From beautiful buns to the best bagels, baos and beans
It seems you can’t get enough of Manchester’s finest lesser-known food and booze venues. Our last hidden gem feature prompted such a barrage of likes, shares and reads that we decided to do the proper thing, put our heads together, and reveal ten more of our favourite local spots.
And it’s not just the city centre that’s crammed with interesting finds, we’ve found some great small scale producers, talented traders and imaginative independents that are well worth a visit in the outskirts and 'burbs.
(Do you have a favourite local food and booze gem that you think should feature on our next list? If so please do let us know via the comments below.)
Established in 1980, this was the first Chinese bakery in Manchester’s China Town. Currently run by the third generation of Ho's family, the goods in the counter (freshly baked every day) are the sum of over 25 years baking experience. They offer a wide range of over 40 traditional Hong Kong style sweet and savoury pastries cakes and buns as well as baked goods to be found across Asia. Confidential recommends the honey buns, a sweet bun with an almost cookie dough mixture in the centre, and the coconut buns, which are similar but with the coconut crunch mixture set on top before baking. Probably as a result of Portuguese rich mercantile history and influence, you can even get some fantastic pastei de nata (sweet egg custard tarts). Savoury dumplings, fritters, buns and flaky pasties are also available as well as sweet bean dumpling, moon cakes, satay beef pasties and light Japanese cheesecakes. Steamed char sui pork buns are the business and we love a chicken curry puff or three.
Ho's Bakery, 46 Faulkner St, Manchester M1 4FH
This well-established and friendly, family-run little restaurant on Oldham road serves near to dammit authentic Vietnamese cuisine. They prepare the kind of dishes you’d imagine smoking and bubbling away over the coals in Ho Chi Minh City; barbecued pork skewers, prawn summer rolls, grilled chicken and rice, and of course, steaming bowls of Vietnam’s national dish Pho (traditional beef noodle soup). They’ve kept the decor a little rough and ready but they’ve also kept the prices down. Word has spread since they opened in 2010 so booking is recommended although walk-ins are welcome. Food is also available for takeaway and delivery via Deliveroo or UberE ats.
Vnam, 140 Oldham Road, Manchester
Heading out of the city centre towards Birchfields Park, you’ll find the retail arm of Venus Foods Ltd; importers and wholesalers of Turkish and Iranian foods. Here you'll find an Aladdin’s cave with shelves lined with packets and tins of spices, dried herbs, pulses and nuts. There are piles of lesser found fresh herbs along with seasonal fruit and vegetables, pots, pans and the odd mysterious lamp . At the rear of the shop you’ll find a halal butchers shop and a full on bakery producing traditional Turkish Bread (pide) and sweet pastries such as baklava. You’ll find giant pitta breads, a range of Middle Eastern sweets and cheeses and pretty much everything you’ll need for a month of mezze at home. If you can’t wait that long, there’s a cracking kebab shop at the front of the store.
Venus Foods Ltd, 45-49 Anson Road, Rusholme, Manchester M14 5DE
Lupo is a blink-n-miss it job, located in a curious half-moon-shaped building on Salford's Chapel Street, next to a faded chapel and over the road from a dark viaduct. A quaint yellow bench and potted pavement plants often the only hint of life inside. But oh there's life inside. The Roman owner, Nico, casually whips together a cappuccino in the time it takes most 'baristas' to drip you a pointless foam tulip. But the real flair goes on in the back, where the cook knocks together daily homemade Italian specials of surprising skill and verve, such as lasagne pesto or tortellini stuffed with goat’s cheese and beetroot. A recent crostata alla ricotta (ricotta tart) was nothing short of genius. Take note: Nico has been known to knock off for weeks at a time in order to visit producers and hunt down specific single origin Haitian beans. Well, he is Italian.
Lupo, 142 Chapel St, Salford M3 6AF
One of the latest stalls to hit the Arndale food market, Fusion Lab is a permanent collaboration between Nelson Lam, owner of the interconnecting Viet Shack next door, and chef Brice Moore. The idea is to give Asian street food a bit of an upgrade, taking culinary inspiration from Vietnam (of course) as well as Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and Malaysia and matching it with modern cooking techniques. When we covered it recently we were pretty impressed by the high standard of food and the level of detail. Chef Brice gets in at dawn every day (even on his days off) to start preparing the dough for his bao buns and homemade taco shells. Many of the ingredients take days to prepare, ferment, marinade and cook, which is incredible considering finished dishes range in price from £4.99-£7.99. We recommend the eight hour slow-braised beef rib with rice, Asian vegetables and sticky pomegranate glaze, the Korean fried chicken burger and the fish tacos made with black squid in tortillas.
The Fusion Lab Unit 8, Arndale Food Market, Arndale Centre, Manchester M4 3AH
Cooper's Let’s Fress Deli
Yiddish is a really expressive language and the word fress comes from the German word ‘fressen’; to eat ravenously, to gorge, to stuff yourself silly etc. This local, family-run delicatessen and catering business in Whitefield provides home-made kosher produce such as potato latkes, chopped and fried fish balls, meatballs and sweet potato fries to take away. The refrigerated deli counter displays freshly made salads such as coleslaw, tabbouleh, potato salad and mixed beans to enhance any barbecue and you’ll find a number of family recipes such as Grandma Shirley’s Kichels (hard sweet cakes). It’s the place to go on a Sunday morning for fresh-out-of-the-oven bagels with smoked salmon and cream cheese, chopped liver, pickled herring or salt beef and chicken soup. The deli also stocks ready made meals prepared on the premises – the next best thing to having your own Jewish mother.
Lets Fress Deli, 70 Bury Old Road M45 6
Ancoats Coffee Co.
Ancoats Coffee Co. are speciality coffee roasters located in the renovated Grade II* listed Royal Mills, beside the Rochdale Canal in Manchester's hippest emerging district. Owner Jamie Boland lived in Melbourne at one point, working for independent coffee companies, and, on returning to Manchester, felt there was scope to start a coffee company here. A focus on quality, sustainability and seasonality is inspired by Melbourne's coffee scene. The cafe - all intimate vaults, iron pillars, brick and html-talking digital geniuses - features an open roastery (allowing customers to witness the journey from bean to cup) and is open every day for sandwiches, bagels, toasties and cakes. The courtyard here is a thing of wonder, with warm local brick and a floaty glass ceiling.
Ancoats Coffee Co., Unit 9, Royal Mills, 17 Redhill Street, Ancoats M4 5BA
Lily’s Vegetarian Indian Cuisine
This unassuming Indian vegetarian café in Ashton, decorated in red, black, faux leather and colorful formica tables, looks like a simple locals-only establishment, but is producing food of a standard so high it’s attracted the attention of the national newspapers. Attached to A.S.M cash and carry, Lily’s serves mainly Gujarati specialities, sweets and street food snacks such as samosas, puris, bhajiya and kachori. Favourites include paneer pakora with coriander batter and the unashamedly spicy masala dhosa. There are a number of vegan and vegetarian dishes on offer but, to be honest, the range of delicious aromatic curries and spice-rich snacks makes the fact that it’s all meat-free almost incidental.
Lily’s Vegetarian Kitchen, 75-83 Oldham Rd, Ashton-under-Lyne OL6 7DF
Mercilessly wedged between a chippy and a fried chicken takeaway on Portland Street, you’ll find Circus Tavern, an infamous and diminutive boozer dating back to before 1800. Just how this compact beauty has survived 200 years is one of the city’s many little wonders, but mostly likely down to having so few landlords. The most peculiar and charming feature is a bar so small – perhaps the smallest in the UK – that it fits the barkeep and no-one else behind. There’s an interesting history of the pub nailed to wall beside the entrance, whilst a cosy back room plays it safe with dedications to both United and City (though fans of the former may be pleased - or not - to hear that the Circus was a favourite of George Best). The name comes from an equestrian circus that was founded nearby by Mr Handy. In 1797 his circus went on tour to Liverpool and then Dublin. The boat sank, along with many performers and horses. Mr Handy, though, survived… he was catching a later boat.
The Circus Tavern, 86 Portland St, Manchester M1 4GX
Sculpture Hall Cafe, Manchester Town Hall
The magnificent grade I listed Town Hall, designed by Alfred Waterhouse and completed in 1877, dominates Manchester’s Albert Square, so it can hardly be called a hidden anything. But pop inside, take a right and you'll come across something less conspicuous, the Sculpture Hall Cafe, which at first impression looks reserved solely for council suits, but in fact is open to plebs 'n' all. Here, surrounded by sculptures of notable local figures such as conductor Charles Hallé and anti-corn law league campaigner Richard Cobden, you can breakfast, lunch or afternoon tea, with Lancashire oven bottom muffins, traditional hot pots and Eccles cakes giving the menu a clear local twang. If there's a more lovely room in which to enjoy Afternoon Tea, we're yet to find it.
Sculpture Hall Cafe, The Town Hall, Albert Square, Manchester