Confidential uncovers some of the city's best lesser-known spots to eat and drink, from back alley bakeries to basement boozers
WHILE some may debate the logic in publicising a ‘hidden gem’ (thus making it more popular, more busy and probably more expensive), we feel it’s our duty to shout about the places we love, whether that be a life-changing molecular gastronomic affair in deepest, darkest Lancashire, a banging bulgogi discovered in a shady Chinatown basement, or a pint of mild and pork pie scoffed in a scuzzy local boozer.
Below you’ll find our guide to some of the city’s best lesser-known food and drink spots. Some you may already know about, but we're guessing there's some you won't...
It didn’t take us long to work out why this small family restaurant opposite Manchester Royal Infirmary has daily queues out the door. The little corner cafe and shop serves a range of Korean and Japanese dishes, all made onsite with pride, skill and attention to detail. As well as the famous signature kimchi, traditional dishes include bulgogi, bibimbap and the gorgeously sweet and sticky Korean chicken. Save some room for dessert though, they make their own ice cream on site too with special flavours which include the delicately sherberty plum, matcha green tea and fresh ginger.
Seoul Kimchi, 275 Upper Brook Street, M13 0HR
This updated Jewish institution is worth travelling all the way up Bury Old Road for. The old fashioned Kosher bakery and deli, just past Crumpsall village, sells all manner of fresh bagels, buns and traditional breads - such as the semi-sweet plaited challah loaf - as well as confections like kichels and kuchan (traditional sweet biscuits and cakes), all prepared and produced in their state of the art on-site kitchen which knocks out over 300 different items. The fourth generation bakery has recently been on ITV’s Britain’s Best Bakery representing the North West.
State Fayre, 77 Middleton Road, Crumpsall, M8 4JY
Curry Cafés (Café Marhaba)
Cheap and cheerful curry cafs are a Manchester institution (as we comprehensively covered here), but those in the Northern Quarter deserve regular mention. Lunchtime workers form orderly queues for steaming bowlfuls of proper home cooked curries served canteen style for around a fiver. Many have different varieties of meat, poultry and vegetarian curries on every day and some, such as Café Marhaba (the hardest to find) tucked away in back Piccadilly even have their own tandoori ovens where you can buy fresh, billowing naan breads - probably the best in the city - for less than £1.
36 Back Piccadilly, Manchester M1 1HP
It’s fair to say that this little Japanese gaff located in a railway arch by Victoria Station is going through a well deserved golden period. Terry Huang, Umezushi’s head chef was named ‘Chef of the Year’ at the recent Manchester Food and Drink Awards and it has been included in several national ‘Top 100’ restaurant lists recently. Thanks to its unrivalled Japanese cuisine, including sashimi, sushi and tempura, using exceptionally fresh and more interesting varieties of fish, it's becoming increasingly difficult to bag a table at this small and intimate restaurant. Gordo visited for the first time last month for his birthday lunch and got all gooey-eyed over their razor clams (see here).
Umezushi, 4 Mirabel Street, Manchester, M3 1PJ
Another treat hidden in unlikely railway arch, this time behind Piccadilly train station, where Hannah Calvert and Chris Kelly recently opened this tiny independent sourdough bakery and Viennoiserie. Though word has quickly spread and business is already brisk. Their slow proved sourdough loaves and days-in-the-making sweet pastries are proving popular with a steady weekly trade buoyed up by very busy Saturday mornings and reams of wholesale customers (including The French). Pollen offers a range of five breads including their signature 28 hour sourdough loaf, alongside pastries such as croissant, pain au chocolate, pain au raisin and seasonal Danish (made Wednesday to Saturday). On Saturdays, they add almond croissants, a few cakes, and the ‘cruffin’ - a cross between a croissant and a muffin which usually sell out in 47 seconds.
Pollen Bakery, 2 Sheffield St, Manchester, M1 2ND
Wood & Co.
This basement bar from the folks behind Northern Quarter’s NoHo and Dusk ‘til Pawn opened in the Spring of 2016 without so much as a bleat, which is remarkable, really, given the current level of noise surrounding almost all food and booze openings in the city. Found between a couple of skips, through a door which reads ‘Goods Entrance’ and down 39 steps on South King Street (behind El Gato Negro), Wood & Co. serves proper grown-up cocktails with lots of booze for around £7 in a space conducive to parking your backside and talking nonsense.
Wood & Co., 39 South King Street, Manchester M2 6DE
This tiny basement café shares its square footage with a Thai supermarket in Chinatown and has been knocking out dishes so delicious that they even caught the attention of national food critics. Basic is the word and you’ll find none of the more perfumed Thai curries of cosier restaurants here, just spankingly fresh chilli-spiked salads, full flavoured noodle soups and unfussy meat dishes for around £10 per head. (Read our review here)
Siam Smiles, 48a George Street, Chinatown, Manchester, M1 4HF
Housed in an original branch of the now defunct Lancashire and Yorkshire Bank (later Baekdu Korean restaurant) on Shudehill, between the Crowne Plaza hotel and Shudehill Interchange, you’ll find a modest Italian serving fantastically fresh pasta (made in-house) dishes taken from the restaurant’s spiritual heartland in Piedmont and trickled down through various generations of nonnas. Started by four Italian-born chums who’d piggy banked enough away after years working the hospitality circuit in Manchester, a must try is the Reginette Al Barbera Con Ragu Di Cervo with perfectly cooked ribbons of Barbera red wine pasta served with slow cooked venison ragu and parmesan (£12).
The Pasta Factory, 77 Shudehill, Manchester M4 4AN
A proper working man’s caf’ that has, in the face of Northern Quarter’s relentless march up towards Ancoats and east towards Piccadilly, refused to become in anyway hipster. Alas, this lovable, family-run greasy spoon, which has for three decades been fuelling both hairy-arsed builders and hungover natives, may soon be no more, after plans for a new hotel were revealed late last year. Move quick then for a wedge of Linda’s Friday special homemade cheese & onion pie, or for perhaps the best chips in the North West; thick and twice-fried for extra crisp.
Linda's Pantry, 23 Ducie St, Manchester M1 2JL
The Eagle Inn
Somewhere between the roar of Trinity Way and the tangle of schemes going up around Greengate, squished between a row on low-rise, non-descript warehouses, you’ll find a cracking little boozer called The Eagle Inn. Rebuilt in 1903 by local brewer Jospeh Holt, The Eagle boasts a modest but charming little bar serving hand pulled ales and ciders, three small snugs (one with piano) and a fine live music space hosting such performances from a number of wonderfully idiosyncratic acts, from Canadian hardcore outfits called Thunderfuck to Korean musical improviser and abandoned object tinkerer, Ryu Hankil.
The Eagle, 19 Collier Street, Salford M3 7DW
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Written by Deanna Thomas and David Blake (with thanks to Ruth Allan, Thom Hetherington and Mike Davis for his photo of Linda's).