Harley Young compares chips, tables and carpets to find the best Wetherspoons in Manchester city centre (so you don’t have to).
People from all walks of life can be found in a J.D. Wetherspoons. From goths to scallies, to the rich and the poor. Why? Because us Mancs all have one thing in common - we can’t say no to a bargain.
I’ve taken it upon myself to rate the five city centre down to earth 'gastropubs' based on a handful of variants. The ratings are as follows:
- Table cleanliness: 1-5 (5 being spotless, 1 being so sticky your elbows get glued to the table)
- Glass cleanliness: 1-5 (5 being glasswash-fresh, 1 being the grubbiest glass in the UK)
- Chip count (This one is pretty self-explanatory. The more chips, the better.)
- Atmosphere: 1-5 (5 being friendly, buzzing and somewhere you could stay a while, 1 being dead as a doornail and somewhere you can’t wait to get out of.)
- Service: (1 being poor, slow and ineffective, 5 being swift, smiley and welcoming)
The Wetherspoon with the highest score is the winner. I’ve also included the time it took for the food to arrive on each card - this isn’t included in the scoring, but if we end up with a tie-breaker, it will be factored in to decide an ultimate winner.
So, let the battle of the budget boozers commence…
The Waterhouse, St Peter’s Square
I ordered: Tuna panini, chips with a pint of Stowford Press = £9.08
On entering The Waterhouse off Princess Street you’ll notice a rather steep step to get in, meaning you’re just as likely to fall in as you are to fall back out again a few hours later when you’re substantially trollied.
If you’re from Manchester, you’ll know this one as the ‘posh Spoons’. It’s the one where all the students go during long breaks between lectures and where the tourists pop for some cheap munch after a walk round Manchester Art Gallery. It’s rather grand to look at. Each section of the pub splits off into its own room, meaning you can escape from the noise and find somewhere less stereotypically rowdy to do a bit of work or people watch if you so wish. There’s giant bookcases stuffed full of encyclopaedias that it's clear have never ever been read. At least not in the pub.
I pulled up a pew in one of the quieter rooms, and watched the lunch hour unfold. Within minutes, a pair of elderly ladies sit down to browse their next choice while sinking the bottle they’d already bought in an impressive record time. Good old midweek Manchester vibes. Their quiet chatter soon descended into civilised chaos as one of the ladies knocked her glass of wine flying and startled the other. The wet floor sign came out and ruined the feng shui, but health and safety must trump ambience after all.
They laughed and told the young gent opposite that they were off for a meal with a wine flight shortly. He asked in a concerned voice “Have you had anything to eat beforehand?” to which they sheepishly shook their heads.
The unlikely trio quickly formed an alliance and the youngster was taken under the wing of the old birds as they shared their knowledge of Manchester from times gone by. I soon found out that the young man was on jury service that day and just needed to ‘kill time’ before the trial resumed. Hopefully the pint didn’t impair his judgement.
Food arrived and I overheard another tuna panini-eater saying how The Waterhouse was “a bit skinny on the cheese”. However, I thought the opposite as there was plenty of luminous yellow Cheddar gelling my sarnie together. I polished off the entire meal, all 24 chips including the crispy dog-ends and supped my cider. The sound of the fruit machine cashing out signalled that it was time to leave (that and the Wi-Fi was acting up).
I spotted this piece of art on the way out. Not sure what it was but it looked a bit like a Dalek so I’ll give it a 7/10.
The Paramount, Oxford Street
I ordered: Halloumi burger with cheese and bacon, chips and a pint of Kopparberg passionfruit light = £11.66
The Paramount is situated right on the corner of Oxford Street, with outdoor seating in perfect viewing proximity of the McDonalds opposite and the Turtle Bay next door for prime people watching on a late night. Pull up a pew, grab a few woo-woo pitchers and take full advantage of the sunny days as you watch the evening unfold. This area of the city becomes a bit of a jungle on a weekend as drunk punters dodge double deckers swinging round the corner of the pedestrian crossing they fail to acknowledge.
I decided to spice up my halloumi burger with a few rashers of bacon added on for good measure while my pescatarian friend, Holly, opted for the veggie ramen bowl. I have to say, this looked pretty impressive for a Wetherspoon lunch and more like something you’d find in a Wagamamas, minus the price tag.
Despite the low hum of noise, the atmosphere in The Paramount at lunchtime felt busy yet tired and solemn at the same time. Amongst the people you’d expect, the elderly enjoying an affordable lunch and those skiving off from work to squeeze in a pint ahead of the afternoon, were the weekend warriors: burnt out from a heavy few days of drinking, suitcases in tow, barely able to raise their heads to shovel a forkful of lukewarm peas into their gobs - a sombre sight indeed.
Thankfully, if you do find yourself having one too many at the weekend and you turn green whilst scoffing your all day breakfast, the toilets aren’t too far away in this Wetherspoons. I know, shocking. It must be one of the only Wetherspoon establishments in the UK where you don’t have to dredge up 40-thousand stairs to get to the loo.
There’s plenty of historical pictures describing the area and notable people from Manchester times of yore (as all Wetherspoons seem to have).
The Piccadilly, Piccadilly
I ordered: Tuna melt panini, chips and Pepsi max cherry = £7.88
Now this Wetherspoons often gets a bad rap due to its location, often being the first cheap place people see when they stumble off the train at Piccadilly Station ready to start their night out after already sinking a crate on the journey here.
It’s also situated a two-minute walk from Piccadilly Gardens, which, if you’re not familiar with it, was designed to be a pleasant place for people to catch some rays on a rare sunny day in Manchester. However, over the years it’s become more of a place to avoid than somewhere to sit with your sarnie on your lunch break.
Despite having four fruit machines per every 10 people, on a midweek afternoon like the one I visited, it’s fairly quiet and respectable. Perhaps it was the pleasant weather outside to blame for The Piccadilly not being fit to burst, but there wasn’t the usual scuffling for a table that you can often see on a Friday night.
I opted for a soft drink, bringing the total of my order down to a respectable £7.88 - the cheapest watering hole so far during this entire experiment. The dish arrived and looked very unloved, but it didn’t deter me from scranning it in a matter of minutes.
I like to look at Wetherspoons in a sort of ‘you know what you’re getting’ approach. It’s the furthest thing from Michelin star dining, but it’s cheap and fills a hole until your next meal (one that hopefully looks a bit better than this one).
The Moon Under Water, Deansgate
I ordered: Crunchy chicken strips burger, chips and a Disaronno with pepsi = £7. 52
Further down (towards the less swanky looking end of Deansgate) sits The Moon Under Water. A classic example of a beautiful building turned into a cheap-as-chips hospitality venue, and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way.
The bar runs along the far right hand side of the venue, with tables to the left and spilling into the distance towards the back. The toilets are a good trek away, up a pretty staircase mind, so it makes the trip worth it.
There’s a small terrace (if you can call it that) out front. This has about four tables and those signature Wetherspoons plastic chairs of all different colours scattered around. On sunnier days you’ll have your work cut out wrestling for them, watching like a hawk from a seat just inside asking your mate “Do you reckon they’re going soon?”.
I opened the Wetherspoons app and saw that there was a new item on the menu, the crunchy chicken strip burger. To call it a burger is a bit of a bold claim, as it's just two of the chicken strips from the boneless chicken baskets whacked in a bap with a slither of mayo and sprinkle of lettuce.
It came fast. Ridiculously fast, as though the chef had been so excited to have something new on the menu to make that they’d been waiting, tongs at the ready, to assemble the makeshift burger.
Despite slagging it off for not being a proper burger, it was actually one of the better things I’d tasted all week. I’d probably order it again if I found myself getting peckish in between Godfather pitchers. In fact, there’s a KFC just opposite a little further down the road and if you’d given me it wrapped in their branded greaseproof paper I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid.
The Seven Stars, Printworks
I ordered: Southern-fried chicken strip basket with a pot of gravy and a Stowford Press Dark Berry = £11.29
Due to the immense amount of scaffolding inundating the Printworks, The Seven Stars looked how I felt at that very moment; tired, barely clinging on but doing its very best to stay together.
By this point I was willing the week to be over. I love a bargain as much as the next person but, Christ, five-days worth of meals from Wetherspoons sure does take it out of you. Props to Morgan Spurlock for sticking out a month of Big Macs for 2004 doc Super Size Me, I honestly don’t know how he managed it.
The Seven Stars, named after a long-lost Manchester inn from the 1300s, has got to be one of the most dimly lit Wetherspoons I’ve ever visited. It feels like it’s forever night in here. Perhaps they’re going for the same vibe as the Vue cinema just across the way but one thing is for certain, its void of any daylight. Myself and a colleague who had joined me for the last stop on my budget dining pilgrimage perched in a corner, somewhere between the fruit machines and a pitcher-supping group of ladies.
I decided to disregard my heart palpitations and go out with a bang instead, ordering a hearty portion of chicken and chips with a side pot of chicken gravy (because why not?) To wash it down, a pint of Stowford Press Dark Berry; essentially a Strongbow Dark Fruits, only a smidge cheaper.
I’ll be honest, the chicken tenders hit the spot. The crispy coating is on par with something you’d find at KFC or the likes and the chips are arguably better.
And the Winner-spoons is…
After trekking around M1 to find the best blue ‘W’ the city centre has to offer, surprisingly, we’ve ended up with a tie-breaker between the bookies' favourite and the underdog; The Waterhouse and The Moon Under Water, both sitting in lead position with 42 points each.
But as you know by now, there can only be one winner and it comes down to the wait time for food. You’re probably frantically scrolling through the page now to tally up the numbers, the suspense absolutely killing you. Or you’re not arsed and can’t wait for this article to be over.
Either way, I’ll put you out of your misery.
Taking the top spot with a wait time of just five minutes is Deansgate’s very own The Moon Under Water: the original and now officially, well as far as Confidentials.com is concerned, the best.
I’d join you in celebrating with a glass of their finest plonk, but I’m all Wetherspoon’d out to be honest.
Follow Harley Young on Twitter @Harley__Young
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