Manchester Is England’s Most Exciting Food City
In the 1980s, Manchester was a post-industrial city of urban decay and rampant crime best represented by Mancunian band the Smiths, who sang suitably bleak songs about alienation, misery, death, and despair. That’s why it’s so exhilarating to report that today Manchester is thriving with gorgeous new hotels, a brilliant food scene, and meticulously renovated buildings that honor the city’s past. It’s no accident that Manchester just won its first Michelin star in 40 years. Here are five of the city’s best new spots.
The Stock Exchange Hotel
This boutique stunner set in the Edwardian former stock exchange is owned by Manchester United legends, Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs, and hotelier Winston Zahra. The trio also own Hotel Football opposite Manchester’s Old Trafford stadium. A majestic coalescence of polished brass, radiant marble, and green leather, the hotel was designed by the Turkish firm Autoban who also custom-designed lighting and furniture like the glamorous nest chairs. Rooms and suites have white marble bathrooms (some with freestanding tubs), more green leather, and cloud-like beds. There’s also a 3,500-square-foot penthouse with a terrace for £20,000 a month. Tinted photographs of bygone stockbrokers bedeck the walls.
The hotel’s dining room is set in the large domed rotunda that was once housed the trading floor. Fittingly titled The Bull & Bear, the restaurant is helmed by chef Tom Kerridge who’s best known for Marlow’s The Hand & Flowers, the only U.K. gastropub with two Michelin stars. Menu highlights include many of Kerridge’s refined comfort classics including Chicken Kiev oozing with garlic butter, crispy pig’s head topped with truffled celeriac remoulade; and chips served with his famous gherkin ketchup. For dessert, don’t miss profiteroles with soured vanilla cream. The hotel was invited to join Relais & Châteaux before it opened its doors.
A former Victorian cotton warehouse recently opened as a renovated “aparthotel” that makes great use of the building’s industrial bones. Reimagined by Archer Humphreyes Architects, the firm responsible for Chiltern Firehouse and London’s new Standard Hotel, serviced apartments range from studios to two-bedroom penthouse suites with terraces. The central atrium looks like an oversized 3-D chessboard with crisscrossing pillars and girders while rooms incorporate painted wrought iron columns and beams, and brick barrel-vaulted ceilings. Conran selected contemporary and mid-century modern furniture for the rooms and all have full kitchens with dishwashers and washing machines.
CulturePlex in the atrium has a mini cinema, a branch of London gym Blok, and Bistrotheque, another London import that serves bistro classics. The cocktail list is broken out by HI, LO, and NO (alcohol). If you’re in for the night, try the (Not So) Old Fashioned (rye whiskey with house made walnut liqueur). If you’re abstaining go for the refreshing Yakohama, made with grapefruit, orgeat, lime, and tonic.
John Carey John Carey
The Manchester outpost of this popular London cafe opened last December inside the former Masonic Hall with its original stained glass windows. Dishoom serves Iranian and Indian dishes flecked with the occasional British influence for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. To honor building’s heritage, paraphernalia from Indian freemasonry was incorporated into the design while replica photos of former Bombay Grand Masters and vintage photographs line the wall. A yellow tile floor is a replica of one in Mumbai’s Masonic Lodge.
For breakfast, Dishoom’s bacon naan roll with cream cheese, tomato chili jam, fresh cilantro and streaky bacon is legendary. (Be forewarned: it’s only served until 11:45 a.m.) Everyone also clamors for the signature Black Dal, spiced lentils cooked for 24 hours and then fortified with knobs of butter and splashes of heavy cream. Ruby Murray is Cockney rhyming slang for curry, and Dishoom’s Chicken Ruby is rich and buttery and while the chickpea curry is spicy and tangy.
The bar is known as the Permit Room after the Bombay Prohibition Act of 1949 that required drinkers to purchase a “permit” declaring that they required liquor for the preservation and maintenance of their health. The act was never repealed, though it’s rarely enforced. The Chai Paanch (whiskey, arrack, and rum with house chai, and ginger and cacao liqueurs) goes well with chakna, a spicy snack of fried lentils, nuts, and sev.
Spirit of Manchester and Three Little Words
The brass and Italian marble bar is lined with plush velvet barstools under a ceiling of atmospheric vaulted brick railway arches where you’re welcomed with complimentary palate cleanser like a refreshing blend of star anise, citrus, and mint. The impetus for new space was the need for enough space to accommodate “Wonder Wendy,” the 14-foot high copper pot still which can produce up to one million bottles of gin a year, quadrupling the distillery’s output. The cocktail menu is inspired by the stages of love. Throw Caution to the Wind with the refreshing cocktail of the same name made with signature gin, sake, apricot, ginger, and aloe vera juice.
The restaurant with its floor-to-ceiling living wall and another of serving of plush velvet chairs serves breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner. Forest mushrooms on toast with thyme and garlic are a healthy way to start the day; after noon, the seared beef and rice noodles salad with sesame-soy dressing is savory and flavorful. There are two outstanding sides: sweet potato with butter, sage and crispy potato slivers; and crunchy cauliflower stems with chili. There’s also a gin school where you can make your own gin.
Gary Usher opened his sixth restaurant, Kala Bistro, months after breaking the world record for crowdfunding: £100,000 in just 11 hours. Passing the dark wood bar—perfect for solo dining, the airy dining room is reached via a sweeping staircase.
A wide-ranging wine list offers several orange wines and a cidery Tsolikauri from the Pheasant’s Tears in Georgia. Rosemary and thyme-topped focaccia is doused with olive oil and two appetizers stand out: creamy burrata with glazed purple carrots, smoked garlic honey, chili, and puffed rice and a lightly-curried tandoori trout. The pan-fried sea trout with brown shrimp and a chervil sauce was perfect.
There are so many more places I could mention: the Mackie Mayor food hall where you can get Neapolitan pizza with spicy ‘nduja sausage at Honest Crust and tempura fish and chipotle tacos at Pico’s; The Refuge at The Principal Hotel which serves a U.N.-worthy array of dishes from Keralan fish curry to chicken shawarma; and Mana helmed by Noma protégéa Simon Martin which just won Manchester its first Michelin star in 40 years. Manchester is also just over two hours by train from London, so what are you waiting for?