After my initial shock at the cavernous tents and empty stalls in the Food Hub of Manchester’s fifteenth Food and Drink Festival, I had to concede that this was mid-September, mid-week and mid-afternoon. I was expecting to be assaulted with vendors inviting me to gobble up the crêpes, pan-Asian street food and gourmet French cuisine billed for that day, but the main people eating anything seemed to be the vendors themselves.
Between flipping one of their exotic burgers and noshing on donuts dunked in chocolate from their neighbours, Churros Susanna, the guys at main stall, Ank Marvin, said that lunchtime work trade was when they were busiest; their generously sized kangaroo burger the best seller, amongst offerings including springbok and zebra. However, I had arrived at 5.30pm and the midday buzz was clearly wearing thin. I was only just in time to sample the incredible salted caramel and peanut ice-cream served up by winner of last year’s British Street Food Awards, Claire Kailsey of Ginger’s Comfort Emporium, before she shuttered up her kitsch pink van.
In nearby St Ann’s square, the pans of steaming cheesy potatoes, pork baps, and Spanish paella in the Feast Markets were more like the street fodder I had in mind, which were also nestled amongst stalls selling cheeses and fudge. Waiting whilst the vats of chilli and mango and chicken korma were reheated for me by festival veteran, Mango Rays, I learnt they were not as busy as usual. They would be packed away by 8pm – just as Harvey Nichol’s wine bar, the almighty beer and ale marquee of Robinsons’ Pub on the Hub and the The Liars Club in St Albert’s square would all be thronging with people.
With festival partners Truly Good Food introducing a ‘Festival dish for under a tenner’ incentive for city centre restaurants, celebrity demos from Masterchef’s John Torode, Come Dine with Metrolink, Oktoberfest, street stalls and restaurant deals all part of the festival, a good sit down with the festival guide is necessary to get the most out of this extravaganza.
A highlight of events across the city sees Chorlton’s award-winning Barbakan bakery hosting taster sessions. Beloved by Chorlton’s boho young professionals, yummy mummies and builders alike for it’s amazing selection of breads, tarts, paninis, sausages and inordinate amount of Polish gherkins and pickles, it’s places like this that show Manchester has foodies and food outlets enough to host such a massive urban food festival. However, with so much going on, it’s hard not to feel you have probably missed out on some major culinary experiences. Manchester’s finest isn’t handed to you on a plate: you have to find it.