On a recent visit up to Manchester, my Dad remarked that, “for a smaller city, Manchester has a crazy amount of brilliant restaurants, cafés, and bakeries.” I couldn’t help but agree.
Despite its smaller size, Manchester is renowned across the UK for its food scene, with critics like Jay Rayner saying that “there’s a lot happening in this city, and I like coming here and I come here a lot.” There’s a lot of talent up here, but what’s most striking is that the people of Manchester are so supportive of the independent hospitality venues.
In comparison, London’s food scene is like a bag of microwave popcorn. New places pop up constantly (just take a look at Timeout London for proof), and other places fade away without fanfare. The overwhelming amount of restaurants makes it impossible to get a good grasp on the best ones. As a smaller city, Manchester has a stronger sense of community and goodwill, with residents keen to support independent businesses as much as possible.
It seems that a huge factor in the success of Manchester’s vibrant and exciting food scene is local champions like EATMCR, the Manc Eats, and Manchester’s Finest. Each is constantly showcasing local independent restaurants and cultivating a culture of reverence and gratitude for the amazing hospitality venues on offer in the city. With huge followings on social media, these platforms have the capacity to rejuvenate struggling businesses with a simple Instagram post, or highlight places that may never have been on our radars.
A recent example of this was when EATMCR posted on Instagram spotlighting Jaffa. Despite seeing it every day as I gaze mysteriously out of the bus window on my way home from university, I never realised quite how much of a hero of the Curry Mile Jaffa was. As I unassumingly scrolled through the comments, I was delighted to see such glowing depictions shared of times spent inside the restaurant. EATMCR changed my perception of Jaffa from somewhere I’d never thought of trying, to one of the top restaurants on my list.
There are also some magical little businesses sprouting up in back streets and alleyways that have quickly gained cult followings. Nestled behind the hectic Portland Street is Fat Pat’s, a sandwich shop that has amassed 26 thousand followers on Instagram, and has repeatedly been heralded as serving the “best sandwiches in Manchester” by everyone from The Manc to my housemate.
Another example of this brilliant ingenuity that Manchester has in abundance, is The Flat Baker. What started out as a couple baking and selling their goods at various markets, this little window in Ancoats has become known locally as having the best pastries, especially almond croissants, in the whole of Manchester. A bold statement – one I am eager to test for myself as soon as possible.
What is most striking, is the support that these inventive businesses receive from the general public. The owners of The Flat Baker said on their Instagram that “on the opening day we had more people queuing for us than we’d ever imagined. All the accomplishments, the positive comments and reviews about our work… it all made the ‘what if’ questions disappear.”
It is this sense of community and pride that Mancunians have for their city and its businesses that really makes it special and personal, in a way that London could never match.
Manchester’s innovation shines bright in its creative hospitality sector. Anyone who knows me knows I am obsessed with Gooey, and have been a fan of theirs since they began as a delivery service in 2020. Their café in the Northern Quarter is always encircled by a snake of eager customers ready to indulge in their Insta-famous french toast or fluffy sandos. They are so well-loved, that even Lizzo recently shared a review on TikTok, calling the tofu sando and hash browns “10/10”. Gooey’s is a success story that highlights the unwavering support and desire from the Manchester people to see their favourite businesses thrive.
It is not breaking news that recently we have seen a string of closures around town, from the beloved CBRB in the Northern Quarter to student-favourite the Font on Oxford Road and the more upmarket The Bull and Bear. With the cost of living crisis squeezing the already tight margins that businesses are struggling to maintain and a wave of new development pushing out Manchester institutions, it is now more important than ever to support our favourite independent restaurants, bars and cafes.
As consumers, it is easy to disregard the infinite factors working against our beloved independent businesses in these tricky times, and it is understandable that people are eating out less due to rising costs and not enough support from the government. But next time you order a takeaway or grab a coffee on the way to class, consider purchasing from an independent, who will no doubt be more grateful than Starbucks or McDonalds.
Manchester’s food scene is many things: vibrant, exciting, unassuming, ostentatious, but above all, it’s unique. It has an overwhelming level of support from the residents of Manchester and is celebrated with reverence by the social media platforms committed to sharing the highlights and hidden gems of the city. Whilst it doesn’t compare to London’s in stature, it is no doubt just as exciting and varied. But what sets it apart is the enthusiasm it evokes in the people of Manchester, who are eager to see it thrive.