I’m naturally a cynic, so quite often all I tend to see are the things we’re missing, rather than the things we have.
Classic only-child symptom apparently. You see what other people have and compare it unfavourably to your own things, by virtue of the fact someone else gets to play with it.
“…intensifying the spotlight on Manchester as a serious and capable food and drink destination…”
And so it’s often the way with food and drink – from dish envy around the table to bigger stuff. Like operators that for some impenetrable logic don’t currently have a presence in Manchester.
I spend trips to London looking at fascias mumbling things like ‘they’d make a fortune in Manchester’. Yes, Wahaca, I’m looking at you. And Vinoteca. And Polpo. And. well, you get the picture. Soho is like a sweet shop to the food and drink enthusiast. It’s tricky not to just walk around pointing and grunting ‘want’ every 20 yards. Boxpark, Brick Lane and Spitalfields too.
I even occasionally do it in place like (whisper it) Leeds. I once begged Matt Gorecki to open a North Bar in Manchester, and glance furtively at places like Friends of Ham and the Cross Key, or the Midnight Bell.
Manchester kicks’ Leeds’ arse otherwise, of course. Reds True Barbecue have already seen sense and taken the former Livebait unit near the town hall and another Leeds-based operator (yet again, meat is the focus) has just signed for a unit at the right section of the M62.
But London is the kicker. Or so it was, until recently.
Yes, the big name chefs have helped – Aiden Byrne and Simon Rogan are raising the bar and also intensifying the spotlight on Manchester as a serious and capable food and drink destination with a willing audience to boot.
But the expansion of local operators, from San Carlo to Almost Famous, is attracting attention in the big smoke too.
Byron is here. Bill’s is coming too. And Soho favourite Busaba Eathai are expanding throughout the UK, including Manchester.
I don’t hold out much hope for Russell Norman (Polpo, Suntino) however, after watching his new programme, The Restaurant Man. He was helping two chaps from Southampton set up an upmarket burger bar (sound familiar?). Norman’s take? ‘The burger scene is really big in London, but it hasn’t really travelled outside the city’. Hmm. You’re always welcome up here though Russell.
The redevelopment of the Corn Exchange could be a key driver in luring some of the capital’s bigger – and more desirable – names to Manchester.
With the building set to go purely food and drink from March, the building’s owners have been pursuing some very big names.
And the demand is there. A recent planning application for The Courthouse on Deansgate (where Handmade Burger Co will be going) let slip a list of operators that had been shown around – Roast and Conch, Bill’s, Iberica, Loungers, Tapas Revolution, Entrée, Illyad, among others. Operators want to be in Manchester – most of the time, the reason they’re not is because there is nowhere for them to go. Competition for units is high and some will inevitably miss out, or take longer to close the deal.
The Avenue on Spinningfields is also reshaping its offering to food and drink given the demand to serve Mancunians food and booze. As well as another unit for local outfit Southern 11, several out-of-towners are in talks there too.
Such peevish impudence on my part often belies the fact that actually, Manchester has some of the best and most distinct food and drink operators in the country, meaning the city is always on London’s radar.
It also has a flourishing mid-market based around casual dining, with the likes of Living Ventures and the New Moon Pub Company leading from the front and proving that Manchester has plenty of local operators developing attractive and aspirational brands.
It’s me who has the problem. I know that. I’m never happy.
But when I stand back and take a good look at what we actually do have, the question shouldn’t be ‘how do we get them to open up here?’ It’s ‘what will they actually add if they arrive?’