Where to eat before a performance... or have a drink afterwards
We do love theatre season. There is a magic that shakes loose when those velvet curtains are pulled back and the efforts of a host of talented people can transport you to another world for a few hours. But where you eat beforehand can make or break your night - especially if you are on a date. Hustling about rainy streets for a bite can ruin your appetite for culture as well as food. And god forbid you sit through a play on an empty stomach (or worse, rustle through the opening act with an ill-timed packet of Revels).
Funnily enough, theatres and restaurants have a lot in common. Both are tightrope acts, balancing between the creative and the commercial – in so far as it as an endeavour of the imagination, the arty types (chefs, directors) want to push boundaries as much as possible, while the house managers are much more concerned about who is going to pay for the fancy lighting effects and keep the sous vide running.
There is a magic that shakes loose when those velvet curtains are pulled back
Pre-theatre dining requires some thought. Set menus are a good idea because they are usually well-prepped and designed to entice diners at the quiet 5-7pm slots, precisely the time you need to eat. Theatres themselves are usually a good bet in terms of service as they know they have to hustle punters into their seats, but unfortunately the other show-goers all have the same idea so it is good to have some alternatives up your sleeve. Taking Manchester's best crucibles of culture, we recommend nearby places where you can go a bit fancy, get a casual bite and even a late-night bar or two to discuss the performance afterwards.
We love 53Two, which first started life in the Bauer Miller showrooms before opening up under the arches below Manchester Central. It has promised to be Manchester’s only venue to produce solely northern or world premieres. The theatre itself serves Brightside beer, coffee from Blossom Roasters and cake from Nibble. Thursdays see a delivery of pies from HM Pasties (from £4). For something more substantial, head over to Platzki, which is open from 4pm (except Monday and Tuesday) for modern Polish dishes such as pork neck with dumplings (£18). The Mews is open from 3pm serving a neat wine list and charcuterie. Three Little Words, under a neighbouring arch, has a small plates menu featuring pork belly bon bons (£6.50) and asparagus arancini (£6). As food is served until midnight this is a great shout for a post-theatre snack and cocktail.
53Two Arch 19, Watson St, Manchester M3 4LP
The return of Contact is like the crocuses pushing their way through the ground in spring. While this might be a tad hyperbolic, Contact's association with youth theatre does genuinely mean welcoming it back to its home in the castle on Oxford Road gives one the feeling of hope renewed. Most productions involve hard-hitting themes with special attention paid to the concerns of young people. As part of the multi-million pound refurb, the bar has had a spruce up and acclaimed South Indian street food specialists Chaat Cart are taking over the kitchen, so that's really worth checking out. In the area, Red Chilli is a stylish eat-in Chinese open from noon onwards, while the Old Abbey Taphouse is an indie pub which will do you a burger (from £7) before a show or a pint after for a discussion session. It even occasionally puts on performances of its own.
Contact Theatre, Oxford Road, Manchester, M15 6JA
HOME is well, home, to the more avant-garde-but-still-glossy end of Manchester's theatrical offerings. Annual festivals such as PUSH showcase the North West’s creative talents and there are often talks and exhibitions to accompany the beginning of a production so its well worth having a dig round the listings. The food at HOME's in-house restaurant is less rarefied, with the pizzas (from £7.95) being a favourite. The bar on the top floor is especially atmospheric for a post-show drink. Nearby the Indian Tiffin Room is open from 3pm and has a set menu starting at £26.50 for two courses and an amuse bouche. Gorilla serves burgers (from £11) and tacos (£3 each) all day or a just little further away, Society will have something to appeal to most tastes.
HOME, 2 Tony Wilson Place, Manchester, M15 4FN
Hope Mill Theatre
Since its founding in November 2015 by couple Joseph Houston and William Whelton, Hope Mill has become one of most successful fringe venues in England; beloved by the artistic community and an ever-growing fan base. The Engine Room at Hope Mill supplies pizza (from £7) and nachos (£5.95) and it is really helpful to staff if you pre-order what you fancy (booking in advance is required and reservation slots are at 6pm or 6.15pm). Otherwise your best bet is to start out in the foodie hub of Ancoats where the early evening is (in some cases quite literally) your oyster. Erst serves small plates and natural wine from 1pm (booking advised).
Hope Mill Theatre 113 Pollard Street, Manchester, M4 7JA
The Kings Arms
The Kings Arms is a legendary boozer with a theatre that has long been a key player in the Manchester Fringe scene. Expect the unexpected with experimental and debut productions. The pub itself has a set menu on most days and a good selection of beers. Nearby, refined Spanish joint Porta would be a treat with tapas in the £4-£9 bracket per dish. A little further away, newly refurbished gastropub The Black Friar has a grazing menu (small plates including a crab scotch egg for £9 or a cheese board for £12) that would set you up for an evening of improv.
The Kings Arms, 11 Bloom Street, Salford M3 6AN
The Lowry is a genuinely eclectic in its tastes – the autumn line-up includes comedy, contemporary dance, ballet, circus theatre and more. The Pier 8 restaurant inside the Lowry complex has just reopened, serving British classics (two courses for £24 or three for £29) all strictly served with plenty of time before the bell. If you prefer something a little bit more low-key, then Seven Bro7hers has kebabs in flatbreads, burgers, wings etc, all washed down with their eponymous beers. Vertigo is excellent for vegans with dishes such as a hearty jackfruit chilli (£9) though you don't need to have your v-card to get in.
The Lowry, Pier 8, Salford Quays, Manchester, M50 3AZ
The Grade II-listed Opera House plays host to more mainstream theatre, ballets, operas, occasional gigs and of course is a classic place to get a Christmas panto fix. The ornate green-and-gold interiors of the auditorium put us in the mood for another classic venue - Hawksmoor on Deansgate, which opens from 5pm (4pm on Friday and Saturday). The express menu is designed with theatre goers in mind, serving up potted beef, rump steak and sticky toffee pudding for £23 (£20 for two courses). If you don't need quite so much ballast, Schofields will do you a beautiful cocktail.
The Opera House, 3 Quay St, Manchester, M3 3HP
The Palace has a fairly similar roster to its cousin the Opera House - feel-good blockbusters and plenty of musical theatre. If you are taking someone for a birthday treat then the glamorous surroundings of The Refuge will make an evening of it with small plates of whitebait, crispy lamb shawarma with harissa and yoghurt or slow-cooked ox cheek on the menu (from £5.50). Another stylish option is San Carlo Fumo with its selection of Italian classics and their famous ravioli (£16.95). More low-key but equally good looking in a trendy way is the new Bundobust Brewery, with craft beer and Bundo's section of vegetarian Gujurati street food to graze on. Nearby Hatch is also good for a nibble and a drink before or after the show.
The Palace Theatre, 97 Oxford Street, Manchester, Greater Manchester, M1 6FT
This opulent former trading hall might lull newbies into expecting a traditional theatre experience - they couldn't be more wrong. The theatre itself is a seven-sided structure for watching in the round (the biggest of its kind on the UK) and yes, if you want some Shakespeare this should be the first place you check, but it will always be with a twist. Our reviewer adored the in-house restaurant The Rivals (named after the play, we presume) while up the road, Kala offers a set menu on a Wednesday and Thursday that would make an ideal pre-theatre menu (three courses for £24) if you are making an occasion of it. New French small plates venture 10 Tib Lane would be equally spot-on for a cocktail or a few delicious little morsels as it opens at 4pm.
Royal Exchange, St Ann’s Square, Manchester, M2 7DH
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