THE DECADE THAT TRANS­FORMED OUR CITY’S FOOD SCENE

Manchester Evening News - - CITYLIFE ON SUNDAY - By EMILY HEWARD

BACK in 2010, the Arn­dale Mar­ket was the clos­est thing Manch­ester had to a food hall, and street food got about as so­phis­ti­cated as a burger van in a B&Q car park. The craft beer scene had barely be­gun to brew, ve­gan op­tions were lit­tle more than a foot­note on most menus, and De­liv­eroo was not yet a twin­kle in an en­tre­pre­neur’s eye.

Greater Manch­ester had just lost its only Miche­lin star with the clo­sure of Ju­niper in Al­trin­cham, and the city cen­tre hadn’t had one for more than 30 years.

Fast for­ward 10 years and the re­gion’s food and drink scene has de­vel­oped al­most be­yond recog­ni­tion.

“Manch­ester’s din­ing scene has ex­panded in ev­ery pos­si­ble way in the last decade; wider, deeper, more ge­o­graph­i­cal spread, more va­ri­ety and more qual­ity,” said Thom Hether­ing­ton, restau­rant con­sul­tant and CEO of the city’s North­ern Restau­rant and Bar Show.

Re­cent fig­ures back that up: the num­ber of restau­rants in Manch­ester has risen by more than a quar­ter in the last five years, we re­ported in Septem­ber. And while its pace has slowed in the last year, it’s still grow­ing – fu­elled by a rise in qual­ity, in­de­pen­dent op­er­a­tors – against a na­tional back­drop of 18 clo­sures a week.

“It’s cer­tainly not been plain sail­ing, and nor is it per­fect, but it’s hard not to be im­pressed by the in­no­va­tion, am­bi­tion and re­silience of Manch­ester’s food and drink land­scape,” said Thom.

Nowhere are the changes of the last decade more pro­nounced than in An­coats. Once one of the most ne­glected cor­ners of the city, it’s now a flour­ish­ing neigh­bour­hood where some of the city’s best restau­rants can be found, from Miche­lin-starred Mana to gems like Erst, Rudy’s Neapoli­tan Pizza, Sugo

Pasta Kitchen and Pollen Bak­ery.

Greater Manch­ester’s night time econ­omy ad­viser, Sacha Lord, re­mem­bers the area very dif­fer­ently from his days run­ning night­club Sankeys in Bee­hive Mill dur­ing the pre­vi­ous decade.

“When I re­opened Sankeys in 2000, some taxis would refuse to take peo­ple down the street. There was no street light­ing, there were sy­ringes on the floor, it was dis­gust­ing,” said the Ware­house Project and Park­life boss.

“I drive round there now and it blows my mind. It’s phe­nom­e­nal what they have done. It’s al­ways busy and a re­ally su­perb qual­ity of­fer­ing.”

Con­cen­trated around Cut­ting Room Square, its col­lec­tion of in­de­pen­dent restau­rants and bars has seen An­coats hailed one of the hippest neigh­bour­hoods in Manch­ester – and the world – by the likes of the New York Times, Lonely Planet and Time Out.

Its culi­nary cre­den­tials were sealed with the open­ing of Mana in 2018; just a year later, chef Si­mon Martin be­came a very wor­thy win­ner of the city’s first Miche­lin star since 1977.

“I know from speak­ing to Si­mon how ab­so­lutely pas­sion­ate he was about get­ting that star and to de­liver it in his first year is ab­so­lutely in­cred­i­ble,” said Sacha.

“They’ve cer­tainly not downed tools now [they’ve got it]. They are go­ing for it, they’ve ramped it up.”

Thom agrees: “You can’t ig­nore Mana. What Si­mon and his team have done there is sen­sa­tional, both as a stand­alone restau­rant ex­pe­ri­ence and as the re­cip­i­ent of Manch­ester city cen­tre’s first Miche­lin star for over 40 years.

“Any­one who thinks a star doesn’t mat­ter doesn’t un­der­stand how restau­rant fi­nances work, or in­deed how the vis­i­tor econ­omy brings so much em­ploy­ment and in­vest­ment to the city.”

It’s not only An­coats that is un­recog­nis­able from 10 years ago. Else­where, en­tirely new districts like First Street have sprung up, an­chored by home­grown restau­rants in­clud­ing In­dian Tif­fin Room and Wood.

Spin­ning­fields’ nightlife has also trans­formed over the last decade, with Liv­ing Ven­tures launches such as The Al­chemist, The Oast House and Aus­trala­sia paving the way for more re­cent in­com­ers such as 20 Sto­ries and The Ivy.

Mean­while, Peter Street turned a page from the days of Bran­ni­gans to usher in es­tab­lish­ments like Al­bert’s Schloss and Rudy’s.

Once ail­ing subur­ban town cen­tres have also been jolted back to life, with food and drink driv­ing their re­gen­er­a­tion.

Al­trin­cham’s Mar­ket House food hall is a case in point. Opened in 2014, it’s been cred­ited with re­viv­ing a high street once blighted with more empty shops than any­where in the coun­try. Walk around the town’s trove of in­de­pen­dent restau­rants, bars and shops now and it’s hard to imag­ine.

The team be­hind it have gone on to repli­cate the model with Mackie Mayor, in the city cen­tre, and The Pic­ture­drome, in Mac­cles­field.

Thom be­lieves they’ve done more to change how peo­ple eat and drink in Manch­ester over the last decade than any other op­er­a­tor.

“It’s im­pos­si­ble to talk about food and drink in the city with­out men­tion­ing food halls,” he said.

“Alty Mar­ket House was an as­tound­ing ar­rival on the scene, and has changed how peo­ple choose to eat and drink not just in Manch­ester but across the UK.

“There are now mar­ket halls in the North­ern Quar­ter, Stock­port,

Dids­bury and Stret­ford, with sites in Urm­ston and Rad­cliffe also ex­pected to open.

“It is a ca­sual, af­ford­able way for peo­ple to try new and ex­cit­ing cook­ing, and it of­fers an af­ford­able start­ing point for a tal­ented and di­verse range of chefs and op­er­a­tors.”

While much has been made of the so-called ca­sual din­ing crunch that has felled high street chains like Jamie’s Ital­ian and seen big name brands like Ca­bana and Gourmet Burger Kitchen shut branches in the city, the pro­lif­er­a­tion of food halls proves there’s still plenty of ap­petite for a more re­laxed, af­ford­able of­fer­ing.

It’s been par­al­leled by the boom in the street food scene, shaped by events and pop-up projects such as GRUB, Fri­day Food Fight, B.Eat Street and Hatch.

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