Apparently, Manchester isn’t actually the rainiest city in the country. It just rains here in bursts. Little but often. And what is even more interesting is what happens between these wet spells. The merest hint of a blue sky and a couple of layers of clothes come off and we’re straight out the door for a day on the town.
Castlefield is always up there for a day of eating and drinking alfresco. But over the past couple of years, Exchange Square has become equally desirable with a whole host of back to back bars and restaurants in the stunning revamped Corn Exchange. Bang in the centre of town, a location ideal for shoppers, workers, or anyone visiting the city for the day.
One of the prime sites has to be Banyan Bar & Kitchen. Located on the biggest corner unit of the historic Grade II listed building, its south facing outdoor area seats over a hundred and is always one of the first to fill. But this is Manchester remember, so luckily there’s also seating for over 250 inside to accommodate anyone who wants to pile in when the heavens open half way through their meal.
Yorkshire-based operators Arc Inspirations launched their first Banyan in Harrogate in 2006, with Manchester Corn Exchange the third site opening in 2015. The space is vast, spanning over three levels, and combines beautiful original features with modern and minimal furnishings. It feels Scandinavian, contemporary, and very airy with the massive floor to ceiling windows piling in the light. The attention to detail is second to none. Even the toilets are special, like a retreat spa minus the bathrobes and slippers.
Wanting to be everything to everyone, they offer a crowd-pleasing all round menu from early morning until late night. Breakfasts, small plates, sandwiches, powerbowls, salads, mains, steaks and burgers, sharing boards and desserts, not to mention a pretty extensive drinks menu with some rather fine cocktails and gins. You’d expect nothing less with a bar that size.
Unfortunately, we arrived just after midday, which meant we narrowly missed out on the breakfasts, which, by the way, are exemplary. We can highly recommend the Rise & Shine Granola or Smashed Avocado on Toast to set you up for the day. But today we are going to try a couple of their own recommendations from the new menu.
Our starter of Char Siu Belly Pork Skewers (£6.95) with pineapple salsa packs a punch and then some. Succulent pork with just the right amount of fat are generously coated in the very sticky and sweet glaze, sprinkled with sesame seeds adding texture, and sharpened by the fruity and tangy salsa. Lipsmackingly good. And a little bit naughty.
Wanting to balance things up a tad, we chose one of the signature and super health conscious Powerbowls which are ‘designed to fuel your body to its full potential with nourishing vegetables and lean protein.’
The Moroccan Powerbowl (£10.25) is a great vegetarian one stop shop. Grilled halloumi, light fluffy falafel (like none we’ve tried before as they didn’t taste fried or oily at all), roasted peppers, butternut squash, aubergine, courgettes, puy lentils, cauliflower, quinoa, coconut rice, and a gorgeous tahini dressing. Come here for this alone for a boost in the middle of your day.
The classic Deluxe Burger (£9.95) was just that. A great lean beef patty perfectly highlighting the quality of the produce here, accompanied with some fresh salsa and mayo in a light as air brioche bun. Simple. No fuss. None needed. It came with some decent French fries too.
And for our final course, King Prawn & Crab Risotto (£14.95) that tasted of the sea. No scrimping on the massive and juicy well-cooked prawns that went delightfully with the headily flavoured brown crab, made even better with a firm kick of chilli, garlic, and lemon.
We left a bit of room to share one of the decadent desserts now made in-house by on site pastry chef Kirstie. The Bakewell Tart (£5.95) showed a great amount of skill with its crumbly shortcrust pastry and dreamy frangipane centre. Even the very light crème anglaise custard was superb. We polished off the lot.
Drinks-wise Banyan take their gin seriously. Their perfect serve is long, over ice, with a pairing partner of herbs, spices and fruits to enrich and bring out the depths of flavour hidden within each gin. Our Brockmans (£9.50 50ml with Fever Tree mixer) brilliantly enhanced with raspberries and orange. Chin chin!
Everything at Banyan is well considered. And well priced too. From the extensive drinks offer, hearty and delicious breakfasts, nutritious helpings, and more classic fare.
They say you can’t be all things to all people but this lot have got it pretty close. It’s just a really easy place to spend some time. Next time the sun pops out, or even if it doesn’t, Banyan will brighten up your day.