THE DECADE THAT TRANSFORMED OUR CITY’S FOOD SCENE
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.