Reasons To Be Cheerful For 2022 In Manchester

Mysterious Japanese izakayas, Noodle Hauses and the return of a hero...

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.

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