So I’m from London. As in born there, lived there and had to be dragged off to Asia kicking and screaming by the possibilities of good wonton mein. And what this means is that I have an (un)healthy rivalry with North England. I suppose I hate it in a kindly kind of way but with no rational basis.
So this post about Manchester should be a lazy bit of mocking where I sneer through my soft Southern face about Manchester and blather about how the food scene doesn’t compare etc.. Well, forgive me London, it’s not that kind of post. I had one day in Manchester as part of a 36 hour stopover back in England for my best friend’s wedding and I loved it. I am not going to pretend it rivals London in the depth or quality of the food as it fights its battles on different fronts. On livability, beer and beautiful industrial decay. Oh and Mancunians are really nice aren’t they?
I have been to Manchester to visit friends before but had always left them to pick the places and guide me around the city so I had no real idea of its geography. But what is amazing about Manchester is quite how small it is. It is a mere 20 minutes walk from the top to bottom and the Northern Quarter – the bit everyone raves about – is just two or three short streets.
However, this short amble of a city has got that dilapidated in places and renewed in others vibe that I love. You can see its old industrial core in the canals cutting through it which, when you walk along, you revert back to the 19th century. Similarly there are old industrial buildings rotting throughout the city. Rather strangely this ambiance of neglect reminds me most of Portland which is famous for its coffee and its beer ad-midst a once industrial heritage.
So it is fitting to start with the beer as this is what slapped me in the face with its glory. Portland may be famous for its beer but much of it is new world over-flavoured and over-hopped muck. Manchester is simple and hearty ales which speak to traditional and long standing experience. Thanks to Twitter (esp @_aka_hige) I was recommended the trilogy of (i) the Marble Arch (ii) Common bar (iii) Port Street Beer House and rarely have I ever received a better recommendation.
Marble Arch is one of those wondrous old restored English beer houses that goes above and beyond beauty. Mosaics on the floors, dark woods, and then resplendently splanky planky tiled roofs. However, they also have a mean micro brewery out the back serving a range of proper and impressive beers. It is the kind of place you want to dissassemble piece by piece – including the sloping floor – and re-assemble anywhere you live.
Common is more of a bright young thing kind of pub/ bar which does a more international selection of drinks in hipper surroundings.
Finally, Port Street Beer House. Wow. This was the highlight of my entire trip and something I would travel back to Manchester for. It is cool enough that it could give lessons to Brooklyn on how to be hipster but does so whilst really serious about beer. As recommended I went straight to 1/3 pints (not very manly) so I could really settle in and start working my way through their range.
I was also lucky that it started raining so I could give up on my plans for the rest of the afternoon. I wish I had written down the names of the beers(s) I tried as they were all different, complex and left me with a heady, slightly wobbly, smile.
The coffee section of this post is pretty short as their really is only one choice – North Tea Power. Before going I searched on CoffeeGeek and other suitably nerdy places for any coffee recommendations and every single place discussed by them had now closed down.
And I think there may be a good reason. I am not sure Manchester needs more than North Tea Power. Not only do they do a great cup of a coffee but they are doing interesting and rewarding things with tea and espresso machines. I had a tea cappuccino that could duel it out with some of the beers from Port Street Beer House for best taste of the trip. Add in nice decor, great staff and well… in a city that takes 20 minutes to cross why go elsewhere?
Whilst Manchester doesn’t have a great selection of fusion Japanese-Peruvian-Southern-Indian cutting edge cuisine it does old school British culinary thuggery well. So you can get a proper all victorious English fry-up with ease. I tried the two places which feature in most people’s recommendation and both were great and both have their place.
First, Trof, this has won the best breakfast award for a few years in a row but I would recommend it as a place for brunch. The breakfast is everything it should be with hearty succulent sausage and high quality ingredients. However, it also comes in a nice funky bar which can serve you some vicious alcohol to get rid of hangovers.
Second, Koffee Pot, which would be my choice for the dirty fry-up. This is more like a proper dirty kaff where you go Monday to Friday to develop a good British gut. I loved it. I read a terrible tabloid, had a builders’ tea and decided I didn’t want to go back to a continent where English sausages, bacon and builders’ tea doesn’t exist.
So finally, some food. I was tipped to Almost Famous off Twitter and as soon as I read about it I thought… oh I see, a Meat Wagon/Easy/ Liquor clone. A semi-hidden pop up vibe burger bar. And I grudgingly went. But it is just plain better than MeatLiquor (as the last incarnation). The burgers are better, the vibe is better, the cocktails are (well actually they aren’t as good).
There was a big sign saying no photography as I went in. The burger was too pretty/ dirty looking to obey.
So that’s Manchester. I also went to the Imperial War Museum. Don’t go as it is Libeskind just taking easy cash and delivering slop.
- The Marble Arch - 73 Rochdale Road, Manchester M4 4HY
- Common - 39-41 Edge Street, Manchester M4 1HW
- Port Street Beer House - 39-41 Port Street, Manchester M1 2EQ
- North Tea Power - 36 Tib St, Manchester M4 1LA
- Trof - 6-8 Thomas Street, Manchester M4 1EU
- Koffee Pot - 21 Hilton Street, Manchester M1 1JJ
- Almost Famous - High Street, Manchester M4 1HP