I have lived in Manchester for almost 8 years and the city still manages to catch me by surprise. Last weekend, for example, I sampled some of the best that the city has to offer, and quite by accident.
It started with a plan to take Mark’s parents out for lunch. So we turned to Google for ideas and came up with the English Lounge, a pub overlooking the Arndale Market. I have to admit I was dubious about the location, but the reviews suggested that it offered a really good Sunday lunch and a relaxed atmosphere. Having been on a quest for a good Sunday lunch in Manchester for almost as long as I have lived here, and so far being without success, aside from the joys of home / friends cooking, I was willing, as always, to give it a try.
So, we took the train in to town and wandered through the Northern Quarter, admiring the beautiful old buildings as we headed to the restaurant. I love the gritty feel to the Northern Quarter, and the feeling of heading back through the city’s darker past.
From the outside, the English Lounge is a beautiful building, but you have to remember to look to see it because its surroundings; the tram line and the market entrance, distract the eye from it’s grandeur. Inside however, we immediately felt at ease with our choice. It was clean, busy, but not too much, and they had a table. So we ordered Sunday lunch and I have to say, I was very impressed. The lamb was tender, the Yorkshire pudding, massive, with just the right amount of crunch and, the homemade gravy, delicious. The service was efficient, the wine quaffable and the beer selection satisfying for the boys. I will definitely be going back, next time for breakfast maybe!
After lunch and we wandered towards the Dig the City event, the other purpose of heading in to town and the reason we did not meet in Macclesfield as originally planned. We took a route past the Printworks and decided to pop in, just to admire the building, something that is not possible to do in the evenings when it is bustling with people who have over indulged on alcohol. I have to say, although I have been in there several times, I still found myself noticing the frontages and the allusion back to the days when the Printworks actually operated as a printing house, apparently the largest in Europe. If you close your eyes to the vibrant bars and restaurants you can imagine the trains coming through to pick up the morning papers.
We carried on past Selfridges and stopped to contemplate the Oyster Bar and Manchester Cathedral behind. I always feel that Manchester has a pleasing blend of contemporary and modern architecture and I love to see the older buildings being refurbished and repurposed as much as I appreciate the beauty of the sky reflected in the many glass buildings that form Manchester’s skyline today.
We meandered through Dig the City, picked up some ideas for the garden, and marvelled at the unusual use of space and texture. My gardening skills amount to little more than pottering, pulling up the weeds, and experimenting with planting to see which plants survive with minimal input, and which ones don’t, but some ideas, such as enamel painted baked bean can plant pots, I may just try at home; whilst others would not suit the garden of a traditional 3 bed semi. The gardens provide a temporary oasis in the shopping streets, and if so inclined, many offer a beautiful spot to enjoy a glass of prosecco in the sunshine, a delight Mark and I took full advantage of at last year’s event.
This time round however, we decided to continue on our way and visit Castlefield Market.
En route down Deansgate we passed the Great Northern and spotted, what must be the recently installed, Rum Bus, which we will definitely be checking out on another occasion. It was also an occasion to admire the architecture. I often forget to look up at the buildings as I hurry through town shopping or on my way to work, so when I do I am always struck by the beauty of so many of the buildings, which hark back to Manchester’s industrial past.
We visited the market in its new venue once before at Christmas and it is pleasing to see how well it continues to do. I can’t say that I don’t miss poking through antiques under the railway arches, but the indoor venue certainly offers certain assurances in the, predictably wet, mancunian weather.
After nosing at this week’s selection of craft, vintage, and foodie treats (and sampling some amazing chocolate covered honeycomb), we carried on with our meanderings and wound up in Castlefield. Choosing a route along the canal towpath, we found ourselves at Dukes 92, where we enjoyed a relaxing cup of tea in the sunshine, admired the beautiful Lock Keepers Cottage, and watched a couple manoeuvre their barge through the lock.
Our walk continued around the Castlefield area, appreciating the contrast between the imposing Beetham Tower and the tranquility of the canal. We decided to head back along the canal to Piccadilly Station, a much quicker route than negotiating the roads but I wouldn’t recommend it at nighttime.
We found ourselves at Canal Street in the heart of the Gay Village and decided, in the interests of indulgence and decadence, to partake in a spot of afternoon tea at the delightful Richmond Tea Rooms. After our sizeable lunch, the sensible option was to order the Hatters Tea and Alice’s Tea to share. My only grumble about that place is that they don’t provide enough cream with the scones, but they are happy to supply more on request. I love the mismatched vintage china, the Richmond blend tea and the quirky, Alice in Wonderland inspired, decor. I haven’t managed to nab a sought after table in the conservatory yet, but I will be going back until I do!
The last of our unplanned sightseeing stroll took us through Piccadilly Place, the new business zone opposite the station. We admired the art installation contributed by our fabulous neighbour Sharon Campbell and her business partner Lauren Sagar of Manchester Stained Glass, and I have to say, Mike Duff’s poem summed up the day…
A Poem for Manchester
i don’t care if you’re black, chinese
white or tan don’t care if you’re old, gay, a woman or man
you can sit down next to me
if you’re mancunian