From substantial meals to mental health, we look back over the past year for hospitality in Manchester

In March 2020, if you had said that we’d still be in a lockdown a whole 12 months later we’re not sure we’d have believed you. But here we are. It’s March 2021 and it doesn’t feel like anything’s that different, though a huge amount has happened over the past year.

The Eat Well MCR collective has delivered over 24,000 meals to people facing challenging circumstances in Greater Manchester since April 2020

There have been tiers and tears. Scotch eggs as a “substantial meal”. Eat Out to Help Out. Captain Tom. Furlough. Self-isolating. Working from home (unless you couldn’t). Boris in hospital. Toilet roll shortages. Walking for fun. Andy Burnham. Amazing acts of kindness. Marcus Rashford. Hand sanitiser. Clapping for the NHS. Masks. Jackie Weaver. Banana bread. Joe Wicks. VaccinesSo many Zoom calls and quizzes.

In what’s undoubtedly been a year for the history books, it’s also been a pretty rubbish one for lots of people. The last year has changed all of our lives forever in some way, and that’s certainly true of the pub and restaurant industry in Manchester, along with the rest of the country.

Let’s take a look back over 12 months of lockdown and some food and drink moments to remember from lockdowns 1, 2 and 3:

2020 09 21 Delhi House Cafe Scotch Eggs
Scotch eggs at 2020 opening Delhi House Cafe - substantial?

Decoding the substantial meal

Remember the farce that was the ‘substantial meal’? You could have a pint, but only if you bought a whole meal alongside it. Let’s just say there were differing opinions on what a ‘substantial meal’ actually was.

Koffee Pot split its fry-up into a breakfast tasting menu made up of “8 perfectly cooked small plates” paired with booze to make the substantial meal last a little longer. We approved (even though it wasn’t actually ever for sale).

G-A-Y started doing beans on toast and jacket potatoes. Common had a visit from the police who decided its massive Nell's pizza slices weren’t substantial enough (a decision that was later reversed: slices are officially substantial).

The rules for takeaway alcohol also flip-flopped all over the show with restaurants being told they couldn't do what supermarkets were raking in huge profits from and the rules changing on a seemingly weekly basis. 

Chefs sharing their secrets

During the lockdowns, chefs and other food professionals from across the city have been sharing their skills and expertise.

Federal shared its best banana bread (remember that?) recipe on Instagram. Might be time to dig that out again.

The team from Salvi’s started streaming cooking tutorials for kids to take the pressure off parents during lockdown. Hosted by owner Maurizio Cecco and his 12-year-old daughter Sienna, the duo showcased Italian-inspired recipes that families could follow at home.

MasterChef winner Simon Wood launched an initiative to help families on a budget in lockdown. Feeding Families with Simon Wood showed how to create quick and tasty meals on a budget, along with Wood Restaurant Group moving towards delivery.

2020 08 13 Food And Drink News Eat Well Mcr
Eat Well MCR has delivered over 24,000 meals

Manchester’s community comes together to feed the hungry

We’ve all heard about Marcus Rashford’s success in getting free school meals reinstated across the country. There are countless local organisations helping to feed those in need too.

Social enterprise Barakah Food Aid has continued to deliver even more food parcels to those in need in South Manchester during the pandemic. It’s a sad reality that many people have been relying on foodbanks before the pandemic, and this has grown even more during lockdown. The generosity and selflessness of Manchester’s community have been inspirational, to say the least.

The Eat Well MCR collective has delivered over 24,000 meals to people facing challenging circumstances in Greater Manchester since April 2020. The meals are made by chefs and volunteers from the hospitality industry all across the city and you can support the Eat Well collective by buying chef-created dishes (including meal kits from the likes of Mana, Where The Light Gets In and Elite Bistros) on their site.

Led by owner Jamie Whittaker, the team at Levenshulme vegetarian eatery The Gherkin provided thousands of meals at Christmas for those left struggling financially due to the pandemic. It's currently letting a foodbank use the space until it can reopen fully.

Burger Kit From Mana Via Eat Well Mcr
Mana went from Michelin star to - burgers

Meal kits, name changes and delivery

The restaurant industry has had to get spectacularly creative in the past twelve months with many offering meal kits so you can recreate your dining faves at home. There have been a few name changes (mainly to pivot from being "just" a pub to a temporary "takeaway") and some restaurants that have really changed things up to stay afloat.

Michelin-starred Mana is one of the latter – it pivoted from multi-course, cutting edge fine dining to seriously bougie burgers and tacos at its Manchester restaurant. They even offered a free burger per order for NHS workers.

Another fine-dining fave, Where The Light Gets In, renamed itself The Pickle Factory and started offering veg boxes in the local area, followed by dinner hampers for home delivery.

Locally-focused delivery app Shocal launched pre-pandemic but came into its own during last year’s initial lockdown panic. The service started as a way to help independents compete with some of the larger delivery services that take big cuts of commission and continued as people needed deliveries in lockdown.

The fight against Tier 3 for Manchester

Following the (ahem) discussions in the lead up to Greater Manchester’s first foray into Tier 3, Manchester’s Mayor, Andy Burnham, became something of an unlikely, anorak-wearing hero.

Not only did he fight to reduce the impact of a Tier 3 lockdown on local businesses, but he launched #oneGM which works with local communities to support those struggling due to the pandemic. One generous (and anonymous) benefactor donated £50,000 within minutes of the campaign opening.  He also announced thousands of food vouchers would be provided to kids in need over half term.

Vogue penned an article about Burnham's sex appeal. Thousands tweeted in support of him. Salford craft brewery Seven Bro7hers named a beer in Andy Burnham’s honour. The limited-edition "King of the North" beer raised money for those in the hospitality sector considered the most vulnerable.

2020 06 30 Hilton House Feel Good Cafe
Feel Good Club is the city's first mental health and wellbeing led hospitality venue

Supporting Manchester’s mental health

Feel Good Club, the city’s first mental health and wellbeing-led hospitality venue, launched last year. Starting life as a supportive Instagram page, the venue opened its doors just before tier 3 hit. It had to pivot from its original plan to offer events, co-working and eating-in spaces to instead offering takeaway collaborations with Ply2 and coffee roasted in Manchester.

Health and wellness brand TRIBE.MCR provided a series of free workouts aimed at those in the hospitality industry. These sessions were designed to help improve the mental wellbeing of those in the industry who might be furloughed, at risk of unemployment or unemployed.

#PayItForward was launched back in March 2020 to support Manchester restaurants by encouraging the public to buy discounted vouchers that could be redeemed after lockdown. £1 from each voucher purchased was donated to Hospitality Action, a charity that offers help to those within the hospitality sector who are dealing with illness, mental health issues, financial difficulties and more. Hospitality action also launched the Invisible Chips campaign which is still going strong and will be another good way to support this damaged industry when you rush back to enjoy its food, booze, atmosphere and service.

Bubble Greenhouses On The Lawn In Spinningfields Manchester
Spinningfields is currently preparing to welcome diners and drinkers in outdoor greenhouses

The last 12 months have been weird and some things have changed beyond recognition for so many of us. Thankfully, people have stopped saying "the new normal" now, although it does feel like that’s what we’re currently living in.

There’s hope on the horizon, and we’re crossing our fingers that some of the exciting food and drink events on the cards for 2021 – like Manchester Food and Drink FestivalManchester Craft Beer Festival and Kantina Food & Drink Weekender  - will get to take place this year, along with restaurants, pubs, bars and venues reopening. 

We look forward to seeing you all in a beer garden nearby soon.

This article was written by Lucy Thorpe

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