Stop counting heads and head to a counter

As the seventh month of a period of lockdown and social distancing approaches, there’s ever more confusion around the rules - I can now have a stranger thread my eyebrows and can get on a crowded bus, but still can’t sit in my mum’s garden. 

Grab a bite to eat at a high counter table as you watch the weird world go by

Even with Boris’s latest 'rule of six', we are still not supposed to be dining indoors with anyone other than our own households, so dining out is still far from the cacophonous social ferment of yore. If you’re throwing up your hands in despair but still want to support your local restaurants, how about embracing solo dining? You get the buzz of being surrounded by other people at a safe distance but without any concerns about breaking 'the rules' and there's a certain classiness to perching by a window with some good food, good wine and a good book. 

We’ve put together a list of places where it’s less ‘table for one’ and more ‘pull up a stool’. Here you can grab a bite to eat at a high counter table as you watch the weird world go by.

Bab Comp 3

BAB NQ 14 Little Lever St, Manchester M1 1HR

Purveyors of the poshest kebabs in town, Bab is perfect for a solo outing. Sip on one of their quirky cocktails or a craft ale alongside your choice of cracking kebabs from chip shop halloumi to monkfish and pistachio. They’ve recently launched a mixed kebab with chicken, lamb and cheesy chips too. Who needs conversation?

20200915 Elgato

El Gato Negro 52 King St, Manchester M2 4LY

Although this kind of food is great for sharing, three or four of El Gato's tapas can also make for a perfect solo tasting menu. El Gato boasts an enviable terrace area if the weather behaves but you can pull up a red leather stool to dine counter style at the bar whatever it looks like outside. Not just your average tapas, dishes like griddled sea bream with butterbean hummus, fennel, orange and basil are a cut above.

2019 05 22 Kim Mcbride Erst Sommelier

Erst 9 Murray Street, Ancoats, Manchester M4 6HS

Over in Ancoats, Erst has a great range of natural (and conventional) wine by the glass and a menu of inventive small plates. The smaller portions mean you can just enjoy a light snack with your wine, perhaps a garlicky flatbread or a simple vegetarian dish like their fast becoming famous ricotta dumplings, or indulge in a dish of oysters, the perfect luxury for a social castaway. There’s great cheese on the menu too.

2020 09 15 Oishi Q

Oishi Q Unit 7, The Quadrangle, Hulme St, Manchester M1 5GL

Down in the Southern Gateway - a slightly less celebrated corner of the city when it comes to eating out - you’ll find some great authentic Asian restaurants including the fantastic Oishi Q. Styled in the minimalist Japanese noodle cafe fashion, here you can grab a satisfying donburi bowl and add yakitori skewers of all kinds of meat, seafood and veggies. There’s also an outstanding and meltingly soft tofu dish. 

20200407 Sicilian Nq Oq Bzj Row 867X487

Sicilian NQ 14 Turner St, Manchester M4 1DZ

A relative newcomer to the city. Just before lockdown, Sicilian NQ had metamorphosed from its initial incarnation as William Sicilian in a tiny former butty shop to a proper grown up venue with room for more than just three tables. If you’re looking for cake, you’re in luck as the ones here are spectacular. But head here hungry and get stuck into some chunky teardrop shaped arancini first.

Sugo Ancoats

Sugo 46 Blossom St, Ancoats, Manchester M4 6BF

Ragu for two? If you want. But why not try pomodoro solo? Sugo is famous for rustling up some of the best pasta in town and there’s stiff competition in that department. Solo diners can enjoy a window seat looking out over the famous cobbles of Ancoats as they slurp their strozzapreti un-self consciously. Leave room for a scoop or two of Ginger's Comfort Emporium's ice cream.

2020 09 15 Sushi Marvel

Sushi Marvel 90 Oldham Rd, Ancoats, Manchester M4 5EB

Another suburban success story that's recently added a city centre outpost to its portfolio. Sushi Marvel falls into that highly sought after hidden gem category and its gems come in the form of superlative sushi adorned with the likes of medium rare fatty rib eye, soft shell crab and salmon truffle mayo. It's so tiny that they can probably only fit two socially distanced people in at a time but if you're lucky enough to be one of those people, then you can smugly wave at passers by like the famous Japanese cat as you enjoy some marvellous sushi. (Read our review here)

2020 09 15 Tast Counter Dining

Tast Catala 20-22 King St, Manchester M2 6AG

While a supermarket lunch deal is all very well and good, sometimes you just want luxury and Tast is a good place to go for that. With the bearer of more than five Michelin stars, Paco Perez, guiding things in the kitchen (he visits once a month to ensure things are on track) Tast offers some of the most exciting food in the city. The menu is catalan, with a big focus on rice and impeccably sourced meat and seafood. A row of stools opposite the bar are perfect for the solo diner. (Read our interview with Tast's head chef)

2020 09 15 Tine Bss

Tine @ Blossom Street Social 51 Blossom St, Ancoats, Manchester M4 6BF

The newest wine bar in town, Blossom Street Social benefits from the encyclopaedic wine knowledge of the folks behind Hanging Ditch wine shop and there's a fantastic range of beer from local breweries like Cloudwater too. As if all that wasn't enough to lure you in, there's now a residency from some of the most exciting new chefs in town. Tine is a project from James Lord and Josh Shanahan who both did time at Wilderness/WATD as well as Where The Light Gets In, Mana, The French and Manchester House between them. The menu is truly exciting and this looks well worth a visit and the venue is casual enough to feel perfectly comfortable perching at the counter alone to enjoy the good stuff.

Read next: Bitesize food and drink news – Week 37 – September 2020

Read again: Mahiki stripped of its licence after ignoring social distancing measures