Wednesday, 4 May 2011

A year in Manchester

After an all too brief year I have just left Manchester and moved back to Leeds (well, Wakefield actually but most of my eating and drinking will be done in Leeds). I enjoyed my time in Manchester so thought I'd sum up my favourite things with a list. I like lists and this is the first opportunity I've had to write one on my fledgling blog.

I could have veered completely off topic here, and created a Manchester Top Ten of all the things I love about the place. But this is a food and drink blog, so you don't want to hear me banging on about industrial architecture or trams or cycle paths or whatever. Instead I've included some nice photos of sunny Manchester. Here are five food and drink things I love about Manchester:

1.  Pubs
There are absolutely loads of fantastic pubs in central Manchester (and Salford). The key things I look for in a pub are a good selection of beer and a convivial atmosphere. Add interesting buildings/interiors and good food into the mix and you're really on to a winner. In vaguely pub crawl related order here is my lucky 13: The Marble Arch; The Angel; Bar Fringe; Crown and Kettle; The Castle Hotel; Port Street Beer House; The Britons Protection; Peveril of the Peak; Knott Bar; The Lass O'Gowrie; The New Oxford; The Kings Arms; The Mark Addy.

2. Chinese restaurants
In my opinion Manchester has the best and most varied selection of Chinese restaurants in the UK outside London. I have barely started working my way through all of them, but I have eaten very well at the following: Red Chilli, Middle Kingdom (both Szechuan); Hunan (Hunanese); BBQ Handmade Noodles King (hand made noodles!).

3. Curry cafés
The curry cafés of Manchester appear to be a unique phenomenon. I've certainly never come across anything similar in this country (although strangely I do recall them having the same sort of thing in Australia, but with really rubbish curry). The premise is simple. The curries are pre-cooked and kept warm at the counter. You get to pick any three curries on rice for a fixed price, which is always under a fiver. The quality can be a bit hit and miss, the decor is invariably scruffy, but you are guaranteed to get a decent feed for a low price. Sometimes they really surprise you with a corker of a dish too, one of them does a lovely keema with whole hard boiled eggs in it. Great stuff.

There are loads of the places scattered around the Northern Quarter and various other parts of the city. I'm not going to bother listing them all here. Instead I shall refer you to the comprehensive and excellent Flavours of Manchester blog.

4. Traditional caffs
Manchester seems to be well stocked with places to get a good fry-up or some other home cooked and ridiculously cheap meal. Perhaps the same applies to most towns and cities in the UK, but I just seem to have noticed it more over the last year or so. In the city centre I like The Koffee Pot and Abergeldie Cafe.  In the suburbs my favourite spot is in the grotty precinct in Prestwich. Can't remember the name of it (not sure it has one), but they do a competent and comforting corned beef hash followed by crumble & custard for about £3.50.

5. Markets
This might seem a strange one, particularly for Manchester itself. Central Manchester hasn't even got a proper market, either indoor or outdoor. What impresses me is the way the council has made the most of its meagre resources. The only permanent central market of any size is the Arndale Market, which is essentially a small, spare corner of the shopping centre. About half of the space has been given over to traditional market stalls, and the other half turned into a thriving food hall. There are a good selection of stalls, including an ale bar and the excellent Pancho's Burritos. Glass of ale and a spicy, porky burrito for lunch. Don't mind if I do. In addition to this is a rapidly expanding number of street markets that are spreading all over the suburbs as well as the city centre.

A special mention is also due to some of the markets in other Greater Manchester towns. Bury and Ashton-under-Lyne have particularly good examples. If you'd heard rumours that the good folk of Bury like to eat entire black puddings, on their own, with a dab of relish, mustard or ketchup, they are true. Don't knock it 'til you've tried it, it's actually rather delicious.


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