As one of Britain’s largest, most vibrant cities, Manchester in north-west England boasts an ever-evolving foodie scene, from its wealth of cafés, bars and restaurants to well-established food markets packed with stalls selling the best of local produce. The growth in its vegan and vegetarian cuisine offer shows no sign of slowing down, its drinks scene is booming, and its history of global trading has resulted in a wide range of international cuisine choices across the city.
Regional specialities and where to taste them
Eccles Cake – Buttery, flaky pastry encasing succulent, juicy currants – what’s not to like about these sweet treats! Said to originate in the town of Eccles, a Manchester suburb, you can pick up one of these tasty cakes throughout the city but, for a special treat, head to the source itself and order an Eccles cake with a coffee at the Malaga Drift Coffee Company in Eccles.
Manchester Tart – The Manchester Tart it reportedly a variation on the original Manchester pudding, which was first recorded by famed Victorian cookery writer Mrs Beeton. This creamy combination of raspberry jam, custard and coconut flakes encased in shortcrust pastry can be found in many bakeries across the city and its suburbs, although if you’re shopping in Arndale market stop by deli/bakery stall Hansford’s to try its version.
Lancashire Hot Pot – The history of this deliciously warming, one-pot stew of lamb and onion topped with sliced potatoes dates back to the Industrial Revolution, when long work hours meant women would take a stew or pudding to a baker’s oven and leave it there to cook while they were at work. For an authentic taste of this hearty dish, order one at Annie’s Restaurant and Tea Shop, (owned by Coronation Street actress Jennie McAlpine) which specialises in a menu of traditional local and British dishes.
Vimto – Originally sold as a health tonic when it was created in Manchester by John Noel Nichols in 1908, this fruity soft drink of raspberries, grapes and blackcurrants mixed with a blend of herbs and spices became a cordial in 1913. Now you can find it on supermarket shelves but innovative Manchester-based restaurant Grafene has created a Vimto-inspired cocktail called Vimto Gardens, a blend of Manchester’s Bramble’ Sipsmith Gin, Grafene’s Vimto purée and lemon.
5 must-do food and drink experiences
One for all the gin lovers; Three River’s Gin School has been designated number one of the best things to do in Manchester, according to TripAdvisor. This interactive gin experience is based in the City of Manchester Distillery, the city centre’s first distillery and home to Manchester Three Rivers Gin. The experience begins with a gin and tonic while guests learn about the distillery’s short history and the history of gin, before embarking on a distillery tour, sampling four complimentary gin-based drinks along the way and creating your own personalised bottle of gin in its mini copper pot stills to take home.
The word ‘scran’ is a popular term used in the north of England to describe food – one embraced by Scranchester Tours, a gastronomic, multi-stop tour that reveals the untold food and drink stories of the city through a series of tastings during a four-hour tour. You’ll learn how the city’s food and drink offer links to its history, discovering interesting gems such as what the diet of a Victorian mill worker would have been, and the back story to the neighbourhood of Ancoat’s Little Italy and its myriad ice-cream vendors. You’ll also taste some of the best ‘scran’ the city has to offer…come hungry!
Manchester is home to a raft of craft breweries, and one great way to experience several is by booking onto one of Manchester Brewery Tours’ experiences. Check out its Microbrewery Experience, where, for four hours, you’ll explore and learn about four of the city’s taprooms and craft beer venues, as well as the brewing process, and enjoy several tastings. Alternatively, book onto its Manchester Beer Tasting Tour or its Manchester Beer Pairings Masterclass, where local beers are matched with cheese and meats.
Explore the brilliant mix of street food, craft ales and live music that takes place at the GRUB weekly food fair, held at Fairfield Social Club in the regenerated Mayfield area of the city centre every Friday and Saturday, with every Sunday given over to all things vegan – #PlantPoweredSundays. It’s a great place to meet the locals as there’s a real community feel at this food event. GRUB’s whole ethos is to support new traders and independent businesses from Manchester, so you’ll certainly find an authentic Mancunian foodie experience here.
Based in the well-heeled neighbourhood of Didsbury, Food Sorcery & Barista School offers cookery experiences led by expert chefs and local suppliers. Classes offer everything from world foods to steak masterclasses and cheese-making, as well as ‘fit food’ classes creating delicious meals to stay healthy. Coffee lovers should check out its coffee courses, suitable for upskilling your barista skills or learning how to make the perfect brew at home.
Hot restaurants you have to visit
The French – A fantastic example of British fine dining at its best, The French is located in a Grade II-listed dining room at the luxury Midland Hotel. Led by Manchester-born chef-patron Adam Reid, who has worked across many Michelin-starred restaurants, the four-, six- and nine-course menus combine seasonal produce with modern British flavours, such as Cumbrian red deer with pickled quince, girolles and bilberries, and Tunworth cheese and broccoli custard.
Where the Light Gets In – A British restaurant using foraged ingredients across its menus, Where The Light Gets In – based in Stockport half an hour outside Manchester city centre – brings storytelling to its dishes. There is no set menu available; instead, chef Sam Buckley creates a dining experience from the day's catch, harvest and slaughter, all served within the eclectic décor of a Victorian coffee warehouse.
- The award-winning and trailblazing Allotment restaurant has moved from Stockport to a bigger site in Manchester city centre. Led by chef-owner Matthew Nutter, the Allotment’s innovative and unpretentious menu has won it plaudits such as The Times’ ‘Best Vegetarian Restaurant in the UK’. Choose from its signature menu or from either a seven- or ten-course tasting menu, which includes mouth-watering dishes such as braised celeriac with golden beetroot, rosemary, sun-blushed tomato and bechamel or Thai Squash Pie with gingerbread, tamarind toffee and salt-baked pineapple.
El Gato Negro – discover a taste of Spain in the city centre at this tapas restaurant located in a converted historic town house. The dishes are influenced by the seasons and, while they use traditional Spanish flavours, you’ll find local ingredients are used across its menu. See the creations come to life at the Chef’s Table or gaze at the stars while you dine on the top floor, which sits under a retractable roof.
Bundobust – showcasing Manchester’s strong international cuisine offer, Bundobust serves delicious Indian street food and craft beers, making this one of Manchester’s go-to places for easy, tasty cuisine. This ‘beer & Indian’ joint sits close to the Northern Quarter delivering Gujurat-inspired street food and craft beer from both local and international breweries.
Rudy’s – This little slice of Naples is found in the heart of Manchester. Rudy’s walk-in pizza restaurant makes its dough on site every day, just as they would in Naples. As well as its regular toppings, you could find a delicious innovative creation on the menu available for just that week, such as Ancoats Speciale, which served up pizza with pumpkin cream, scamoza, coppa, rocket and black pepper. With two locations, one on Peter Street in the city centre and one in Ancoats, the pizzas are both tasty and Instagrammable.
The Refuge by Volta – nestled in the Grade II-listed Principal Hotel, this restaurant and bar serves up beautiful small plate dishes such as salt cod croquettes, Merguez sausage with spiced puy lentils and crispy egg yolk, and beetroot pakora with tamarind ketchup. Run by DJs-turned-restaurateurs Luke Cowdrey and Justin Crawford, AKA the Unabombers, there’s also the People’s Lunch on the menu, which is a changing selection of hearty specials. The food is inspired by world cuisine yet uses ingredients sourced in the north west of England. And with two DJs at the helm it’s not surprising that, come the weekend, its bar plays awesome sounds.
Mackie Mayor – A major refurbishment saw this Grade II-listed market building on the edge of the Northern Quarter become two floors of eateries housed under one huge glass roof. Up to 500 diners can be seated along the rows of long bench tables and seating, with customers choosing from Taiwanese steamed buns at Bao House to sustainable, British-caught fish cooked whole over chargrill at Fin Fish Bar. There’s also pizza, rotisserie, Italian cuisine, coffee, wines and beer.
A 48-hour foodie itinerary
07:30 Start with an early breakfast at Ezra & Gil, an urban coffee hangout in the Northern Quarter, housed in a former clothing showroom. Choose from a comprehensive menu that includes smashed pumpkin on toast, house-baked granola and Greek-style green omelette.
10:00 Time to work up an appetite again on the Northern Quarter Taster Walk led by Manchester Food Walks, where you’ll discover Manchester's history and culture with food from some of the city's best providers. One of the walks available (which could be taken over lunchtime) is a roving feast of five small plates in Northern Quarter eateries. The guide talks you through the historic district’s markets, curry cafés and cult destinations such as Afflecks Palace.
13:00 Still hungry? Grab a table at the Northern Quarter’s Trof to munch on burgers, sandwiches and salads and sample its extensive beer menu. Make plans to return in the evening to enjoy its dedicated bourbon bar or come back on a Sunday for its ‘Roasts & Records’ event, dining on a succulent traditional Sunday roast dinner accompanied by music played on vinyl.
14:00 The Runaway Brewery brews its ‘modern-tasting, recognisably British’ beers by hand in small batches at its microbrewery. Head there for its core range of Pale Ales, IPA, Smoked Porter and American Brown Ales – there’s always seasonal ales to try out – and book onto one of its brewery tours that take place every Saturday.
17:00 Witness a different type of Manchester creativity with cocktails at Apotheca. Opt for brilliantly named (and tasting) drinks such as Bacon and Brown Sauce Bloody Mary, Hazy Memoirs of a Geisha, or Selfie Inflicted, where ingredients such as lychee liqueur or wasabi peas might make an appearance. The décor is just as innovative as the cocktails – think antique apothecary cabinets and comfy leather sofas.
19:00 Taking residence inside an impressive, four-storey, wooden-framed building in the centre of commercial district Spinningfields, The Ivy is bringing the infamous London celebrity hotspot to Manchester when it opens in November. The café-style brasserie features an all-day dining menu, will be open seven days a week, and promises a mix of modern British and international dishes.
09:00 The district of New Islington is home to Pollen Bakery, a bakery of Scandi-influenced design and counters groaning with freshly baked loaves and cakes. Start the day with one of its famous sourdough loaves (which come in forms such as five-seed, oat porridge and Pollen rye) or one of its Viennoiserie baked goods, ranging from cinnamon buns to Manchester tart cruffins and seasonal treats such as British strawberry pistachio bakewells.
10:00 Here’s your chance to experience urban foraging. Manchester-based cookery school and not-for-profit social enterprise Cracking Good Food, which promotes sustainable, seasonal cooking, offers a rolling programme of wild food forages that take place in the neighbourhoods of Didsbury, Chorlton and Sale. The foraging walks reflect the seasons with special mushroom hunts in the autumn or elderflower picking in the summer.
13:00 Opened in September 2018, Canto is a modern Portuguese restaurant imagined up by the chef patron of city hotspot El Gato Negro, Simon Shaw. Like its award-winning sibling, Canto serves up simple, modern and distinctive dishes, taking inspiration from Portugal’s culinary traditions – perfect for a lunchtime stop.
15:00 Manchester has a fascinating gin history, one which you can discover on the Gin Journey Manchester. The tour includes a distillery visit, a ‘Gin Guardian’ to relate all the stories and history, five samples of gin specially selected for the tour, five gin cocktails and a chauffeur to transport you from venue to venue.
19:30 Dine at the newly opened Peter Street Kitchen, part of a multi-million-pound renovation of the historic Radisson Blu Edwardian Hotel. This destination restaurant is all about ‘shared dining’, with a menu consisting of small plates from two different cuisines; contemporary Japanese and Mexican.
Food festivals in 2019
Manchester Food and Drink Festival – 2019 dates TBC but usually runs end of September to early October.
Bolton Food and Drink Festival – half an hour from Manchester, this large-scale festival runs in August.
Indy Man Beer Con – Taking place in October in the gorgeous surroundings of the Grade II-listed Victoria Baths, a short journey from the city centre, this is the place to visit for independent breweries showcasing their wares.