Ancoats is full of independent success stories.
Mana is the name on everyone’s lips right now – and rightly so. Manchester has waited a long time for Michelin recognition, and chef Simon Martin is more than deserving. To say that we are all made up is the understatement of the year.
But, like everything great in Manchester, the whole area is driven by a uniquely close sense of community – and that is one of the things that makes it so special. It’s attracting more and more independents on the up, and they all seem to be thriving.
The first official recording of the area dates back to 1212, at which point it was called ‘Elnecot’ – a name derived from the Old English ‘Ana Cots’ or ‘lonely cottages’.
The 1800s put the area on the map as it became known as “the world’s first industrial suburb”.
Once home to the mills that earned Manchester its nickname ‘cottonopolis’, Ancoats was also a centre of manufacture for machinery, glass and newspapers. But come the 1990s, the cotton mills had closed and it was more of an industrial wasteland, with 80% of business space left vacant.
Nowadays, the area is constantly changing but you can still find the street signs that gave name to the notorious ‘scuttlers’ who once fought here. For example, Bengal Street was home to the Bengal Tigers, and Angel Meadow the Angels.
Transport and travel
Ancoats is incredibly well connected thanks to its close proximity to the city centre. It’s a quick tram ride from Piccadilly station, and sits right next to the Great Ancoats Street ring road meaning it’s convenient for drivers too.
Bars and restaurants
Ancoats is, without a doubt, home to some of the most exciting eateries in the city. From Little Vietnam to the main hub that sprawls out from Cutting Room Square into New Islington, every single one is an independent and proud of it.
Rudy’s – one of Ancoats’ original indie openings, Rudy’s can be credited (in part) with kickstarting the areas hipster revival. Widely regarded as making one of, if not the, best pizza in Manchester, it was attracting queues long before the area developed the reputation it has today. Go for the award-winning Neapolitan sourdough, stay for the ice cream specials.
Canto – El Gato Negro’s sister restaurant Canto opened on Cutting Room Square last year, serving up Portuguese cuisine inspired by chef patron Simon Shaw’s travels and head chef Carlos Gomes’ Porto upbringing.
Elnecot – Known for their menu of small plates inspired by the local produce and heritage, Elnecot specialises in British cuisine and can be relied on for a great glass of vino. Its name references a piece of Ancoats history and dates back to the first recording of the area in 1212.
Viet Shack – Housed in what was previously Anthony Barnes’ Squid Ink unit (another fascinating Ancoats food story in itself), Viet Shack has a buzzy vibe and walk-in only seating policy. Having grown a loyal following with their stalls at the Arndale Market, they expanded their popular street food operation into Ancoats last year with great success.
Mana – The name that’s on everyone’s lips, the restaurant that brought Manchester its first Michelin star in over 40 years. It was opened by ex-Noma chef Simon Martin and has consistently wowed foodies with elaborate fermented creations and, as The Times critic Marina O’Loughlin put it, all-round “backstage cleverness.”
Pollen Bakery – Previously based in an archway on the Piccadilly Trading Estate, Pollen is another rising star of the independent foodie boom. Its fans once trekked in all weathers to queue for their goodies on a Saturday morning, but can now sit beside the beautiful New Islington Marina in the bakery’s cafe overlooking the water. Known for its impeccable sourdough and intricate viennoiserie (cruffins, anyone?), these days the Chow Chow Maru is almost as legendary.
Erst – From the people behind Trove bakery, Erst’s focus is on simple seasonal food, natural wines and craft beers. It specialises in natural, low-intervention wines – many of which you can buy to take home – accompanied by a stunning selection of small plates.
Companio – Manchester’s first community-supported bakery, Companio was set up by Russell Goodwin four years ago. He raised funds from local residents in the form of a loan, repaid in fresh-made bread. Open Tuesdays and Thursdays when you’ll find a selection of artisan loaves inside.
Trove – A longstanding rival to Pollen, Levenshulme bakery Trove can also be relied upon for quality sourdough. But the star of the show has to be the fennel and rye loaf. A relative Ancoats newcomer, pick up a loaf (or some cake) to take home or sit in to indulge in something from the kitchen. The breakfast menu here is a must.
Hip Hop Chip Shop – Hip Hop Chip Shop’s eighties boombox trailer is the stuff of legends, as is the pimped-up, hip hop-themed fish and chip offering. Everything is made from scratch. The deep-fried mushy pea fritters are a must, as is an accompanying side of gravy for dipping.
Sugo – It was a great moment when this Altrincham-based southern Italian pasta kitchen announced it would be branching out with a second site in Ancoats. Its fresh Pugliese pasta had long been spoken of in hushed and revered whispers by local foodies, and now it’s no longer a tram ride away. The menu changes seasonally, hanging on to a couple of mainstays include our favourite, the house sugo – orecchiette with a slow-cooked beef shin, pork shoulder and nduja ragu.
Cask – Great for beer lovers. Hand-pulled casks, draught beers and brightly coloured cans abound and a Ghostbusters pinball machine and board games. Just like the original Liverpool Street bar, in true neighbourhood style you’re more than welcome to order a takeaway or bring your own food in.
Seven Brothers – Another Cutting Room Square earlybird. The Salford brewery opened in 2014 and two years later it opened its snazzy Ancoats bar. Filled with plush leather seating and rich wood surfaces, you can get your hands on all their core beers here. There’s also a selection of Manchester gin and a casual dining option if you’re feeling peckish.
The Jane Eyre – Not a reference to Charlotte Bronte, but rather a gesture of love from two sons to their mum. The Jane Eyre is run by brothers Joe and Jonny Eyre and specialises in fine cocktails and incredibly moreish small plates. The wine list is on point and breakfast is meant to be pretty good, too.
Second City – Sports bar Second City is one of Cutting Room Square’s longest residents. There’s a strong selection of beer, cocktails and mixers, a dirty American-inspired food menu and, of course, huge screens showing sport. Mana chef Simon Martin rates the chicken wings.
The Crown and Kettle – This Grade II-listed gem dates back to around 1800 and has a particularly fine and unusual ceiling. A small vault and snug at the rear offer a cosy place to hide away with a pint, and there’s a large seating area next to the main bar. Find a selection of ever-changing craft ales here from all over the country.
Chaology – Somewhat of a local phenomenon, it was not at all unusual to see queues outside this Japanese tea house before owner Mei implemented a strict booking policy. She performs a unique Japanese tea ceremony here, and all customers are emailed a strict set of rules in advance of their booking designed to maintain the tranquility of the cafe. This is not just tea, but art. “It is not recommended to visit if the main purpose is chatting.”
Cocoa Cabana – One of Ancoats newest openings, award-winning chocolate shop Cocoa Cabana made its reputation on West Didsbury‘s Burton Road before moving to open a second shop in Ancoats. The chocolate afternoon teas are legendary, as is the hot chocolate. They do chocolate cocktails, too.
Ca Phe Viet – Part of Oldham Road’s growing Little Vietnam, you’ll find Ca Phe Viet attached to the Vietnamese store. It was one of the first places in Manchester to sell Banh Mi and is said to have the best pho in the city.
Vnam – Vnam opened in 2010 and claims to be Manchester’s first authentic Vietnamese restaurant. Hugely popular, head down for pho noodles, rice and sharing platters in a simple setting.
Glamorous Chinese Restaurant – This scarlet-themed restaurant filled with dragons sits above Ancoats oriental superstore Wing Yip, a gargantuan supermarket credited by many as a core factor in the creation of today’s Little Vietnam community. An extensive menu serves up Chinese favourites, including dim sum.
Street Urchin – Newcomer Street Urchin is actually located on the Northern Quarter side of Great Ancoats Street, but it seems unfair to not consider it a part of the neighbourhood. It’s run by husband and wife team Kevin and Rachel Choudhary, who previously ran popular Altrincham pub The Victoria and was inspired by Kevin’s dad who is a fisherman.
Rad’s – This welcoming spot is known for its authentic West Indian food and warm service. Everyone shouts about how great the jerk chicken is for good reason, and the patties are a must. They make their own ginger beer here, too.
Blue Eyed Panda – Chinese restaurant Blue Eyed Panda was opened by the husband and wife team behind the popular Great Ancoats Street takeaway Ancoats Panda, formerly known as Chop Chop. Expect plenty of dumplings and all the familiar Chinese favourites like like salt and pepper chicken, crispy chilli beef, and sweet and sour dishes, plus sumptuous roasted Cantonese meats.
Le Social – Le Social’s new wine bar in a shipping container might just be the cutest new drinking and dining concept in town, with just three tables. The Pollard Yard venue offers an ever-changing menu of natural wines, deli boards and continental plates.
Given Ancoats’ close proximity to the Northern Quarter, it doesn’t currently have the same network of independent shops as a typical suburb. What is there, though, is particularly unique and worth seeking out. For the rest, there’s always town – or the internet.
Ancoats General Store – So much more than your standard neighbourhood corner shop, AGS has it all: a post office, all the local products you could want, coffee making equipment, plants, cards, and ever a little bar with tables, magazines, and games. Order local coffee, wine, beer or gin – and even fill up one of their custom growlers to take home. They also host the famous Scrancoats foodie pop-ups, whose alumni include Oh My Glaze, Oh Mei Dumpling and Malay Street Food and Little Orange Co.
The Vietnamese Store – Originally based further up Oldham Road, the popular grocery store was the first of its kind to open in the area. It moved to its current premises in 2012, opening its popular adjoining cafe three years later. Popular products available here include shrimp paste, Vietnamese pork roll and Vietnamese coffee.
Wing Yip – The biggest Oriental supermarket in Manchester, if you want to find something specific for a recipe this is the place. Alongside a vast range of Chinese products the extensive range spans Japanese, Indonesian, Malaysian, Singaporean, Thai, Filipino and Korean cuisines.
Bridge 5 Mill – Greater Manchester’s leading sustainability venue. The mill’s refurbishment was undertaken using as many sustainable materials and building practices as possible, and its environmental impact is considered in the day to day management of the building. Conference and meeting rooms are hired out on a sliding scale, which in turn allows Bridge 5 Mill to subsidise space for local charities, community and campaign groups.
The Mustard Tree – Focused on tackling the causes and consequences of poverty and homelessness, the Mustard Tree has been in operation since 1994. Its Ancoats shop offers people access to low-cost food through the food club, clothing and household essentials such as furniture, pots, and pans, as well as providing a chance to find work placements, build confidence, recover self-esteem and unleash new potential.
Companio – Artisan baker Russell Goodwin of community bakery Companio runs courses teaching the basics of bread-making, with plenty of freshly baked goods to enjoy as you learn.
Halle St Peter’s – This iconic building is home to one of Manchester’s best-regarded symphony orchestras, and also doubles as an event space and community hub.
Parks and recreation
New Islington tram stop – It’s not really a proper park, but it’s the next best thing. In the summer, the grassy area around the New Islington tram stop is packed with locals doing yoga, drinking beers in the sunshine or reading a book.
The Peeps – The Peeps are a series of brass eyepieces built into the walls of the buildings around Ancoats that give you a glimpse into the past. Opinions vary as to how many there are to be found, but this handy map should give you a good place to start.
Hope Mill Theatre – The passion project of couple Joseph Houston and William Whelton, the theatre was inspired by the highly regarded off West End theatres and small producing venues which dominate the London theatre scene. A hub for Manchester’s evolving theatre culture, Hope Mill has become one of the most successful and reputable independent venues in England.
Street Art – Dotted across Ancoats are some incredible pieces of street art, many created as part of the Cities of Hope festival which has brought world-renowned artists to Manchester to create pieces that tackle world issues. Elsewhere, in Cutting Room square you can find public artworks by local artist Dan Dubowitz (who is also behind The Peeps).
St Michael’s – Under the management of the Hallé, St Michael’s was founded in 1859 and became the heart of Ancoats’ Little Italy Community. Today it hosts some must-see music events.
Property in Ancoats isn’t the cheapest. And prices are only going up – so there’s still time to invest. Since July 2019, property prices in the area have risen 1.29% – unlike many other desirable neighbourhoods, which have seen value falls of around 3%.
An extension of the Northern Quarter and the neighbouring Ancoats Urban Village, the New Islington regeneration scheme by Urban Splash is transforming the way families can live in central Manchester. With new homes now on sale, choose between a three storey Town House, family homes with parking and private terraces, and brand new beautifully designed Mansion House apartments, overlooking New Islington Marina. You can even choose between nine different apartment layouts to suit your way
This is the Place is the name of a poem by Tony Walsh commissioned by Forever Manchester, the only charity that raises money to fund and support community activity across Greater Manchester. And they can’t do it without your help. Donate what you can because investing in your local community to help it thrive can be a hugely rewarding experience. There’s a unique sense of satisfaction in knowing that you are making a real difference to the lives of others, especially to those close to home.
Photos: Stephen Cottrill