ManchesterWords Kate Guest
Photography Mark Read
Sitting in the gentle gloom of The Mark Addy pub, eating tripe and caramelised onions by candlelight, 21st-century Manchester seems very far away indeed. It isn’t. In fact, it’s right there outside the window, on the other side of the black River Irwell, where chain restaurants line the bank and people sit outside them eating pasta and drinking white wine in the shadow of high-rise apartment towers.
They are in Spinningfields, a shiny new inner-urban precinct of high-end shops, offices and restaurants; we are in Salford, working man’s suburb of lore and legend, and the original “Dirty Old Town”.
Scenes of old and new rubbing along together like this are common across Manchester. Once known colloquially as Cottonopolis, world centre of the textile industry, these days the fabric of the city is woven from tight rows of red-brick houses, Victorian pubs, knots of neo-Gothic civic buildings, hulking cotton mills – either abandoned or reborn as apartments – and entire districts carved from streets that no longer exist. Salford alone has had 1500 such ghost streets lost to the bulldozers’ bite since the 1950s.
But there’s no hint of reformist zeal in the kitchens of The Mark Addy. The type of food that local hero-chef Robert Owen Brown likes to cook could have been served at any time in the past hundred or more years. There is the occasional sign of foreign influence – the tripe is braised in madeira, the crab is served with paprika rather than cayenne pepper – but in essence Owen Brown’s menu is a finessed tribute to classic British food, black pudding, faggots, offal and all.
Nearly everything on the menu is sourced locally, from the pheasant and venison he buys direct from gamekeepers, to the Lancashire cheeses. “I am a Mancunian man, it makes sense that I cook Mancunian food,” he says, rightly, but it hasn’t always been common sense. People are fast realising what the region offers though; the rump of lamb with broad beans, garlic shoots and little peas (with a proud Mancunian writing the menu, they are pointedly not petits pois) is a fine introduction.
It’s easy to see this kind of food as the haute cuisine of the working classes, even if it does seem a bit wrong to politicise a pork fillet. But if you could get away with it anywhere, it would be in Manchester, where hard work and struggle have always been a huge part of the story. The trade union movement and fight for the vote had pivotal scenes set here, which you can learn about at the People’s History Museum, and the left-leaning Guardian newspaper was founded here.
But there’s an equally large chapter devoted to the good times, too. It may be the world’s first industrialised city but Manchester is also a music capital, birthplace of bands such as The Smiths, Oasis, Joy Division and Happy Mondays, and of the ‘Madchester’ rave scene that took hold in the late 80s. The best night out is found in the Northern Quarter, a few small distinctly bohemian blocks crammed with pubs, bars, indy record shops and sanctioned graffiti. At its epicentre stands the famous Piccadilly Records, and just across the road is Night & Day, the grungy live music venue whose walls have shook to everyone from unknown, unsigned acts to Gossip and Elbow.
What the city hasn’t always been known for is its food, but that’s slowly changing. The Manchester Food and Drink Festival, which celebrates its 14th year this month, charts its progress.
Winner of last year’s Best Restaurant award, Aumbry is a 24-seater in a tiny converted cottage in Prestwich, about 15 minutes from the city centre. Like Robert Owen Brown, Aumbry’s two head chefs, husband-and-wife team and Fat Duck alumni Laurence Tottingham and Mary-Ellen McTague, are passionate advocates of buying and cooking British. “We’re constantly looking for the best suppliers,” says McTague. They buy rare-breed goat from Cumbria, pork and veal from a self-sufficient farmer in Inglewhite, and fruit and vegetables from Brian Iddon at Bury market, who also puts them in contact with local gamekeepers. Fish is from Fleetwood, scallops from Scotland. “Our sous chef is a keen forager, so we often make group expeditions to forage for ingredients like sorrel, ramsons, tansies, rowan berries and elderberries,” says Mary-Ellen. Chocolate, lemons and olive oil are imported, but that’s pretty much it.
After a drink in the upstairs lounge, it’s back downstairs to see what they can do with it all. The wild rabbit terrine with rowan jelly and liver parfait is a great start. For main, a samphire, fennel and sorrel salad brings crunch and lift to the poached plaice with oyster pudding. This is a single warm oyster in a steamed suet shell that takes a minute to get used to, but ultimately impresses.
The same could be said of many things in Manchester, not least Mancunians’ legendary friendliness. Chefs smile at you from the kitchen; waiters put a hand on your arm and tell you you’ve chosen the best thing on the menu, clever old you. Sometimes they even pull up a seat for a chat. “We’d be horrified if people thought we weren’t friendly,” says Robert Owen Brown. “We like to think of ourselves as the friendliest city in the world.” Perhaps one reason for it is that Mancunians are such a diverse bunch. There are Chinese, Italian and Jewish communities spread across the city; a stretch of road in Rusholme known as Curry Mile has close to 70 Indian and Pakistani restaurants and shisha cafes; and the Gay Village around Canal Street is one of Europe’s largest, packed with disco-blasting clubs and pubs for alfresco canal-side drinks beneath the twinkling strings of lights that line the trees.
Grunge and grime and drab scenes straight from Coronation Street are still part of Manchester’s appeal though, and are only made more so because they are now contrasted by nearly as much gloss. With two giant football clubs based here, there is money to be spent, and plenty of places to spend it in.
Australasia is the latest. At 9pm on a Wednesday this hot new bar and restaurant beneath Emporio Armani is crammed with beautiful people. Each step down the stairs reveals another designer handbag; yet more hair gel. By the time you spot the model-slash-DJ at what appears to be some kind of space-age jukebox, it’s easy to think you’ve made a wrong move, but while there is plenty of potential for pretension, the welcome couldn’t be warmer. The pan-Pacific menu also couldn’t be further from the British food we’ve eaten elsewhere, but soft-shell crab tempura, salt and pepper beef skewers and mango soufflé translate rather well.
Still, it’s The Mark Addy that has really captured our hearts. We’ve finished our tripe, and lamb, and cheeses, and are pondering the wine list. When we decide on the cahors the waitress smiles and pats my arm. “Fantastic choice,” she says. “My favourite, too.”
Aumbry 2 Church Lane, M25 1AJ;0161 798 5841. Don’t let the suburban address or unassuming cottage fool you – behind that stable door is some fine cooking.
Australasia 1 The Avenue, M3 3AP; 0161 831 0288. Beautifully proportioned pan-Pacific restaurant that attracts beautifully proportioned people. Go to see and be seen, sure, but don’t miss the soft-shell crab tempura or Lady Boy martini.
Barburrito 1 Piccadilly Gardens, M1 1RG; 0161 228 6479. Fast and fresh burritos, nachos and tacos. The guac and pulled pork rule.
Damson 113 Heaton Moor Road, Stockport, SK4 4HY; 0161 432 4666. Sitting just outside the M60 road that encloses Manchester, this perfect little neighbourhood restaurant deserves the drive.
East Z East Blackfriars Street, M3 5BQ; 0161 834 3500. This slick Punjabi restaurant was recently crowned Manchester’s best in the English Curry Awards.
Harvey Nichols 2nd Floor Restaurant 21 New Cathedral Street, M1 1AD; 0161 828 8898. It’s worth putting up with the WAG-friendly R&B soundtrack for an afternoon tea with more posh cakes than you can scoff, for just £14.50.
Hickson & Black’s 559A Barlow Moor Road, M21 8AN; 0161 881 2001. The kind of local deli we’d all love to have. Stocks more than 70 cheeses, coffee and charcuterie and is staffed by super-helpful, know-their-stuff types.
Jack Spratt 11 St James Square, John Dalton Street, M2 6WH; 0161 833 1016. Proves that healthy and fair needn’t mean tasteless and worthy. The seared panga fish sandwich is a blinder.
The Koffee Pot 21 Hilton Street, M1 1JJ. A greasy spoon for student types. Good value.
The Mark Addy Stanley Street, M3 5EJ; 0161 832 4080. British food a cut above the usual pub grub.
North Tea Power 36 Tib Street, M4 1LA. The locals’ choice for real coffee, with a daily-changing selection of pourovers and extractions. Tea-lovers are well catered for, too.
Michael Caines Restaurant at Abode Manchester 107 Piccadilly, M1 2DB; 0161 200 5678. The lunch-time grazing menu offers unbeatable value, at just £9.95 for three plates that might include veal ossobucco, or curried hake with onion bhaji.
The Parlour 66 Beech Road, MN1 7TJ; 0161 881 4871. A cosy, charming pub said to do the best Sunday roasts in town.
Room 81 King Street, M2 4AH, 0161 839 2005. This swish restaurant takes a scattergun approach to its menu, which means highlights from around the world, from duck rillettes to jambalaya and Manchester tart.
San Carlo Cicchetti House of Fraser, Ground Floor, King Street West, M3 2QG; 0161 839 2233. The canals may not be Venetian, but the small plates at Cicchetti are, and the interior – marble-topped tables, yellow leather bar stools – is pure Italian class.
Soup Kitchen 31–33 Spear Street, M1 1DF; 0161 236 5100. There’s plenty of call for warming soup in Manchester, and this Northern Quarter favourite delivers what it says on the tin – really well.
Tai Wu 44–50 Oxford Street, M1 5EJ; 0161 236 6557. Busyness, buffets, banquets and brilliance are the deal at this Chinese icon.
Teacups 55 Thomas Street, M4 1NA; 0161 832 3233. The décor at this tea shop owned by DJ and tea fan Mister Scruff is cute (red teapots and polka-dot tablecloths) but the tea is totally serious (egg timers to gauge your brew).
Unicorn Grocery 89 Albany Road, M21 0BN; 0161 861 0010. This co-op has a huge range of wholesome, organic food, and is is worth a visit if you’re chasing hard-to-find, good-for-you ingredients.
Vertigo Restaurant & Bar 36 John Dalton Street, M2 6LE; 0161 839 990. This high-profile, five-storey restaurant and bar is fitted out in sleek black and gold and has high-profile north-west stalwart Ian Armstrong behind the stoves.
Apotheca 17 Thomas Street, M4 1FS; 0161 834 9411. If this bar’s menu of award-winning potions, elixirs and tinctures can’t fix you you’re probably beyond help.
Bluu Smithfield Market Buildings, Thomas Street, M4 1BD; 0161 839 7195. Housed in an old fish market and swimming with cool kids, Bluu has a fab cocktail list that’s split into ‘Something Borrowed’ (classic cocktails from elsewhere), and ‘Something Bluu’ (its own inventions).
Hanging Ditch Wines Britannic Buildings, 42–44 Victoria Street, M3 1ST, 0161 832 8222. This modernist vinoteca between the cathedral and Harvey Nics has an overwhelming choice of international wines to please the palate and the wallet. Take them away or drink on site.
The Molly House 28 Richmond Street, M1 3NB; 0161 237 932. Shabby-aristo style and a warm welcome create the perfect vibe for a quiet drink (whether it’s tea, beer or wine) and a moment of calm amid the often boisterous Gay Village.
Night & Day 26 Oldham Street, M1 1JN; 0161 236 4597. A legend on the Manchester music scene, this grimy venue has seen some of the biggest bands around take to its stage, but it also champions some cracking yet-to-be-discovered acts.
Port Street Beer House 39–41 Port Street, M1 2EQ; 0161 237 9949. The craft beer-lover’s first port of call in Manchester. A huge choice of hand-pulled ales, draft and bottled beers have earned it a nom for 2011 bar of the year.
The Temple 100 Great Bridgewater Street, M1 5JW; 0161 278 1610. Look for the awning just off Oxford Street and head down the stairs to rub shoulders with rock stars, students and whoever else can fit inside the graffiti-strewn walls of this tiny former public toilet.
The Briton’s Protection 50 Great Bridgewater Street, M1 5LE; 0161 236 5895. Being located opposite concert venue Bridgewater Hall, this delightful old boozer often plays host to musicians ducking out at interval for a dram of one of its 200 whiskies.
57 Thomas 57 Thomas Street, M4 1NA; 0161 832 0521. This sleek cafe-cum-bar is part of Mancunian beer group Marble, but also serves cult European beers and small dishes.
Mr Thomas’s Chop House 52 Cross Street, M2 7AR, 0161 832 2245. History seeps from the walls at this ornately tiled Victorian pub and chop house.
Walrus Canteen and Lounge 78–88 High Street, M4 1ES; 0161 828 8700. A rare cocktail bar without pretension. A local fave.
Lowry Centre Pier 8, Salford Quays, M50 3AZ; 0843 208 6000. As well as housing paintings by its namesake, Lancashire lad LS Lowry, this giant new arts centre hosts dance, comedy, theatre, music and circus acts.
John Rylands Library 150 Deansgate, M3 3EH; 0161 306 0555. One of the world’s most beautiful university libraries, worth a visit even for non-academics. The centrepiece is the reading room and its stained-glass window.
Whitworth Gallery Oxford Road, M15 6ER; 0161 275 7450. Despite falling victim to a famous art heist in the 90s (the paintings were found in a public toilet), the Whitworth’s real talking point is its 40,000-strong collection, which includes works by Van Gogh, Picasso and Turner. There’s also a fine cafe and grounds to wander.
People’s History Museum Left Bank, Spinningfields, M3 3ER; 0161 838 9190. This enormous museum brings to life the history of the fight for democracy in Britain.
The Bridgewater Hall Lower Mosley Street, M2 3WS; 0161 907 9000. Hosts some 250 concerts a year, spanning genres from rock to jazz and world music. The three resident orchestras provide frequent classical concerts, too.