Scotland and the north of England have become real foodie destinations in recent years, with restaurants, pubs and street-food vendors massively upping their game. This means you’re guaranteed an excellent food-focused break close to home – and there’s no easier way to explore it all than by train.
Arriving at a grand city terminus like Manchester Piccadilly always evokes an anticipatory thrill. Multiply that by 100 if the reason for your visit is food. Northern cities are home to some of the most exciting dining destinations in the country right now, and they’re all connected by the extensive network of TransPennine Express. So hop on a train to one of these nearby powerhouse cities and tuck in.
Hop off the train at Manchester Piccadilly and you’ll find yourself in one of the UK’s liveliest cities. Manchester is considered the epicentre of the northern food renaissance and Mana, the city’s first Michelin-starred restaurant since 1977, certainly adds weight to that claim. In the trendy Ancoats neighbourhood, Nordic-inspired Mana is the brainchild of Noma-trained chef Simon Martin, whose visionary dishes are best experienced over a 14-course tasting menu. You’ll need to book ahead for such avant-garde creativity, but where else in the city can you sample birch-smoked trout with alliums and inoculated grains? More down-to-earth and easier on the wallet, Crazy Pedro is a popular pizza parlour with branches in the Northern Quarter and Bridge Street. The quirky pizzas – potato waffle and maple syrup toppings, anyone? – aren’t the only draw: Manchester’s largest tequila and mezcal selection is here, too.
The next stop, about an hour and a half by train from Manchester, is York. Impressive fine-dining restaurants and artisan producers are among the top reasons why York was voted the UK’s best place to live. Take Tempt, a dinky plant-based chocolaterie on High Petergate, whose exquisite handmade pralines and fondants have won over the local community; a recent crowdfunding campaign has even helped secure the company’s future. Other local venues have honed a winning formula that needs no updating. Close to York station, the Whippet Inn is a plush steakhouse decked out with chandeliers and buttoned banquettes, where prime-cut rib-eyes and paprika fries compete with non-steak mains such as duck-egg lasagne and hake fillet with curried mussels.
Hop aboard the train in York for a little over 20 minutes and you’ll set foot in Leeds, where you’ll find a diverse offering. Kirkgate Market is a microcosm of the city’s culinary scene: it’s home to multiple street-food vendors, including the Yorkshire Wrap Company, whose genius invention – Yorkshire-pudding wraps – seems so obvious it’s hard to believe we haven’t been scoffing them for decades. Try one stuffed with slow-roast beef and homemade horseradish sauce. Leeds also has some of the best curry houses in the UK, including multi-award-winning Keralan restaurant Tharavadu. Dosas are a house speciality, while coastal favourites such as kappayum meenum, a fish curry served with cassava, span the breadth of Keralan herbs and spices.
With direct services from Manchester, Liverpool, Preston and Lancaster, Glasgow is easy to get to, and offers a buzzing foodie scene. A good place to start? The Duke’s Umbrella, a swish new gastropub on Argyle Street, very near Glasgow Central station. This ambitious venue aims to raise the bar for gastropub fare, with a laser-like focus on ingredients, flavours and simple presentation. No wonder they’re claiming the best fish and chips in Scotland.
No trip to Glasgow is complete without a dram or two, and the Pot Still on Hope Street has more than 750 mellow malts from around the world to sample. Whether you fancy a blended grain, a whisky liqueur or even a whisky cask-aged ale, you’ll find it in this world-renowned whisky pub.
Despite a recent explosion of new restaurants in Liverpool, a handful of established favourites still lure the faithful. One of the best is the Egg Cafe, a lofty vegetarian spot near Lime Street Station. Open since the mid-1980s, its longevity is testament to the friendly atmosphere and decent prices. Start the day with a cracking veggie full English or drop by for coffee and a slice of squidgy banana cake. If the weather’s fine, head to classic American burger joint Free State Kitchen in the Cultural Quarter, home to a delightful flower-lined garden. Find a spot between the blooms to enjoy a barbecue cheeseburger smothered with caramelised onions and baconnaise.
North of Newcastle station, Stack Newcastle is a dynamic shipping-container venue housing shops, bars and street-food traders. Try the tom yum soup and deep fried tofu at Thai.Li.Cious or a beef-brisket stack from Texas Smoker.
For something more upmarket, the French Quarter is a buzzy, bistro-style restaurant set in a railway arch, with a deli and produce shop attached. Small-plate French classics make up much of the menu – think tartiflette, ratatouille and gratin dauphinois – as well as charcuterie boards and well-priced wine flights. Great for a cosy tête-à-tête.
Just a few hours by direct train from Manchester, Edinburgh is within easy reach. And when it comes to dining, you won’t be disappointed. A Scottish institution since 1934, Italian deli Valvona & Crolla is a dream destination for food-loving travellers. The large Caffè Bar at the rear specialises in authentic home cooking, but to reach it you’ll need to avert your gaze from a counter laden with fresh pasta, cheese, olives, salami and truffles.
Across the city in Bruntsfield, Modern Standard Coffee has just begun its journey towards institution-status. The speciality coffee brand opened a breezy, bi-level cafe in late 2020, winning the hearts of its neighbours with high-grade, ethically sourced roasts and fresh pastries.
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