Once known for its mills, Manchester is today famous for its food and drinks scene. The quality and variety of food has never been better, and is giving London a run for its money. From traditional British pubs, quirky cafés and curry houses to cutting-edge restaurants that will dazzle your tastebuds, the city’s culinary landscape has been reinvented by local chefs and entrepreneurs, whose attention to design and concept help create not just an outstanding culinary memory, but a full sensory experience.
These are some of the places that you must hit up when you are in Manchester. It’s a good selection. Some are old favourites, some serve revolutionary contemporary food celebrating local produce, others you go to for the grub and drinks, and a dose of live music or entertainment.
This atmospheric cocktail bar, nightclub, and restaurant is housed in the former Palace (now Principal) Hotel designed by 19th-century architect Alfred Waterhouse. It was set up by the Unabombers, DJs-turned-bar-restaurant owners Justin Crawford and Luke Cowdrey, who are also behind Volta in Didsbury and Electrik’s in Chorlton. Their small plates selection is divine– highly recommended are the fire-roasted Padrón peppers with Maldon salt, and the blitzed beetroot with smoked feta, dill and hazelnut. Or the halibut ceviche with burnt grapefruit and chicory coupled with a plate of flatbreads. Choose from perfect cocktails, a choice of local gin, ale, cider and beer (their home brew, the Volta Session Pale Ale, is very popular), and the inspired wine list, and you are set for the night in the middle of Victorian glazed-tile splendour. Try to get a table in the fairy-light lit courtyard space. They have fabulous DJs in the basement when you are in the mood to shake a leg. The Refuge has a wall mural created by well-known artist Ben Eine (Barack Obama is a fan)—Hell Is A City—based on a 1960s British cult movie that was filmed in Manchester. The building was a key location in the film’s climactic chase sequence.
Address: Oxford St, Manchester M60 7HA, UK
This place is known for its cocktails and craft beer (made with interesting local ingredients) and for the stunning 360° view of the Manchester skyline. You will often spot football stars and their coteries at the glamorous restaurant and expansive rooftop terrace. The latter has something called Winter Garden Globes (set up in collaboration with Moët & Chandon)— enclosed domes with heating, music, and hot cocktails. The menu is modern British with dishes that celebrate local produce—vegetables are sourced from their own farm in Cheshire.
Address: No. 1 Spinningfields 1 Hardman Square, Manchester M3 3EB, UK
If you want to sample some of the best food Manchester has to offer, with different food entrepreneurs and chefs all under one roof, then head to Mackie Mayor, a communal food joint where you can eat from multiple kitchens. It’s housed in a gorgeous Grade II-listed building in the Northern Quarter which used to be a Victorian meat market. You can choose whatever your palate and mood dictates but here are some recommendations: roast chicken and porchetta sandwiches at Rotisserie, wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas from Honest Crust, fish-finger butties and chargrilled octopus from Fin, and lip-smacking baos from Baohouse. Pick up some beer from Blackjack Brewery’s or a glass from Reserve Wines. It’s community-style dining here with long tables, chairs and benches—with sunlight filtering through the glass ceiling.
Address: 1 Eagle St, Manchester M4 5BU, UK
Chances are you will be standing with your drink, in the middle of a packed, jostling crowd at this hugely popular and lively Bohemian bier palace, cook haus and bakery. If you are looking for good food, drinks and great entertainment, this is the place to be. They do live music, entertainment and quirky performances like can-can and mountain frolics every day of the week. And the vibe gets quite infectious—you will find yourself dancing on the tables by the end of the evening. Alpine cocktails, homemade Schnapps and hearty bar meals should start off the evening and you can end it at the Albert Hall music venue upstairs.
Address: 27 Peter St, Manchester M2 5QR, UK
This year, the slick and glamorous Mana helped end the drought of culinary awards for Manchester. In October 2019, the place run by Noma alumnus Simon Martin won a well-deserved Michelin star—the first Manchester restaurant to get it since 1977. With 28 covers and an open kitchen, Mana’s blind tasting menu pushes boundaries with dishes that use local, seasonal (and wild) produce. Reindeer moss and nixtamalised corn broth, for instance. Or barbecued cabbage leaves with beeswax and dehydrated scallop sauce.
Address: 42 Blossom St, Manchester M4 6BF, UK
Where The Light Gets In
This place has serious food aficionados coming from around the world, despite its slightly off-kilter location. It’s in the satellite town of Stockport (you will have to take a 10-minute train journey), up a steep alley and set in a loft of a restored Victorian coffee warehouse. The food you eat here is ethically sustainable and almost zero waste. WTLGI has no-choice set menus, natural wines, and minimalist dishes made with foraged produce and seasonal (sometimes heritage) ingredients grown by the restaurant. The dishes are memorable for their taste—like a plate of mutton, beetroot cream, and fermented onions.
Address: 7 Rostron Brow, Stockport SK1 1JY, UK
FANCY A CURRY?
Just off Piccadilly, housed in a large basement space with skylight windows, Bundobust serves what it calls Indian street food—dishes like bhindi fry, chaat and samosa, mini dosas, dal tarka—all in waxed-paper pots at communal tables. Wash it all down with modern craft beer. Check out the retro Bollywood posters on the walls. The menu is vegetarian. People from the subcontinent may find the food a tad bland, though.
Address: 61 Piccadilly, Manchester M1 2AG, UK
This stretch in Rusholme is legendary—you haven’t experienced the city like a local Mancunian if you haven’t had a curry in Manchester’s famed Curry Mile. The area has many restaurants and shisha bars. It’s been around since the 1970s, when it saw its heydays with enterprising immigrants from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Walk around and soak up the different cultures and flavours. Among the eateries, Mughli is popular for street-food snacks, charcoal-grilled meats and their butter chicken and dal makhani.
You must pick up this illustrated book that showcases interesting people and places from Curry Mile, The Rusholme Sketcher, by acclaimed storyteller Len Grant. He draws and talks about this area—from the chippy whose kobeda kebab has legendary status to The Albert Inn, the area’s last surviving pub. As Grant states in the book’s introduction: “For a community too frequently under fire in an increasingly intolerant Britain, this place remains somewhere in which to celebrate and feel at ease.” The book is being sold at Home, an art, culture, theatre and food place in Tony Wilson Place in Manchester.
This London import is famous for traditional dishes inspired by the old Irani cafés of Mumbai. Located in the 1920s Grade II-listed Manchester Hall, this is your go-to place if you are feeling homesick. Their cocktails are contemporary takes on classic ones. You must try their famous bacon naan rolls.
Address: 32 Bridge St, Manchester M3 3BT, UK