The Art of Dining Solo in Manchester

Channel your inner f**king Steven Glansberg...

I am 90% sure whatever moisture just descended from my face, whether it be one of the countless beads of perspiration polka dotting my forehead or a cascade of snot with the same consistency as a glass of Robinson’s fruit and barley cordial, has just touched down into the chilli soaked nether regions of my brimstone red beef noodle broth. I am also 100% sure that I couldn’t give a single, solitary shite.

My reckless abandon for personal facial hygiene at this moment in time, being that I am sequestered within the bowels of OnePlus‘ furiously good rice and noodle bar on Charles Street, is due to the fact that sat opposite me is nothing but an empty chair. Street side the temperature is cracking 29 degrees celsius. If you were to take a thermometer to my face halfway through my devouring of OnePlus’ immersive bovine bowl, the mercury would shatter the glass with the urgency of its ascent.

In company, this situation would rapidly become untenable. Chances are no one in their right mind would wish to endure their own private audience with a bloke who appears to have been dunked in a sink full of scalding washing up water. But regardless of whether my head looks like it’s been trapped in it’s own personal sauna, I am deliriously happy and I am completely alone.

Fear not, this isn’t the opening notes of a very public breakdown, but rather an ode to the art of solo dining and the abundance of opportunities in which to enjoy the art form currently afforded to us in Manchester.

So, if you haven’t done so already, prepare to channel your inner fucking Steven Glansberg.

Of course, there is unconstrained elation that comes with a bawdy group booking at your favourite curry house, tearing at the gargantuan naans and howling over lamb handis and the poppadom pickle tray, sloshing pints of Cobra between yourselves. Alternatively, sharing a bottle across a couple of plates of expertly prepared pasta with somebody you’d quite like to wake up next to the following morning is also a beautiful thing. But, have you ever tried simply sitting outside Flawd with a parade of natural wines and a couple of small plates, staring endlessly across Ancoats Marina without an ounce of care or thought occupying your head?

It’s mesmeric.

Dining alone allows you to shed all the responsibility usually required when eating out. You have absolutely no one to impress or feel compelled to engage with. Sometimes, you just want to have a sordid little love affair with something that is smothered in n’duja. You wish to experience the filling of a pastry based dish, gravy dribbles and all, with the animated, wide eyed euphoria of food critic Anton Ego in Ratatouille.

A table for one is unencumbered from day-to-day struggles. You just sit, eat and drink. If you get overzealous and wolf down Jane Eyre’s vinegar stroke inducing pork chop too quickly, you can shift out a tactical burp beneath the safety blanket of your own company. No one needs to know. Similarly, if you slop an arseload of Birria Brothers consommé down your crisp white tee and no one is around to see it, did it really happen? I mean, it definitely did, but so fucking what? Just tactically hide it underneath a shirt or jacket and sling it in the wash when you get home, having repulsed absolutely no one in the process.

Don’t worry, that noise you just made is completely normal

In an age where we are seamlessly sliding from one economic crisis to another, amid the doom of a completely overwhelmed healthcare system, war in Ukraine and fascism rising from its ugly, bigoted ashes across Europe, there is more need than ever to just zone the fuck out. Empty your head and push really good fucking food into it. Someone sitting across the table from you will only lead to conversation. You don’t want that. You’ll end up talking about one of the above and will return home wanting a massive brew and quite a huge cry.

Fortuitously, Manchester is blessed with an abundance of establishments where parties of one are welcomed with open arms. So pack a decent paperback or simply clear space for a big, lovely, prolonged stare into the void.

Because that’s part of the beauty of eating out sans any fucker else. You can indulge in an uninterrupted dip into a widely acclaimed tome just as easily as you can slip into an hour long trance, broken only to lift morsels to your mouth every few seconds or so.

It could be argued that are really no rules to unaccompanied dining. You make your own fun. You could paw at Erst’s wondrous flatbreads and sip orange wine while studiously familiarising yourself with a Murakami or Franzen, should you desire to venture down the ‘sophisticated stranger’ path where fellow diners wonder between themselves in hushed tones, “who’s that cunt?”. Alternatively, you could knuckle down into any number of plates from El Gato Negro’s mercurial tapas menu, barely coming up for air between breathless bites of salt cod croquetas and chargrilled lamb skewers. Or maybe you just want to tuck into a corner of The Blackfriar, big jumper on the go, your cottage pie and Guinness odyssey soundtracked by the crackling of the kindling on the fire, as your late afternoon lunch effortlessly segues into a four pint early evening session.

Big Jumpers only, pls

Better yet, all those embarrassing ordeals that are painfully endured when sharing a table with other people? Evaporated into thin air. Who you trying to impress? If you don’t understand a menu or are not well versed with a certain cuisine, you are confused in a judgement free zone. No one will remember your clammy fingers fumbling with those chopsticks like an over excited lad confronted with his first bra clasp. That chilli you knocked back by mistake that left you panting like a knackered Jack Russell is simply a moment lost in the ether, so go ahead, venture into the corners of the menus you never dare set foot in around company. Contort your face into all manner of Picasso paintings, order a fucking banana split for dessert or better yet, a knickerbocker glory if you can still find them. Or just engorge yourself on a cheeseboard until the gout bulges out of your eyes.

Don’t misunderstand me, having been bound by law from seeing anyone else for the best part of 18 months due to Covid-19, a breakfast, lunch, dinner or drinks with family and friends is obviously a gift that we should never, ever take for granted. Those meals should be cherished, of course they should. But breaking away from the chaos of modern life, of being too knackered and overwhelmed with *gestures vaguely at the outside world*, is a gift we should all reward ourselves with on at least a semi-regular basis. It’s hard enough to even think straight most of the time right now, let alone make coherent conversation. There are only so many times the words ‘cost of living crisis’ can be uttered before you go completely insane.

Settling into anonymity among the crowds at Mackie Mayor or enjoying the serenity of a beautifully brewed coffee at Another Heart To Feed or Trove are equally magical experiences when executed correctly. People watch your arse off. Slurp your ramen loud and proud. Order the full bottle just for yourself. Pick mindlessly at your croissant for half an hour while wondering if you’ve actually got the charisma to properly pull off ‘Love On Top’ by Beyonce as your go-to karaoke song (don’t worry, you have, and always will do).

You+0 could have a right time of it, here. Image: Another Heart To Feed/Instagram

Caution: Stay clear of doom scrolling. That goes without saying. No good comes from social media at the best of times, never mind when you’re attempting to emotionally rid yourself of the rest of the world for a little while.

Oh, and if you notice another solo diner in your vicinity, a simple head nod or, if you’re feeling particularly enthusiastic, an ever-so-slightly raised fist in solidarity is more than enough recognition. Don’t get weird after one too many Negronis and try to become their best mate from across the room. Never forget why you’re on your bill in the first place.

And, finally, let it not escape anyone’s memory how fucking spectacularly good bar area dining can be. Bar snacks are an art form worth at least 5,000 words of their very own. Pair them with the thrum of atmosphere generated by a great establishment, one which you don’t even have to contribute towards, but merely enjoy, and baby, you are in flavour town. Tear apart your wings and fold your tacos amid hot gossip, simmering domestics, lewd jokes and, depending on the time, lewder pre-pillow talk. From chips and Martinis at Hawksmoor to devilled eggs at Edinburgh Castle onwards to 10p wings at Bunny Jackson’s or an emergency pint soaking pizza at Night and Day, there are almost boundless bar snacking options available to you in Manchester to take advantage of.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m just off to slump into one of those mood lit booths at New Century with a Tallow cheese burger and about six cocktails. Do not disturb.

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