A STEP UP FOR FOOD SCENE
NEW MARKET HALL DESTINATION A (PRICEY) TRIUMPH
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
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Honest Crust have built a reputation for serving up world class pizza