... and how to get unlimited food and booze while you're at the airport
Are you a four-hours-early person or “that guy” who’s always legging it through the airport as your name is tannoyed by an annoyed cabin crew member?
I'm that guy. Don't hate me. As much as I love holidays, I don’t relish the idea of sitting in a departure area, munching on a sad sandwich with butterflies in my stomach for hours on end pre-flight.
Did you know that for the cost of a lounge pass, you get unlimited food and drink?
But, as the travel industry slowly recovers from the nosedive of the past few years, Manchester Airport’s shiny new Terminal Two is ready to welcome flyers - and it might just make an early bird out of me.
I went for a guided tour of the impressive new space, checking out the food and drink on offer and getting a taste of the swanky lounges.
It’s been a long time coming has this zhuzh up. Announced in 2015, it had been planned to open in 2020 but then “you know what” happened.
It's worth the wait, the new space is massive - almost three times bigger than before - and the revamp is genuinely impressive.
New terminal, two dis?
A brand new honeycomb light fitting changes its pulsating display (there are 61m possible colour combos) depending on the theme of the day. Man City match? Olympic winners arriving home? Xmas? Confidentials branding? They're all covered.
An 81 square metre digital SmartScreen shows destinations to add to your bucket list as well as interactive content and information for passengers.
An expanded shopping and duty-free section includes big brands and local favourites like The Manchester Shop which started life in Afflecks Palace.
See the fact box at the end of this article for more of those nerdy details.
But it was food and drink I was after on my visit (quelle surprise) and whatever your memories of Manchester airport's culinary prowess in the past, things are looking a lot different in 2021.
The Amber Alehouse
Confidentials makes no secret of its love for the local success story Seven Bro7hers. From recycled cereal beers made from Rice Krispies, Cornflakes and Coco Pops to honeycomb (our staff pick) and watermelon ales, not to mention limited editions for wronguns like the peanut butter Jaffa cake beer launched earlier this year. This Salford brewery has gone from strength to strength with bars all over the region from Ancoats to MediaCity.
Its latest venture is to partner with Manchester Airport to provide the beer to Terminal Two’s Amber Alehouse, an in-house bar brand “Fuelled by Seven Bro7hers”. Never mind that sad pint of lager at 6am, get yourself a paddle of tasters. Your pre-flight nerves will fizzle away in no time. You could almost forget you’re in an airport at all.
If you’re more concerned with arriving at your destination looking like you’ve NOT just been on a plane for several hours, you might want to add a pre-flight juice to your skincare regime. I tried a few of VIT's squeezes, my favourite being a zingy beetroot and ginger one and a refreshing "summer breeze" with pear, mint and apple. VIT also does super healthy food with myriad vegan, veggie and gluten-free options.
On the other hand: Health food? Pah! Cheetham Hill success story Archies is a sure-fire kid and teen pleaser and gives the ‘rents an excuse to snaffle an ostentatious jumbo jet of a burger too. In the brand's signature style, all fixtures and fittings in this concession are pink pink pink. The airport Archies is a prime opportunity for that smug airport selfie - laters taters.
The Ferrari of Italian restaurants, San Carlo is on hand to offer luxe Italian dishes and plenty of fizz and pizazz under its peachy blossom tree. Confidentials' longest-standing food critic and publisher Gordo recently issued a marriage proposal to one San Carlo menu item and he's definitely in the mile-high club. If you’re looking for copious amounts of lobster, truffle and EVOO to give your departure a bit of star treatment, SC is the one.
Pot Kettle Black
One of the best breakfast venues in the city list for those in the know, PKB’s flagship cafe in Barton Arcade is a real gem. But the brand hasn’t stopped there, it’s expanded its cafes to include a new venue at Moda Angel Gardens while its Half A Dozen Other bakery arm is banging out colourful croissants to many of the cities cafes and restaurants including the newest Peter Street hotspot Haunt. It's definitely worth sticking this one in your little black book.
These are my personal food and drink tips from the new T2 but they join a host of other concessions including familiar chains like Pizzaluxe, KFC, Pret and Costa Coffee.
If you're after something more exclusive though, how about a lounge?
Lounge act - Manchester's new T2 departure lounges Escape and 1903
As someone who likes to travel but is far from bougie enough to be in the frequent flyers fraternity, I always thought airport lounges were categorically not for “people like me”. Lounge access often comes complimentary depending on your flight class or FF status but you can also buy yourself a ticket into the club. I was pleasantly surprised that the plush, calm lounges at T2 are not only lovely but actually really affordable. Did you know that for the cost of a lounge pass, you get unlimited food and drink? When you factor in the slightly higher cost of food and drink in airports anyway, it’s remarkably cost-effective - especially if you plan to put a few away before you take off. *Obviously, we advise responsible drinking.
Escape Lounge (£30pp) has quirky, creative vibes and looks a bit like a trendy co-working space. There's a tuk-tuk food truck serving popcorn and other snacky bits, a fully stocked bar and a menu of food (the likes of croissants and banana bread baked in house) to order from. The loos here have showers, especially helpful for connecting flights.
1903 Lounge (£40), named for the date of the first Wright Brothers’ flight, is a step up. No need to queue at a bar, the booze is self-service (!) and includes, beers (from JW lees), spirits, wine and fizz. The attention-seeking in-house chefs cook some dishes (and extras: fresh seared tuna with your Caesar salad, sir?) to order in their theatre kitchen. There is also a help-yourself display of salads, snacks and ready-made hot dishes like Indian curries and Japanese gyoza too.
I tried some of chef's creations on the press visit and can confirm the food was a cut above the usual airport fare - I recommend you leave room for one of the team's fluffy house-baked scones with jam and clotted cream. The team that runs the lounges is overseen by hospitality stalwart Mart Louwerse who has previously managed The Midland Hotel and more. The approach is all about providing the best of hospitality so you know you will be well looked after as you prepare to go on your jollies.
Karen Smart, Managing Director at Manchester Airport, said: “We were immensely proud to open our new-look Terminal Two to passengers for the first time in July, a project that was four years in the making and a year in waiting.
“Not only has this project given us a flagship terminal with world-class facilities, cementing our place as the North’s intercontinental travel hub, but the build programme has also left a tangible legacy for our local communities. This was always important to us and we were delighted that Laing O’Rourke shared this vision.”
Manchester Airport's T2 glow up is a winner. I'll actually look forward to spending a bit of time there next time I get the chance to escape Brexit Britain.
Manchester Airport Manchester M90 1QX
Terminal Two: Zhuzhment day - all the details of T2's fresh look
The new terminal is the centrepiece of £1bn Manchester Airport Transformation Programme (‘MANTP’)
The extension to the terminal increases its size by 150%
More than 140 businesses, large and small, have contributed to building the extension, overseen by construction giant Laing O’Rourke
The construction has provided 1,500 jobs, including more than 150 apprentice opportunities
More than 8,000 tonnes of steel have been used to create the extension, which covers 81,000 square metres – large enough to accommodate Manchester United’s Old Trafford pitch 11 times over, with room to spare
Set over five floors with 844 glass panels installed to provide passengers with panoramic views of the airfield
Features include a honeycomb light installation with 16m possible combinations and a new 81 square metre digital screen
24 new retail and F&B units including a range of well known Northern/Manchester brands
Two luxurious, modern lounges (Escape & 1903)
The second phase of MANTP will include a redevelopment of the older part of Terminal Two, to bring its facilities in line with the new extension.
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