stick loads of drugs up my nose, drink far too much alcohol and turn up to my shift like nothing had happened. That was normal for me. Nobody recognised that I wasn’t compos mentis. Not one person noticed that I was in a real dark stage at that point in time. After those five days I went home to my mum’s spare room, I was in between rented accommodation and, for the first time in my life, I had suicidal ideations.

“I checked my salary for the year. I worked out I’d spent 65% of my salary on drugs and alcohol. I’d flirted with the idea of leaving the trade before but always come back and this time I was like ‘shit, I need to leave’. So I left. I went to an AA meeting, worked out it was an unhealthy relationship to alcohol and drugs and not an addiction and I went sober.

That Paddy’s lifestyle is one that has become cliché for the industry is a damning indictment of the entire sector. The ‘burning the candle at both ends’ mentality has been treated as the norm within the restaurant business for far too long. Coupled with zero hour contracts and decision makers who care only about bottom lines rather than the people who’s graft contributes to the numbers atop those lines, it’s no wonder why half of hospitality workers suffer from some form of mental health issue (the statistic was one in three at the beginning of the pandemic, according to numbers Paddy himself provides me with).

The lack of help that was available lit a fire within Paddy that led to the foundation of SLT.

“The conversation around mental health didn’t exist. Until around a year or 18 months ago did I start talking to businesses who had a budget for health and wellbeing. It was never a fucking thing before. Also now we’ve got a whole new generation of hospitality professionals who are asking questions during the interview process, about work-life balance, what the benefit structure looks like, is there inclusivity and diversity within the business? None of this existed until very recently.

“I got paid in a brown envelope every week and spent it all on drugs and alcohol. So the change has been huge but for me what is blatantly obvious is there was a lack of education or care. We would wear badges of honour for our destructive habits. A lot of it was celebrated. It’s not cool and it’s not sustainable to be competing over how many hours a week you’ve worked. If you drunk a bottle of tequila and still turned up for your open, you were a trooper. Even the language, ‘you’re a trooper’, is used so heavily within the industry. You’re not going to fucking war, you’re serving food and drinks.

– Paddy Howley

But even with the conversation around mental wellbeing becoming more prominent between the workforce and their bosses, a hair raising February exposé published by The Mill, about the alleged behaviour of Mana’s Michelin Star adorned leader Simon Martin laid bare a workplace culture so inhumanely toxic (liquid nitrogen laced assaults and live animal beheadings were just a couple of the disturbing allegations to emerge from the account) that the systemic barbarism of the professional kitchen that has been allowed to flourish for generations was finally discussed in the open to such a serious extent that it felt impossible to ignore any longer.

In a world where customers are more inclined to avoid establishments where bullying and harassment cultures are fostered and staff are mistreated with regards to pay, perks and hours, the disconnect between owners/investors and those on the ground is in dire need of recalibration. Not to mention how the past 24 months has seen staff leave the industry in droves, with little desire to return once restrictions were lifted and businesses reopened. It is a dilemma Paddy is keen to rectify.

“We have much more conscious consumerism nowadays. People will read that article about Mana and not go and eat there. I wouldn’t.

“The long term goal for So Let’s Talk is to create a health and wellbeing rating for the industry, like the food hygiene rating. It’s one of the biggest things that we’re looking at creating. The reason being is that recruitment is such a challenge in the industry at the moment. It’s not because no one wants to work in hospitality, it’s because they don’t want to work in the hospitality industry that we’ve created. They don’t want the archaic styles of the past.

– Paddy Howley

“People during lockdown had a chance to connect with themselves again and they were saying ‘I’ve not read a book in seven years’ or ‘I’ve not had a home cooked meal in three months’ because of working in the industry. So they’ve thought about how they can earn the same money but have the free time and they’ve gone ‘well I’ll go work in a different industry’

“Deloitte came out with a study that revealed that for every £1 you invest in health and wellbeing you receive on average £5 on your bottom line. It’s so obvious. But then you look at staff turnover and it’s 100% plus in so many venues. How is that a viable business model nowadays?

Of course, with more progressive and open minded individuals owning and operating start ups and independent venues across the city there are plenty of places where the wellness of workers is a priority rather than a bonus. Living wage offerings are, thankfully, becoming more commonplace when job vacancies are shared. There are owners who actively take an interest in the people they employ to represent and better their businesses. But as Paddy tells me, generational gaps still exist and are still far too intrinsically embossed into the fabric of the trade.

“It’s wild to me that it’s 2022 and we’re still having the same conversation about whether happy and healthy people are more profitable.

– Paddy Howley

“It’s challenging at times because generations blame each other and a lot of the business owners and board members in hospitality are white, male boomers and if they’re making decisions about a business that is full of Gen Z’s and Gen Y’s it’s dangerous, because the boomers are saying the Gen Z’s and Y’s are entitled snowflakes who have never done a hard day’s work in their life and then the other way is the young workers, who are making the money and working at a grassroots level are calling the owners bigots who have ruined the environment and the economy. 

“So when you have a blame culture like that, no conversation happens and when a decision is made, it’s the people at the top deciding what they think their team needs. Some businesses go a step further and initiate the conversation but then only listen to reply not to understand.

Are you giving your teams what they need or what you think they need?

– Paddy Howley

“One of the questions we ask bosses now is ‘what’s your email culture like? Do you receive and reply to emails at 3am? If you do, what does that say to your team? That they always have to be on 24/7? Is it not better for you and your team to create boundaries around your time so they don’t look at you and think that’s what they have to do to get to that position.

As attempts are made to bring about an understanding between generations there will, of course, be resistance from some, unwilling to believe that the problems that have plagued the past are actually of any genuine significance. The macho culture of kitchens and bars, where aggressively charged attitudes and military level discipline tag teams with debilitating substance abuse and alcohol addiction, is a needless charade that has been far too damaging for far too long. Talented chefs, bakers, bartenders and waiting staff have seen anxieties and depression accelerated towards headfirst crashes from which some, tragically, never recover.

The hospitality industry thrives on hard work, of course. And even in the most serene of destinations, there are going to be shifts that leave staff stressed, cursing those ignorant guests or perhaps a colleague who’s ideas have clashed with their own. Nowhere can be a utopia 100 percent of the time. Yet conflict resolution and peace making processes can be positioned in the foreground more, rather than a last resort, as has so often been the case in the past, if they’ve even been utilised at all.

The cyclical nature of the volatile head chef ideology must, once and for all, be 86’d. Making your staff genuinely fearful for every shift renders any gastronomic ingenuity you may produce meaningless. What good is a scared shitless workforce? As an owner or investor, should you not be looking beyond the bottom line and the sparkling reviews and maybe understand what could be improved at a human level rather than a business one? Because at some point, that crash is coming. In some cases, maybe it isn’t for a few years, maybe that mind boggling level of staff turnover keeps the wheels spinning just enough to ensure it is easy to ignore just why it is that no fucker wishes to remain in your employ for much longer than a few months. But in the modern day, with so many establishments crumbling and so many more heartbroken ex-chefs wanting their horror stories to be heard, the crash is as habitual as the behaviour as those who have caused it.

“We now work with senior management teams within businesses” Paddy reveals, digging into the SLT work that has been so well received by almost 12,000 hospitality staff over the last two years. “We have conversations with them about what it takes to be a healthy business and what areas they might be lacking in, whether it be their team’s health or the environmental health of a business or anything like that. We educate and then with that education we have a session where we sit down with the decision makers in a company and tear apart their operations and put them back together in a healthy way, then the change is created from there. 

“I remember after I put the post on the Manchester Bars page, we had a meeting at Speak In Code where I just said ‘what are we gonna do? How are we going to change things?’ And it all came back to education. And that made me shiver, because I thought, if I’m a hungover, overworked, undernourished, underpaid, undervalued hospitality worker, I’m not gonna want to sit and listen to some ‘expert’ who’s never fucking worked in the industry talk to me about health and wellbeing. I’d just tell him to do one.

“What we did is, we said right, if we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do it properly and we’re gonna work with experts in their fields, but then we’re gonna take that information and we’ll evolve it to make it make sense to the industry, then our team is going to deliver it from a position of experience. So from an idea in my mum’s spare room, we’re now at a point where we’re helping thousands of people within hospitality.

Given the client list that SLT have now amassed (Common and their various associated venues, Mowgli, Soho House, The Alchemist and BrewDog are among those who have enlisted their services already) thanks to their education, events and sessions tailored around everything from weekly classes and workshops focused on financial and nutritional wellbeing to regular yoga sessions and live workouts, it would appear Paddy and his team have gone and done things properly as they initially set out to two years ago.

As Manchester moves into a post-covid period of further regeneration, with an increasing number of major establishments looking to make the city their home in the North, the number of new jobs created off the back of these openings will also mean more potential for cut throat atmospheres, with tens of millions of pounds being poured into new venues outside of London comfort zones and a soaring demand for instant success. Such investment in the city could, and hopefully should keep Paddy and his team busy for the foreseeable.

To find out more about So Let’s Talk and the incredible work and campaigns they’ve produced over the last two years, visit their website

Manchester for Ukraine Fundraiser 🇺🇦

We’ve partnered with some of Manchester’s venues and brands, to bring you a raffle, for which 100% of the proceeds will go towards helping Ukraine.

This will be done through Action Against Hunger’s Humanitarian appeal. Tickets are £15, which is enough to provide 15 hot meals for Ukrainian refugees.

Please click this link to enter the raffle: https://tinyurl.com/Mcrforukraine

PLEASE NOTE: You will contacted directly by the charity – ignore any contacts from outside of that organisation.

Campagna: The Creameries’ Ragu Based Renaissance

The time is approaching 11pm. I am, by this point, about a carafe-and-a-half of wine deep, exhaling contentedly and surveying a scene of half empty glasses and plates scattered with the remaining crumbs of hazelnut torte. Conversation around the table sways from Manchester United induced nervous breakdowns to how soul crushingly shit the new Matrix film was, via a multitude of banal, nonsensical other subjects inbetween. However far flung the inebriated talking of shite gets though, it still circles back to one evening defining constant. That fucking ragu.

Situated in the dining area of Chorlton’s Campagna (what was until very recently The Creameries), an eager gathering of press and media types have resolutely demolished the overhauled Southern European menu, the brainchild of chef Mike Thomas, inheriting the reins in the kitchen of the Wilbraham Road favourite from Mary-Ellen McTague, who is taking an incredibly well earned backwards step from food operations at the restaurant.

From moreish marinated Sicilian olives through to perfect, rosemary salt flecked panisse onwards towards blisteringly good roast candy beetroot and kohlrabi salad and a confit duck leg wit puy lentils that, during any other meal would emphatically, beyond a shadow of a doubt be the show stealing dish, it is the ragu, all sumptuous beef shin entwined with lustrous, freshly rolled ribbons of golden pappardelle, that dominates post-meal discussion and, as a result, will similarly dictate the direction of the remainder of this write up.

See, to fixate on one dish out of the six served may seem insulting to five lovingly crafted plates of expertly prepared Southern European cuisine, but this meat sauce mania is by no means a discredit to a menu that is a pint size parade of heavy hitters, each one an absolute victory of technique, taste and effortless simplicity. I would strongly urge anyone and everyone to make the pilgrimage to Chorlton to indulge in The Creameries’ shift away from taster menu (which, it has to be said, will still be sorely missed) to comforting, rural European cooking (as their instagram post states, ‘Tomato Europe’, not ‘Potato Europe’).

But back to the beginning. After a welcoming glass or two in the bar area, we’re invited to take our seats, being led past the open kitchen and, most importantly, the industrial size sheet pan heaving with freshly baked focaccia, the aroma of which wobbles the knees. It’s an uplifting warmth that stirs memories of weekends in Emilia-Romagna and Rome, capturing the scents of the cities at the crack of dawn as the sunlight begins to illuminate their ancient cobbles and brickwork. Campagna’s olive oil infused pillow, glistening under the moody radiance of the restaurant’s low level lighting, engulfs each table with a perfume fresh from the neighbourhood fornos of everywhere from Liguria to Puglia.

ART

The contrast of crunch and air pocketed, cloud like softness sets the stage for what will arrive in three courses time. Previously, in house sourdough had been produced and paired with cultured butters of varying flavour within The Creameries four walls to devastating effect, so it is a relief that this noble tradition is being continued at Campagna with their furiously good focaccia.

The only negative to the experience on this evening is that the bread disappears within a few rapid mouthfuls, leaving everyone bereft of a vessel with which to soak up the sauce to come. Of course, during a regular service, this is a simple fix – Just order more focaccia from the bar snacks menu and once that final fling of pappardelle is digested, you can set about honouring the fine Italian dinner table ritual of Fare la Scarpetta, in which a hunk of bread (scarpetta aka little shoe) is selected to mop up the delicious remnants of your meal. Of course, the caveat to this is a lot of Italians save their scarpetta usage for behind closed doors rather than in public. I am here to tell you though that if you choose to be ‘polite’ and refrain from cleaning up the final bits of bovine brilliance from Mike Thomas’ ragu, then you simply don’t deserve pasta. Not even spaghetti hoops. You can settle for the ‘Henry Hill in witness protection egg noodles with ketchup’ and be happy with it. This big, mucky beef shin deserves to be enjoyed right down to the final drop.

And when it finally arrives there comes an involuntary hush. This is what we are here for. There are, of course, a few non-meat eaters who are more than well looked after with a Fazzoletti embraced by a walnut sauce, a dish that earns a series of satisfied smiles within the first mouthfuls. But returning to the carnivorous offering, there is an unspoken acceptance among those of us about to immerse ourselves in it that this is the main event. Again, not to disparage the succulent, crispy skinned, melt-in-your-mouth confit duck that was still to come at this point, but it is impossible to look past a classic Italian dish of slow cooked beef shin ragu as anything other than the showstopper.

FUCKING HELL. Image: Campagna/instagram

Forks are readied before plates have even hit the table. This is the dish Campagna have been championing since day one. A wild rabbit alternative is available and also, obviously, high upon my ‘to do’ list. But on a frostbitten February night in south Manchester, we are bestowed the beef shin, sourced from the masters at Littlewoods Butchers in Heaton Chapel. The meat is plentiful and slow cooked to utter perfection. The ragu is rich, deep and delicious, just oozing with flavour from every fibre of its being. We’re talking deeper than an earnest, 4.30am at an afters philosophical, meaning of life level of deep. As for the fresh rolled pappardelle, coated and crowned with this handsome bastard of a sauce, it’s egg yolk yellow strands are just as pleasing on the eye as they are on the tastebuds, subtly complementing the ragu with a faultless al dente contrast to the tenderness of the meat.

There is a photo that occasionally does the rounds on a lot of those ’90s nostalgia driven instagram pages. You know the ones, they remind you of a time when the world wasn’t ending. Well the photo, shot by Mark Seliger in 1995, is of Benicio Del Toro and Parker Posey in a red and white checkerboard tablecloth Italian restaurant. Del Toro is firing a look off camera that suggests a fellow diner’s throat is about to meet the business end of his fork. Posey’s face, on the other hand, is ecstatically sucking up spaghetti, her eyes rolling into the back of her head like The Undertaker. It is an expression that encapsulates the euphoric joy a simple pasta dish can bring. A glazing over that takes you out of the room momentarily, back to a simpler time perhaps, evoking memories of meals your mum or dad or grandparents cooked for you. This ragu is the meal you cook for someone you really care about and clearly, Mike Thomas cares about every diner who walks through the doors of Campagna, because his effort is utterly sublime.

A master at work. Image: Campagna/instagram

An undeniable wholesomeness permeates throughout Campagna. It obviously already existed at The Creameries, being the welcoming neighbourhood institution that it was, but now there’s an increased sense of familiarity with the new menu. A family attachment with the ragu (and, by proxy, the Sunday Al Forno menu’s lasagne) at the heart of it all. You want this dish when it’s pissing it down outside, you want it when it’s cracking the flags. You want it surrounded by the people you love, you want it on your own with a bottle of fucking great red wine and a knackered, dog eared paperback. You want it over and over again because it is a dish you will never tire of. You want it because it has been cooked with care and attention in the same way it would be at home.

And whatever you do, don’t forget your scarpetta.

Exile on Ancoats: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Jimmy’s

“The old Jimmy’s was held together with spit and sellotape. There’s no way we could have done what we’re doing now at the old Jimmy’s.” It’s hard to disagree with George Craig, as he reminisces over the previous six lager stained, sticky floored years between Newton Street and Ancoats. Taking in an early afternoon IPA as the sun threatens to crack through the front door of Jimmy’s Vol.II on Blossom Street, there is an unmistakable sophomoric vibe about the recent addition to Cutting Room Square. Thankfully, it’s more ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’ than ‘Second Coming’.

Like any great second album, there is more than a hint of maturity entrenched in the new Jimmy’s, yet clearly enough mischief to maintain the excitement associated with their Northern Quarter debut. George himself, the frontman for brand and marketing as well as Jimmy’s food operations, is now 31, married and about to celebrate his daughter’s first birthday. It’s quite the paradigm shift from life circa 2016-19. As the gentle opening licks of the Stones’ ‘Wild Horses’ slumbers out of the speakers, George explains to me how food is now his focus, where once it was an unfathomable addition to the offerings on Newton Street.

“When we were in the Northern Quarter, we just weren’t set up to be a place that did food. We were somewhere you went to watch bands and get lairy. I don’t think anyone would have wanted to eat in that fucking basement.”

Jimmy’s past as a sweat soaked, subterranean den of debauchery doesn’t exactly inspire memories of craving hunks of smoked brisket or fresh lobster tails delicately dotted with parmesan butter. In fact, if memory serves correct, food was often expelled rather than digested at the neon clad Newton Street dive, which was grimly part of its charm.

Can smell the tequila through the screen, here. Image: Jimmy’s

Two years on from Jimmy’s undignified eviction from Newton Street (in favour of a *let’s out a prolonged, exhausted sigh,* fucking office development) the red bricked Blossom Street spot feels like a natural evolution, even if it may not have been envisaged in the initial masterplan for the Manchester branch (sites in Liverpool and York have also been minted in the intervening six years).

“I was devastated when we were booted out,” laments George over the late 2019 shunting, which was further exacerbated by, y’know, that massive fucking global pandemic that decided to drop at the beginning of 2020.

“There really wasn’t a plan if this place hadn’t come up. We’ve obviously had the dark kitchen doing Deliveroos during Covid, but a new Jimmy’s almost didn’t happen. And even after reopening, we had that dreadful fucking Christmas and January’s always quiet as well, but now it feels like we’re finally starting to get somewhere again.”

Fortunately, a Cutting Room Square vacancy popped up courtesy of Matt Bambroffe, who played five-a-side with George’s older brother, Jimmy (of Jimmy’s!) and was also a family friend of George’s wife, Megan. Neighbouring with Rudy’s, the Jane Eyre and Edinburgh Castle among others, it almost feels as though 2019’s eviction was a blessing in disguise, with the new digs firmly cemented within Manchester’s brightest, burgeoning neighbourhood. Although that’s not to say it hasn’t still presented plenty of its own problems over the last few months.

Just down the road from Newton Street but also a world away. Image: Jimmy’s

“We’ve not got the late license like we had at the old Jimmy’s, and we’ve not got the live music license, even though we have a basement space downstairs which is ideal for it. So that’s something that we want to change eventually. Also you get things like residents in some of the flats surrounding us complaining. We had one complaint about food smells coming out of the building when we weren’t even open, so there’s shit like that to deal with, but y’know, we’re really happy here and looking forward to properly kicking on with the food, which I’m really excited about.”

The food is George’s passion and is one that was established long before his family broke ground on Jimmy’s six years ago. As the lead singer of indie outfit One Night Only, George, along with brother and bandmate Jimmy (of Jimmy’s!) toured the world and, though the traditional assumption of a touring band’s diet is one that consists of nothing more than petrol station Ginsters, Red Stripe and Jack Daniels, the Craig lads were exposed to some of the globe’s greatest culinary experiences and, crucially, some of the world’s best barbecue in the American south, which served as a transformative experience for George.

“We were being taken out to all these mad places by Universal in every city we went to, but it was in the Deep South and in Texas where the barbecue really blew us away. We hit up all the famous spots, like Franklin barbecue in Austin and I’ve taken all that and tried to implement it in my own way here, but with our own sort of spin that makes it unique to Jimmy’s.

“I’d say it’s glam rock BBQ. That’s how I’d describe the Jimmy’s menu. We’ve got a dish called cock fingers on there and a hot dog called the King Dong, so it’s that sleazy sort of rock and roll vibe from the ’70s, which is the type of music I’m into combined with the food that I love. I just wanted to have fun with the menu, as you can with a lot of the names on there.”

The ‘Meatwood Mac’, ‘Springsteen Rolls’, ‘Brisket Case’ and ‘Plantera’ are just a few of the plates that are being slung from the Jimmy’s kitchen and form a menu that has been a real labour of love for George, who has gone from hosting the likes of Sam Fender, Bill Ryder-Jones, Kate Nash and Red Rum Club to obsessing over every minute detail of a barbecue offering that he can confidently compare to the joints he immersed himself in during the heady days on the road.

It is harking back to the early days of Jimmy’s that shift into focus just how vital a venue it felt like at the time. Springing into action in 2016, it suddenly became a go-to for the post-midnight crowd who intended on crashing into the weekend amid in as chaotic a fashion as possible. It was also a venue that helped break in acts like the aforementioned Fender. In a city already swamped with stages on which to perform, it could have become just another pretender, yet Jimmy’s thrived and intertwined itself into the fabric of the live music scene in Manchester. The experience the Craig brothers brought from their longstanding ties to the music industry, having both been signed to Universal since their early teens, was evident in their execution of everything within Jimmy’s four walls. There were no hang ups on tired Mancunian tropes, but instead a raw and ready atmosphere that they knew would resonate with the city’s gig goers.

So many mistakes were made at this bar. Image: Jimmy’s

Behind the scenes, the operation is a family affair, with George and Jimmy’s (of Jimmy’s!) mum, Louise and Dad, Richard, helping out with food development, site styling and company administration. Such a tight knit nature has undoubtedly help keep the Manchester branch afloat during the treacherous waters it encountered over the last two years.

“I think some people had this impression that we had a bottomless pit of cash, which was simply not true. It’s been a real struggle,” explains George, clearly relieved that the navigation of Jimmy’s is finally back on course, “We’ve had some absolute nightmares to deal with but I think being a family business has definitely made things that bit easier. Obviously it’s still really hard a lot of the time, but we’re all looking out for each other, it’s not like we’re dealing with a load of investors or anything like that where you’ve got people to answer to who could make life even more difficult for you. Any problems we have with Jimmy’s just get dealt with between us and we carry on.”

The new Jimmy’s still possesses a lot of the same attitude as the old Northern Quarter haunt. The neon signs still adorn the walls, the signature lightning bolt present on every glass. There’s the comforting blend of Americana dive bar and local warmth, like you’ll be greeted with your regular order upon arrival but also have someone taking the piss out of your trainers. Which is exactly what you should want from any establishment worth it’s salt, to be honest.

Same, same but different. Image: Jimmy’s

A surrounding Ancoats area may come across a tad more low key than Newton Street. Not as rough-and-ready, more marina than mucky piss up, but it may be the coming-of-age work that Jimmy’s needed in it’s discography to properly ingratiate itself into the pantheon of iconic music venues in Manchester. With a sound proofed basement just crying out for bands to grace it’s stage, the spirit of the old Jimmy’s could soon be allowed to flourish once again, only this time with something to soak up the suds.

Until then, it’s barbecue, brunch and blues and a return to whatever normalcy might end up being after a tumultuous two years. Like all rock-and-roll greats, Jimmy’s is evolving and, while we eagerly anticipate the ‘weird, experimental psychedelia’ phase of whatever their third incarnation may bring somewhere down the line, we should all be very excited for the Ancoats Anthology because, if the early days of their new barbecue menu is anything to go by, it’s set to churn out a series of bangers.

Reasons To Be Cheerful For 2022 In Manchester

Some relief when January’s over, isn’t it? All that post-Christmas misery when the decorations come down and you can’t legitimately claim a bowl of Mini Cheddars, a bottle of red wine and a wedge of pork pie the size of a Fiat 500 to be your breakfast. A horrible, desolate time. It essentially doesn’t count as a month, it’s just a 31 day purgatorial reset before we’re allowed to crack on with the new year as planned.

So thank fuck it’s February. The reliably shorter, less annoying sibling of January that signifies a return to much needed normalcy, far enough removed from the festivities of December that we no longer crave their heady excesses, but hot on the heels of a traditionally horrific four-and-a-half weeks that has us crying out for 3am finishes and the excitement of what the following 11 months are going to bring.

Looking ahead to 2022, we must also shift a cursory glance back towards 2021. It was a year that, in many ways, kicked the shit out of 2020. In many other ways it also somehow felt a lot fucking worse. A year commencing with three months of a third national lockdown and crescendoing amid a hospitality crippling combination of new variant wave and complete and utter government contempt can never really be classified as anything resembling a success, can it? But once the shackles were off, it’s safe to say a lot of lost time was well and truly made up for. Y’know, apart from that bit around ‘Freedom Day’ where everyone just kept getting fucking pinged by track and trace if they’d been sat on the other side of a pub from where someone who tested positive had sat 14 hours earlier.

But 2022’s calendar is one teeming with optimism. There is boundless ambition, energy and evolution afoot in Manchester. The blue touch paper was lit last spring/summer with the arrivals of District, 10 Tib Lane, The Black Friar, Ramona, Blues Kitchen and the grand opening of Kampus, with it’s pop-up populated bungalow and promise of future development which will be touched upon in more detail later on. These newcomers only scratched the surface though and with that, not only will this be an excitable preview of a potentially tectonic shift in the magnitude of Manchester’s food and drink scene between now and 31st December, but also a review of the troubled yet triumphant calendar that preceded it.

District teleporting food from 200 years in the future felt like a watershed moment for Manchester in 2021

To aid with the 2021 review, a gastronomic A-Team/D-Generation X/Warriors….just trying to think of more famous gangs now. Mind’s gone blank but there’s loads of them. Anyway, this elite squadron was assembled from the EATMCR team, including Paddy ‘Bossman’ Brown, Beck ‘Bites Back’ Johnson, At The Table extraordinaire and one half of Salt Sister Studio Heidi Elkholy and, finally, your’s truly (sorry about that). So in between the borderline hysterical hyperbole that will be attached to all forthcoming new openings there will be reviews of our favourite spots and memories from 2021 interspersed throughout.

Now, onto 2022…

CAMPAGNA AT THE CREAMERIES

Impossible not to begin here, isn’t it? Announced earlier this week, Campagna is the Southern European passion project of head chef Mike Thomas, who has taken over the menu at Mary-Ellen McTague’s glorious Chorlton institution The Creameries and developed it into a rural Italian paradise, resplendent with homemade pastas, focaccias and bar snacks. Think wild rabbit ragu seductively sprawled across long golden ribbons of freshly rolled parpadelle. A big, mucky sod of a dish. You can just picture Stanley Tucci arriving here, fresh out of a biblical downpour, briskly shaking the shower from his polished chestnut handled umbrella and dispensing of his oil cloth jacket to sit down, all contented and handsome in a pristinely fitted black turtleneck, and silently devour every single morsel, grinning as he sinks an accompanying bottle of Rosso Gazzetta.

* Fans self *

With specialist ingredients being supplied by Cinderwood Market Garden and meat being delivered from Littlewoods Butchers (go and admire their instagram immediately), you can rest assured that you are in great hands when it comes to both produce and production at Campagna. And did I mention Al Forno Sundays? Because you really need to invest heavily in Al Forno Sundays, where Mike and his team serve up the likes of lasagne and tiramisu and everyone in attendance, presumably, just weeps with joy.

It’s not just ragu based dishes that are on the menu either, I must hasten to add. Winter salads and starters consist of roast Jerusalem artichoke with shredded cabbage, celery, Yorkshire pecorino and truffle oil as well as Palourde clams with chickpeas, pastis and rouille. Fazzoletti with walnut sauce and confit duck leg with prunes and puy lentils also sound equally delightful, as does the finishing hazelnut torte with zabaglione cream. Anyway, just off to fan myself while I lie down and mutter ‘mercy’ under my breath like Roy Orbison on ‘Pretty Woman’.

BEST OF 2021: FAVOURITE PLACES TO EAT

“For me, food goes hand-in-hand with culture and storytelling, and this is something I’m lucky enough to do on the reg with EatMCR on At The Table – so for unpretentious vibes and the warmest hospitality, as well as the food, it has to be the Thirsty Korean and Amma’s Canteen. We’re so lucky because Manchester’s got a mad-diverse culinary scene and so many great places to eat at, so this answer is going to vary wildly depending on the day.”

– Heidi Elkholy

Mackie Mayor. I love that I can go with a group of friends and we can all have anything we want. Everything’s also really good for sharing, so it’s amazing to try new stuff. I also love the fact that the vibe completely shifts from day to night – I will go there to work in the day and it’s a great place to get lunch and work in peace, but at night, when it fills up, it’s somewhere I love to go for dinner and drinks (frozen margs especially) and the atmosphere is great.”

– Beck Johnson

“I could have quite happily eaten Erst flatbreads every single day with glass after glass of that orange wine they have on the menu. Any place that serves a dish that is just a small mountain of immaculate roast potatoes with a massive, garlicky glob of aioli is right by me. They’ve got the vibe absolutely, spectacularly spot on in there too. Had a huge hungover lunch a few months ago and my aches and pains were lifted within about 10 minutes of sitting down. Dead zen.”

– Joe Baiamonte
For every single meal from now on, pls

HELLO ORIENTAL FOODHALL AND MARKET

Manchester has always been able to pride itself on the fact it houses a wondrous Chinatown on top of an outstanding selection of Vietnamese restaurants and cafes. So Hello Oriental’s grand opening this Saturday (12th February) feels like a very natural progression of this decades long legacy.

The three floor subterannean behemoth is going to be located in Circle Square on Oxford Road, boasting an Asian inspired bakery and cafe, a Vietnamese restaurant situated on a purpose built mezzanine, the premiere Hello Oriental supermarket aaaaaaaand Downtown Oriental, a foodhall that will ‘offer the best street food the Orient has to offer’. A one stop gastrodome of broths, dumplings, noodles, boba tea and outrageously packaged and flavoured snacks? Yeah sign us right up for that. Also, the CGI model posted on their instagram of what the building looks like makes it appear to be sequestered in the middle of the Sahara Desert, which is obviously another major selling point.

GREAT NORTH PIE CO. PIE AND MASH CAFE

Just a beautiful selection of words, isn’t it? Pie and mash cafe. One look outside at the miserable, slushy hail descending upon Lever Street as I type this and all I want is a hill of piping hot pie and mash shovelling into my gob. Meaty gravy spilling down my chin, mash accumulating at the corner of my lips, steam circling my glazed face as a single tear trickles down my cheek, like Alexander the Great when he realised he had no more worlds left to conquer.

This spring at Kampus, this daydream will become an astonishing reality as GNPC throw their doors open to pastry purveyors everywhere. Award winning pies (NINE TIMES no less, at the British Pie Awards), mounds of mashed spuds and mushy peas all doused in lip smacking gravy AND, as if that symphony of savoury sex wasn’t enough, there’s also going to be beers available from the likes of Manchester Union, Fell and Mobberley Brewhouse.

The cafe will be found in one of the units near the Kampus Bungalow, where the bagel and botanist heroines Breadflower were recently set up. Opening hours are due to be 9am until late, which seems to suggest that breakfast pies could be a very real possibility so if you’ll excuse me I’m about to book the entire spring and summer off work. See you down there.

BEST OF 2021: FAVOURITE MEAL

“The tacos at Phocue – Wow. Can’t even describe how good these are. Pretty sure the shell is a Vietnamese pancake, and its filled with a mix of tofu, bean sprouts, tomatoes and loads of other veggies. Wow. Also Oi Dumplings. I found these guys at Grub, and only got their vegan dumplings, although they do a load. We got their ‘bad karma korma’ dumplings, ‘kimchi and peanut tofu’ and ‘chà cá’ ones. They were all absolutely mega, they’ve got the flavours spot on. It’s run by two lovely women too, and they are very impressive and dedicated to it.”

– Beck Johnson

Tokyo Ramen’s takeout in lockdown, Yadgar cafe, Dishoom still, Firehouse’s chicken on their flatbreads with the hot honey, 3 Hands Deli and Bada Bing sandwiches, Batard, Flawd on a warm night, Mughli’s butter chicken, Erst’s flatbread with lardo, I have a massive soft spot for Listo Burrito. Rads and Buzzrocks. Mumma’s Fried Chicken with chilli jam and cheese. Visiting Amma’s canteen and Thirsty Korean and sitting down with the owners whilst we ate, they were my favourite two work meals of 2021.”

– Paddy Brown

“This is so hard. Looking back – and purely based on my constant return custom (I’m not joking, this is a problem) is Suya Republick on Chester Road. If you like grilled meats and the most delicious spice, you HAVE to try it. Full write-up on this gem coming soon so watch this space…”

– Heidi Elkholy

“District. Fucking hell fire. I’ve never experienced anything like it. I always feel like meals where there’s a dozen courses or whatever are going to falter at some stage, but this just kept getting madder and madder. There were flavours I’d never tasted before, ingredients I’d never heard of and, most importantly, I could tell the chefs were having loads of fun with everything they were doing. Amazing.”

– Joe Baiamonte

GENERAL STORES CONTINUES IT’S EXPANSION

Circling back to Kampus, Manchester’s own corner shop success story is setting up shop in the neighbourhood this Spring, as General Stores expands operations across the city, adding to their sites in Ancoats, Media City, Castlefield, Salford and Deansgate Square.

Mital Morar’s burgeoning collection of bread, milk and baked bean emporiums (that also includes FoodHalls in Stretford and Sale), as everyone knows by now, are about far more than just the essentials and are heavily influenced by local traders, who keep the GS shelves stocked year round, from the likes of Shindigger and Le Social in the drinks fridges to Robinson’s Family Bakery and the aforementioned Great North Pie Co among the baked goods.

And in another huge boost to the Kampus district, GS are soon to be the one stop shop for the residents of the surrounding Brooklyn-esque brownstones, whether they’re only nipping in for milk, a quick brew or some emergency voddy and a packet of high end Spanish crisps. Judging by their instagram activity, Morar and co. have a lot to play with, with the unit looking gargantuan upon initial inspection. Yet they should have no issue maximising the space when you take one look at how impressively decked out and stocked up their other sites around the city are. Really hope a questionable looking hotdog counter is in the plans to maintain the NYC aesthetic of the area. Fingers crossed.

LUCKY MAMA’S MOVES TO CHORLTON

Eccles’ favourite pizza and pasta slingers Lucky Mama’s are graduating from their trusty trailer on Edison Road to a permanent residency in Chorlton later this year, with square slices set to make their debut in south Manchester.

The wholesome stuff. Image: Lucky Mama’s/instagram

Not only do Mama’s serve up some of the finest ‘za in town, but Mamadou and Gaby are a wonderfully magnetic duo who you cannot help but root for, so to see them landing their first bricks and mortar spot is news that deserves to be celebrated by everyone in Manchester. Ideally, celebrations that will be held over heavenly bowls of ragu bigoli and barbacoa and diavola slices. In the meantime, make sure you continue to hit up their trailer in Eccles to whet your appetite for the in-house incarnation later in the year.

THE SUBURBS SWITCH TO THE CITY

From Stockport and Failsworth come Ate Days A Week and Corner Slice respectively, bringing with them a considerable amount of carb-laden classics.

Ate Days will be setting up in the city centre at some point in 2022, which means their sensationally named (I Just) Died In Your Barm will be much easier for city dwelling types to access, eat and nap after. We’ve been obsessed with these pie, pea and gravy butties since sinking our teeth into them last summer. They are works worthy of the Manchester Art Gallery, placing a handmade pie (choose from steak and ale, salt and pepper chicken with curry sauce or vegetable bean chilli and cheese) within the confines of a beautiful, buttered barm and decorated with minted mushy peas and proper gravy. Some call them a Wigan Kebab. You will soon call them the foundation of your regular diet from this year onwards.

Corner Slice, meanwhile, the city’s OG Detroit pie palace, will imminently be testing the waters of city living after 18 months pumping out cheese crowned pies in Failsworth. A dark kitchen on Mancunian Way should be open for Deliveroo orders from Friday this week (11th February), so keep your eyes peeled for their Motor City majesty hitting the app at the end of the working week. We’ve been awaiting their arrival inside M3/M4 ever since our first hit back in 2020. Should all go according to plan with this latest venture, a permanent residence may not be much further down the line. Fingers crossed.

BEST OF 2021: FAVOURITE NEW DISCOVERY

“A new discovery for me was Speak in Code on Deansgate: The relaxed interior with 90s hip hop and possibly the most informed and passionate bartenders (we love Chatty Cathys) makes for the perfect chilled date spot. Can I add one more? I’m going to anyway: the ceviche sampler with wine flight at the very pink and very fancy Peru Perdu is ridiculously good. As is the service – get the Pisco and verdita shots too!”

– Heidi Elkholy

” It’s not a new place, but I spent a fair amount of time at Jane Eyre for the first time last year and loved every minute I spent there. My birthday afternoon was spent around one of their outside tables in the blazing sun with my mates knocking back lagers and margaritas and it was easily my favourite day/night out of the year.”

– Joe Baiamonte

“I get New Wave Ramen at least four times a week since last year. Best ramen in town, in my opinion. The veggie offering is definitely the tastiest anyway. They have this amazing tofu which is so sweet, and their soy marinated eggs are absolutely insane. Also, if you’ve tried it, you’ll know about how good the noodles are. They cross my mind daily.”

– Beck Johnson

SUGO SHIFTS TO SALE

If you’ve ever had a spoonful of house Sugo pass your lips, you will be acutely aware of why it was so easy for the De Martiis brothers to crowdfund the remaining £85,000 they needed to pour into their new location once the banks halted their lending last year. After calling out across social media, the sibling owners saw the final thousands fly in, with the result set to be Sale’s finest pasta restaurant opening by the end of the year.

Bella. Image: Sugo/instagram

Sugo Sale will open in the regenerated Stanley Square, having already delivered the goods for several years in fellow south Manchester suburb Altrincham. Expect the bookings to fly out for this quicker than dishes of orecchiette and paccheri.

KITTEN SPARKS CURIOSITY

So little is known about Kitten at this current time that a Google search for ‘kitten Manchester’ will only lead you to a bunch of Gumtree ads for potential cat ownership and ‘kitten restaurant’ only directs you to the now defunct Cat Cafe.

But what is known is that Kitten will be a Japanese charcoal grill and izakaya establishment, which should be enough for anyone to just remain patient and wait for it’s eventual opening, given how much Manchester is yearning for more top quality Japanese spots on the heels of the likes of Yuzu and Tokyo Ramen.

Located in Deansgate Square, contemporary sushi and sashimi are expected to appear on the menu also, although the only thing appearing on their insta feed at the moment is nine shots of bamboo. We’re not sure how much longer the cloak of mystery will veil Kitten’s plans, but here’s hoping it’s not too much longer.

PIPPY EATS’ NOODLEHAUS

So synonymous has Pippa Middlehurst aka Pippy Eats become with Manchester’s noodle scene over the last few years that it almost feels weird describing Noodlehaus as a new opening. It almost feels like it’s been around for years, with Pippa’s various pop ups, cookbooks and oils adorning insta feeds and shop shelves everywhere.

Everything good is here. Image: Noodlehaus/instagram

Finally though, Noodlehaus will be docking at New Islington Marina in 2022 and will house a cookery school, supper clubs, workshops and other various events, as well as a cookware and kitchen shop. And given the location of the ‘Haus, I am hereby announcing my intention to launch ‘THE BIG BROTHY BARGE BONANZA’ at some point this year. It’s basically broth made at Pippa’s cookery school, then served up on a nearby barge, which probably inevitably goes missing. Either way, Pippa, if you’re reading this, can we afford NOT to make this a reality? Millions in it. At least.

BEST OF 2021: FAVOURITE BAR/PUB TO DRINK IN

“I actually moved home last year so it’s a local there but in Manchester it was either Edinburgh Castle at night or sat outside Crown and Kettle in the summer.”

– Paddy Brown

“Ramona and Firehouse for sure. Best margs, best vibes. Me and my friends went every single Sunday in summer. We still go at least two or three times a month. The staff are some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met and their service is incredible. They also easily do the best margaritas in town, although I always get obsessed with a drink, and then get heartbroken when they change the menu. I’m yet to have a bad night there.”

– Beck Johnson

“I’m obsessed with Edinburgh Castle. Guinness and chips by candle light is perfect, isn’t it? The Castle on Oldham Street always got a lot of visits once it reopened last summer, as well. Great jukebox, always a good crowd and I randomly spent a night chatting to the manager of Pixies in there on a random Wednesday, which was brilliant. The Goods In and Cuckoo out in Prestwich are also big favourites which everyone should make the quick tram journey out here for. “

– Joe Baiamonte

“So, I’m a devoted customer at Henry C where it’s a joy to spend my money on their insanely good cocktails and Bloody Mary Sundays. If we’re talking classic pub, the Albert in Withington is the Old Man pub that time forgot and I love it. Oh snap – also, special shoutout to the Moorcock Inn because the food is so bomb, and worth the travel time.”

– Heidi Elkholy

BAND ON THE WALL IS BACK

What a tremendous fucking relief it is to type those words. Having laid dormant for far too long, suffering miserably through two years of Covid, Band On The Wall is returning this spring, with a March reopening pencilled in.

With two centuries of history behind it, BOTW is truly a Mancunian institution that has stood the test of time and now, fresh off a £3.5m expansion, it’s ready for the latest stage of its evolution. No more scaffolding in sight, only a very bright fucking future for a venue that has seen the likes of Joy Division, The Fall, Björk, Buzzcocks and countless others pass through its doors over the decades. Not to mention the Craig Charles funk and soul all nighters that used to absolutely go off.

After four decades, the scaffolding is down on the Cocozza Building. Image: Band On The Wall/instagram

For all the new arrivals that are prompting frenzied discussions about first bookings and contrarian takes over whether they’re all a bit overrated because you’re bored of people saying how good they are, nothing may bring with it more excitement or civic pride than Band On The Wall roaring back to business. Losing her forever would have been too bitter a blow to take. Now we stand on the precipice of her post-covid renaissance and it promises to be another vital chapter in Mancunian history, written by one of its most important characters. Viva Band On The Wall and here’s to another 200 years. At least.

BEST OF 2021: IF YOU COULD CHOOSE ONE NEW SPOT TO OPEN IN 2022, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

“For fuck sake with the hard questions! Going off recent experience and amazing meals when I visit down south, I would love to see more friendly and accessible open kitchens where there’s chat at the counter that cuts the elitist bullshit and you can learn about the food you’re eating. The guys at Kiln in Soho are amazing and do just that – and in Tooting Market I had one of the best meals ever at a Mauritian stall that was literally a baguette, a roti and some chilli daal fritters or Gateaux Pimant. So really this is a cop-out answer but more world foods! It’s so exciting to experience foods made by the people who have the culture in their blood and the passion to share it.”

– Heidi Elkholy

“I’d really buzz off a proper Mexican taqueria in Manchester. A late night taco joint with an al pastor rotating into the early hours, lots of homemade salsas, good music and a ton of Mezcal would be perfect. El Taquero sort of came and went a few years ago and promised a lot early doors, but it never materialised, sadly. Done correctly, something like this could be THE spot to hit for those last few chaotic hours of a night out. Nell’s transplanted a New York pizzeria into the city and established it with a proper Manchester identity. Why not do the same with a proper Mexico City/Oaxaca/Los Angeles taqueria? Also, more delis please. Lots and lots of great delis.”

– Joe Baiamonte

“I’d like to see more breakfast takeouts, some type of Southern seafood boil place would be good, like Decatur. More places like Sugo/Kala, local restaurants getting the chance to create mint restaurants in town. I like this app called ‘DELLI’ and where that could go, it’s like Depop but for buying your tea off your neighbours. I’m very excited for Ornella’s Kitchen to open too.”

– Paddy Brown

“More ramen! But vegan and veggie types. There are good places in town to get meat ramen, but not places who specialise in vegan and veggie versions. I would love to see somewhere doing more of a ‘you pick what goes in your ramen’ type of thing. Would love it if you could pick from four broths, a protein, the veg etc.”

– Beck Johnson

Local heroes spreading their wings even further, newcomers turning heads and brave new experiments being gambled upon are all reasons why Manchester is primed for an unforgettable 2022. And that’s before we even take into account London transplants such as Soho House and Sexy Fish making moves into the North West this year, providing further proof that more members of the London crowd have sussed the potential that the likes of Hawksmoor sniffed out so successfully a few years ago. Manchester’s culinary footprint is leaving a much bigger impression beyond its own borders with every passing week, be it via another jubilant Jay Rayner review or a statement the size of Freight Island.

Freshly erected skyscrapers, food halls and urban renewals greet you with every turn. Natural wine purveyors are becoming the norm while a new generation of chefs become more and more emboldened with each new course they add to their menu. Deli sandwiches are rightfully offered just as much reverence and cultural importance than Michelin bothering experiments which continue to bend even the coyest of culinary minds among the Mancunian population and their ever maturing tastes. There’s room for the high concept and the historic. The trippy and the traditional. The far out and the foundations.

Yet it isn’t even this surge of creativity and money that is the biggest cause of celebration. Instead, we should all be getting ourselves giddy over the fact that we are (in hushed tones for extra security) staring down the barrel of what may very well be a restriction free year of growth and prosperity. In 2021, January and February were beyond bleak, even by their own horrendous Seasonal Affective Disorder ridden standards. Yet 12 months removed from Lockdown Season Four, we have traversed the opening month of the calendar still able to sit inside restaurants, bars, pubs and cafes, with not a single curfew or substantial meal in sight. February has continued in the same vein and with any luck the momentum will continue through spring and summer. Obviously, let’s face it, there is very little point in counting our chickens just yet, as there’s always the chance of another mutant strain round the corner, ready to condemn us all once again, but with the bleak midwinter dissipating, it feels as though brighter days are on the horizon both literally and metaphorically.

The lockdown launched businesses can finally prosper for a full year without the oppressive trade restrictions that have blighted their potential so much over the previous 24 months. Hospitality may just be about to start picking up some much needed wins after two years of solid losses, so let us spend the next 11 months celebrating them as much as humanly possible.

Brazilian Fine Dining is Blossoming in Ancoats

Twelve years ago, on a piss wet through Thursday lunchtime, I was camped in the psychedelia section of Piccadilly Records, eyebrows lowered under a mop top of very fucking questionable hair, thumbing through a rack of obscure compilations from the ’60s and ’70s, mesmerised by the historical, musical, geographical and political education I was receiving from the sleeve of each LP.

There was scuzzy Turkish garage, far out jungle grooves from South Sumatra and ultra secretive Xian pressings, recorded covertly away from prying eyes and ears during Franco’s Catholic facist regime in Spain. But among this mind altering landslide of LSD powered freakouts was the Holy Grail my 21-year-old wannabe vinyl experimentalist never knew he needed.

BRAZILIAN GUITAR FUZZ BANANAS

Up until this seismic day in early 2010, my only reference points for Brazilian culture were sun kissed shots of Copacabana Beach and Christ the Redeemer from terrible early evening terrestrial holiday shows, the World Cup squads of ’94, ’98, ’02 and ’06, that Nike advert in the airport, City of God, the old Brahma bottles that were designed to curve perfectly into the grip of your hand and, of course, Bem Brasil on Deansgate.

Admittedly, not a bad little assortment of sporting, artistic and culinary achievements, but hardly one that was indicative of a country as gigantic and diverse as the largest in Latin and South America. Now, here I was, eschewing the usual pre-pub playlist of mid noughties indie and pretty much anything where someone shouted ‘TERROR SQUAD’ or ‘FLIPMODE’, for a selection of Tropicalia tinged cuts that were as far removed from Samba as you could imagine. But between the extended, kaleidoscopic covers of the Batman theme tune and odes to Jimi Hendrix was a cover of Beatles penned Rolling Stones hit ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’, by an outfit called The Youngsters. A two minute, 24 second slice of pure ’60s pop, only one that was now far raspier, grimier and let’s face it, far far fucking better having circumnavigated the Amazon and fought it’s way through favelas.

This was British produce spun a thousand different ways by Brazilian artistry and ingenuity, the likes of which I’d never experienced.

Now fast forward to a Baltic night on Blossom Street, Ancoats, January 2022. Only a couple of minutes up the road from where Joel Stones’ compilation skills bent my simple young mind over a decade prior, I was once again experiencing a sensory immersion of British goods twisted majestically by Brazilian decadence.

With her São Paulo Project pop up at Blossom Street Social, chef Caroline Martins is educating the masses that there is more to her homeland’s cuisine than churrascarias, feijoada and caipirinhas. Seminal though those dishes and drinks may be.

Instead, we are greeted with a welcoming drink of Brazilian acacia honey, Norfolk lavender and Three Rivers gin. This is a Baileys in the hands of a chef who has spent the majority of her career in the kitchens of multiple Michelin Star restaurants. It’s playful and inventive without the desire to overwhelm you.

Would happily douse this over a bowl of honey nut cheerios as a Christmas breakfast tbh

No sooner have opening drinks been downed than a trio of canapés are presented in a sleekly carpented hexagonal wooden chest. When you discover that Caroline was once a Theoretical Plasma Physicist in a past life, everything begins to make sense.

The opening course is plucked straight from one of Willy Wonka’s fever dreams, luring you in with the appearance of a miniature banquet of desserts, when the reality is these effervescent works of art run deep with umami.

Beginning with a Crofton cheese, heart-of-palm & parsley mousse atop a disc of Holy Grain bakery crouton sounds pleasant enough, doesn’t it? Almost quintessential fare for the commencement of a fine dining taster menu. But then pair that with a pickled walnut and passion fruit purée, crafted into the appearance of a miniature succulent, and suddenly there’s a spark lighting the fuse you were unaware even existed before the first bite.

Similarly, the tartlet of smoked salmon and Exmoor caviar, adorned with edible flowers from Platt Fields Market Garden is another picturesque effort worthy of the most meticulous of afternoon teas. Only this one comes with a thump of flavour from a ‘Brazilian’ style cream cheese and a disguised crunch of Brazil Nuts. The finale – a fun size olive green cornetto – ambushes your tastebuds with a chicken liver & açai parfait that has no right to work as well as it does. Spooned inside a spinach cone it is accompanied by a gel of catuaba which is ordinarily a herb that, according to WebMD is used to perk up male sexual performance and alleviate anxiety. The five glasses of wine I knocked back with this meal would render the former perk irrelevant even in the unlikely event it was true, but I certainly felt very fucking content upon polishing it off, which would suggest there was a degree of truth to the latter.

An English country garden by way of São Paulo

That the following course was simply entitled ‘Bread Course’ is a disservice the size of Sugarloaf Mountain. The bread in question was a brioche infused with calabresa sausage, a Brazilian favourite that has its origins in, unsurprisingly, Calabria in Italy. Not too far removed from its spreadable cousin n’duja. The crescent of toffee toned caramelised onion butter sitting alongside would have been more than indulgent enough as the partnering spread, yet here we felt the full force of Caroline’s scientific, Michelin starred origin story.

Lighting up the middle of the table is a candle that smells suspiciously like a Sunday roast. A Celtic striped swirl pools around it and we are informed that this is to be dipped in.

It’s a fucking beef fat and rosemary candle.

I wanna run to you

I can only surmise that my reaction resembled a dog attempting to understand a magic trick.

Brioche rolls thoroughly waxed, there is a temptation to just start fucking biting everything in sight, just in case that proves itself to be another of Caroline’s haute cuisine creations. Instead, I sink my teeth into my beefy candle sausage cake bread and smile like a lunatic. I guarantee you’ll do the exact same thing.

Not only does the candle of cow blow the collective minds of everyone in the room, it also serves as the crankshaft that powers the combustion engine of the meal to come. Hand dived scallops graced with cassava mousseline, heart-of-palm and dehydrated papaya seeds usurps the beefy tea light at the table, providing a delicate reprieve from the bovine courses between which they are sandwiched.

Yes, yes, I should have positioned the candle in the middle of them for a laugh. Grow up.

Course number four is undeniably the main event and perhaps most traditional meshing of the two cultures (can’t bring myself to say fusion, sorry. Save it for Howard Moon in the midst of a jazz funk odyssey). Dry aged Picanha from Butcher’s Quarter is flanked by baroness potato, celeriac and horseradish sauce, lovage oil and an absolutely brilliant, salty dusting of bacon and corn cassava crumble. The beef rump cap is served blissfully medium rare atop the crumble, dramatically crimson in contrast to the citrus aesthetic of the potato and sauce.

A cheese course sourced from the impeccable Crafty Cheeseman consists of a generous slice of smoked Lancashire, a hefty smear of Wigmore, a wedge of Cumberland farmhouse and a reliably excellent Baron Bigod. Yet no member of this quartet steals the show in the way the spiced banana compote does. Seriously, let us one and all start spicing the fuck out of our bananas and making sauces out of them to dress sandwiches, crackers, kebabs, chips and everything inbefuckingtween with. Mama Z has been knocking out her audacious banana ketchup for a good while now and it’s as good a condiment as you could be fortunate to have in your kitchen cupboard. So let’s get bang into spicy banana spreads in 2022. Or else.

Courses four and five taught us two things: Butcher’s Quarter don’t mess about with their beef and spiced banana compote is the only accompaniment you ever need for cheese

Dessert is a deal with the psychedelic, much like those ‘Fuzz Bananas’ I procured from Piccadilly Records all those years ago were. A toadstool, it’s cap a glistening ruby red of guava parfait and guava jam, propped up by a stem of parmesan genoise sponge and Sangiorgio’s Minas cheese, sits among a garden of Dormouse chocolate and lime crumble and more edible blossoms from Platt Fields. A very Alice In Wonderland take on the classic Brazilian ‘Romeu & Julieta’ dish, which is ordinarily served as either a dessert or appetiser, but rarely as creatively. The saliva inducing saltiness of the cheese, a specialty of the state of Minas Gerais, blends effortlessly well with the cartoon sweetness of the guava, while the tang of the lime and chocolate crumble underscores a truly bombastic dish.

This is, ordinarily, where you would expect to depart into the sub zero night air, final dregs of wine polished off and the Shudehill tram stop beckoning. The cheese guava toadstool a seemingly unstoppable finale. Yet Caroline is here to remind us that for all the expert nuances that have elevated each of her and her Sao Paulo Project team’s dishes into another dimension, Brazilians, with their Portuguese, Dutch, German, Italian and African infused heritages, are often at their most crowd pleasing when subtlety goes out of the window. And the menu’s showstopper – a baked Tunworth cheese, surrounded by brioche rolls and crowned with a big triumphant dollop of guava paste, rosemary and thyme, is bigger than a tractor wheel and just as intimidating when it hurtles towards you.

Given what has just preceded it, the Tunworth Terror could have perhaps been held back a few extra minutes while Super Mario World-esque toadstools and steak flavoured lighting digested a tad more. But on the other hand, to turn down a smear of this colossus would be unforgivable, so it is well and truly dug into, until there is no more digging to be done and the brick wall is collided with, stomach first.

The lads took a break from defending Princess Peach to be our desserts. Very selfless of them

Caroline’s enthusiasm matches her flavours and never wanes once throughout the night. The imagination that has gone into crafting such a bold, visionary concept is clear evidence of why she enjoyed a successful run to the latter stages of Brazilian Masterchef and will also be gracing our TV screens as part of the upcoming new series of Great British Menu. This hearty dose of experimentalism has as much technicolour tropicality as it does rural ruggedness. It’s a partnership that, in the wrong hands, would be knackered by a desperation to show off. Instead, Caroline showcases her precision for pairing boisterous flavours with a dappling of ingenious undertones that tie together proceedings beautifully, rather than ostentatiously meshing everything into a clumsy muddle.

The Sao Paulo Project will be serving up its Latin x Local collaborations for the next three months at Blossom Street Social, so YouTube as many tunes off Brazilian Guitar Fuzz Bananas as you can and get yourselves down there. Make 2022 the year of the Beef Candle.

Living on a Thin Line: Manchester Hospitality Once Again on the Brink

“All the wars that were won and lost, 

Somehow don’t seem to matter very much anymore. “

‘Living on a Thin Line’ – The Kinks

He may have penned it 36 years ago, but Dave Davies’ words on the above 1985 classic feel more pertinent than ever as the British hospitality industry prepares to enter the bleakest of mid-winters.

Taken from The Kinks’ 1985 ‘Word of Mouth’ album, ‘Living on a Thin Line’ not only laments a lost identity and yearning for ‘days of old’, but also directs an industrial amount of vitriol and disdain towards British politicians which, it’s safe to say, is a set of emotions we can all share wholeheartedly right now.

Since March 2020, restaurants, bars, pubs and cafes across Manchester have been mercilessly sieged not only by Covid-19, but also their own government, who’s overwhelming incompetence and blatant treachery has betrayed every single person working in hospitality, costing countless people their livelihoods, as well as an exhausting barrage of mental health issues that present us with another crisis on top of what is already currently being endured.

Those on the frontline for the last 20 months have been battered and bruised by the total lack of support from Downing Street, who have consistently lurched from one indecision to another, doing everything they can to withhold adequate resources from thousands of desperate business owners and their staff.

With every small victory, like last summer’s reopenings and ‘Freedom Day’ this past July, there was always that glimmer of hope that a corner MIGHT had been turned. That a rampant vaccination programme would allow a more permanent return to full, restriction free trading and, should any measures need to be reintroduced, that they would be done so responsibly with lessons learned from previous debacles.

Only Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak’s productivity levels only seem to spike when there’s a Cobra meeting that needs avoiding, an illegal, lockdown breaking party or cheese and wine laden ‘work meeting’ that needs attending or, of course, if foreign healthcare bosses register an interest in buying parts of the NHS. If you’re a restaurant or bar owner unsure as to whether you can open tomorrow or, more likely, you’re relying on social media leaks to be drip fed the government’s impending, weeks too late plans, then chances are your plight is not appearing near the top of any agendas being seriously discussed inside number 10.

Which leaves Manchester’s hospitality scene in a current state of despair and near disrepair. Yesterday afternoon, it was announced that £1bn of funding is being granted to British hospitality venues affected by Omicron. It is hardly news that inspires longterm confidence, mainly because the figures announced (a maximum of £6,000 per venue) won’t even come close to covering the cost of the damage that has already been done and is still yet to be done. As Manchester’s Night Time Economy Adviser Sacha Lord tweeted shortly after the announcement, “This isn’t a package. It’s an insult.” This path has been miserably trodden several times before. Hospitality can only take so many hits before venues retreat to the trenches forever, unable to withstand constant assaults from new variants and despicable, morally bankrupt millionaires with more power than brain cells or integrity.

It’s enough to make you wonder if the back breaking efforts that have been made by so many across Greater Manchester (and beyond) have been worth it? Is this fight nothing more than Homer Simpson valiantly getting his head caved in by Drederick Tatum, unaware that the concussion inducing haymakers are never going to relent, each one thundering a destructive blow that shifts the bout one step closer to finality.

What we couldn’t do, what we wouldn’t do, 
It’s a crime, but does it matter? 
Does it matter much, does it matter much to you? 
Does it ever really matter? 
Yes, it really, really matters. 

With revelations of the government’s rampant criminality coming to light with increasing fervour over the past couple of weeks, the groaning scale of Johnson and co’s duplicity has rightfully enraged the public and made fools out of us all. For bar staff, waiters, chefs, glass collectors, suppliers, cleaners, general managers and everyone in between, it wasn’t so much a slap in the face as it was an entitled mouthful of gob being callously spat by an uncaring, self serving con artist.

Establishments had to evolve and reinvent themselves multiple times over during the multitude of lockdowns inflicted upon them over the past two years. Whether it be for takeaway services or reconfiguring socially distanced dining areas. Many had to morph into al fresco offerings, forking out for extra furniture while only able to serve somewhere in the region of 30-50% of their usual covers. Rules were resolutely adhered to, because what other options were there? As it happens, offering to cater one of the seemingly endless Downing Street do’s could have probably earned any number of restaurants a small fortune.

And now, here we are. A repeat of early March 2020. The public being encouraged to stay home to help curb the spread of Omicron without any actual solutions to keep businesses afloat. Oh, apart from the grant of ‘up to £6,000’. A flippant, token gesture that still does nothing to address the seismic losses that will be made when venues are forced outside for a couple of weeks during the impending ‘circuit breaker’ slap bang in the middle of the two coldest months of the year. Cheers Rishi. Nice one, Boris. Nothing beats sharing a meal with a mate or loved one while feeling like you’re sat on the side of the fucking Eiger. We’d be better served letting that mad fucking singing reindeer head from the Christmas Markets pass parliamentary rulings related to hospitality than the people currently in charge.

“It’s been soul destroying, incredibly stressful and hugely worrying,” says Nick De Sousa, owner of Northern Quarter’s Tariff and Dale and Chorlton’s Lead Station, when I ask him how the last couple of weeks have been on him and his staff across the two sites.

“The teams have been affected. They want to go home for Christmas and are frightened of isolating alone. No support on the horizon means that there is uncertainty about the business and everyone’s future. They have been so resilient in the face of all this, they’re incredible and I am so proud of every one of them. They’ve pulled together and reflected our culture and values.”

– Nick De Sousa
A familiar scene across the city over the last two weeks. Image: Tariff & Dale/instagram

This same whirlwind of emotions has been mirrored over at Common and Nell’s Pizza, with the NQ and Kampus residents feeling the sting of a depleted city centre.

“I’ve veered from despair, to determined, to despondent through to light headed hysteria about 12 times already this week” reveals owner Jonny Heyes. “We’ve probably taken around 50% of what we would’ve hoped. But ultimately we just need to crack on.”

And what of the potential two week ‘circuit breaker’ on the horizon, tentatively scheduled for 28th December, if yet more leaks from parliament are to be believed?

“I’ve pretty much stopped preparing for this stuff” shares Jonny, “you tend to spend lots of time doing stuff which quickly becomes completely irrelevant. So we’re just focusing on trading through to Christmas and then we’ll just roll with the punches.”

“The Lack of clarity is baffling, this is the dangerous part for us,” answers Nick. “They need to form policies which actually work with the industry they’re aimed at. Outdoor trade in January? OK then! Waste of time.”

The mood isn’t exactly any merrier over at Mecanica, either. The ‘gimmick free’ Swan Street cocktail bar was hit with a deluge of cancellations over the weekend and is likewise facing an uncertain close to 2021, as General Manager Phillip Aldridge tells me.

“The real issue for me is the lack of forewarning. Letting us all order up for a big Christmas only to take it away last minute just means we’re left with costs to pay without any way of clawing it back.

When the Tories won’t tell you whether you can open for New Year’s Eve or not. Image: Mecanica/instagram

“And now if we go into lockdown we’re left with an excess of stock that we can’t shift, which is obviously a massive dent in cash flow. Just make up your mind early and stick to it so people can actually plan what they’re doing, rather than just dithering and saying yes then saying no last minute.

“Pile on top of that you’ve got the mental anguish of the staff having to work knowing everything they touch could ruin their Christmas. Masking up because they’d like to spend Christmas with their family instead of in isolation.

– Phillip Aldridge

“I need to place orders today, do I buy champagne for New Year’s Eve or not? Are we going to be open? Who knows? It’s only 10 days away.”

Another newcomer, Delhi House Cafe in the Corn Exchange, has similarly been left floundering through the festive season, with Managing Director Sherry Lamba explaining how ‘disheartening’ this most recent ordeal has been.

“We opened in August last year which was a brave/stupid move. Opening between the lockdowns wasn’t easy. We tried our best and reached a point where we thought we’d got it.  But after the recent government announcements our bookings last week dropped by 70%, which was a big, big hit, especially when we were hoping for our first Christmas to be a good one. It all fell apart in a matter of two days.

“We are different from any other Indian restaurants in town, trying to promote something very unique. Delhi House Cafe is born in Manchester, trying to give the people of this great city the most authentic Indian experience.  Just when the crowd was getting what we are all about this hit us. It’s so disheartening.”

A space as good looking as this deserves to be filled with customers, not left to sit empty. Image: Delhi House Cafe/instagram

Disheartening almost feels too mild a word when you begin to process not only the scale of monetary losses, but also the physical and mental anguish that those within the industry are being subjected to at one of the most traditionally stressful periods of the year. Eunji, owner of the astonishingly good and incredibly named Thirsty Korean in Chorlton, emphasised the emotional strain December’s downturn has had on her and her staff.

“Since Plan B has been applied, we’ve had cancellations every day. As soon as we open, the phones are ringing just for people to cancel their reservations. There was literally two tables during prime time on Friday and Saturday.

– Eunji

“Our revenue has been 50% down on the previous two months. Mentally if I say honestly how it has been affecting me, I felt like I was a failure running a business even though I did everything I could. Two weeks ago on Sunday I put my staff on from five o’ clock until closing. The staff closed the venue 90 minutes earlier than closing time and said to me that they had no customers. They felt wrong staying open even though they needed the hours to make money. We try hard to stick together not only in business but as friends, as it is the loneliest months we are going through.

“All of our stock is miserably full, as I was ready to be busy in December. I have no idea what to do with it all if we get locked down. At the moment opening the venue is more expensive than closing the venue and it hurts not being able to guarantee them that many hours so close to Christmas. It’s horrible.

The toll that is being taken on hospitality workers is relentless. The life altering circumstances that have been thrust upon them ignored by those in power, unaware of what an actual day’s work feels like. As it transpires, when you and your mates are sitting on a ‘weekly big shop at Fortnum and Mason’ level of wealth, you tend to turn a blind eye to the suffering of those who make your privileged existence possible in the first place. Who knew?

Those who toil, living hand-to-mouth on an ever decreasing collection of tips to supplement their disappearing hours from the rota, are precisely the people who enable communities and cities to thrive. The delirious masses pouring out of bars in Ancoats, Stevenson Square, Canal Street and Oxford Road are the result of innumerable hours of graft put in by the staff serving them and cleaning up after them, generating a thriving economy that provides work for thousands more desperate workers, all waiting in the wings to contribute, to perhaps build their own businesses, carving out their own corner of the city to make a name for themselves. These people build cities.

The likes of Night and Day, The Castle Hotel, The Crown and Kettle, Temple Bar, Corbieres – all historic venues that have provided a cavalcade of timeless, endearing memories. Refuge, Kala Bistro, The Creameries, Schofields, Sugo, Tokyo Ramen – newcomers over the last few years who have ingrained themselves into the brickwork of the city, immediately feeling at home. These are the venues we cannot go without. They are a magic Manchester cannot replicate if they were to shutter because there is simply not enough money to staff them any longer. Yet, along with countless other venues, they are being ripped apart by a deplorable level of cowardice from the people who are supposed to protect them. And those who are now wondering how many more times they might clock in and out are suffering much more than merely in the pocket. They are suffering mentally. If Boris Johnson is foreshadowing a ‘tidal wave’ of Omicron hitting the British Isles, then the mental health crisis accompanying it is a tsunami so monstrous it may never be recovered from unless proper help is invested in and invested in immediately.

And this is an area Paddy Howley, who heads up So Let’s Talk, a group who specialise in being mental health advocates for the hospitality industry, knows all too well.

‘’One in two hospitality professionals either have or are experiencing ill mental health whilst working in hospitality,” Paddy explains to me. “Scary, isn’t it? What’s scarier the fact that this stat was released earlier this year and with the current lack of compassion and blatant disregard for the hospitality industry that the Government has shown its set to get worse before it gets better.

“The lack of clarity and support is crippling our beloved industry. The team at So Lets Talk spend our days running sessions on mental, physical and financial health to the people within hospitality. We talk to hospitality business owners and teams in Manchester daily and the feeling of uncertainty has never been stronger than it is now.

“Mass cancellations, people not wanting to work in hospitality and team members having to isolate means that businesses are forced to close early or ride the storm once again and hope for some support in the future.We’re hoping Rishi realises that the VAT on £0 is £0. If the government doesn’t act quick the fifth largest industry in the UK will never be the same again.

“We want to let everyone know that SLT are here for you now and always. Please don’t hesitate to reach out for support.”

Living on a thin line, 
Tell me now, what are we supposed to do? 

As Dave Davies’ words from 36 years ago ruminate a little more, the question remains. What are we supposed to do? What is six grand supposed to do in the long run? What is abject government ignorance going to achieve other than to leave the hospitality industry in tatters? A headline grabbing figure of £1bn in grants might sound like an eye watering amount on paper, but it’s merely a drop in the ocean.

There needs to be clarity. There needs to be actual, proper support. There needs to be understanding. Without any of this, we could be looking at an even bleaker picture come Christmas 2022.

10 Festive Sandwiches To Try In Manchester

I’m an absolute sucker for a festive special. Mix in some turkey, sprinkle on sprouts, douse it in cranberry sauce and drizzle on the gravy and I’m a happy gal.

I’m not averse to a Greggs’ Festive Bake or a supermarket sandwich, but alongside these chains, some independent restaurants, cafes and bakeries in Manchester have created their own seasonal sandwiches.

Here are 10 Christmas special sarnies you can get your hands on this festive season.

Bada Bing

Bada Bing sandwich deli has of course announced a festive special sandwich, served on their signature hoagie rolls.

The Merry Bingmas is filled with roast turkey, bubble ‘n’ squeak croquette, nanna Barry’s ‘famous’ braised red cabbage, paté and spiced cranberry sauce. The sandwich is served with a pot of gravy for dunking and you can also add bacon if you like. The veggie version has cauliflower karaage and chestnut paté. Plus, there’s a prawn cocktail festive special too which looks sensational.

Find it at General Stores in Ancoats. Keep an eye on their page for more details.

Porky Pig

You’ve all heard of it, it’s the infamous Yorkshire Pudding Wrap, made by Porky Pig Carvery on the Christmas Markets. Ok, ok. I know what you’re about to say. It’s not a sandwich, it’s a wrap. I hear you, but it’s also a Yorkshire pudding and if it’s got a filling ‘sandwiched’ in between a bread-like exterior, it’s coming on the list.

The mammoth wrap begins with a giant Yorkshire pudding, which is then loaded up with shredded turkey, stuffing, carrots, peas and thick gravy. It’s then folded, grilled and served.

Northern Soul

Northern Soul‘s Crimbo Dinner grilled cheese is back, but not at the Manchester Christmas Markets this year. Instead, they’ll be serving it at their Tib Street store and at Escape to Freight Island’s Winter Island.

The grilled cheese is filled with crown of turkey, gravy, Pink Lady stuffing, cranberry sauce and topped with a gravy-soaked lollipop. It’s nothing short of majestic. Check out more on their Instagram.

Herbivorous

Having recently moved into their new restaurant in Withington, Herbivorous has just announced its festive specials dishes for this year which include a turkey (made with seitan) and stuffing burger, cheese fondue fries and fries loaded with seitan turkey, gravy, cranberry and red cabbage.

They’re also doing trifle, chocolate Yule log, Christmas Rum Punch and Neggnog (not egg nog) in the lead up to Christmas.

The Christmas menu is available from 1st December. Book a table at their Withington restaurant here. The festive specials are also available at Hatch.

Bundobust

Bundobust has confirmed they will be bringing back their sprout bhajis and their ‘seminal’ sprout bhaji butty which consists of a patty made with sprouts, broccoli and onion served with fennel and chilli salad and cranberry chutney in a vegan brioche bun. Plus, £1 from the sale of each Sprout Bhaij Butty will go to a local charity.

They’ll also have a festive curry made with winter veg in a warming tomato and coconut sauce and Christmas Kulfi flavoured with nutmeg, cardamom, cinnamon and orange peel. Christmas cocktails and mocktails include Coconut Hot Toddy, Massala Chaas with brandy, Baileys and their house chai, and Ginger Tom (non alc) which is a mix of Ginger ale, cranberry, apple, cinammon, lime and mint.

Find their full Christmas menu here.

Trove

A bit more of a classic Christmas sandwich, this one. Trove‘s turkey sandwich is topped with red cabbage sauerkraut, emmental cheese, Russian dressing and pickles. It’s served on their white sourdough and looks bloody gorgeous.

It’s available at their Ancoats, Levenshulme and Marble Street cafés.

Batard

Batard‘s Christmas sandwich is served between two thick wedges of sourdough and filled with roast turkey from Littlewood’s Butchers, pickled red cabbage, stuffing mayo and rocket.

They’ve also got a Festive Bake on the menu !! – a flaky pastry slice filled with butter roasted turkey, smoked bacon, cranberries and creamy mushroom sauce.

One Star Doner Bar

The Berlin-style donner bar run by a Michelin star chef, One Star Doner Bar, has launched a Christmas shawarma special on their menu at Escape to Freight Island.

The kebab is packed with turkey and stuffing with paxo mayonnaise, cranberry hot sauce, shredded sprouts, onions and cabbage. Its served with a side of potato smileys, because potato smileys are ace.

We’d also recommend ordering a side of crispy chicken nuggets with hot mayo sauce. Because, fuck it, it’s Christmas.

Bab

Bab has launched a Christmas menu this year, with no less than four festive babs and two sides. The babs include: roast turkey with cranberry and chilli sauce; lamb chop with green peas and mint sauce and butternut squash with sprouts, beetroot and cheesy chilli sauce.

They’re also serving pigs in blankets and Yorkshire puddings with gravy as sides. And there are Bab hot chocolates, piled high with whipped cream. Open every day. For more information and to book, visit their Instagram page.

Parmogeddon

The Christmas menu at Parmogeddon in Hatch features a Christmas butty with one of their parmos topped with bacon, melted brie and cranberry sauce rocket and house pickled spicy slaw on a toasted brioche bun.

They’ve also got a festive Parmo which is topped with deep-fried stuffing balls and pigs in blankets and served with fries. Plus, Christmas loaded cheesy fries with either pigs in blankets and deep fried stuffing or bacon, brie and cranberry. More info on their Instagram here.

AT THE TABLE // LITTLE ALADDIN

Nestled in the Northern Quarter, Ali has been running Little Aladdin since 1997, when the NQ was
a different place entirely.


“I took over the cafe when this area was mainly serving the Asian community working here in the warehouses and factories around NQ, and that’s how these menus came about — Hello there!”

This is pretty much the pace of this whole interview: from his tiny counter in his tiny corner cafe, Ali sings out snatches of his story (ask him about his Bollywood renditions) between greeting and serving customers during the busy lunchtime on which we cleverly decided to schedule this chat. His offering honours the cafe’s past lives, continuing to feed and sustain workers in town with massive portions for small prices.

The majority of his customers are regulars and vegan, but that’s about all they have in common. From students to construction workers, everyone is-without exception-so down for this food.


At the counter, you’re taken through the range of seven (seven!) vegan curries for your Rice+Three, which change daily and is their most popular order. On this particular Tuesday, you could choose from dishes including daal, spinach, cabbage, mixed veg, and cauliflower. Throughout service, I watch as food appears from what seems to be a hole in the floor – and when I can’t take the mystery any more, we’re led downstairs to the kitchen where world’s friendliest chef Mustafa shows us his prep and cooking area – there are chickpeas marinating everywhere, and it smells so good.


“The way we prepare the food is as if we’re cooking it for family at home. There’s nothing artificial, and the flavour is very unique. Because it’s vegan it will always be affordable”. [We digress at this point to talk about the resentment we feel towards establishments that do vegan food for super-expensive]


The food we had was fresh, honest and flavourful. It’s very much a no-frills affair, which is why a falafel and fried tofu wrap (ngl looks basic, tastes amazing – especially with their homemade selection of vegan sauces: chilli, garlic, mayo and mango) won’t even set you back a full fiver. The Biryani though, was notable in that where a traditional Biryani would be layered and cooked with bone-in meat, its absence changes the dish entirely. Expect generous chunks of butternut squash and other nutritious veg in there – you won’t miss the meat, I promise.


Ali’s journey with veganism started with a health concern:
“I was always a big lad, still am. I started cutting down on red meat to lose weight, then stopped eating meat completely. I realised you don’t have to add any animal products to enjoy good food. Then I got really really ‘holy’ on that – started working on myself and also learning from the many different vegan communities in Manchester and their views
— Hi guys, how are you?”


Ali’s is a story of travel, hard work and determination. Like many in the 80s, he emigrated to the UK from Pakistan in 1986, “I came alone and didn’t know anyone. I would say I’m a self-made man; I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs but I worked hard, I feel like my cafe is a community spot serving the many friends I’ve made.”


With a story so familiar and reminiscent of the many people from all over the world, coming to the UK full of hope and carving out an honest existence, it is truly what makes Manchester such a beautifully diverse city. When asked for his parting words of advice for those trying to make it on their own, Ali is a champion of grit and self-motivation:


“Nothing is unachievable – and don’t give up early. Though Covid did affect us big time with offices not being fully open, but people are starting to come back in. Never give up. The most important thing I would like to say is that nothing is going to help or be enjoyable if you don’t have proper good health, and that’s starts with food, the environment, and animal welfare.”


Ali dreams of expanding his tiny cafe, able to then offer even more of his super-popular
vegan food. With his growing die-hard following he has shown that this, like his dreams
before, can be achieved.

Alternative Christmas Markets in Manchester

You can’t help but have noticed a distinctly more festive feeling in the air over the last week or so. Christmas decorations are going up, there are festive specials on menus and mulled drinks are popping up left right and centre.

You will probably also have noticed the arrival of the Manchester Christmas Markets which this year are centred in Piccadilly Gardens. The markets tend to get plenty of attention every year but there are quite a few other options for festive markets in Manchester this year, with a wider range of independent traders to shop, eat and drink with.

We’ve rounded up some of the best places to do your Christmas shopping in the city.

Winter Island

Winter Island

Escape to Freight Island has opened what they claim is the UK’s largest fully outdoor and heated market outside the Depot Mayfield. Winter Island boasts independent traders and stalls, a Christmas tree forest and a series of festive events.

New festive food traders include Great North Pie Co, a bratwurst grill, a traditional hog roast, a mulled wine and hot cider hut, a local chocolatier and an artisanal cheese stall. There’s also an ice rink, workshops, live karaoke and film nights planned. Full info here.

Salvi’s Italian Christmas Market

Salvi’s is hosting an Italian Christmas Market at Deansgate Square ahead of the launch of their upcoming new restaurant which is opening at the development in the new year. The market will run from 27 November to 22 December featuring Italian street food like sweet and savoury sofietti (deep fried dough balls), cosy fire-pits with free blankets, an independent indoor market hosted by Pop-Up Club, as well as festive huts filled with the best Italian produce.

There’ll also be bars serving Peroni on draft, Vin Brulé (Italian mulled wine), Hot Mulled Negronis (!!), wines, prosecco, lots more cocktails and soft drinks. Follow Salvi’s for more details.

Indie Winter Markets at Kampus

Indie Winter Markets by the canal at Kampus

As part of Bread Flower‘s upcoming residency at Kampus, they are hosting two Indie Winter Markets on Saturday 4th and 11th December from 10am to 4pm. The line up of independent traders includes The Palms Bakery, Le Social Wine, Beaches and Cream jewellery, North and Soy candles, Prestwich Gin and lots more.

Upstairs in the Bread Flower cafe there will be bagels, coffees, mulled wine and more sweet treats, as well as wreaths and other floral arrangements to buy. For more details, head to the Bread Flower page.

Ancoats Pop Up

The Ancoats Pop Up market recently expanded from its mini markets at Block 23 to a much larger location at Cutting Room square, with room for a whole lot more traders. They are hosting festive markets in the square over two weeks in December from 11th to 12th and 18th to 19th.

Ancoats Pop Up is also hosting another market at Angel Gardens Saturday 4 December. Follow their page for more details.

A Refuge Christmas Carol

As part of a wider programme of festive events, The Refuge is hosting two Christmas Fairs on Sundays 5th and 12th December on their heated terrace. Traders lined up include Top of the Town Vintage, Deadstock General Store and more. There’ll be beers from Manchester Union Lager, a twist on the traditional German bratwurst from Grandad’s Sausages and sweet treats from Longbois Bakes.

Ramona Winter Village

Ramona Winter Village

Ramona and the Firehouse have been transformed into the Winter Village with tequila cabins, firepits, live stages and dance tents. There will also be mini festive markets on site with independent retailers popping up in the lead up to Christmas including A Few Scoops boozy ice cream, Biophillia plants, Clay and Coats accessories and Hugo and Co gourmet dog treats.

Levenshulme Market

The ever-popular Levy Market is hosting markets every Saturday in the lead up to Christmas from 10am to 4pm. They’ve also got their monthly night markets which take place on Friday 19th November and Friday 17th December which are on from 5pm to 9pm.

They’ve always got a really good range of traders and street food available at their events, so it’s well worth a trip to Levenshulme if you don’t already live there.

Christmas at GRUB

From Friday 26 November, GRUB is hosting their own Christmas market with a pop up shop featuring indie makers, alongside a street food offering, campfires, boozy hot chocolates, beers and a festive bottomless brunch. More info on their Instagram page.

Makers Markets

Makers Market will be hosting their usual line up of events across the region with events in Northern Quarter, Chorlton, Didsbury, Sale, MediaCity, Stockport and more. For the upcoming dates visit their website here.