Burgers, Buns and SAUCE: Where to Pick up the Best BBQ Essentials in Manchester

Barely 10 seconds have lapsed since the words ‘Heatwave set to hit UK shores this week’ have hit your timeline and the manic dash for supplies has begun in all of its blind, chaotic panic. Any of those disposables left over from last summer? How many bags of charcoal are in the garage? What sauces are in the cupboard? WHY DON’T WE HAVE A PADDLING POOL FULL OF LAGER ON HAND AT ALL TIMES?

British BBQ season is officially upon us.

Given that we in Manchester are blessed with roughly about 14 hours of blistering temperatures spread across six months between April and September, planning for a barbecue often succumbs to legging it into ALDI and loading two baskets (you’ve forgot your quid for the trolley AGAIN) full of basic quarter pounders and chipolatas because all the busy bastards have been down at half eight in the morning to nab those chorizo burgers, Monterey Jack melts, cajun chicken fatties and the ‘Specially Selected’ caramelised onion bangers.

You might snatch the last pack of unloved sweet chilli chicken drumsticks if you’re lucky. Who knows, some poor sod might have dropped their four pack of minted lamb koftas. You bundle this together with some squashed-to-shite floured baps, trampled and forgotten by the morning mob, a pot of fruity couscous, some over-mayo’d coleslaw and potato salad and some off brand Reggae Reggae sauce. You amble, wounded and weary up the alternate universe that is the middle aisle, wondering if you do in fact need a leaf blower, some off brand Crocs and a half price samosa maker. Seventeen quid down from £35 is a fucking good deal, to be fair.

Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this emergency haul. In fact, it’s nigh on impossible to be dismissive of any al fresco charcoal efforts given that they are always such joyous occasions. The simple act of striking the match with which you intend to transform the briquettes from humble lumps of coal into white hot meat heaters, billowing the intoxicating aroma of charred pork, beef and chicken out of your garden and across the next two streets is a sacred moment of every summer in Manchester and therefore must be cherished.

Yet, there is also the realisation that, with the proper preparation and research, things could be significantly improved. And said improvement could be achieved without having to endure the misery and frustration of a packed ALDI, ASDA or Tesco. Better yet, it could be achieved by helping a plethora of Manchester’s finest indie meat, bread, booze and SAWCE slingers.

So where to start?

MEAT

Littlewoods Butchers, Heaton Chapel

A quick glance at Littlewoods’ instagram feed and you know you’re in safe hands. This isn’t just a butchers (steady on, M&S voiceover) but a crack team of creative geniuses, specialising in everything from your staple burgers, chops and wings to dry aged Aberdeen Angus and Limousin beef tri-tip steak kebabs. This Stockport stronghold serves up sustainable, whole animal butchery and has been doing since 1964. One minute perusing their counters is enough to convince you that any of the selections in front of you will be mind-bendingly good. The dry aged smash patties (from grass fed native Dexter cows) are unfuckwithable and you cannot leave without at least a dozen of the lamb Merguez sausages, which you need to make an essential part of any BBQ you have for the foreseeable future.

Image: Littlewoods Butchers/instagram

The Littlewoods team produce more cuts than 12 rounds with Tyson Fury and each one of them are not only passionately knowledgeable about their craft but also exceedingly affable and helpful with recipe suggestions, many of which are shared across their social media feeds. Oh, and they’re also knocking out their own in-house charcuterie now, so you’re going to want to make sure a generous helping of that leaves the shop with you on your next visit.

Butcher’s Quarter/BQ Farm & Fish, Northern Quarter/Monton

Want to give off some suave, rustic Mediterranean energy when you’re grilling? Have a burning desire to capture the majesty of a sun kissed evening in Lisbon or Porto? Few sardines crisping up their skin above the flames while one of the posh plates you usually reserve for when your mum and dad come round is adorned with crushed ice and half-a-dozen oysters, fresh from Loch Fyne. A bit lavish maybe but also, at the same time, a bit fucking wonderful. Thanks to a collaborative effort between the Northern Quarter’s premiere meat peddlers Butcher’s Quarter and Monton’s purveyors of fine wines and indulgences Wandering Palate, you can pick up some sensational surf to go with your turf.

Image: BQ Farm & Fish/instagram

BQ Farm & Fish combines artisan butcher’s offerings with a first class fishmongers. The result is a destination that you ought to make a beeline for the moment you hear even the slightest murmuring about a potential heatwave. BQ’s beef is all sourced from free range, grass fed cattle from farms in Cheshire while their pork and chicken is born and reared outdoors, with an emphasis on low-stress living to ensure their meat is more wholesome and flavoursome. Great House Farm in Helmshore, roughly 20 miles down the road, supply the lamb and eggs, further reiterating the dedication to locality and sustainability. Similarly, F&F’s seafood is sourced from the British coast using day boats, with all products able to be traced back to the fishermen themselves. Just in case you fancy personally thanking the trawlerman who is responsible for the langoustines or rainbow trout that graces your grill this summer. And let’s face it, why wouldn’t you want to do that? Bloke’s gone out into the middle of the actual sea to catch your dinner for you. You should write him a thank you note.

Grandad’s Sausages, Bury

‘Putting a smile on Grandma’s face for 50 years!’ is the tagline of this Bury based banger emporium, who have also set up shop at Hatch, where they sling the finest hotdogs in the city. Once you’ve allowed yourself a giggle at their mucky motto (and also, if it’s legit, a moment’s appreciation for a couple who can still knock sensual boots after five decades together) you should hit them up for a delivery of their seriously high grade tubes of pork, whether it’s traditional olde English, Lincolnshire and Cumberland or their spicy chilli and Black Pudding sausages. Grandad Bernard’s grandkids have kept his legacy alive in spectacular fashion and their efforts will work wonders on your barbie.

WH Frost’s Butchers, Chorlton

When somewhere’s been established since 1890 and is still going strong, chances are it’s for a very good reason. Or, indeed, a plethora of very good reasons. Frost’s are a south Manchester institution, a Manchester Food and Drink award winner and one of the most well respected butchers not just in the city, but across the whole country. Their produce is supplied to all manner of pubs and a few Michelin starred clients but, most importantly, it can be supplied to your back garden/balcony/disposable on the park and enjoyed immensely.

Frost’s source from around Cheshire and the North West and their beef is hung for 28 days, allowing it to mature properly before it reaches your charcoal flecked embers. All the barbecue basics are available here, obviously, but there’s also all those off piste delicacies that set apart the truly special butchers and if you’re in the market for venison chorizo or some fresh game, you’re in luck.

BREAD

Barbakan Deli, Chorlton

It would be easy to walk into Barbakan and instantaneously feel overwhelmed; Polish black bread, German Kaiserbrot, spelt and honey sourdough, Italian Toscana… It’s like a massive, carby pick ‘n’ mix. Over 75 different loaves are on offer at the legendary Chorlton deli, where they knock out a monumental 15,000 a week. And this dedication is evident in every bite you take of one, no matter what variety you opt for.

But it’s not solely continental carbs that are on offer here. Barbakan’s fresh barms and baguettes, all golden and glowing with just the right amount of bite to accentuate their pillowy innards, are the perfect vessels for your burgers and bangers. Opening in 1964 – the same year as George Best finished up his debut season at Old Trafford – Barbakan’s legacy to baked goods is as mercurial as the iconic Belfast boy’s is to football in the city.

Companio & Pollen, Ancoats

Yeah, alright, your typical burger buns and hotdog rolls aren’t exactly synonymous with this Ancoats pair, but what is, is baguettes. The best baguettes this side of the channel. I will throw fists over that declaration. It’s genuinely impossible to choose between Companio and Pollen’s French sticks, such is the beauty of both, so don’t fret over which one to go to when trying to decide who is best equipped to source you with the superior sausage envelope (Note to self: When this writing gig inevitably fails, pitch ‘superior sausage envelope’ to as many condom companies as possible). You cannot miss with either.

Either way, you can’t lose. Top: Pollen, Bottom: Companio

The sourdough from both bakeries would also be the ideal support (in fairness it’d be the main event) for a couple of chicken thighs that you need to encase in carbs or maybe two of the aforementioned lamb merguez sausages from Littlewoods if you prefer your sausages buttied instead of hotdogged. And make Companio’s ciabattas a regular rotation for all future barbecues while you’re at it. And, obviously, stock up on as many croissants as you can physically carry from both places. Not for a barbie. It’s just simple life advice.

Sticky Fingers, Stockport

There used to be a Rolling Stones themed restaurant called Sticky Fingers, owned by their old bass player Bill Wyman, just off Deansgate. I had my first ever chilli dog there when I was about eight and a magician came to the table and made a quid appear from his ear. Was a bit weird and my mum seemed a bit fucked off at the magician interrupting our meal. Chilli dog was good though, from what I remember. Not there any more, Sticky Fingers. Long gone, in fact. There is, however, an insanely good Polish bakery of the same name that has recently opened in Stockport Market Hall and it’s owned by a couple of magicians, Klaudyna and Adrian, who’s artisanal works of art have been drawing mammoth queues to the hall, leading to them selling out rapidly every day.

Their pastries and cakes grab most of the attention but their loaves and rolls cannot be slept on. Not for a second. If it were revealed that some actual sorcery were at play in producing these goods, you would not for a minute doubt it. Not like that bullshit magician who clearly just had that quid already in his ea…. but then again, wouldn’t it have fallen out at some point during the tri…how the fuck did he do that actually? Anyway, while I try and make peace with the secretive workings of a table side con artist who confused me 25 years ago, you should leg it to Stockport Market Hall as soon as possible and give Klaudyna and Adrian all of your custom.

Prestwich

I’ve not forgot to list a particular venue above, but rather cannot narrow down just one location in Prestwich as the North Manchester village is replete with Jewish supermarkets and bakeries from which to secure some of the most phenomenal bread in the city. State Fayre obviously has the longstanding reputation of being the prime spot in the area, and supplies a number of shops with their baked goods, but Kosher City’s shelves are also worth raiding, especially on Thursday and Friday mornings, when it will be chocker with members of the local Orthodox Jewish community, providing a terrific, convivial atmosphere as brown paper bags are rammed full of challah, bagels, Royal Bake rolls and, of course, Pittanoor pittas. You remember them from Evelyn’s Pitta Shop last summer. If they are still on the shelves when you get there, you buy them, no questions asked.

An elderly gent once loudly pronounced “This is the best challah in the city” during one Friday morning visit I undertook to Kosher City, to which I involuntarily (and equally loudly) replied “Oh shit!” buzzing off his enthusiasm. I promptly apologised to the woman behind me with her two infant children, paid for my baked goods and left. So maybe save your passionate reactions to the quality of the bread for when you’ve vacated the premises.

SIDES

Prestwich (again)

After you’re done picking up your numerous bread based selections, head over to the fridges at any respectable Jewish supermarket in Prestwich (Habers World and Shefa Mehadrin on Bury New Road are both excellent and easy to access from town) and prepare to be faced with a myriad of irresistible deli pots, from simple Israeli salads to tabbouleh, baba ghanoush, sweet chilli aubergine and beyond. Word of warning: The dip selection can be off the charts on a good day, so be prepared to make some agonising decisions. Or just have a fridge full of dips. Your call. You can’t lose either way.

Lily’s Deli, Ashton/Chorlton/Ancoats

Small plates becoming so ruthlessly dominant in so many restaurants over the last decade or so is testament to how sides and starters are often the best bit of any menu. And there is a very good chance that, should you stock up on the multitude of Indian snacks available at Lily’s delis in Ashton, Chorlton and Ancoats, it will even upstage the main events that are sprawled across your grill.

We’re long past the era of veggie options being an afterthought when it comes to barbecues and with Lily’s now having three locations to choose from, following the opening of their Ancoats outpost in January, it’s easier than ever to pick up some of the most scintillating vegetarian snacks in Manchester. Think puris, chaats, paneer and the old faithful samosas, pakoras and bhajis, all cooked and flavoured to complete and utter perfection. A tableful of these to choose from would be the perfect accompanying side buffet to a barbie full of tandoori chicken and lamb chops.

Katsouris Deli, Deansgate

Traditionally regarded as more of a beloved cafe than a deli, Katsouris is a city centre icon, yet it’s deli options seem to be permanently overlooked. OK, so there’s not a sprawling counterful of salads and continental cheeses and charcuterie. In fact, the space dedicated to these offerings is surprisingly compact when you consider the big Kat christened itself as a delicatessen. But the healthily stocked Mediterranean salad bar is always reliably excellent and the mezze of stuffed vine leaves, peppers and olives on offer just to the right of the hot sandwich counter, beyond the snaking queue awaiting their turn at the sizzling pan, where fresh ciabattas are halved, buttered and piled high with turkey, pork, gammon or peri-peri chicken, is also not to be sniffed at. Many a shrewd operator will be able to leave Deansgate’s cherished corner cafe with a small mountain of crowd pleasing sides and have enough money left over to nip back in to order that lamb Siciliana they’d been debating in the queue (always, always go for the Lamb Siciliana, even if you’re only half thinking about it).

Mercado Deli Market, West Didsbury

Victor Calo was born in Venezuela to Italian parents and made his way to Manchester after 20 years in America and a year long stint in Italy. And it is all of these experiences and cultures that have led to Mercado Deli Market establishing itself as an extraordinarily vital and vibrant part of the Didsbury community. The arepas, paninis and cachitos (stuffed Venezuelan breakfast pastries. Yes you’ll love them) take centre stage here, but the deli section, resplendent with antipasti and assorted deli market produce is worth dedicating some time to investigating further. Just to be on the safe side, bag a few empanadas while you’re mulling your deli decisions and thank us for the recommend later.

SAUCE

Elliot Eastwick’s World Famous Hot Sauce

As this piece is being written, former Hacienda and Revolution Radio DJ Elliot Eastwick will be dropping the latest in his increasingly long and diverse line of hot sauces, as he unleashes his butter buffalo (not a euphemism. Dunno what it would even mean, to be fair. Just sounded rude as soon as I saw it typed out) on the world. The silky, New York inspired chicken wing coater follows on from such saucy variants as the OG World Famous Hot Sauce, Poppadom Preach (a fusion of all the classic poppadom dip pots in one miraculous bottle), black garlic bbq and, of course, the granddaddy of ’em all, pineapple ghost (Elliot is yet to confirm my suspicions that this is simply heavily fermented Lilt, but his silence speaks volumes)

Image: Elliot Eastwick/instagram

Then throw in a pizza oil that essentially serves as a Swiss Army knife for the condiment world, multifaceted enough to be drizzled on your favourite slice one minute, some scrambled eggs the next and then onto any number of cuts of meat as they make their journey from grill to plate, juices intertwining with the oil to concoct a wildly sumptuous array of flavours. Oh, and how about some Carolina Reaper salt? Sprinkle it on your potato salad or some chips and watch the saliva cascade from your chops (and onto your chops) as it puckers up your lips in the most delightful, flavoursome way imaginable. Prime takeaway tackle in your own kitchen. What could be better?

All of Elliot’s sauces are vegan and, most importantly, a real labour of love. A cursory glance at the main man’s Twitter timeline is enough to inform you of how dedicated he is to his relatively newfound craft and, in all honesty, it’s utterly joyous to see someone so dedicated and passionate about what they create. The entire range is a must for any fridge all year round, BBQ season or not.

MAMA Z

Ketchup, French’s Mustard, mayo, garlic mayo, sweet chilli sauce, perinaise, sriracha. That’s about as far as most British barbecue condiment counters reach. A sturdy mix that more than does the job, but that’s not to say that it cannot be improved upon. And when you knock back your first hit of Mama Z’s banana ketchup, you’ll wonder why it hasn’t been in your life for much, much longer. The versatility of it is such that, not only can you decadently drizzle this Filipino flavour bomb all over your chicken or pork (or, honestly, any meat or veg of your choosing), you can marinade your meats in it too, pre-barbie. While the spice scale is well under control with the banana ketchup, Mama Z turns it up a notch with her tamarind Hot Zos (short for her real name Zosima). Based on the flavours of Filipino soup sinigang, the Zos delivers an intoxicating wallop of flavour and spice that goes particularly hard when doused onto flatbreads or tacos filled with grilled goods of your choosing.

Image: Mama Z/instagram

In addition to her burgeoning sauce empire, Mama Z also announced this past week that, in collaboration with Yen from Wok’s Cluckin, the pair will be opening their own shop and café, brilliantly named Yes Lah, in Didsbury, with a Kickstarter campaign launching tomorrow morning (Friday, April 29th). One drop of Z’s sauces should be all you need to convince you to drop some quids her way.

Devil Dog Sauces

If you’ve paid a visit to General Stores, Bernie’s Grocery or A Taste of Honey (all three of which are also outstanding gaffs from which to pick up BBQ supplies), you’ll have no doubt had your eyes drawn to Devil Dog’s chilli sauces. They’re pretty difficult to ignore, drawing you in from afar like a Jack Russell to a tennis ball, with their exhilarating flavour combinations and fluorescent labels. The blending of full bodied fruit and chilli combos provides some ferociously piquant smacks of heat that are as bold as they are delicious.

Ancho Grande and Apple, Urfa Biber and Watermelon, Gochugaru and Ginger, Caroline Reaper & Blackberry with Lemon Thyme… these flavours are very much ‘We Are Not In Kansas, Any More’ territory but thankfully, never verge anywhere near gimmickry. This is acid and heat based alchemy at its finest. Experimentation at an elite level and a degree of culinary artistry that has led to collabs with breweries such as Rivington (Sour Cherry, Habanero & Porter Chilli Sauce), Runaway (Ghost Pepper, Smoked Mushroom Ketchup) and Northern Monk (Heathen Hot Sauce). Work your way through the entire range this summer.

Image: Devil Dog Sauces/instagram

BEVS

Ad Hoc, Northern Quarter

Once you find yourself on Edge Street, there is the temptation to drop whatever you were thinking about doing and just parking yourself outside Common for a few hours with a steady supply of pints and Nell’s slices to keep you company. And while that is obviously a tremendous plan, you’d also be doing yourself and your upcoming barbecue a huge disservice if you didn’t stock it with booze from Ad Hoc on the opposite side of the street. The low key Northern Quarter bev stockist and bar, run by Miles Burke, opened last year and has been rapturously received by their steady stream of customers, enthused by the global selection of craft beers, humongous French ciders and wines all colours of the fucking rainbow. Those French ciders in particular are a massive crowd pleaser, all gallic and prestigious looking, radiating in the summer sun in their litre bottles. Bang them in your ice filled paddling pool (or your fridge, whatever) and you’re laughing.

Image: Ad Hoc/instagram

Le Social Wine, Pollard Yard

Action Bronson once described natural wine as ‘adult juice’ and, after a few minutes in the company of Le Social proprietor Jerome, you will share the same fervour for these technicolor bottles of grapes. Operating out of a nonchalant unit in Pollard Yard, Jerome sells online and has bottles stocking the shelves and fridges of General Stores and FoodHalls across the city.

Image: Le Social Wines/instagram

Whether it’s sparkling, orange, light red, dark red or Panda Pops pink, not only will you be beguiled by the aesthetics, you’ll also be educated by the craft of each bottle, with Jerome’s knowledge and history second to none. Allow Jerome to make you a few recommends and, if possible, let him know what meats going to be laying on your grill so he can more expertly curate his selections for you.

Vin de Bodega, Very Online

Bodega discourse is rampant on Twitter at the moment, with New Yorkers receiving flak for not registering that corner shops and convenience stores exist in literally every city and town in the world. But still, the aesthetic, vibe and attitude presented in pop culture of bodegas is still pretty undefeated as it’s taught us you can grab an everything bagel, a nuclear orange Mexican Fanta and some Twizzlers while also watching a fearless shopkeeper disarming a pistol wielding lunatic. So who’s to say if New Yorkers are right or wrong for being so adamantly proud of their neighbourhood fizzy pop and crisp shops?

Image: Vin de Bodega/instagram

One Bodega we can all agree on though, is Vin de Bodega, which has been keeping Manchester fuelled with only the very best natty wines for the last couple of years. The lovechild of Eoghan Neburagho, Jack Surplus, Razz Ashraf and Rick Farthing, VdB is the ‘answer to your needs and the ice to your juice’ in the words of Owen. “The bodega boys don’t judge. You’ll catch us drinking orange wines with kebabs if it tastes good” reads a quote from Jack on the official VdB website, which is a life mantra we all must share, especially when the variety of juices on offer is as colossal as this. Pair any of these with your kebabs, burgers, ‘dogs or salads and you can’t go wrong.

As is obviously the case with any article of this ilk, the above is by no means an exhaustive list and there are plenty of other great indie spots from which to pick up some spectacularly good gear for a barbecue. But using this band of prize fighters as your starting line up is not a bad way to go about putting together some of the most unforgettable grilling sessions you or your mates will ever experience.

The Official EATMCR Guinness Guide For St.Patrick’s Day

When things go wrong and will not come right,
Though you do the best you can,
When life looks black as the hour of night –
A pint of plain is your only man.

– ‘Workman’s Friend’, Brian O’Nolan

The delicate thunk that emanates from the base of a tulip glass gently connecting with walnut echoes beautifully throughout an empty pub, with only the barmaid and the horse racing on TV for company. Nitrogen bubbles cascade southwards through a swirling storm of chocolate brown, eventually settling into a shade of black darker than a pair of priest’s socks. A millimetre or so above the iconic golden harp sits the silk soft cream, resting tranquilly atop the impenetrable depth of stout. You’ve waited patiently, now you slowly, triumphantly hoist the pint towards your lips and within a nanosecond are beguiled by the serenity of the whole experience. Whatever catastrophe and chaos lies on the other side of the door can wait, because you’ve got all you need right here.

Guinness is fucking brilliant, isn’t it?

The Black Stuff from St.James’ Gate has been easing anxieties and fuelling festivities since 1759 and will be in full flow across Manchester this Thursday to mark the annual St.Patrick’s Day celebrations.

Given that even a tepid St.Pat’s can resemble scenes akin to Ireland completing the World Cup and Eurovision double, it’s nigh on impossible to contemplate what a first non-lockdown effort since 2019, which also coincides with the Cheltenham Festival, will entail. Imagine the delirium of Stephenson Square during the latter stages of Euro 2020, only crammed into every single pub in Manchester for an entire day with an emerald green colour scheme, and you’re probably along the right track.

Which makes the need for the ideal locations in which to enjoy a perfectly poured Guinness all the more pressing. Let’s face it, what good is a decent pint if you can’t take a single uninterrupted sip without being knocked arse over elbow by some giddy knobhead on their one non-Christmas related pub visit of the year?

Following on from 2021’s groundbreaking, critically acclaimed, trailblazing EATMCR Chip Safari, we took it upon ourselves to deliver another tour, this time as a public service. We wanted to ensure our readers were only frequenting the top tier establishments this St.Patrick’s Day, while on the lookout for the finest Irish import to hit the city not named Roy Keane.

Upon piecing the plan together, one of the fundamental aims was to avoid over-earnest Guinness snobbery. We’ve all had a good laugh at the Shit London Guinness account on instagram, of course, but the desire of many very online bores to dissect every pint they come across is an exercise so fucking exhausting it almost ruins Dublin’s finest for you forever. Then again, we were also not going to suffer any gimmicky nonsense like serving the Black Stuff out of a fucking Toby jug or anything similarly fucking absurd.

The philosophical mantra that resonated with us most ahead of mapping out our route came courtesy of everyone’s favourite Vada Pav merchants, Bundobust who, responding to a tweet of ours looking for recommendations, exclaimed ever so profoundly that “the best Guinness is in your head” and, not to get too bus stop shaman on everyone, but we can fuck with Guinness being a state of mind over it being a merciless ‘Pineapple has no place on a pizza’ discussion for personality vacuums on social media.

But to begin, we had to give our numerous pints of plain something to latch onto, leading us to the only place and dish we felt suitable to kickstart proceedings. Even if it meant taking an unexpected Mexican detour…

STOP ONE: THE KOFFEE POT

An Irish Fry. What else? Littlewoods Butchers dry cured bacon, sausage, grilled tomato, mushrooms, a gooey golden yolked fried egg, a perfect potato cake, black AND white pudding (guaranteed to make you deliriously happy) and a substantial slice of wholemeal soda bread. While the old Koffee Pot, resplendent with it’s condensation soaked single glazing, tattered seating and formica will always have my heart, it’s also impossible to be unhappy inside the Oldham Road digs that they’ve occupied over the last few years. And sitting down to a plate that so idyllically encapsulates the most heartwarming aspects of Irish cooking – the splendidly starchy stodge of the potato cake, the porcine pleasure of of the white pudding and the deftly satisfying, buttered up crunch of the soda bread – is a source of joy that is difficult to replicate.

A triumph. Just don’t pair with a fizzy, spicy Mexican stout

Yet this was a visit that was not without error. While KP’s website does state that they serve bottles of Guinness Porter, when I cast my eyes over the menu in-house, it was nowhere to be seen. Asking the server about this, I was recommended a ‘Mexican stout’ instead. Given that it would be stylistically in keeping with the variety of bev I would be drinking for the remainder of the day, I plumped for the server’s option, intrigued by what the Mexican take on stout would be, having only ever been exposed to the sun kissed cervezas of Corona, Modelo, Pacifico, Dos Equis and Tecate.

As big Julie Roberts in Pretty Woman once said, big mistake. Huge.

There was nothing wrong with the tin of Mexican Hot Chocolate stout that was presented to me. I’m sure a lot of people will enjoy it. But the dull fizz of chilli against a leaden backdrop of stout was not sitting right with my Irish Fry. A brew would have been a much better option in this case. But don’t allow my Mexican misadventure perturb you. Saddle up for an Irish Fry to honour St.Pat and you won’t go far wrong.

When money’s tight and hard to get
And your horse has also ran,
When all you have is a heap of debt –
A pint of plain is your only man.

– ‘Workman’s Friend’, Brian O’Nolan

STOP TWO: THE STATION, DIDSBURY

A relatively quick tram journey from St.Peter’s Square to Didsbury village begins the tour in earnest. Waltzing past the suburban outposts of Botanist and Solita as we depart the met stop and make a beeline down School Lane, there is a sense that the security of a middle class enclave won’t offer up the necessary atmosphere for Paddy’s Day drinking. Gentrification and good Guinness experiences are not common bedfellows. Yet there stands The Station, nestled next to a Domino’s on the corner of Wilmslow Road, all red brick and enough Guinness adornments to suggest that either they really know what they’re doing with their plain behind the bar, or we’re about to venture inside a pint sized museum that would be more comfortable trapped inside a touristic cesspit in any major city with a decent sized Irish population.

More pubs should have curtains blowing out of the top window IDST

Thankfully, one step inside The Station and you can breathe a sigh of relief. The mood is gentle, the paraphernalia curated tastefully along the walls and bar. There’s the toucan balancing a glass of the Black Stuff on it’s beak, look. There’s an understated authenticity to proceedings here, punctuated by an extraordinary selection of Tayto crisps. We grab a packet of pickled onion and another of Worcestershire sauce and pull up a stool each underneath the TV and adjacent to an impressively stocked jukebox. The Guinness itself is given the right degree of care and attention before being served and hits all the right notes on a quiet Friday lunchtime. No doubt on a much more boisterous Paddy’s Day afternoon, it’ll go down even smoother. Taytos in hand, we depart, with the barmaid proudly showing off the Guinness harp phone charging port on the bar which, it has to be said, I really want for my own house, gimmicky though it may be.

The cream curtains billowing wildly out of the upstairs window lends a homely frisson to the whole vibe and sets us up ideally for the day ahead as we wind ourselves back towards the city via another legendary suburban bolthole…

STOP THREE: FIDDLER’S GREEN, LEVENSHULME

Surrounded by a Persian kebab house, New Mexico Fried Chicken and a branch of Paddy Power, Fiddlers is an institution located with seasoned boozers in mind.

Unassuming with it’s bottle green, Celtic lettered signage, Fiddlers opens up into a bygone era, but one which has been miraculously preserved away from the modern trappings which would dampen its appeal. The proud association with Donegal is strewn across the interior, from framed Gaelic football shirts and scarves to plaques and cherished photos. It’s the character defining sort of pub that is passed down throughout generations. You’ve spent a good few Saturday afternoons there with your dad and granddad, watching the football results come in over games of dominos and Pontoon. A low glow hangs warmly in the air, inviting you inwards like an old family living room. Only one with a group of blokes howling at their latest horse letting them down by about six furlongs while another trio in the corner have a very pointed discussion over what the best dog is (“get fucked with your Jack Russells. What a load of shite”. Fair play).

Cannot stress enough how passionately the blokes on the table next to us were arguing about dogs

Were it not for the fact we had another half dozen establishments to tackle in town, we could have quite happily settled here, maybe nipping out for an emergency Levy Bakery run a few hours in to keep us going. Getting yourself situated in here on Thursday morning wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world.

STOP FOUR: LASS O’GOW….HOLD ON…CLOSED!?

Fuck sake.

Unforseen circumstances, apparently. Fair enough, can’t be helped. Gutting for our tour plans, though you should still make sure to pay the Charles Street supping spot a visit on the big day. While Scottish in heritage, this is a den designed for some prime Guinness consumption. Don’t miss it.

STOP FIVE: THE GREY HORSE, PORTLAND STREET

Any pub that caters to your, quite frankly, ludicrous query about screening a Denis Irwin highlight package on it’s television set AND offers up FREE PORK PIES IN A VARIETY OF FLAVOURS deserves to be protected at all costs and demands your custom.

The Guinness is sublime, the service even better and the atmosphere among the best in the city. Elbow-to-elbow with rabble rousing regulars of all ages and backgrounds, the Grey Horse is a Mancunian icon and should feature on any pub crawl ever undertaken in the city, Paddy’s Day or not. Buy Howard a pint as well. He’s a spectacular human being.

There they all are, all the lads

The only downside, if you can even call it that, to our visit, is we had to depart just as the historic 1999 fourth round FA Cup tie between United and Liverpool began to play on the set. Only got to see Michael fucking Owen’s third minute header before taking off. The temptation to loop back for Dwight Yorke’s 88th minute equaliser and Ole Solskjaer’s injury time winner was very fucking overwhelming.

Long live the Grey Horse.

When health is bad and your heart feels strange,
And your face is pale and wan,
When doctors say you need a change,
A pint of plain is your only man.

– ‘Workman’s Friend’, Brian O’Nolan

STOP SIX: MOTHER MACS, BACK PICCADILLY

Well and truly into the thick of it now and in need of some roughage to help us chart the choppy waters of the business end of our tour, supplies are sourced from Go Falafel and Cafe Marhaba, with the Macs bar staff only too happy to welcome the scintillating scent of samosa drifting through their door as we place our orders and, naturally, marvel at the framed newspaper clippings detailing a murdered wife and a fatal fire, both of which have taken place during the pub’s storied history.

A perfectly normal thing to have in your pub

Tucked away down a Northern Quarter back alley, Macs is a secluded source of zen among a manic metropolis. It’s no frills and you can usually find The Chase on the telly, which is obviously brilliant. They do a decent pint and the bar staff are only too willing to rip the piss out of you at a moment’s notice which, much like their devotion to airing Bradley Walsh game shows, is very important when it comes to accompanying a pint of Guinness.

Our first NQ pit stop boxed off, we head Oldham Street way for a couple of heavyweight encounters…

STOP SEVEN: THE CASTLE, OLDHAM STREET

A place that needs no introduction, but one which it is impossible to tire of indulging in. Since 1776 The Castle has been quenching thirsts and, in more recent times, providing one of the finest jukeboxes in the city, which is an essential during any St.Pat’s celebration.

Sequestered at the far end of the bar, bundled up against the wall, we sway while trying to piece together the final furlongs of our route. Three more stops, we reckon. As the time ticks past five, more glasses are routinely clinked as the door swings to-and-fro with an ever increasing load of post-work sorts desperate to start their weekends. Our group, meanwhile, are preoccupied with how long the walk across the road to the next stop is going to take us as pint number seven is dispatched before we’ve even collected enough shrapnel between us to put some Talking Heads on the jukebox. Fuck sake.

STOP EIGHT: GULLIVERS, OLDHAM STREET

Not going to lie to you, it’s at this point where everything goes a bit west. Could have been stumbling into Gulliver’s World and none of us would have likely batted an eyelid. We amble onwards, though, because we’ve got a job to do. A civic duty that must be carried out. Christ we’re fucking trousered. Everyone else is, at most, on drink number three and we’re bellying up to the bar clocking in at number eight. A trio of delinquents hellbent on providing content that St.Patrick himself would be proud of. Only with less banishing snakes and more simply getting very, very pissed.

The only acceptable crisps for St.Pat’s

Fortunately, Gulliver’s has long been a venue with an allowance for a reasonable level of debauchery. Not that our behaviour veered far beyond the realm of ‘just about managing to sit down successfully without taking the entire table to the floor with us’ but also something worth bearing in mind for 17th March. A mainstay of Oldham Street and a Northern Quarter stalwart, it’s an easy gaff to settle yourselves into, as we come perilously close to doing during our visit. You’ll find some seriously good Guinness and a reliably solid selection of tunes in here come Paddy’s Day, so make sure it’s on your list.

STOP NINE: PEVERIL OF THE PEAK, GREAT BRIDGEWATER STREET

In some very deep waters now, but where better to be in them than the most beautiful pub in the whole land? That emerald green is like a siren call, beckoning drinkers inwards, which, now with emergency Taytos dispensed down our gullets, we are only too happy to oblige.

We cannot locate a free table for the remaining three of us wild rovers, but it’s probably for the best as to sit down at this point would mean never, ever getting back up. We fortuitously stumble upon an empty hatch and lean our weary bones against it, praying it’s not some elaborate set up for a ‘Del Boy through the bar’ prank.

An art exhibition dedicated solely to pictures of the Pev, pls

Luckily it’s not and we soak in the end of the work week among countless contented souls, all either slinging back pints with the heady excitement of a toddler let loose on a pick ‘n’ mix stall or savouring them in order to prolong the ecstasy of binning off another 40 hours of endurance. Even nursing a bellyful of nine pints, the majesty of the moment is not lost on us. If anything, the seven hours worth of alcohol only make the moment more ethereal.

One…more…stop…

When food is scarce and your larder bare
And no rashers grease your pan,
When hunger grows as your meals are rare –
A pint of plain is your only man.

– ‘Workman’s Friend’, Brian O’Nolan

STOP 10: MULLIGAN’S, DEANSGATE

Where else?

It took about 12 seconds for countless comments to flood into our instagram notifications and DM’s urging us to make Mulligan’s the centrepiece of our tour. Of course, no sooner had the plan been hatched than it was decided that Deansgate’s finest institution (soz Katsouris. No offence, we still love you) would serve as the finale.

Obviously, things will be a little different on Paddy’s Day itself, with Mulligan’s operating on a ticket only system for the day, which is understandable given its resounding popularity. On a pre-Paddy’s Friday night, it is still reliably chocker, the band for the night tuning up on stage, a Friday night game I will never, ever remember playing out across the multiple screens affixed to the walls. Flags, scarves, memorabilia, souvenirs and special keepsakes from across the Emerald Isle decorate every inch of the walls and the mood is as boisterous as ever.

As we crescendo our Guinness Safari, we are joined by two thirds of the team from Well Good, and who better to finish your night with than a pair of wild Wiganers who immediately set about blagging us a table (still absolutely zero idea how this happened) and breaking us from our ‘one pint per place’ routine. Although, given that we’re now on our tenth drink, that’s not exactly the wisest decision we’ll make, but fuck it, we’ve earned it and we gladly bring up a dozen while surrounded by what feels like half of Manchester. A wondrous place.

The Holy Trinity

We depart before the band strikes up. That’s what 12 pints of stout over nine hours will do to you. But we leave proud, pissed and content. And pissed. So very, very pissed. The Well Good lads grill the bouncer over the origin of his kebab and are duly pointed around the corner to Cafe Istanbul, where they promptly devour some monstrous looking chicken and doners. Judging by their reviews the following afternoon, it perhaps isn’t a bad shout for those of you following this guide on the big day. A suitable bookend to the Koffee Pot Irish Fry.

And, remarkably, not long after nine o’ clock, we make our various ways home. There are, of course, dozens of other spots to take in and enjoy a wonderfully poured pint of Guinness in Manchester. Edinburgh Castle can be a borderline religious experience at times, with the Kings Arms, City Arms and both Sam and Tom’s Chophouses delivering the goods inside some of Manchester’s most iconic settings. The neighbourhoods outside the city limits also hold a fair amount of wonders too, with our time allowances only affording us a couple this time round, we can also recommend The Crown in Heaton Moor, with The Albert in Withington and Chorlton duo Bowling Green and Duffy’s also earning numerous mentions in our comments.

Whether you follow our tried and tested route this St.Pat’s Day or not, remember the immortal words of Bundobust Twitter, “The best Guinness is in your head”.

Sláinte

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.

All The January Dining Offers You Need To Know About In Manchester

Feels good to get that first week of January out of the way, doesn’t it? You’ve finally stopped eating meat, cheese, Baileys soaked cornflakes for breakfast and entire selection boxes in one sitting. That weird sweating/wheezing combo that follows you everywhere throughout the last week of December has disappeared and now all that’s left is to navigate the remaining three weeks of the year’s shittest month with the roughly £7.48 residing in your bank account until payday.

Which is where this big fucking list of money saving dining offers comes in handy.

January is bleak at the best of times, let alone when it’s crusading towards us with a boatload of Omicron and hapless government indecision. The Baltic, wheelie bin disrupting winds and jean dampening downpours feel a lot less fucking charming when they are a few days removed from the tinsel and turkey. Instead they merely serve as an ear numbing slap across the chops as you leg it from another joyless, muscle manipulating torture session at the gym you will abandon about a fortnight into February, to the tram heaving with similarly melancholy commuters, all yearning for the fast forward button to propel them to a Spring bank holiday weekend.

Yet there is reason to be cheerful. Actually, there’s a few dozen.

Restaurants and bars across Manchester, reeling from a barren second half of December, are doing their best to entice you away from whatever overhyped series you’re planning on dedicating your life to for the next month and instead want to maintain a perpetual pang of positivity among the general public by keeping them sat across tables from each other, rather than on settees, resentfully picking at a plate of steamed fish and cauliflower rice with an episode of The Tourist.

But who’s offering what? What sort of percentages are we talking here? What days are these discounts valid and is there any small print attached?

Let’s run you through it, shall we?

First up, how does 50% off food at Refuge sound? Because between Monday and Wednesday until the end of the month, you and up to five mates can gorge on all the Voltini your expanded post-Christmas waistlines can handle. Book in advance and dine from the all day menu and you’re all set for a mammoth midweek for the ages. That pork chop with chimichurri and grilled pineapple never looked so appetising. Not to mention the slow cooked ox cheek with mole and crispy onions.

For just £25 per person, Cottonopolis are weaving their way into our hearts with a SEVEN COURSE ‘Taste of Cotton’ set menu. Available all day from Monday to Thursday and from 4pm on Sunday, this banquet of baos, sushi, robata grilled goods and more not only adorns your plates with everything from tiger prawn and water chestnut gyoza to crispy tofu and teriyaki mushroom baos and beyond, but also comes with a free drink to wash your joyful Japanese journey down with.

Yeah, just gonna take the lot, ta”. Image: Cottonopolis

On the outskirts of the Northern Quarter, Ramona are seeing 2022 in with ‘Marguary’ between 5-7pm from Wednesday to Friday every week. Margaritas will only set you back a fiver, while their cheesier, saucier, differently spelled namesake Margheritas are just a quid a slice. Thicc slices at Poundland prices. Happy fucking New Year.

Should you prefer your slices inspired by the East Coast of America rather than the Midwest, however, then Nell’s has your hook up. At both of their city centre sites (Common and Kampus) and Chorlton outpost The Beagle, the New York slice lords are giving you 50% off their entire muddafuckin’ menu, as long as you dine in and book in advance. In short, that means a 14 inch pie could be your’s for less than a fiver (Marinara), while 22 inches of saucy dough will see you nab a quid back from a tenner in some cases. Put those quids towards a half off ice cream sandwich for £2.50 or maybe a few 75p dip pots for those spare crusts. Bing Bong.

Your’s for a fiver. Image: Nell’s Pizza

The half price deals are not restricted to Nell’s though, with Ducie Street Warehouse showcasing their new all vegan offering, masterfully curated by head chef Andrew Green, at 50% off from Monday to Thursday until the end of the month. Think crispy peanut cauliflower, sweet potato fritters, mafalde pasta ribbons and vegan laksa. Oh and celeriac shawarma. Do not forget the celeriac shawarma. Or I will fucking fight you. Or just be really disappointed in you. Either way, don’t forget it.

Blues Kitchen are also getting in on the 50% off game, with their supper menu only setting you back half as much as it usually would from Sunday to Thursday until the 31st. But if you’re craving a big, mucky burrito over baby back ribs, then you can nip over to Luck, Lust, Liquor and Burn all day Sunday to Thursday and from 5pm on Friday for half price tortilla wrapped decadence.

If half price food in wraps is your bag, then Bab are also knocking 50% off all their kebabs between Monday and Wednesday. More of a bun fan? Almost Famous’ burgers share the same discount all day between Sunday and Thursday then from 5pm on Friday. Although for those of you who operate on the plant based end of the spectrum, or who are simply giving Veganuary a right royal go, the tremendous Black Leaf are knocking half off their entire menu throughout this month and, as if that wasn’t enough, they’re also keeping the deal rolling through the first fortnight of February.

Plant based perfection under moody lights. Prime winter tackle whether you’re vegan or not. Image: Black Leaf

And it’s not just within the confines of the city centre where these BOGOF bounties are to be found (not sure why I suddenly started typing like a pirate there) with Chorlton institution The Lead Station firing off half your bill as long as you make a booking between 4.30-7pm from Monday to Friday.

Sticking with pub grub, Bay Horse Tavern have chopped the big 0.5 off their food bills for the month, which guarantees you plenty of heartwarming comfort as the temperatures hover around freezing for the entirety of January.

Down Deansgate way, BOX and Manahatta are also halving scran bills all day, every day with Corn Exchange stalwart Banyan doing likewise every day apart from Saturday, with Sunday roasts also being included in their offering, which is obviously brilliant.

Small plate connoisseurs will buzz off the El Gato Negro, Canto and Habas hat-trick of 3-for-£15, which is being offered up all day Sunday-Thursday for the entire month.

Circling back to delectable discs of dough, Crazy Pedro’s 16 inch creations are all a tenner for the length of this 31 day winter hellscape, which you could then wash down with a few £6 cocktails at Mecanica, who have introduced a menu of 22 concoctions to see in 2022. Or you could head to Moxy between 5-8pm on any weekday for their special 5.01 menu, serving up cocktails for a fiver until the 31st.

Ever so slightly below the 50% threshold are Salvi’s, who have a 40% off food deal at their NQ space and mozzarella bar between Sunday and Thursday. Cutting Room Square session spot The Jane Eyre, where so many hours can be so easily lost among their cocktail menu, is cutting a quarter off all total bills from Monday to Thursday every week of January to make the new year that little bit happier. As you might expect, booking ahead is advised at both establishments.

This and the entire cocktail menu, pls. Image: The Jane Eyre

For those of you who are perhaps feeling a tad more extravagant, especially those of you who saw Omicron decimate your Decembers, Wood has rolled out it’s Tasting For Two deal for the entire month after a wildly popular first few days. The seven course lunch menu is a twofer every Friday and Saturday (excluding Saturday lunch), while the nine course dinner version is on offer Wednesday – Friday.

Oh, and if you fancy just being given a tenner to spend, no strings attached, just download the Turtle Bay app and you’ll automatically be given £10 to spend, no questions asked. Just saunter in, spend and strut straight back out again if you wish. Or just belly up to the bar for a long session of Red Stripes and Rum & Tings. Whatever you want.

Obviously, there are far more discounts being delivered all across the city this month that are not listed above, but we believe these 25 are a pretty substantial jumping off point. Head out and help hospitality see in a much better new year than the old one we just left.

Big Bowls and Bevs: The Pub Grub You Need To Be Eating This Christmas

It’s not far off five o’ clock and the rain is cascading down onto Oldham Street in sheets, relentlessly dampening the spirit of myself and the scant few others around me, all hurrying our respective ways home, away from the bleak silence of an empty Northern Quarter. The occasional burst of strip lighting or a low glowing ember from one of the remaining shops able to open offering a desperate sense of whatever normalcy remains of the year. Every restaurant, bar and pub sits barren and lifeless where once Christmas parties would have spilled out onto the streets, all bawdy and debauched, causing bedlam on Stevenson Square and beyond. December 2020 could absolutely get fucked.

Twelve months removed from the drizzle sodden wasteland that was Christmas 2020 and the pubs are open, the fires are roaring, the Guinness is being poured (with varying degrees of success) and the bowls and plates being placed under your nose are as welcoming and warming as a bearhug off James Gandolfini (I imagine. Looked like he gave great hugs, didn’t he?).

Needless to say, after a year off, Christmas bevving is officially back, BABY.

And, just as importantly, so is soaking up said bevs. We will, of course, be deep diving into the various establishments across Manchester that are serving up their own festive fare in the coming days, from taster menus to turkey tinged specials, but in this article, it’s all about pub food. Both in the city centre and slightly further afield.

Tucking into the secure warmth of a decent pub when the temperature is plummeting outside is a moment that is seldom bettered, especially once the Christmas lights are flicked on and every member of the general public collectively loses their fucking minds. No one’s rushing, no one’s panicking inside the four walls of a pub. Like a booze soaked Fortress of Solitude. The mood simmers upwards from serene to ‘unbuttoned shirt, on the bar, belting out the chorus of ‘Spaceman Came Travelling’ by Chris DeBurgh’. And isn’t that what Christmas is really all about?

The only thing that can enhance this scenario, which is already bordering on perfection as it is, is a series of arrivals from the kitchen, tailor-made to infuse you with enough festive spirit to karate kick a hole in a fucking brick wall. After you’ve slept every course off, that is.

But rather than merely regale you with an ensemble of the best city centre dishes to be enjoying between a roaring fire and the sound of The Pogues, this Christmas (I mean, we are going to do that as well) we thought we’d shine a light on a few select, further flung establishments that have captured our hearts and stomachs in the run up to Father Christmas’ birthday on 25th December.

So, first of all, it’s off to the Peak District…

The Pack Horse, Hayfield

“We started off just doing bog standard pub food, but ambition pushed us further on to where we are now,” explains Luke Payne, head chef and joint owner of The Pack Horse in Hayfield, just minutes after the five plates of his ambition driven pub cuisine have settled in our respective stomachs. Adjacent to the hallmark card crackle of flame caressed logs, the Kent born kitchen adventurer chronicles the progression of a menu that has recently been very publicly revered by Marina O’Loughlin in The Times.

“It was my own love and passion for the sort of food that we now serve that drove me towards getting to this point. It was always the goal, I just didn’t know how to do it in the beginning, so I’m completely self taught. I bought the right cookbooks, looking at the restaurants that I admire and look up to and just trying to replicate some dishes that I’d seen done elsewhere, which then built up my own sort of repertoire.

I mean, what more could you possibly need? Image: The Pack Horse/instagram

One of said restaurants is, unsurprisingly, the world renowned and adored St.John in London, helmed by the heroic Fergus Henderson and beloved by diners and chefs alike for decades, inspiring God knows how many top tier cooks into a set of whites. After inhaling every last morsel of Luke’s wild rabbit and smoked pig’s head pie – a dish I would happily develop chronic gout for if it meant I could experience it every single day of winter – it’s crystal clear the influence Henderson’s hallowed kitchen has had on Luke’s culinary evolution over the past five years since he and his partner, Emma, took over the Pack Horse.

“There’s such a beauty in their simplicity that I felt was perfect for us to replicate in a pub environment. Just quality ingredients, subtle technique and detail but really accessible food.”

– Luke Payne

It is this accessibility that has provided Luke with an enduring headache over the years, as the balancing act between providing quality, traditional pub food with a more progressive, fine dining, burgerless experience has proven nigh on impossible to achieve without alienating people.

“It’s an absolute nightmare. It’s the hardest thing we’ve had to deal with. And still, there are people who come in, look at the menu, and we have a bar menu too that’s a little more accessible, they look at it, they don’t get it and they walk straight back out. And that’s fine. We’re never going to be that pub that does fish and chips, burgers and sausage and mash. That’s just never going to be us. And it’s OK that we’re not that pub.

“We wanted to not be a gastropub, which in itself has become it’s own cliché and become a bit naff. We just want to do proper, seasonal food using the best ingredients that are available at that time of the year. The menu can change between lunch and dinner sometimes. It’ll be different tomorrow.”

Yes, yes, a million fucking times yes. Image: The Pack Horse/instagram

Casting an eye over the crumb dotted plates where a crisp, indulgent, Black Pudding lined Manchester egg once proudly sat, alongside a portion of pickled onion rings (THE BEST onion rings that will ever pass your lips, for the record) a High Peak lamb kofte, spiced immaculately with ras el hanout and accompanied by sheep’s milk labneh, green bean chutney and pickled shallots, followed by some eye waveringly amazing Loch Fyne diver scallops with Jerusalem artichokes, pickled mushrooms and hazelnut oil, you understand that there is a gastronomic barrier to this food that a section of pub grub enthusiasts will never be interested in crossing. But as Luke repeats for emphasis during our conversation, that is a fact that is absolutely fine.

Luke informs us of nose-to-tail tasting menus that he has laid on in the past, while grimacing at his early attempts to provide flourishes of unnecessary bullshit to his more basic original menu (“it was embarrassing. It looked sad and cold, sat on these trays to try and make it look better”). The aforementioned ambition that has seen him transform this Peak District pub’s menu from basic (but still very good) ‘stuff with chips’ to national newspaper heralded fare is showing no signs of receding either.

“Every menu we improve a little bit. Where the ceiling is I don’t know yet. I hope we haven’t found it. There’s still more to come and we’ve got a really great team who are as passionate as I am about delivering what we do.”

– Luke Payne

What remains undeniably most important about the Pack Horse, though, is that it is in every sense, a pub. There’s a quiz every week, there’s families walking in with their knackered dogs, fresh off an afternoon of venturing round the postcard worthy countryside, and there’s the serenity of being able to unwind with a pint and an aimless stare. On a frost dusted December weekend, make a pilgrimage to Hayfield a priority. Nip into the Pack Horse, procure a map from behind the bar for one of the myriad of walks available in the area, take in some scenery, do that thing where you pretend to be smoking when you can see your own breath, then crescendo the day with a tableful of Luke’s cooking. Also, make sure you’ve got a suitably dramatic playlist on deck to score your winding drive through the Peak District wilderness on the way there and back.

The Clarence, Bury

When an establishment can boast a pair of Best Food Pub awards at the Manchester Food and Drink Festival, you can rest assured that they’re probably worth taking a 25 minute tram journey from the city centre for.

The Clarence describes itself as a ‘three floor food and drink emporium’, which may sound a tad grandiose, until you make yourself at home in one of the pub, Kitchen Restaurant or (somewhat dramatically christened) Fallen Angel cocktail bar/function room. Hours can be easily lost in each storey of this stunning Victorian restoration, with the main and bar menus both stunningly good in their simplicity and execution. Ham hock terrine, pan fried mackerel and seared wood pigeon breast are starters that are worth the journey alone, before you even begin to think about whether you fancy putting their fish and chips to the test or opting for the bubble and squeak or chicken supreme instead. Oh, and there’s the small matter of ensuring that you leave enough room for caramelised pineapple with coconut shavings, mango sorbet and spiced rum syrup.

A good boy in a very good pub. Image: The Clarence/instagram

Like any self respecting pub, The Clarence keeps the colour scheme on the right side of mahogany, all wood and leather, with log burners roaring and dogs sprawled in front of them. You will be hard pressed to find a more suitable venue in which to enjoy a plate of bangers and mash. Oh, and the top floor Fallen Angel comes complete with a taxidermy owl on the bar, which only further improves the ambience over a couple of post-meal Martinis. Or Frisky Bisons or whatever cocktails you’re into.

Hearth of the Ram, Ramsbottom

The temptation with any visit to Ramsbottom is to simply make a bee line for Levanter and the reigning, defending, restaurant of the year Baratxuri. And that’s perfectly fair enough. But they are unfortunately restaurants that are, as of yet, not in the pub game (although such is the talent at their disposal they could probably transition quite easily and do a remarkable job) and it’s pints, not pintxos, we’re recommending here (note to self: open a Basque pub called PINTxos).

A hop on the X41 or a swift half an hour drive gets you to Ramsbottom easily enough, and you would happily make a journey of double that length for the tag team of champion pubs that are awaiting you in the old Bury market town.

First up is Hearth of the Ram, a heavily lauded pub and restaurant situated in a picturesque 200-year-old building that was reinstated to it’s former glory almost a decade ago by owners Euan and Dena Watkins. In 2016, the Watkins and their team were recognised for their efforts with a Michelin Bib Gourmand award, which recognises ‘good quality, good value restaurants’ all over the world. And in the five years that has followed, the Hearth has only gone from strength-to-strength.

Perhaps the most important meal on any menu. Image: Hearth of the Ram/instagram

The decor and menu pair classic and contemporary with cocksure ease. You can indulge in traditional pub tackle such as burgers, a variety of options from the grill and starters along the lines of honey and mustard chipolatas, goat’s cheese and chilli prawns or you can, as I would politely suggest, dive right into seasonal mains of seared Bowland pork fillet with confit pork belly, honey and Aspall Cyder jus or a slow braised local lamb shank with creamed potatoes. This is belt unbuckling territory, right here. And obviously, said trouser adjustment should allow enough room to comfortably wolf down a portion of sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce and ginger ice cream. Quick drive home, big nap on the settee, few episodes of Mortimer and Whitehouse Gone Fishing. Spot on.

The Eagle and Child, Ramsbottom

Part Deux of our Rammy excursion comes higher atop the town, at the Eagle and Child. Littered with more awards than Daniel Day-Lewis, the myriad of reasons to journey to this gong hoarding hideaway are practically too innumerable to list. But before you’ve even taken your seat inside, there’s THAT view to marvel at from the ‘Incredible Edible Beer Garden’ – a visionary regeneration project from owner Glen Duckett which transformed an acre of brambles and fly tipping into a space that was named in The Guardian’s ‘Top 10 Beer Gardens’ in 2019.

Safe in the knowledge that much of the produce you are being served has been grown only a few yards away from where you’re sitting (with a whole roost of chickens clucking around the garden ensuring that it’s not just the fruit and veg that are homegrown), and has probably received about a dozen awards in-between the time you’ve ordered and the time it arrives, you find yourself in the rare situation of knowing whatever you order is going to slap very, very fucking hard.

Everything good is right here. Image: The Eagle and Child/instagram

The Ploughman’s Platter makes for as perfect a Christmas time lunch as you could hope for, all local cheeses, charcuterie, chutneys, warm bread and and scotch egg. It’s the go-to afternoon platter in that weird ‘ALDI middle aisle’ of a week between Christmas and New Year. Only you’ve not got to waste any time wrapping up all the uneaten leftovers back up and sling them back in the fridge afterwards. Result.

Similarly, you cannot really go wrong with the Barnsley chop or the whole seabass, served on the bone, with a small feta salad and blackened lemon. The real main event, however, may be the ‘award winning’ (of course) ‘Double Bomber’ cheese pie with Jenga block sized chips and brown sauce. Comfort food like your gran makes, washed down with five pints. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

In The City…

If you’re more than happy to remain within the confines of M3 and M4, with it’s reassuring red brick institutions luring you inwards, past the condensation smeared windows and, most importantly, away from the carnage of the Christmas Markets, then here’s a lovingly curated selection of boozers that will keep you chomping at the bit for the entire festive season and beyond…

The Black Friar, Salford

Tucked ever so slightly inside the Salford border, the Black Friar had laid dormant for 18 years, a sad relic of boozers-gone-by, sat shuttered on the side of Blackfriars Road, unloved and untouched for almost two decades.

It’s safe to say that, following a reopening over the summer, it is well on the way to returning to its former glory.

As I prop the bar up with a mercurial pint of Guinness, I am joined by manager Neil Burke, who arrived in May to oversee operations at the Grade II listed property and rapidly set about etching traditional pub aesthetics into the fabric of the place.

“We already had the kitchen in when I arrived, but everything else was still being done, so I sourced as many authentic bits of pub furniture and material as I could find.”

– Neil Burke

This scouring for everything from vintage floor lamps to classic, battered books, sitting dog eared and well read on a series of shelves, was time well spent by Neil, with the Black Friar enticing you into an immediate sense of serenity the minute you trade the bluster of the latest storm outside for the tranquility of soft carpeting and inviting armchairs.

All great pubs should offer you the emotional reaction of settling down in your own living room. That yearn for comfort and familiarity is a wonderful relief when it envelopes you, akin to eating your tea while binge watching the Royle Family for the dozenth time. And, of course, there’s the history. All great pubs have it soaked into their walls. You can feel it as soon as you step through the door and the Black Friar is absolutely dripping in it.

“The thing that excited me the most was that there’s so much to work with here. The building’s been here since 1886, we’ve got an amazing chef on board, Ben Chaplin, who’s worked at Australasia, 20 Stories and worked under Aiden Byrne. So there was just so much raw material, it’s brilliant, we have the beautiful glass extension at the back and then the traditional front. I just love the twist of the old and the new and how vital the pub is and how many of the original features are still left.”

This, then a nap. Then this again

A short stroll around the full space is eye opening as you realise the scale of the operation that has been undertaken by the team here. An open plan kitchen greets you upon making your way into the glass fronted restaurant space, a conservatory replete with grandeur and attention to detail, perfectly offsetting the Boddington’s signed Victorian frontage.

“Great pubs are all about the people. You need brilliant people on board, greeting the customers, getting to know them, making sure they’re sat in their favourite seats when they arrive, knowing their usuals. A pub needs a heart and soul.”

– Neil Burke

Sequestered by the hypnotic log fire on a Friday afternoon that most respected meteorologists would describe as ‘miserable as fuck’ outside, a monkfish osso buco is served, complete with a boisterous bourguignon sauce that propels the corners of your mouth Northwards. A big, daft, beaming smile is unavoidable once that first mouthful drops, the sauce providing a glistening coat for some truly special roast onion mash and sharp pancetta crisps, which provide that final salty flourish to complement the gentleness of the monkfish.

Paired with a second Guinness, the temptation to settle in for an hour long snooze before tackling the dessert menu is immense (Amaretto poached pear? Bitter orange parfait with olive oil cake and candied pistachio? Yes fucking please), with my only regret being that I don’t have enough room to wade through the entire offering. Pan fried turbot, Cumbrian pig served three ways (pressed belly, fillet and cider braised cheek) and winter truffle + confit leek bake all sing to me, as do Confit artichoke + cep gnocchi and British boar + pheasant terrine. The modern day Black Friar is a spectacular, towering triumph of a relaunch, well worth the 18 year wait.

Edinburgh Castle, Ancoats

A few Fridays on from my lunch at the Black Friar, I am once again commencing the weekend away from the bleak Mancunian elements within the confines of one of the city’s finest, most historic establishments.

Edinburgh Castle has stood in Ancoats since 1811, recently reopening to rapturous acclaim, and rightfully so. Balanced at the bar, I observe the post-work crowd ambling excitedly through the heavily curtained entrance way into the candlelit bar area. With the mercury sinking below freezing point outside, I order up a second pint and decide the only logical thing to do is ask for a bowl of chips to come with it.

What arrives a few minutes later is a moment that instantaneously etches itself into my memory, like seeing Brazilian Ronaldo in full flow for the first time, bedecked in those glorious Kappa Barcelona kits, turning the ankle ligaments of La Liga defences into Cheese Strings . Or my first viewing of Home Alone as an impressionable, hyperactive seven-year-old. Each column of fried potato that is settled down on the marble topped bar in front of me is a triple cooked colossus, golden and glistening, a work of art that is hands down more culturally significant than anything hanging in the Louvre.

This is actually too good for the Louvre, tbh

“We’ve had a few compliments about the chips,” EC’s General Manager Marc Farrell informs me, “We’ve changed the oil to a pomace oil and triple cook them. The response as been excellent.

The chips alone are worthy of earning EC a place in on this list, but it would be horribly remiss to not wax lyrical about literally everything else on their expertly curated menus.

Snacks of five seeded sourdough from Ancoats’ own Companio Bakery (and while I’m mentioning them, I should urge you to go and buy about 50 of their croissants immediately, regardless of how big the queue is outside) with whipped butter and confit lamb ribs with mint salsa verde are eye catching enough, before you work your way down to flame grilled Pittenweem mackerel with avocado lime and fennel and then onto the business end of proceedings, with mains of braised ox cheek suet pudding and whole roasted plaice on the bone nigh on impossible to choose between. Chops of both Mangalista and Barnsley are available, while a retired Dairy Cow steak is the natural partner of EC’s absolutely heroic chips.

“We have a great relationship with our butchers, which are the guys at the Butcher’s Quarter,” Marc tells me, as we discuss both the menu and his approach to maintaining the endearing joy EC provides so many of its regulars.

‘AHA!’…get it? Because it’s partri….oh never mind. Image: Edinburgh Castle

“We are in constant communication with them regarding produce. When possible we like to source our produce as close as possible. However, we get our game down from gamekeepers in Scotland. With us being independent and having the ability to change the menu regularly we have not endured some of the logistical issues that the industry is facing. However, recruitment has been an on going battle.”

Recruitment may be problematic for EC, but from back of house to front, the staff currently serving there are a joy, further fuelling a festive atmosphere that makes you never want to leave. And, if Marc’s final declaration is anything to go by, the next 12 months is only going to further cement EC as one of Manchester’s most vital institutions.

“I came on board as General Manager of Edinburgh Castle with a view of creating the best pub in Manchester. Which I personally think we have achieved with the ground floor. The next step is to keep developing the food concept and I expecting even better things in 2022.”

– Marc Farrell

Marble Arch, Rochdale Road

Between the architecture and the selection of about 4,000 ales, there’s already two convincing reasons to immerse yourself underneath the gaslight chandeliers of this Rochdale Road behemoth. The floral mosaic floor, azure blue intermingling with terracotta and bottle green, is hypnotic like a magic eye your mum and dad got free with an old Pink Floyd LP or something. The windows to your left, practically gargantuan, ascending towards the roof are draped in lush ruby curtains. This is most certainly a den of a million ribald tales and one which forever finds itself unashamedly adored by everyone in Manchester.

But howling mad sessions working your way through Marble Brewery’s ceaseless beer menu are not the sole persuasion for a journey to the Northern Quarter outskirts. How about some Nori tempura to accompany a couple of those beers? Just to start, obviously. Then continue on with a portion of pork and leek bonbons with pear porter sauce. Not a bad one-two that, is it? Oyster mushrooms with crispy egg and truffle mayo could even be the play to make for a starter, or the grilled polenta with creamed garlic spinach and tomato and herb dressing. It’s like wondering whether you should watch Scrooged or Jingle All The Way. Either way you can’t lose.

Wondrous place. Image: Marble Arch/instagram

That’s before you’ve even got to the mains. A panko fried chicken sandwich with pickled fennel and chilli jam is every bit as moreish as the first box of After Eights on Christmas Day night. An Indian spiced cauliflower risotto, complete with samphire and toasted cashews is a triumph of a vegan option, as is the Thai spiced tofu salad. But it may be the ham hock, roasted in honey and thyme, which really has our hearts. Or the steak and ale pie with thick cut chips, beer gravy and buttered greens. Topped off with a cheese board or a melting chocolate pudding, it’s all so fucking sumptuous and robust. Like a hot tub party with Brian Blessed.

Oh, and we can confidently confirm that the Sunday roasts here absolutely BANG too.

The Bay Horse Tavern, Northern Quarter

A Northern Quarter stronghold, the Bay Horse deserves a multitude of platitudes for resolutely remaining itself, even when everywhere around it was regenerating. Apart from The Millstone, obviously (never, ever change, Millstone).

For either breakfast, lunch or dinner, you cannot really find fault with anything the Bay Horse offers, and they serve it all up with minimum fuss and maximum execution.

Chorizo arancini are always two wonderful words to read together on any menu, as are the following three ‘pigs in blankets’ and brilliantly, both make up a portion of the starter menu.

Sticking with the porcine preferences, the BLT here is deviously dolloped with bacon fat mayonnaise, which eases it into the can’t miss category.

Festively, the butter basted turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce on white bloomer is as ideal a Christmas sandwich as you will find in any watering hole in town, especially as it comes with Bay Horse’s thrice cooked chips and gravy. There’s a ‘need something to soak up the extra two pints I’ve had on this Friday lunch break’ meal if ever there was one.

A banquet fit for Father Christmas himself

Not to dwell on the sandwich menu, when there are some very, very fine options listed under the rotisserie and pie sections, but any cheese toastie constructed with cheddar, gruyere and gammon deserves a fucking sonnet writing about it. Or a full volume of ballads. One of these decadent, dairy heavy motherfuckers and ‘The Bells of St.Mary’s’ whirring out of the speakers is all you want for Christmas. I don’t give a fuck what Mariah Carey says (I do a bit, actually. She seems like a laugh).

The Fountain House, Albert Square

Without the Christmas markets around to melt everyone’s brains, Albert Square’s newest addition should thrive this festive season, just weeks after opening, sitting in the old residence of Albert’s Chop House.

Even without the holly and the ivy, the presence of the grand old Town Hall, just behind the central library and not far adjacent from The Midland makes this corner of town feel particularly festive, as if these opulent architectural landmarks were built to lend themselves specifically to the autumn and winter months for generations to come. So the Fountain House’s offerings feel right at home in such illustrious company.

You can rarely go wrong with locating a pub in a Grade II listed building that dates back over 150 years, and over three floors (with another two yet to be opened that are earmarked for a hotel and rooftop bar) the Fountain House team have done their new surroundings proud.

Original exposed brick and stripped back wooden beams are paired with the sort of mood lighting that makes you want to put the world to rights, or at least discuss who was really the best Beatle after you and all your mates have finished Get Back (spoiler: it’s Paul).

“Alexa, play the Charlie Brown Christmas album on repeat”. Image: The Fountain House/instagram

The food, like the fixtures around it, is built for comfort. The clotted cream mashed potatoes that sit alongside the charter pie make you want to shake hands with everyone in the kitchen, regardless as to whether or not they actually had a hand in making them. The lamb shank Lancashire hotpot, replete with the bone jutting from the middle, challenging you to remove it like a hungry, half cut King Arthur yanking the sword from the stone, is another highlight, although we didn’t sample anything that topped the mighty beef hash brown, delectably served with a crispy Burford Brown egg, smoked pancetta, hen of the woods and horseradish gravy. The special sort of dish so mesmeric that no words are exchanged during the consuming of it. Only gleeful groans and gasps.

The Bull and Bear, Stock Exchange Hotel

It’s a thought provoking query: Who would win in a fight? A bull or a bear? As soon as the thought crossed my mind I couldn’t shake the internal debate that raged within my brain. Obviously, a half ton grizzly, loaded up on salmon and the eternal rage of being accused of swiping pic-a-nic baskets by jobsworth park rangers, would probably murk anything else on the planet. But bulls, with their shoulders the size of a pair of fucking Land Rovers and actual horns sticking out of their heads, look ready to drop a motherfucker at a moment’s notice. Their entire species has been taunted by flamboyant arseholes in luminous outfits and red capes, so naturally, they’re just pissed off every waking hour of the day and, if push came to shove, could you really bet against one just mullering anything in its path? Who knows. Maybe it’d be a draw.

Either way, the Bull and Bear, Tom Kerridge’s palatial Northern gem, is certainly a magnificent enough space to hold such an event. I mean, it absolutely shouldn’t, but y’know, it’s massive so it could do. Just, Tom, if you do end up reading this, don’t book a bear and a bull to have a full on scrap in your restaurant. But do feel free to chime in with who you think would win.

Anyway, Kerridge’s Mancunian masterpiece is a breathtaking site (and sight). Lodged luxuriously in the Stock Exchange Hotel on Norfolk Street, you can immediately envisage revelling the night away with a gang of mates over a tableful of Christmas bevs and ferociously good food.

You cannot help but be awe inspired by the appearance of the room. A domed Edwardian baroque ceiling lifts your eyes towards the heavens, while the bottle green and gold colourscape is an old Newton Heath style nod to Manchester’s titanic industrial history (although the colour scheme is, presumably, only accidentally ‘Glazers Out’). The TVs on the walls are an odd touch, as it doesn’t feel like the sort of venue where you would come to enjoy a Super Sunday, but nevertheless, it’s what’s on the tables rather than the walls that is most pressing. And fortunately, it’s utterly incredible.

A dish as picturesque as it’s surroundings. Image: Bull and Bear/instagram

Eyes are immediately drawn to kabanos beer sticks on the snack section. Alongside Pollen sourdough, how could you possibly start a meal any better?

Salt pollock scotch egg with red pepper sauce and grilled chorizo is the inventive twist on the traditional that Kerridge enjoys so much, and his team at Bull and Bear knock out each dish with impassioned energy and technique.

Short rib of Yorkshire beef is veered majestically towards Hong Kong with a mushroom XO glaze, while the dry aged duck with soy glazed bok choy is given a European tilt of duck croquette ‘cassoulet’.

The fun doesn’t end there though, as the dessert menu throws up a selection of wonders such as a cinnamon waffle with mulled wine poached pear and Christmas pudding ice cream. Or if that festive frivolity doesn’t do it for you, there’s a chocolate orange choux bun with hazelnut, Baileys ice cream and salted caramel sauce. I don’t really need to go on, do I? OK, there’s also a vanilla buttermilk panna cotta with ginger wine jelly and mandarin sorbet. Happy now? Good, you fucking well should be. It’s all as uplifting as that moment Kevin McAllister and his mum, fresh from her stint in the back of John Candy’s polka van, are reunited in the entrance hall of the family home. That’s what this dessert menu is, alright? It’s the end of Home Alone, served with a spoon. Not the very end, though, where Buzz tries to come across like he’s actually alright and not a massive dickhead. Fuck that guy.

It would be remiss to make out as if these pubs are only worth visiting during Christmas, because of course they are world beaters all year round, but with it now being officially the most wonderful time of the year, regardless of what the shower of treacherous gobshites in Downing Street try to do to dampen everyone’s spirits, you really should be making the time to enjoy these places with the people you care about most, who you were robbed of enjoying last Christmas with. Or maybe just go on your own to mentally recover from Christmas shopping. Whatever you prefer. I’m off to sink a few pints at the bar of Edinburgh Castle and have the Bull vs Bear debate with anyone who’ll listen. Feel free to join me.

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.

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.

A Day Out In Stockport Town Centre

Stockport. Home of Blossoms, the Hat Museum, the iconic Stockport Plaza and Edgeley Park. It’s not necessarily the first place that would spring to mind when thinking about places to find great food and drink but over the last few years a few operators have been starting to put Stockport on the map.

We decided to take the 10 minute train from Manchester Piccadilly to Stockport (of which there are 243 a day) to explore some of the best places to eat in Stockport. There are of course plenty of brilliant places to eat across the borough of Stockport, but for the purposes of this article, we’re focusing soley on the town centre.

First up, we headed over to Where the Light Gets In, Stockport’s most widely acclaimed restaurant. Walking up into the airy space during the daytime, the chefs are preparing for that evening’s service. The open kitchen here takes the idea of cooking in front of guests to a whole new level, a couple of kitchen islands at one side of the room, without even a counter to separate chefs from diners.

The very open kitchen at WTLGI

There is an overwhelming feeling of calm in this beautiful space, where the light really does get in, or rather floods in, through large loft-style windows. There is exposed brick, natural wood floors, dried flowers and ears of corn hanging from large wooden beams, a wool rug with the sheep’s painted marker still visible and hand crafted ceramics on each table. If you ignore the tables laid for dinner and pots bubbling on the counter, it feels more like a yoga retreat than a restaurant kitchen.

On the shelves are large jars of unusual ingredients: kohlrabi kraut powder, fennel pollen, wild oregano and dried scallop. And out the back, balls of dough are being shaped, ready to be baked into fresh sourdough loaves.

So why did chef patron Sam Buckley choose to open his restaurant in Stockport? Well, according to head chef Samuel Munstermann, Buckley was looking all over for somewhere to open his new venue and was all set to open somewhere in London. It just so happened that he had a friend who owned a chandelier shop around the corner who told him about the space.

Munstermann tells us that more important than anything else for Buckley, was creating somewhere where people would want to work. A refreshing shift in priorities for an industry which hasn’t got the best reputation for employee wellbeing.

The light really does get in

A sample menu for the restaurant featured a series of nine courses with dishes like; oyster with tomatillo and jalapeno; BBQ ray with preserved garlic, smoked tomato and bisque; and apple tart, whey caramel and sweetcorn ice cream.

If you are hoping to get a table at WTLGI, you’ll have to wait until next year as the earliest you can book right now is for January 2022, with a nine-course tasting menu costing £75 per person.

Where the Light Gets In is in the process of setting up a bakery called Yellow Hammer which will sell freshly baked bread. This was something they trialled at their lockdown convenience store ‘The Pickle Factory’ and the bread was always the first thing to sell out.

The loaves will be sold alongside chutneys, preserves, country wines and their own house-made cider which is made from apples brought in by local people. If you have an apple tree and are looking to pass on any surplus apples, you can give them to Where the Light Gets In who will turn them into cider and you’ll get a free bottle from next year’s batch. More details on that here.

The first batch of apples delivered for the cider drive

The cider drive is part of the restaurant’s sustainable ethos, for which they received a green Michelin star for earlier this year. The award celebrates restaurants who lead the way in sustainable and ethical practices, for example by working directly with growers and producers, and also those who address the quality of life of their staff and contribute to charity and educational projects.

Out the back of the bakery will be a pottery studio run by local maker Joe Hartley who will create ceramics which will be used in the bakery and the restaurant, as well as to bottle the cider and there will be workshop opportunities in the space too.

Walking back towards the centre, we pass through the traditional Market Hall, a site which has operated as a market since the Middle Ages. There are the traditional traders you’d expect – grocers, fishmonger, butcher, cheesemonger, delicatessen – as well as small shops selling gifts, homewares and more, as well as four cafes.

There’s also a stall called Wine Boy selling natural, organic and minimal intervention wines, and craft beers which is open between 9:30am and 4:30pm.

Next up, we headed to Ate Days a Week, owned and run by Andy James. Ate Days a Week started as a ‘one-off’ pop up, pairing food and music. The plan was for these to be monthly events, but then lockdown happened. So, Andy decided to start making sandwiches for delivery while he couldn’t host any events.

“I was bored. It was maybe the second week of lockdown, that’s how early the boredom set in,” says Andy. “There’s only so many nights you can get pissed,” he laughs.

Andy was then working in Edinburgh Castle and has worked on the food offering for various places around Manchester including Bunny Jacksons, Cane and Grain and Dog Bowl, as well as opening sites for Hard Rock Cafe.

He started messaging mates, who then messaged their mates and soon he was delivering 50 sandwiches each Saturday lunchtime.

‘Phil Me In’ (yes, we added gravy to a Philly cheesesteak sandwich)

The initial idea was to take a sandwich and make it into a meal, rather than just a filling in between two slices of bread and the original idea of pairing music with food has stuck, with each of the names of the dishes having a musical twist. Current sandwiches on the menu include Great Balls of Fire (A brioche sub roll filled with beef, pork & n’duja meatballs) and Phil Me In (their take on a Philly cheese steak sandwich).

Alongside the sandwiches, Ate Days a Week also offers a selection of pies and fish and chips. This addition was mainly due to the fact that the site they are currently in used to be a chippy and so had all the equipment to make fish, chips and pies.

Their pie selection changes every couple of weeks and when we visited the choice was between Braised ox cheek, parmesan and potato, Chicken Balti or Wild mushroom and sweet potato. And, their ox cheek pie just won Silver at the British Pie Awards.

I Just Died In Your Barm

Any of the pies can be turned into (I Just) Died in Your Barm, which – you guessed it – means it gets put in between two halves of a barm a la Wigan Kebab and topped with minty mushy peas and served with a side of gravy to pour on top. It’s absolutely glorious – a warm crusty pie, the soft barm, the freshness of the peas and proper thick, rich gravy.

As well as Ate Days a Week downstairs, Andy also runs a bar called Notion upstairs, Stockport’s only dive bar with flaming cocktails and a large range of rum.

There are neon lights, the walls are covered in graffiti tags and stickers and the toilets are decorated with pictures of the heads of ‘Boris’ and ‘Maggie’ on spikes. “That’s one thing that Stockport wasn’t ready for, it’s me. If you’re offended by Tories on spikes then you shouldn’t be in here.”

Boris and Maggie

For dinner we head to Baekdu, a traditional Korean barbecue restaurant located a short walk from the centre. The building looks like it once used to be a house, and inside the restaurant does have a homely feel.

Each of the tables has a bronze extractor hanging overhead, with a long extendable tube reaching up to the ceiling. In the centre is a metal cover, which is removed to place hot coals and a grill over the top for the table BBQ.

We go for the Chadoi-bagi (thinly sliced beef brisket), Dwaeji-bulgogi (spicy marinated sliced pork), Dak-galbi (spicy marinated chicken) and – after much debate amongst the group – the Ox Tongue.

Baekdu, Stockport

If you’re worried about the prospect of barbecuing your own dinner, then don’t worry as the staff at Baekdu actually do the cooking for you. Flitting between the tables turning meat, in between taking orders, delivering drinks and other dishes.

The BBQ comes with large lettuce leaves to wrap the grilled meats. The menu recommends a lettuce and spring onion salad to go with the table BBQ and may I also reconfirm that recommendation. The shredded salad has been tossed in a dressing of sesame, soy, gochujaru and a little sugar. It’s salty, sweet, spicy and very, very moreish.

I’m a big fan of Korean restaurants, but this is the first time I’ve had the Korean table BBQ experience. And you know what? I’m now a big fan of Korean BBQ too. There’s so much going on at once and I just love concocting a different little mouthful each time.

Ox Tongue on the BBQ

Alongside the barbecue meats, we also ordered the Kimchi Pancake, Jabche (Pan-fried vermicelli with mixed vegetables) and Ddok-Bhokgi (sweet and spicy rice cakes). That last dish (also written as dukbokki, tteokbokki and ddeukbokki) is a personal favourite of mine.

I order it every time I get Korean, but the version at Baekdu has been my favourite so far. The rice cakes were soft and pillowy and the sauce was tangy, thick and rich with spicy gochujang paste.

We also order the mackerel which comes butterflied and grilled so it’s crispy yet juicy and flakes easily from the bone.

We couldn’t talk about food in Stockport without a big mention for Stockport Foodie Friday which takes place on the last Friday of every month. So, I came back to Stockport for their latest event which completely transforms Stockport town centre.

The event is centred around the traditional Market Hall, with street food traders lining the perimeter of the market and the square outside. The bars around the market allow visitors to grab some food from the traders and sit down on their tables. When we arrive just before 6pm (when the event officially starts), the bars are all already packed out.

I’m impressed by the number of traders here and also the amount of people that have come down for the evening on what’s been a pretty wet day. It’s properly buzzing. 

Stockport Foodie Friday

There are 18 hot food traders on the night we visit, including Northern Soul Grilled Cheese, I Knead Pizza, Oh Mei Dumpling, Patty and Press, Halloumination and lots more.

Oh Mei Dumpling has been a regular here at Stockport Foodie Friday since she started her business and her dumplings are in high demand, with a queue of hungry punters (including us) already forming ahead of her stall in anticipation of the 6pm start. I’m told it’s like this every time and the queue continues until she runs out, so if you want to try Mei’s delicious dumplings, get there early and get in line.

I got the platter for £10 which includes your choice of six dumplings, as well as noodle rolls and slaw. We went for the pork and prawn sui mai, Chinese chicken curry and a seasonal pumpkin dumpling. They’re all delicious and very different to each other, but my favourite is definitely pork and prawn. The rice noodle rolls are a great surprise too, reminding me a little of the Korean dukbokki rice cakes.

I also ordered a Buffalo chicken grilled cheese from Northern Soul which is cooked on a custom-built grill in the boot of a car. Cheese, fried chicken, buffalo hot sauce, grilled until oozing, can’t argue with that.

Inside the market hall, it’s a hive of activity too. There are tables to sit with food and drink, a ukelele group playing and Corner Bar is serving draught beer, wine, spirits and other drinks. Wine Boy is open for the occasion serving natural and organic wines by the glass and the bottle, as well as craft beers. The cheesemonger’s fridge counter is filled with booze alongside the usual wedges of cheese, as is the fishmonger’s who are serving fresh oysters and sushi.

Foodie Friday is centred around the traditional Market Hall

A good few of the market traders have stayed open for the occasion too and I even managed to pick up an early Christmas present.

It’s fair to say that Foodie Friday has been a huge success and is an important calendar date for Stockport. What they’ve started here is truly impressive and shows strong sense of community here, the local appetite for dining out and the decent range of local businesses who are willing to feed it.

This feels like just the beginning for Stockport. It’s already worth a day trip out to check out some of the restaurants there but over the next few years, I imagine we’ll see lots more places popping up around the centre. 

Why You Should Be Lunching And Bevving At The Creameries

“There’s something wonderful about drinking in the afternoon”

– Anthony Bourdain

It is easy to be dismayed by the Autumn approach. The drizzle, the puddles, the days drawing to a close before the evening’s barely had time to settle. Nipping the shop in your swim shorts and sliders is shelved for another six months at least and the barbie is shunted to the back of the garage next to that fucking exercise bike you swear you’re going to start using again. Historically, however, if the beginning of October has taught us anything over the years, it’s that we are set to enter our peak drinking months, and that should be cause for an immense amount of excitement.

And one of the places you absolutely need to be imbibing during A/W 21/22 (and beyond, for that matter, but let’s stick to the season at hand for now) is The Creameries in Chorlton.

Approaching the former retail bakery on Wilbraham Road, the Saturday afternoon clouds hang low, a hue of grey reminiscent of a pocket load of old 10ps, yet the clingy, moist air can do nothing to dampen spirits as I trade it for the glowingly warm embrace of The Creameries’ lunch service in full swing.

The calm that greets you upon stepping through the door is unerringly zen. As if someone’s just dropped your favourite big jumper onto you after a deep bath (cc: @AccidentalPartridge). But instead of wanting to collapse onto a settee with a brew and a binge watch of Seinfeld, you hear the Gil-Scott Heron pouring through the speakers and immediately want to tuck into the back corner of the immaculately lit and greenery adorned dining area and, in short, get a bit fucking trousered (responsibly, of course).

“Five glasses of wine, please”

Owner and head chef Mary-Ellen McTague is a force of nature both in the kitchen and out of it, serving up some of the finest, most inventive seasonal menus in the city while also heroically heading up the charity Eat Well MCR, which has provided chef made meals from Manchester’s finest restaurants and bars to tens of thousands of people sidelined by poverty across the county over the last 18 months.

And while Mary-Ellen and her sensational team’s ever changing supper menus are an absolute thing of beauty, the lunchtime offerings are just as joyous. And for the five (increasingly intoxicated) courses I enjoy on this luxurious lash of a Saturday, I get perilously close to doing quite a big cry at just how wondrous it all is. One course, in particular.

Unfortunately, one person who is not as enthusiastic about the incoming five courses is my dining partner, who shall remain unnamed, if not unshamed. A bottle of red and probably about a gallon of lager the previous night has rendered him almost nil by mouth. In fairness, a can of Pomona Factotum Pale is downed upon his arrival and he makes an attempt at one of the split pea chips that are presented in front of us to commence the meal, but he musters half a chip and looks like he might not last the afternoon without being placed on a drip. A wave of apologies are offered from him, but all I’m concerned about is how his inability to swallow any solids means I’m on double portions for the entire meal. Result tbh.

Back to those split pea chips, though, and the quotation mark swirl of mushroom ketchup that they are served with. Stacked Jenga-like on top of each other, I begin taking the tower apart and, once the first salty combo of the inner puree of the chips plus the ketchup meets tastebuds, I am tempted to order another five portions immediately. Washed down with the back end of an orange South African wine that was ordered pre-meal, my mate could have literally fallen off his chair in a dehydrated heap and I wouldn’t have blinked. This is snacking of the highest order. The delicate subtlety of the chips isn’t overpowered by the rich umami of the mushroom in the slightest. It blends together to tell you “order another bev and get a bit more comfortable”. Fortunately, I’m on the Creameries approved wine pairings for my meal and every single one hits the target with flawless accuracy.

The greatest game of Jenga you will ever play

While it is not strictly our next course, the soup that arrives next is what I’m going to jump to only because what precedes it is so devastatingly, eye wateringly glorious, I don’t want to do a disservice to any of the food that followed it. But more about that later.

The soup, though. That fucking squash soup with fennel pollen and parsley oil. What a mesmeric blend of Autumnal greatest hits it was. The colours alone deliver a seismic shake of excitement when the bowl is placed under my nose. Deep golden yellow Jackson Pollocked with bottle green speckles, it’s a psychedelic vision and a mouthful of pure Bonfire Night. The crisp air of the final three months of the year encapsulated in a bowl of soul pleasing nourishment.

A big fucking bowl of Autumn. Get…it..down…you

Pleasantly warmed and two substantial glasses of wine down, the sight of slow cooked rabbit, served with sweetcorn puree, buttered greens and roasting juices making its way to our table was almost enough to make me openly weep. Keeping my emotions together (barely), I devoured both mine and my mate’s portions, struggling to restrain my enjoyment so as to not rub salt into the poor bloke’s wounds any further. The rabbit melts upon impact, barely needing the slightest of chews. It almost feels more Sunday lunch than Saturday session, but this is rectified with the Nebbiolo it is served with, which is very much a daytime disco of a wine.

The Creameries selection in question is a natural offering from Valfaccenda Vindabeive in Piemonte, Italy. The absolutely brilliant General Manager and Sommelier Emily Rose enthusiastically describes it as a wine containing ‘flabby grapes’ which, although may not sound all that appealing, make for an audaciously good drop which is, in appearance at least, not too dissimilar from Vimto and just as fun to drink.

Flabby grapes make disco wine

Anyone who works their way through the Creameries wine list will very quickly come to the realisation that this is a restaurant that prides itself on sourcing from top drawer suppliers. Les Caves De Pyrene, Indigo Wines, Wine Under The Bonnet, Tutto and Newcomer all keep the Chorlton establishment impeccably well stocked year round and do an even better job at keeping lunchtime customers glowingly buzzed throughout a Saturday afternoon.

The final course is an immensely enjoyable flourless chocolate cake with fennel cream, white chocolate and hazelnut crumb. Paired with a Maury Mas Amiel vintage, it’s a decadent triumph of a finale. Or as I say over mouthfuls of cake crumbs, “sumptuous as fuck, that”.

“Sumptuous as fuck”

Between the bewilderingly excellent food and drink and the ferociously good playlist soothing through the speakers overhead, there is an abundance of reasons to fall in love with The Creameries and one reason in particular, which I will get to shortly, that you should never, ever stop coming back for. But it would be remiss not to heap as much ever-loving praise upon their staff as is humanly possible. Menus, dishes and wines are explained and presented to us with genuine passion and interest. Knowing what hospitality staff have had to endure for the last 20 months, it’s almost cathartic to watch people immersed in their work as much as the people at The Creameries are. It would be so easy to overwhelm a customer, especially a wine novice such as myself, with detailed histories of what they are about to drink, but instead you find yourself wanting to know even more once your server has departed.

Which, finally, brings me onto the second of our courses and the one which I could dedicate an entire volume of articles to: The bread and butters.

FUCK…ING…HELL…FIRE

If it wasn’t literally my job, I wouldn’t even attempt to use words to do it justice, I’d just tell you all to race to The Creameries immediately to experience it for yourselves.

Freshly baked, in house sourdough is accompanied by two semi circles of butter; one a whipped brown butter and the other a cultured butter with red Russian kale ferment liquor ripple (try saying that when you’re pissed). Deary me, where do I even start? It is so unspeakably good to the point I’m actually delighted that my mate is too hungover to contemplate eating anything. Every single mouthful, to lift a quote from Jonah Hill in Superbad, is like the first time I heard The Beatles. It’s the culinary equivalent of seeing When Harry Met Sally for the first time. It makes you beam from ear-to-ear like a complete fucking idiot. It’s pure fucking delirium inducing tackle and, had the meal ended right after my last morsel was completed, I would have been completely content.

The last couple of crumbs are washed down with an Andalusian El Muelle De Olaso and I wonder if it’s acceptable to just ask for three more courses of bread and wine, like some sort of pimped up culinary communion.

The Holy Grail

As we depart, more apologies are offered to a very understanding Mary-Ellen from my sheepish mate, as the chef stands over a counter of rabbits, looking like a scene from a Quentin Tarantino adaptation of Watership Down. The level of alcohol in my system and the sheer enjoyment I took in each and every dish and drink is almost enough for me to see if there’s any space available for the evening sitting, but I instead venture outside, back into the drizzling embrace of Wilbraham Road, very full and very, very happy.

I would urge everyone reading this to make the same decision for their lunch, multiple times over, over the coming Autumn months. Even if you’re not opting for the full lunch, the bar menu and snacks are more than enough to keep you coming back through the Creameries doors on a regular basis.

The Great EATMCR Chip Safari 2021

They said it couldn’t be done. They said there was no way the human body could endure such a horrific volume of carbohydrates in one day. They scoffed at our lofty, potato-centric ambitions, branding us ‘dreamers’ and ‘deranged, spud bothering fantasists’. They even said we should get real jobs.

They were, in fairness, pretty much entirely correct.

But even so, the Great EATMCR Chip Safari of 2021 (Trademark Mary-Ellen McTague) was a resounding, near heart attack inducing success and we would readily do it again. With more people to help out and ready access to a defibrillator.

When fried potato enthusiast and mate of EATMCR Lucy Noone-Blake tweeted the idea of chronicling the best chips in Manchester, the response was instantly resounding. An emphatically positive deluge of replies suggested that it was, in fact, quite a good idea.

And it was one we were very, very keen to be involved with.

Quicker than you could say ‘sweet potato fries are not fucking chips, now get them out of my sight’, a plan was hatched. Establishments were listed, furious debates raged as to which venues would make the cut, with a flagrant disregard for our own health and wellbeing becoming more and more prominent with each spot that was confirmed.

Thirteen. Thirteen restaurants made the cut. Thir-fucking-teen. In one day. Not even a full day either. A fucking afternoon.

Full disclosure, we managed nine. And it almost killed us.

The starch stuffing dream team consisted of the aforementioned plot hatcher extraordinaire Lucy, EATMCR owner/bossman/sheriff Paddy Brown and myself. A triple cooked trio of chip loving renegades. Did some people compare our grandeur and influence to the original New World Order? No, literally only I did that, in my own head, because as far as I’m aware Lucy and Paddy have absolutely nothing but disdain and indifference for mid ‘90s professional wrestling. Still though, two iconic trios, it can’t be denied.

Armed with empty stomachs, massive appetites and a total and utter lack of comprehension of how detrimental to our digestive systems the next few hours was going to be, we descended on our first venue: Honest Burgers on Bridge Street.

Yes, OK, we’ve started with a chain, but a chain where the quality of spuds cannot be denied. Although my suggestion of adding Maccies on Oxford Road to our route at 3am was promptly shut down, Honest was allowed as the launch pad of our operation and it delivered in droves.

A round of rosemary salted chips was dropped to our table, complete with accompanying beef gravy and vegan mayo (separate pots, obviously) and the feeding frenzy began.

To the chest swelling tones of Andrea Bocelli’s dramatic classic ‘Por ti Volare’, a smattering of the rosemary flecked chips were shaken into the gravy, offering up an immersively rich Sunday Roast vibe to proceedings. The outer crunch, the inner fluff of the spuds was spot on, with the gravy a perfect texture so as to coat, not drench, the chips, even after a full submersion. The rosemary was equally not too overpowering, but perfectly complementary and positively moreish.

“Quando sono solo sogno all’orizzonte…”

Paired with a pint of Camden Hells, we were off to the races. Not even the scraps survived. Which was actually where, unbeknownst to us at the time, our downfall would begin some restaurants later.

“This lot are gonna be hard to beat…”

“Right, where ne….” “…Hawksmoor” Lucy’s interruption of Paddy’s query was blunt yet absolutely fair. The Manchester outpost of the classic London staple, located round the corner from Honest in an old Victorian courthouse on Deansgate, with it’s dark wood panelling, parquet flooring and sublime cocktail menu is enough to make you feel like a half cut Don Draper upon entry; all mood lighting and Martinis, the bar area oozes sophistication and debauchery in equal measure. If a load of Mad Men poured in for a half dozen Old Fashioned’s at lunch you wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised.

On this visit, however, steak and top shelf spirits are left on the sidelines (well, sort of) as their triple cooked chips and dripping fries took centre stage.

It was upon ordering that Creameries Commando (official title) Mary-Ellen McTague’s name was brought up to the Hawksmoor staff. As we placed our order, we made sure to accessorise our chips with anchovy hollandaise and stichelton hollandaise. It then dawned on me that I was a Martini away from replicating Mary-Ellen’s go-to Hawksmoor bar order, which she enthused about to me a couple of months ago over far too many shots of bourbon and pickle juice.

“Well, you’ve got to go for it now you’ve mentioned it” a particularly devious member of bar staff exclaimed as I blurted my realisation out loud, without taking into account that it was half two in the fucking afternoon.

“How would you like your Martini?”

“I, erm…well…dr….yeah I’ve literally never had one before”

“If you’re doing Mary-Ellen’s order, I can just do it like she has it – Strong and dirty”

“I, haha, ye….does it come with olives in it?”

That’s how my first ever Martini order went down and, true to form, it was strong. Stronger than The Rock’s thighs on leg day. Fortunately, despite the whirlwind of gin and vermouth enveloping my brain, my tastebuds were left well in tact to experience some of the best, if not the best chips I have ever had the pleasure of dropping into my mouth.

FUCK…ING…HELL

Lots of noises were made. All involuntary. Whatever happens during the three rounds of cooking these chips go through, it can only be surmised is some sort of sorcery. It’s not even worth knowing how the end result is achieved. Just enjoy the magic while each golden, rectangular wonder passes your lips. The dips are no mere sideshow either, each providing supreme umami vibes, somehow lifting these Holy Grails even further into the stratosphere. I could bang on for another 2,000 words about them, to be honest. Every other couple of words would just be ‘fucking hell’.

“This lot are going to be hard to beat” is my final, ridiculous understatement of a review as we saddle up for a visit to venue number three.

“FUCKIN’ HELL, LET’S MAKE A CHIP BUTTY”

Those final words from Hawksmoor must have made their way up the road to the team at Kala Bistro, because this lot did not fuck around with their contribution to our urban carb safari.

The King Street standout, another jewel in the crown of Elite Bistro Kingpin Gary Usher, is a pretty fucking wondrous place. Being that we’re only downing a portion of chips, we belly up to the bar rather than taking a table in the main restaurant and, were it not for the fact we had another TEN portions to navigate, it is hard to picture the day deviating away from these seats. Sunlight bouncing through the towering front windows, a handful of truffle parmesan chips are illuminated as they are placed in front of us, as if descending from upon high. Between the presentation and the couple of bevs swilling around my stomach, it certainly felt like a borderline religious experience.

What came next was a moment of such divine inspiration that the end result deserved it’s very own deification.

A couple of rogue, Hors-d’œuvre sized focaccias appeared unexpectedly, their varnished crusts glistening in the mid-afternoon sun. Immediately, we knew what had to be done.

“Fuckin hell, let’s make a chip butty” came the cry and, despite Lucy being drained of about a litre of blood from an over enthusiastic bread slicing incident (a noble effort in the quest for ultimate chip butty creation) there was no messing with a masterpiece that could have easily stood up next to ANY of Neil Buchanan’s Art Attacks.

We literally gave blood for this…

Was it a ‘posh’ chip butty? Yes, OK, there’s no denying that. But eschewing the traditional majesty of a flour dusted bap or slices of toastie loaf, slathered generously in butter and gravy/curry sauce/mushy peas being the vessel for our chips was unavoidable in these circumstances. We had bread, we had chips, what else were we going to do?

The result? More noises. More shaking of heads as we wondered how such a simple staple can be done so,so well. It may just be the most perfect bar snack in all of Manchester.

Just one thing, though.

The shape of the ‘chips’ at Kala is ever so slightly on the ‘wedge’ side of the scale. Not a criticism, just an overview of the geometry of the Elite Bistro offering.

I plead my case about whether or not these truffle and parmesan adorned starchy bois should even be considered chips, but we’re already well on our way to the next leg of the tour.

The Pit Stops

Time is now working against us. That’ll happen when you’re allowing the necking of Martinis and severing of fingertips to get in the way of the fucking Catalina Wine Mi…. I mean EATMCR Chip Safari.

We realise our next few spots need to be navigated swiftly, but one look at the line up tells us we’re in trouble: Salt & Pepper, Northern Soul and Almost Famous. Three portions in and we’re flagging, now we’ve got to funnel another trio of heavy hitters down our gullets?

Salt & Pepper, as everyone is extremely well versed in by now, produce their unbeatable crinkle cut concoction with their signature ferocious blend of green peppers, onions, chillies, salt and spices. The aroma alone enough to generate a tsunami from even the most dried out of saliva glands. Chloe Tao and her brother Cash are rarely seen without a snaking queue at their Arndale Market stall, and just one mouthful of their chips will tell you why.

We then stagger in the direction of the Northern Quarter and park ourselves at Northern Soul’s new digs on Tib Street.

This is where the pain begins.

It’s humid, we’re full of potatoes and lager and we’re about to inhale even more of it. Oh, and this round of spuds comes complete with a topping of macaroni and cheese the size of a fucking Renault Clio.

I have longstanding reservations about the use of mac and cheese as a side order to meals, let alone a topping. I take a long, lazy sup of Neck Oil and wonder how on earth any of us are going to withstand the strain of MACARONI AND CHEESE FRIES.

“Yeah, did anyone order all the fucking carbs in the world?”

Let it just be said that both the mac and cheese and the fries are a thing of beauty. Both expertly prepared and, I’ll admit, the queso-esque sauce oozing onto the crisp, salty brilliance of the fries is decadent as shit, I’m just not sure the macaroni is necessary, delicious though it is. But let’s not allow personal preferences to get in the way of this being an elite beer snack.

Remember when I mentioned that the pain had started? Yeah, well, it gets a whole lot worse.

Almost Famous are a decade old Manchester institution and the city’s first proper viral culinary superstars. And their bacon bacon fries are, for very good reason, one of the city’s most beloved dirty dishes. But by fucking christ, a titanic sized portion of these bastards was the last thing I wanted to see sat down before me at this moment in time. And I hate myself for saying that, but when it feels as though chips are now piled from your lower intestine up to the back of your tonsils, more of the fuckers topped with bacon mayo and ‘bacon rain’ is enough to make you weep openly in public.

Oh m8

Fortunately tears were avoided and Paddy, tiring of the pair of us measly picking at a dish we would ordinarily devour (Lucy’s vegetarianism prevented her from partaking in this course) performed a herculean effort. One heroic gust of second wind catapulting him forwards, his fork stabbing through starch and bacon like an angry cobra going apeshit on a warren of rabbits it’s just stumbled upon. The chips disappear into his mouth, pain etched on his face, but also glory. A true ‘taking one for the team’ moment that will be seared into our collective memories forever. This may have been when the crying started.

“Alexa, play ‘A Real Hero’ by Electric Youth”

The Last Leg

“Guin…actually, wait, just a pint of something easy”. We collapse into the Bay Horse Tavern on Thomas Street not a well gang. We order the ‘thrice cooked chips’, complete with a miniature saucepan of beef gravy and we realise Guinness, although perfectly poured in this Northern Quarter stalwart, is not the way to go refreshment wise. In all honesty, neither is any lager after seven portions of chips, but there we were, committing to complete and utter heart failure.

Even seven portions deep, however, there was no denying the strength of Bay Horse’s chips. The time and patience put into each cooking of them a worthwhile effort. We’d much prefer them as our first round to our seventh, but even so, it’s painstakingly obvious that these beefy behemoths are well worth your attention.

At this point, Lucy departs. A group hug is shared, like a scene straight out of a late ‘90s/early ‘00s coming of age film, only missing an overly emotional pop punk ballad to really deliver the gravitas that it so richly deserved.

Left to our own devices now, Paddy and I head Babwards. Greek fries, crumbled with feta and olives and drizzled with tzatziki, garlic mayo and chilli sauce are, much like the previous four courses, chef’s kiss worthy fries. It’s also an arseload of salt for two lads who can barely even talk to each other at this point.

We give the basket of Greek goodness in front of us the valiant effort it deserves. It’s not exactly Angelos Charisteas heading in the winner in the Euro 2004 final, but given our own fitness levels in the moment, it’s also not that far off either. Applause is also apt as, in a market as saturated as the ‘loaded fries’ one, Bab have produced a dish that is actually pretty unique, with more bars focusing on the melted cheese/bacon/fried chicken/gravy toppings for their Frankenstein’s monsters. Feta and olives are a welcome break from the norm, even if the pair of us feel as if we’re about to go blind, slip into a coma, or both.

“Time to say goodbye”

The operatic beefcake Andrea Bocelli scored the opening scene of this tour and it’s with his soul stirring crescendo of Italian drama coursing through our veins that we amble, not quite beaten, but battered to Fry By.

We order up a cone of European inspired fritey fulfilment at the Hilton St hatch, holding it aloft like the Champions League trophy when it arrives. We fucking did it. For each and every one of you we did it. We are about a stone heavier respectively,  but we mercilessly plough through the double cooked deliciousness, seeing off everything in our wake, pickled pink onions, a myriad of mayos, homemade salts, each tastier than the last. This is our last dance, like Michael Jordan and Scotty Pippen, just ruining the ever loving shite out of any poor set of sods who steps before them in the NBA Play offs, we polish off the ninth and final serving. And what a spot to draw a close to proceedings.

There is so much pain behind those eyes

While Fry By’s residency on Hilton Street is sadly no longer, we expect to see the Amsterdam inspired frite shop open for business elsewhere at some point in the future. Their red desiree potatoes, fresh from McCalls on High Street, are steamed, blanched, fried and seasoned to a tee, delivering an almost Kettle Chip like quality. It’s no surprise that the post-5pm crowds were constantly amassed around the spot next to Corner Boy during its three month stretch. Wherever this gem reappears, it’s going to do gangbusters business.

And so, sweaty, exhausted, potentially on the verge of a major cardiac incident, we head off into the sweet embrace of Stevenson Square, victorious and in agony. As the sun lilts behind the Victorian splendour of the surrounding buildings, we regret not being able to give superior spud slingers such as Viet Shack, Evelyn’s, Bull and Bear, 10 Tib Lane and the assorted Chop Houses their flowers. Maybe next time…

As we swear off all potato based orders for at least a month, Paddy disappears to a nearby offy. He returns with a Toffee Crisp. My mind is blown.