Manchester’s Northern Quarter has undergone a culinary upgrade, putting the city firmly on the national food map. Here, with the help of chef Matt Walsh, Culture Trip explores how the Northern Quarter’s restaurants are breaking records, bringing historic places back to life and serving up incredible plates of food.
Ask any Mancunian where to go for dinner in Manchester, and they’ll point you in the direction of the Northern Quarter. The city’s creative quarter is known for its progressive way of doing things – and its current culinary transformation is no different. The days of cheap fast-food joints are on the decline, and the best restaurants in the area are taking a more conscious approach to dining.
The order of the day in this quarter is sustainable and local food served in stunning spaces that work in harmony with their history. Matt Walsh, chef and owner of Tender Cow and Fin in Mackie Mayor, shows Culture Trip the best of them.
Tender Cow and Fin
Restaurant, Steakhouse, $$$
“All of our cuts of meat are sourced from incredible local suppliers,” Matt tells Culture Trip about Tender Cow. “We don’t sell standard cuts like sirloin or fillet steak; instead, we focus on introducing people to lesser-known cuts of meat. The likes of hanger or flat iron steak are seriously underrated and offer better value for money.” The team also turns around new, seasonally inspired side dishes on a daily and weekly basis. If you’re not ready to part with your classics, tuck into sustainably sourced British seafood at Fin. “We sell a lot of fish and chips, but our mackerel wrap is a favourite with our regulars,” he says. “We bake our own flatbread, top it with local organic leaves, filleted mackerel and a dollop of harissa yoghurt. It’s been on the menu since day one.”
This spectacular 19th-century market hall brings together some of the city’s finest independent traders under a single, domed roof in the Northern Quarter. Formerly a butcher’s market, the space has been lovingly restored and is designed for feasting with friends. Long wooden tables, flanked by blackboards showcasing the various food options on offer, sit at the heart of the hall. “The pizza at Honest Crust is one of the best in the UK,” says Matt. “Pico’s Tacos make insanely tasty tacos and should be everyone’s go-to for the Mexican staple.” There’s also beer brewed in Manchester, and Reserve Wines sells everything from boutique bottles to wine on tap.
Once you get your head around the acronym that makes up CBRB – Cocktail Beer Ramen + Bun – you’ll be telling all of your friends about it. Ever since a trip to Tokyo, Matt has “been on a mission to hunt down the best ramen in Manchester. For me, the crab ramen with curry broth at CBRB is it.” The no-reservations restaurant on Oldham Street has a constant hum of fans waiting to dive into bowls of this steaming, flavourful broth, with an obligatory side of bao bun to complete the meal.
The experience at Sugo Pasta Kitchen is the closest thing you’ll get to southern Italy this side of the departure gate. All of the pasta is freshly made and comes direct from a local family in Puglia, and the unpretentious wine list pays homage to the best-loved grapes from selected regions. The house red and white wines are served by the half-litre and litre, and “that’s just part of the reason it’s great for group dining,” says Matt. “Not to mention that the pasta is brilliant quality and truly authentic.” Choose from its array of dishes, with highlights including the House Sugo (a rich, slow-cooked ragu of beef shin, pork shoulder and nduja).
During Manchester’s reign as an industrial powerhouse, the Edinburgh Castle was the local pub for the city’s textile workers. Fast-forward 200 years and the red-brick Victorian public house has been restored to its former glory, and then some. Downstairs, there’s the pub where you can pair your drink with traditional pub grub, including bar snacks and larger plates such as beef and ale pie. Upstairs in the dining room, things take a sleeker, more sophisticated approach, with delicate seafood dishes such as freshly shucked oysters and poached halibut. “I love that this place is championing seasonal produce from local suppliers,” says Matt. “It’s great to see new places opening and doing things properly.”
“The beauty of this natural wine bar and restaurant is how simple it keeps things,” says Matt. Take a look around, and you’ll understand what he means. The decor is decidedly minimalist – concrete floors, cool, neutral furnishings and steel-topped surfaces – while all of the small plates are prepared solely on the grill. Things get more complex with its selection of wines, which are sourced exclusively from small producers using organic and biodynamic production methods. With a carefully curated list that spans sparkling wine from Sussex through to orange wine from Slovakia, chances are you’ll leave Erst a convert to natural wine.
This restaurant takes its name from the Polynesian word for “the power of the elemental forces of nature embodied in a person”. In this case, that person is head chef Simon Martin. He has called the restaurant “a direct reflection of my personality…representing a clear, unadulterated vision inspired by my life so far”. Considering his life included training at two-Michelin-star Noma in Copenhagen, it’s no surprise that within a year of opening, mana bagged Manchester’s first Michelin star in 40 years. There’s an earthy decadence to the dishes – beef tartare, poached oysters and handmade butter from Guernsey cows. Save this one for a special occasion (the dinner tasting menu starts at £140), and reserve your spot up to four months in advance.
The classic Mancunian combination plate called “rice and three” (a trio of curries served with rice) originated in the 1980s and has been one of the city’s most famous food specialities ever since. Adding a twist to the classic, every dish at this dine-in takeaway joint is vegan. “Little Aladdin is one of the best places in town to get your rice and three,” says Matt. “The food is fresh, filling and accessible for all.” Its Green Plate – rice topped with three vegan curries (which change daily) for £4.99 – is a perfect plant-based lunch option.
Bar, Diner, Restaurant, Japanese, Sushi, Asian, $$$
This low-lit bar and restaurant is a mixture of Mancunian history – it was the centre of the 19th-century global cotton trade – and Asian-inspired flavours. “This is a really cool and interesting space to dine in,” says Matt. The restaurant lies inside a former tailor’s studio and Grade II-listed building, with many of the original features on display, including stripped-back red-brick walls, repurposed metal doors and original floorboards. Inspired by Japanese flavours, the menu is based around four themes – ice, steam, fire and oil – and is served small-plate-style. Expect sushi, dumplings, tempura and speciality skewers from the robata grill. Yes, you’ll probably order too much, but you won’t regret it.