Last Thursday saw the opening of Manchester’s 2016 Food and Drink Festival in Albert Square. Due to my rather relentless obsession with all things food, I had to get down there on opening evening and scope out what this years’ stalls had to offer. When I arrived, I was rather let down by the lack of people evident in the square, but, dismissed this to be down to it only being the first night.
My friend and I entered and immediately headed to the well signposted wine truck (yes, there’s a wine truck!) and grabbed a rather small glass of white wine. With this in hand, we had a quick wander around to gain an overview of what cuisines were available, before committing to any firm decisions.
Drawn in by the stall owners’ friendly smiles and enthusiastic waves, Bakchich was my first food-van destination. For £5, we gained a jam-packed box full of Middle-Eastern treats. With some of my favourite disco songs playing in the background, we devoured the little pockets of chicken shawarma, fresh humus, falafel, and pickles. My favourite part of the box had to be the chicken, it was succulent and flavoursome. Unfortunately, the falafel didn’t rival that found on the Curry Mile.
Next, we decided to head to Cau’s South American truck. I was disappointed to find out they had run out of their steak option, so, decided to grab two empanadas instead– a pastry I fell in love with in Spain. The first was filled with chorizo and cream cheese and the second was vegetarian friendly, filled with spinach and dates. Although both flavours were extremely impressive, the veggie one stood out due to its creamy inside, mixing perfectly with the accompanying spicy chipotle sauce.
Already feeling rather full, we decided to give ourselves a break and explore the other drink options. We headed over to the main Festival Bar and fancied a pint. There are much more glamourous options such as Prosecco and Gin cocktails available too. It was obvious the festival had the clear motive to cater for all kinds of tastes, and it was delivered.
From here, my eyes were drawn back to the food stalls, and in particular Tampopo’s colourful Asian booth. We decided to go for a katsu curry, some may say the obvious choice, but I love comparing this dish in Manchester restaurants. The friendly gentlemen handed us over a classic street food box and also offered us a box of Thai spicy noodles that somebody else had not come back for. We gratefully obliged, and sat on a nearby bench to tuck in. I was impressed with both dishes, the noodles had the classic taste of a Thai green curry, spicy but not overpowering, and the chicken katsu curry was rich and tangy.
Last but not least, we felt we had to try a wood fired pizza. The only option for this was Proove’s stall. Already open as a restaurant in Sheffield, the chatty staff told me they are soon to open here in Manchester. They kindly customised our pizza, throwing on extra garlic, and even did my favourite trick of having half-and-half toppings. We had one side covered in mixed peppers and the other with olives— both were delicious.
For days ahead, I felt the festival had to ensure that some of its best sounding menu options were all in stock, and to hope more people ascended to the Albert Square arena. Overall, though, we did not mind about these details, as it was the ideal destination to reap the rewards of the city’s continuously developing food scene.