I had an interesting conversation with a restaurant owner this week. No names, but they have a well-known and high quality establishment in the city centre.
They had a bee in their bonnet.
Their gripe was that Manchester is being ‘taken over’ by street food, to the detriment of ‘proper restaurants.’
‘It’s ok if all you want to eat is stuff out of a tray but what does that say about Manchester’s food and drink aspirations?’
As well as that, he went on, it gives the impression that food has to be cheap, with no finesse. Not good for a city centre chasing a Michelin star, he added.
Has he got a point?
Here’s the thing. Street food is de rigeur in Manchester at the moment – and actually, the quality has been up-scaled massively over the last year or so. Street food is now innovative and interesting, at its best.
“It’s important that we don’t forget the old boys…
the pillars of this city’s dining scene long before
there was a burger on every corner.”
As it’s become fashionable, however, it’s also become expensive, and on more than one occasion I’ve felt the whiff of the Emperor’s new clothes coming out of a couple of mobile catering units.
The low cost nature of the street food set up also gives the next generation of young and hungry food operators a foot on the ladder and a chance to shine – as well as controlling their product (and cost) without the pressures of a fixed overhead, minimum number of covers, staff, etc.
And food pop ups are viewed as key regeneration tools – space animators – by large property companies looking to showcase their buildings or sites to a wider audience.
Even TGI Friday’s have launched an on-the-go service. A new era of ‘Fast Track Fridays’ restaurants whereby main meals are served to guests within ten minutes of order.
Popular independent bar/restaurant Laundrette have had to go gusto with their menu to appeal to the street food demands of Northerners. Owner of the quirky Chorlton operation Jon Charles said: “Still serving sexy pizzas, we’ve had to swallow our pride a little bit and add a burger to the menu. And it’s now our biggest seller.”
The benefits are many – but some in the restaurant trade feel that they are now being overlooked. Why book a meal for £40 a head when you can go and get cheaper eats out of a tray?
So it’s important that we don’t lose our heads over a fad. Manchester is a city that rends to gravitate towards the latest new thing – bar, restaurant, whatever. It’s a testament to the popularity of the city that there seems to be a constant flurry of opening. But we do tend to follow the new. We’re a fickle bunch at times.
It’s also important that we don’t forget the old boys. The established operators who formed the pillars of this city’s dining scene long before there was a burger on every corner.
The trade off, of course, is that they have to continue delivering quality. People will only desert on scene for another when it stops being any good.
Can they both co-exist in a happy and healthy city centre market place?
The answer should be yes. For the diner – certainly in my mind – it’s about occasion. I’d take mates to Beat Street, for example, but if I was trying to impress a date, or celebrating something significant, I’d head for a ‘proper’ restaurant.
Some restaurant operators actively take part in the street food game, of course. It fits their brand. The higher end restaurants can be inventive too. But preserving their place in the food chain is key too.
Whether one of other can truly claim to represent Manchester’s ‘real’ food and drink scene is debatable. The likely reality is that the onus is on all parties to be relevant and in tune with what the customer wants.
Whether you use plates or trays.
OUTRAGED: Is Street Food Killing Manchester’s Proper Restaurants? http://t.co/xFZ15KhWNz
– I Love Manchester (@ILoveMCR) August 27, 2014