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IT’S a fair old skill, cre­at­ing some­thing out of noth­ing. Things - places - don’t just come about by magic. Even things that seem to de­velop or­gan­i­cally have a driv­ing force be­hind them.

With Manch­ester’s re­cently re­ju­ve­nated Mackie Mayor build­ing, that driv­ing force is Nick John­son. John­son gets re­gen­er­a­tion – through his old life with prop­erty firm Ur­ban Splash and as chair of Mar­ket­ing Manch­ester.

A few years ago, John­son turned his back on es­tab­lish­ment life and in­stead picked up the ail­ing Al­trin­cham Mar­ket, not too far from where he lived. Through clever place­mak­ing and – cru­cially – a care­fully cu­rated line up of a new wave of small-time food and drink traders, he trans­formed the place from the depth of de­spair to a packed out award win­ner.

Mackie Mayor is a big step up though. The for­mer meat mar­ket wedged be­tween Shude­hill and An­coats had been empty and unloved for decades. It’s around five times big­ger than Al­trin­cham, listed and also much an­tic­i­pated. John­son doesn’t do hype – there was no press launch, no VIP event – but that only serves to cre­ate more of it in this case.

The build­ing was a risk. A mov­able feast of ●● ex­posed bricks, beams, gird­ers and gin­nels which needed to be lov­ing re­stored. The bal­ance is fan­tas­tic. The right bits have been cov­ered up and oth­ers al­lowed to stand out.

There’s an el­e­ment of safety here – but not much. The same traders from Al­trin­cham are here too. Some might have liked to have seen room for new blood. That may well come, but when the food they’re knock­ing out is as good as it is, it’s hard to care.

The pork belly bao from Bao­house (£8) was an ex­cel­lent start point, al­though the price does pinch a bit. Rich, soft and sticky, al­though you’ll have room for some­thing sub­stan­tial.

Hon­est Crust are a safe bet – their wood fired piz­zas are con­sis­tently ex­cel­lent, with the cheap­est (mar­garita) start­ing at £8, but we head for the daily spe­cial - a glo­ri­ous salami of­fer­ing (£12.50) with enough bite and punch but the right tex­ture to let you fold it up and shove it in.

Na­tionale 7 are trans­form­ing the hum­ble sand­wich, and their pulled chicken with pick­led red onion on cia­batta (£8.50) is a warm and but­tery de­light. A snack plate of sour­dough with ba­con but­ter and pickles (£4.50) knocks the spots off a bag of crisps as a bar snack to go with your beer.

But the star of the show comes cour­tesy of Ten­der Cow. The an­cho chilli and beef short rib on toast with pesto, fried egg and pine nuts is sub­lime and worth ev­ery penny of the £11.50. Quite pos­si­bly the best lunch plate I’ve eaten this year and one you should hunt down with rav­en­ous in­tent.

I winced a bit at £4 for a bowl of chips, but I’d pay it again, and again, and again. Triple cooked, golden and crisp on the out­side and per­fectly light and fluffy within, they are, sim­ply, im­mense.

If you’ve got room, Wolf­house serves up a range of cakes and cof­fees. The vanilla cheese­cake and salted caramel choco­late brownie (both £3.95) are pant-burst­ingly in­dul­gent.

The real joy here is tak­ing your­self on a lap of the main hall and or­der­ing from as many traders as you can – al­though you can eas­ily burn through cash.

Drinks are on hand from Kate Good­man’s ex­cel­lent Re­serve Wines, who have in­stalled wine kegs in Mackie Mayor for ex­tra fresh­ness as well as eco­nom­i­cal sense, and Manch­ester’s Black­jack, whose Jack in the Box mini bar acts as a neat lit­tle brother to their Smith­field pub next door. The lat­ter has a rotating range of in­no­va­tive and im­pres­sive keg and cask ales, as is the way these days.

There’s a fair old mix of peo­ple too – there are as many young bearded types as there are older ladies who lunch, fam­i­lies with bug­gies and of­fice work­ers es­cap­ing the hum­drum for an hour.

It’s com­pa­ra­ble to some of the top Euro­pean food and drink halls - Mer­cado in An­twerp, Pa­per Is­land in Copen­hagen... maybe even Time Out in Lis­bon? Maybe.

What it def­i­nitely sig­ni­fies is a step up for Manch­ester’s food and drink scene. Re­gen­er­a­tion comes in many forms, and Mackie Mayor has sparked life into the city’s gas­tro­nomic of­fer. Just be pre­pared to spend some se­ri­ous cash. Si­mon Binns www.world­wide­trav­elplan.co.uk

0330 160 7762

0161 330 1133 Call ASH Visit www.new­mar­ket.travel/ash18876

Hon­est Crust have built a rep­u­ta­tion for serv­ing up world class pizza

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