Northern Soul has become a comforting staple of the city’s food scene over the past six years, slinging grilled cheese from an original shack on Church Street, a more recent Piccadilly branch, and a must-visit stall at the Christmas Markets.
And soon, a new branch will be joining the Northern Soul family.
Taking over the former Simple site on Tib Street and due to open at the beginning of October, founder Dan Place describes the new arrival as the space he’s “always dreamt of.”
We caught up with Dan to find out all about it and had a sneak peek inside.
“The design is kind of loosely based on the 1970s Greater Manchester buses,” says Dan, pointing at the bright floor tiles being laid.
“The orange tiles are the same orange from the floor of the buses. And there’ll be some six-seater mustard yellow booths.”
There will be around 50 seats inside, plus an outdoor area which Dan describes as “a Manchester outdoor space. Covered. Perfect for all weather.”
They’ll take reservations, so customers can book in advance, with space for groups – though it will be equally welcoming for solo diners, says Dan.
And, unlike the current branches, there will be a proper bar, serving alcohol.
“We’re lucky that we’ve never had to rely on alcohol sales before, but you can’t get away from the fact that our food will go really nicely with a good IPA. It just works so well with the cheese,” says Dan.
The beer list will include canned and bottled ales as well as draught, with local brews from Manchester’s ShinDigger. There will be a small wine list, too.
Is Northern Soul becoming a serious restaurant?
“It’s not going to be a ‘cheese restaurant’ – we’re just bringing a bigger version of Soul to our customers,” says Dan.
“It’s still street food, it’s still rough and ready. It’s just a bit more grown up.”
So what about the menu at the new NQ branch? What’s new?
The Piccadilly branch has recently started serving breakfast, but Dan says Tib Street, which will be open from 8.30am, will raise the game.
“The Manchester breakfast scene is incredible. But we want to just do what we do best, keep it authentic, keep it genuine.”
The Northern Soul breakfast will be “traditional with great produce but with a few little twists,” says Dan. One twist which Dan is especially proud of is their take on a croque monsieur and croque madame. “We’ve nailed it,” he laughs.
Coffee will come from Manchester roasters Heart and Graft, and there may even be a couple of breakfast cocktails.
“I’m aiming for Manchester’s best breakfast,” says Dan. “Why even do it if you’re not going to aim for that? We’re really excited.”
The lunch menu will include the grilled cheese and sides we all love, also available for grab-and-go. But a bigger onsite kitchen means the evening menu will offer a few surprises, with meat being slow-cooked in-house ready for the evening.
“The pulled pork or brisket we’ve been cooking from the morning will be going into your sandwich in the evening, and there’ll be Philly cheesesteaks and things like that,” Dan reveals.
There’ll be fries, too, and chicken wings: “Wings are a bit of a passion of mine – and we’ve got some killer wings,” says Dan, who admits he once drove all the way to London just to get the wings he was craving from his favourite trader.
“Naughty things – we’re not about healthy stuff. As an owner I want to sell what I like.”
And service with a smile will come as standard, says Dan, who holds up Hawksmoor as a beacon of quality and hospitality in Manchester: “The product is amazing and the service is just so good. Everything about it is so slick. They’re a hero brand for us.”
The new branch will be open later than the current branches, with last orders at 10pm. Does a bigger site mean more options for music or entertainment?
“We might be pushing the tables back for a bit of Northern Soul dancing, but I didn’t say that!” laughs Dan.
“Seriously, though, getting into the New Year we might have a little Northern Soul night. We can’t do stuff like that all the time, but maybe once in a while. And I do like cheese and wine, so I’d love to do a cheese and wine evening, but our take on it, in a different format, maybe with a famous Northern Soul DJ…”
What with the new branch and the Christmas markets (which Dan says are “brilliant for us as a small Manchester business”), the expanding team have got a lot on their plates in the coming weeks.
“It’s going to be nuts this year,” laughs Dan, who estimates they’ll be getting through around 2.5 tonnes of their signature three-cheese blend a week across all their sites.
The bread is their own recipe and “a bit of an art form” – down to the thickness of each slice, to the millimetre.
But Dan insists there will be no change when it comes to the high standards of grilled cheese perfection we’ve come to expect (Northern Soul is currently rated the 16th best restaurant in Manchester on TripAdvisor with over 700 “excellent” ratings, and social media is full of devoted fans).
“We could do it cheaper, but we don’t want to do it that way,” says Dan.
“It’s all about the quality. That’s the secret.”
Northern Soul is aiming to open on Tib Street the first week of October and will be open from 8.30am-10pm.