Gordo faces his Pinocchio and pizza phobias on a trip to Mayfield Depot

Freight Island is a cursed restaurant with an amusement park previously seen in the 1940 film Pinocchio where it is shown to turn mischievous young hipsters into donkeys.

Or should that read “Pleasure Island is a cursed island with an amusement park seen in the 1940 film Pinocchio where it is shown to turn mischievous young boys into donkeys?”

That film terrified me when I saw it, aged five, on telly. 

I’ve never been able to watch it since. 

Expecting the usual fuckups that go with a 60-question on-boarding system that makes entering US Immigration at Kennedy seem a breeze, I was astonished to get the right order delivered in three minutes.

Back to escaping to Freight Island, the aircraft carrier of a restaurant next to Piccadilly Station in Manchester. Capable of seating over a thousand people in one go, it’s opened and closed a few times because of Covid.

I’ve been feeling sorry for the guys and girls behind it, most of whom I know well. They include my great pal John Drape, along with my new pal, the tour de force that is Gemma Vaughan. These guys are behind such well-loved brands as Parklife and Festival Number 6.

Mark Garner Of Confidentials With Huggy Bear Aka Antonio Fargas Suzie Wiseman And Polly Farman At The Opening Of The Hilton Hotel Manchester
Confidentials publisher Mark Garner with Polly Farman, Suzie Wiseman and Antonio Fargas AKA Huggy Bear

Their latest behemoth, Escape to Freight Island has now opened properly and a few of my friends and colleagues are waxing lyrical about it. Even with a stutter a few weekends ago when the food and beverage industry suddenly woke up to the fact that half the front of house staff had buggered off back across the channel and weren’t coming back. Those problems are now receding, so it was time to put my Pinocchio phobias and worries that I may be growing long hairy ears behind me and give it a try.

Pizza From Voodoo Rays At Escape To Freight Island
Pizza from Voodoo Rays at Escape To Freight Island

The Confidentials massive dragged me over for the experience. 

Apart from Pinocchio, I don’t like being half outdoors and half indoors and I don’t like pizza.

I don’t like loud music when I’m eating, and I don’t like queuing. Unless it’s outside Wolfgang Puck’s gaff Spago, in LA. Everyone does the queue there and yours truly found himself talking to Huggy Bear for 10 minutes; bizarrely, I met him a second time at the opening of The Hilton here in Manchester, 15 years later. 

However, I’m not a complete pizza snob. I loved Wolfgang’s; but it did involve sour cream, chopped chives and caviar. That was 35 years ago.  

Belzan Pasta At Escape To Freight Island
Outstanding pasta from Belzan

The queue at Freight turned out to be just three deep. We were asked if we wanted a table inside or out, or indeed a beanbag. Bugger the beanbag, we’ll take one inside, thanks. Seconds later we were sitting down at a table in an aircraft hangar with a QR code and well over 300 people all chatting away wrapped in a stream of eighties music, but not too loud. The room had that look of being thrown together but thrown together with a lot of thought. If you know what I mean. 

Passing the phone over the ubiquitous QR code, we ordered beer. Expecting the usual fuckups that go with a 60-question on-boarding system that makes entering US Immigration at Kennedy seem a breeze, I was astonished to get the right order delivered in three minutes. Blimey. 

After that, it was easy; maybe too easy.

Prawns From Baratxuri At Escape To Freight Island
Prawns from Baratxuri at Freight Island

One of my lot ordered a pizza. A slice, from Voodoo Rays. I experienced this lot down in Shoreditch in that there London. Couldn’t remember it to be fair. I’m not going to forget this one. A single slice was ordered off a 22” job. It was bloody good. And big. Thin and crispy, not like the fat, flabby sloppy stuff taking over Manchester. The bottom had notes of charcoal, the top fresh herbs, tomatoes and cheese. Beer-perfect food. It showed minimal, balanced flavours. I was baffled. I loved it. If you have a few sprogs, they’ll love it too.

I’ll have another, thanks.

Tacos from Madre were what you want to be eating in a tiny stick of a dynamite restaurant just off Zócolo square in Mexico City - as James Bond starts collapsing buildings around you. Fresh, sharp and citrus heat. And dead messy. 

The giant baked killer prawns from the Baratxuri kitchen aren’t for first dates. (Yes, you heard, Baratxuri from Ramsbottom are here.) Get a grip, rip the head off, take a swig of beer then suck the juices from the head. I was sorry I didn’t have a bottle of mescal on the go.

Belzan’s pasta was outstanding, and I topped the whole thing off with a crepe, with caramel, mango, and ice cream from Maison Breizh. They do savoury and sweet crepes of such wonderful magicalness (technical term) you will cry when you eat them. 

Crepe With Ice Cream From Maison Breizh At Escape To Freight Island Manchester
Crepe from Maison Breizh at Freight Island

Thinking of escaping to Freight Island? It’s for families, it’s for boomers, it’s for the Instagrammers, it’s for the hipsters, it’s for great fun. It’s for feeling good.

I went here to do a job. I finished up having a great civilian. Those of you who know my trade know that’s the biggest compliment I can give it.

Go. Get a train, get a car, get a bus, walk around the corner, jump on a bike; set off from Preston.

It’s a gaff and a half. 

Follow @gordomanchester on Twitter and Instagram @gordomanchester

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