I love an excuse to wander around my city. Sure, I’m an adoptive Manc, but I’ve been here for 29 of my 40 years, plus I married a Prestwich lad, so I think I’m pretty much integrated into society now. I was already ‘northern’ (both of my parents were from up north, though I was born way in the south), so I have that frame of mine already deep under my skin. And I’m not just talking about my appreciation for gravy, or terming the evening meal ‘tea’.
But I know what it’s like when you visit a different city – it’s easy to get overwhelmed and end up at a chain restaurant or bar because you know what to expect. When you’re looking for hotels in Manchester, you might not look for venues nearby, you might just look at the price options, proximity to an event your going to or family.
So given I write about about places to visit in Manchester on a pretty regular basis, when Hotels.com asked me to write about my hidden gems, you’d think I might struggle.
In the end it was quite the opposite. I struggled to keep the list short.
I spent a week writing a list, and when I hit the second page, I figured there were too many. So I restricted myself to the city centre only (sorry Ordsall Hall, Pasta Project, and Blue Nile). I removed anything vaguely chain like – I wanted to keep it as indie as possible. I limited myself to one or two posts per subject, and after many messages (Mr GFB is very patient at listening to me), and revised lists, I came up with these. Some I’ve visited recently, some not for a while, all I love, and even then, I’m still keeping some to myself. I mean if I tell you about them all, they’re not hidden gems anymore, right?
There are some new venues that have opened or are opening that I haven’t been to yet, and I know are going to be awesome, but I’m holding on, and sticking with what I know. Maybe I can do another one of these in a few months and revise the list.
If I say Platzki Restaurant, you might look at me in askance – in fact I did over the weekend, and I got a lot of blank looks. I’m both sad about this and happy too. Sad because it’s just fabulous – food, service, ambience – but I’m happy because it means I can kind of keep it to myself.
Over on the Great Northern are two sneakily hidden restaurants. One is Thai Smiles, and the other is Platzki. Offering delicious Polish food, it’s got the best of everything and this season it’s winter warmers like chicken noodle soup, griddled smoked cheese, and my favourite, sauerkraut – in my latest visit, warmed with mashed potatoes, and served with a slab of oven roasted pork, with beer and apples. The portion sizes are huge, the service is warm and welcoming, and if you have a sweet tooth, try the baked cheesecake.
My second would be Pasta Factory. Sure it’s a little more well known than it was, but it still deserves a nod. Fresh pasta, traditional Italian dishes, all with a family feel.
Finally, Lameizi. This one really is a hidden beauty – and often full of Chinese students and staff, always the sign of a good feed. Sitting on top of a Chinese supermarket (where I always go to stock up on sauces like sambal) it’s cheap, cheerful, plentiful, and tasty. That said, unlike the other two above, the service leaves a lot to be desired, so go in prepared for a bit of a wait, and some hand waving for attention.
Final nods go to Dogs & Dough (carb heaven), the newly reopened favourite for work lunches Umami (the Monk’s Broth is a personal favourite), and Elnecot (selected small plates, glass of wine, heaven).
First up, Wood & Company. Given how busy is was on Saturday, it’s far less hidden than it used to be, but this is still just hidden away enough for it to get a nod. Great cocktails, table service, a small but select range of beers and wine. Favourites of this season include the Verde Royale – Plantation Rum with pineapple, sage and chilli, the sweet acidity of the pineapple gets a little bite from the chilli, and then all the herbal notes, and The Split. I was unsure about the latter – banana, Wild Turkey Rye, bitter chocolate and cardamom, but in fact the banana just added a little fruity sweetness, otherwise it was all dark bitter chocolate notes. Delish.
A brand new one to my hidden favourites (and favourites overall) is Speak in Code. I knew this was was going to be awesome even before it opened, and I wasn’t wrong. Everything is vegan, and whilst they do offer food, for me it’s all about the booze. It’s creative, sustainable and most of all delicious. Like this XXI (they all have numbers rather than names) featuring The Botanist Gin, coconut and jasmine, almond essence and a coconut waxed ice. When a place takes care of it’s ingredients, all the way down to the ice in your drink, you know it’s good.
Special nods also go to Arcane (another subterranean cocktail haven) and Marble Arch (go for a walk, find it, drink beer, stay the rest of the evening).
Places to See:
This was probably the hardest. I mean there are all the usual things – museums, galleries, and the football stadiums – but I wanted to show you things that you might not know about, or realise you can visit.
John Rylands Library – lots of people walk past it, more might even take a picture of it, but people still don’t realise you can go inside. What’s more, it’s open every day. When you do, you’re transported in history, the smell of the wood panelling and old books, the stained glass. It really is like something from Hogwart’s. Pop in for a look around, see the exhibitions, or go on one of the introductory tours.
Speaking of Hogwart’s, head over to the University of Manchester. Now I appreciate I work here, but only a few of the buildings are really accessible to the public (away from the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester Museum and Manchester Art Gallery, and Elizabeth Gaskell House). One you can visit is Christie’s. The Bistro on the top floor of the Christie Building, offers full meals, tea and cake, and you can sit on squishy sofas, in book lined rooms, whilst serious faced Vice Chancellors look down on you. Worth a visit at least once.
Finally, a little nod to some of the statuary in the city. Head to Sackville Street to see the Vimto Gardens (walk down by the arches and find a couple more artworks), and Alan Turing, visit Abraham Lincoln on Brazennose Street (learn more as to why here), Friedrich Engels on First Street and when she’s unveilled, Emmeline Pankhurst on St Peter’s Square. We walk past them all the time, but slow down, stand and actually look at them, rather than just seeing them as you pass by.
The spending used for this post was gifted by Hotels.com, but all views are very much my own – there was no restriction as to where I could go, or what I could spend it on. Being me, I went with food and drink.