Offering restaurant quality food vendors, inventive bars, secret dens, music, immersive art, festival takeovers and family focused events, we’ve all been pretty excited over the past few weeks about Escape to Freight Island, which launched yesterday at Depot Mayfield.
Part of the £1.4bn regeneration of Manchester’s Mayfield district, owners said they hope it will become an international destination akin to the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Coney Island in New York and Grand Central Market in Los Angeles.
The first part of the ambitious project, dubbed Platform 15, opened to the public on Friday 24th July with social distancing at the forefront and advance booking essential.
The launch of phase two is planned for August, increasing capacity to 1,000 people with social distancing measures remaining in place. Once restrictions are lifted, the venue will switch up to a capacity of 2,500 people.
So what can guests expect? What’s there, and how much does it all cost?
The team behind the venture includes Justin Crawford and Luke Cowdrey of Volta, Electrik Bar and The Refuge, Gareth Cooper of Festival N°6, event production veteran Jon Drape of Engine No. 4, and Dan Morris, who launched Manchester music venues Gorilla and the Albert Hall as well as some of the city’s favourite bars and restaurants.
And just walking into the space everything feels very welcoming, colourful, cool and laid back, with a great soundtrack. It feels very ‘Manchester’.
You give your name on the way in, and are allocated a table in one of the several seating areas, which you’re encouraged to remain in to maintain safe social distancing. Alfresco seating is dotted around the whole venue, and there’s both covered and open-air seating available.
Then you order everything you want to eat or drink using their app or QR codes on the table, and it’s delivered straight to you.
There are drinks from northern craft brewery Pomona Island as well as Camden Town Brewery, The City of Manchester Distillery and Kopparberg, with the Platform 15 Bar also offering Shindigger and Northern Monk beers on draught in addition to wine, fizz and cocktails.
Draught beer starts from £2.50 a half, with bottles and cans from £4.20, spirits and mixers from £4.25, and glasses of wine and prosesso from around £5. Cocktails are between £8 and £9.
When it comes to food, there may only be a handful of traders so far, but you’re already spoilt for choice.
Don’t miss newcomer Madre, a collaboration between the teams behind Belzan Liverpool and Breddos Tacos.
Their authentic Mexican tacos are all served in pairs on heritage corn tortillas with fresh limes, onions and coriander, all priced at £7 for the pair, with options including pork, steak, chicken and a vegan option with portobello mushroom.
Our favourite so far is the pork al pastor with grilled pork neck and leg, habanero salsa, jalapeño and tomatillo salsa, and slow cooked pineapple, packed with flavour and just the right amount of spiciness.
If you’re not already familiar with Ramsbottom’s pioneering Baratxuri, you’ll want to check out the food from their wood-fired ‘Asador’ grill, roasting large cuts of meat and whole fish.
If you are familiar with them, you’ve probably already put in your order.
We loved the whole sea bass charred over the fire (£16), which comes with roasted new potatoes and a toasted garlic and chilli dressing.
There’s also whole king prawns grilled over oak embers (£16), or a Herefordshire 10oz rump steak with fire-salt crust (£18), while other dishes include slow roasted pork belly with smokey new potatoes (£9).
There are also a selection of vegetable dishes, including wood fire roasted cauliflower bravas (£7), skewers with sweet potato, red onion and pepper (£8) and ember roasted whole onion with vine tomatoes (£7), with sides including salted new potatoes charred on the plancha grill (£4.50).
Then there’s Voodoo Ray’s NY style pizza, available by the slice (from £4) or as a whole whopping 22″ pizza (from £21), served in a jaw-droppingly enormous pizza box.
Options range from the traditional – a decent margherita with fior di latte or a simple pepperoni – to the more inventive.
The Full Moon has bacon dust and Japanese mayo, while the tasty Porky’s is packed with Cumberland sausage and Stilton. There’s also a vegan option with artichoke hearts.
And you can finish off with sweet, sticky vegan brioche doughnuts from Krum (£3-£3.50), with flavours including chocolate, raspberry jam, and cherry and pistachio.
It’s already an accomplished line-up for Platform 15, and the music offering also looks to be a winner.
There will be performances and takeovers by both local and internationally renowned artists, collectives and club and festival brands, including Homoelectric, We Out Here festival, Festival N°6 and Love International, and live performances from Mr Wilson’s Second Liners.
This weekend you can catch Mr Scruff, Mikey D.O.N., SNO and Jamie Groovement hosted by MC Kwasi on Saturday and Norman Jay MBE with Mass – The Untold Orchestra and Jenna & The Gs on Sunday.
And there’s more to come. At each phase, Escape to Freight Island will add specially curated food and drink offerings, featuring more of the country’s leaders in hospitality.
“Escape to Freight Island isn’t your average food market,” says co-founder Luke Cowdrey about the new venture. And he’s right about that.
Manchester has a new playground. We can’t wait to see how this place grows.
Platform 15 at Escape to Freight Island is open now. Table slots of three hours can be pre-booked from Thursday to Sunday, running from midday to midnight.