The shortlisted nominees for the 2023 Manchester Food and Drink Festival Awards have been announced. The Awards are the most prestigious in the North West and celebrate the region’s outstanding hospitality talent, with winners to be revealed at the MFDF Gala Dinner on Monday, January 29, 2024. 

There are 114 exceptional venues, traders, places and people nominated across 18 categories celebrating a resurgent year for Greater Manchester’s hospitality industry. This year’s roll call takes in the whole breadth of talent flourishing in our region – from talented takeaways and superb street food vendors to Michelin-star dining and some of the newest and most exciting additions to the scene. 

The shortlisted nominations have been compiled by the MFDF Judging Panel, taking into account award submissions from the hospitality industry. The panel is made up of the region’s leading food and drink critics, writers, and experts. The awards are now open to public vote on the MFDF website. 

A ‘mystery shopping period’ will now commence alongside the public vote. During this period judges will visit nominated venues for an incognito dining visit, and will score venues based on their experiences. Then on Monday, November 20, 2023 the polls will be counted and combined with the judges’ scores, and the winner of each category will be chosen. 

The MFDF 23 Award Winners will be announced at the MFDF Gala Dinner & Awards at the New Century Hall (above) on Monday January 29, 2024, tickets for which can be purchased by emailing Your hosts for the evening will once again be Matty White of Manchester’s Finest and Channel 4’s Steph’s Packed Lunch and BBC Radio Manchester’s Anna Jameson.

To vote please visit this LINK. The nominees are…



St James Building, 61-69 Oxford Street, Manchester, M1 6EQ

Lily’s Indian Vegetarian Cuisine

85 Oldham Road, Ashton-under-Lyne OL6 7DF

Bahn Ví

New Century Kitchen, 34 Hanover Street, Manchester M4 4AH

The Walled Gardens

Alness Road, Whalley Range, Manchester M16 8HW


14 Brazennose Street, Manchester M2 6LW

Speak in Code

7 Jackson’s Row, Manchester M2 5ND

Flawd Wine

9 Keepers Quay, Manchester M4 6GL

The Mekong Cat

47 Lower Hillgate, Stockport SK1 1JQ


Fat Pat’s

88 Portland Street, Manchester M1 4GX

Ad Maoira

34 Copperas Street, Manchester M4 1BJ

Unagi Street Food & Sushi

10 Park Place, Cheetham Hill, Manchester M4 4EY

Ciaooo Garlic Bread

93-95 Shudehill, Manchester M4 4AN

Wright’s Fish and Chips

86 Cross Street, Manchester M2 4LA

Maida Grill House

38 Liverpool Street, Salford M5 4LT

Al Madina

76 Wilmslow Road, Manchester M14 5AL


18 West Ashton Street, Salford, M50 2XS


Sureshot Brewing

4 Sheffield Street, Manchester M1 2ND

Stockport Gin

19B St Petersgate, Stockport SK1 1EB

Cloudwater Brew Co

7-8 Piccadilly Trading Estate, Manchester M1 2NP

Tarsier Spirit

Unit A5, Bankfield Trading Estate, Coronation Street, Stockport, England, SK5 7SE

Pod Pea Vodka

Irlam, Manchester

Manchester Union Brewery

96D North Western Street, Manchester M12 6JL

Squawk Brewing Co

Tonge Street, Manchester M12 6LY


Unit 18, Piccadilly Trading Estate, Manchester M1 2NP



Cotton Field Wharf, 8 New Union Street, Manchester M4 6FQ

Great North Pie Co

Kampus, Aytoun Street, Manchester M1 3GL

La Chouquette

812A Wilmslow Road, Manchester M20 6UH


Ducie Street Warehouse, Manchester, M1 2TP 


15 Lower Hillgate, Stockport SK1 1JQ

The Manchester Smoke House

123 Waterloo Road, Cheetham, Manchester M8 8BT

The Flat Baker

Unit 2, 23 Radium Street, Ancoats, Manchester M4 6AY

Companio Bakery

Unit 6, Flint Glass Wharf, 35 Radium Street, Ancoats, Manchester M4 6AD











Grapefruit Coffee 

2 School Road, Sale M33 7XY

Cafe Sanjuan

27 St Petersgate, Stockport SK1 1EB

Another Heart to Feed

10 Hilton Street, Manchester M1 1JF

Idle Hands Coffee

35 Dale Street, Manchester M1 2HF

Bold Street Coffee

53 Cross Street, Manchester M2 4JN


105 Manchester Road, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester M21 9GA

Ancoats Coffee Co

9 Royal Mills, 17 Redhill Street, Manchester M4 5BA

Siop Shop

53 Tib Street, Manchester M4 1LS



Exhibition, St George’s House, 56 Peter Street, Manchester M2 3NQ

Chaat Cart

Society, 100 Barbirolli Square, Manchester M2 3BD

Triple B

24 Bury New Road, Prestwich, Manchester M25 0LD

Tawny Stores

Yellowhammer, 15 Lower Hillgate, Stockport SK1 1JQ

Little Sri Lanken

Reddish, Stockport

Pico’s Taco’s

Mackie Mayor, 1 Eagle Street, Manchester M4 5BU

Oh Mei Dumplings

Fat Pat’s

88 Portland Street, Manchester M1 4GX


Nila’s Burmese Kitchen

386 Third Avenue, Trafford Park, Stretford, Manchester M17 1JE

Great North Pie Co

Kampus, Aytoun Street, Manchester M1 3GL

Cafe Sanjuan

27 St Petersgate, Stockport SK1 1EB

Noodle Alley

Basement Level, 56A Faulkner Street, Manchester M1 4FH

Tokyo Ramen

55 Church Street, Manchester M4 1PD

Lily’s Deli

Unit 2C, Henry Street, Ancoats, Manchester M4 5BA

House of Habesha

Central Bay, Unit 32, Quayside, Media City, Salford Quays, M50 3AG

Ornella’s Kitchen

10 Manchester Road, Denton, Manchester M34 3LE


Ad Hoc Wines

28 Edge Street, Manchester M4 1HN

Out of the Blue Fishmongers

484 Wilbraham Road, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester M21 9AS

Littlewoods Butcher

5 School Lane, Heaton Chapel, Stockport SK4 5DE

Wandering Palate

191 Monton Road, Eccles, Manchester M30 9PN

New Market Dairy

1 Central Way, Altrincham WA14 1SB

Petit Paris Deli

10 King Street, Manchester M2 6AG

Cork of the North

104 Heaton Moor Road, Stockport, SK4 4NZ

La Chouquette

812A Wilmslow Road, Manchester M20 6UH


Our Place

Platt Fields Market Garden

Platt Fields Park, Platt Fields Market Garden, Fallowfield, Manchester M14 6LT

Tawny Stores

Yellowhammer, 15 Lower Hillgate, Stockport SK1 1JQ


Blossom Street Social, 51 Blossom Street, Manchester M4 6AJ

Little Sri Lankan

Reddish, Stockport


Fare Share

Units E1-8, New Smithfield Market, Whitworth Street East, Openshaw, Manchester, M11 2WJ


Ply, 26 Lever Street, Manchester M1 1DW


The Marble Arch

73 Rochdale Road, Manchester M4 4HY

Track Brewery Taproom

Unit 18, Piccadilly Trading Estate, Manchester M1 2NP

The City Arms

46-48 Kennedy Street, Manchester M2 4BQ

Runaway Brewery Taproom

9-11 Astley Street, Stockport, SK4 1AW

Fox & Pine

18 Greaves Street, Oldham OL1 1AD

Reddish Ale

14 Broadstone Road, Reddish, Stockport SK5 7AE

Station Hop

815 Stockport Road, Levenshulme, Manchester M19 3BS

Heaton Hops

7 School Lane, Stockport SK4 5DE


The Jane Eyre

One Cutting Room Square, 14 Hood Street, Manchester M4 6WX


64-72 Spring Gardens, Manchester M2 2BQ

Red Light

4-2 Little David Street, Manchester M1 3GL

Sterling Bar

4 Norfolk Street, Manchester M2 1DW


184 – 186 Deansgate, Manchester M3 3WD

Schofield’s Bar

3 Little Quay Street Sunlight House, Manchester M3 3JZ

10 Tib Lane

10 Tib Lane, Manchester M2 4JB

Flawd Wine

9 Keepers Quay, Manchester M4 6GL


Restaurant Örme

218 Church Road, Urmston, Manchester M41 9DX

Stretford Canteen

118 Chester Road, Stretford, Manchester M32 9BH


132 Bury New Road, Prestwich, M25 0AA

Ornella’s Kitchen

10 Manchester Road, Denton, Manchester M34 3LE

The Oystercatcher

123 Manchester Road, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester M21 9PG


15 Lower Hillgate, Stockport SK1 1JQ

Fold Bistro & Bottle Shop

7 Town Street, Marple Bridge, Stockport SK6 5AA

The Jane Eyre

60 Beech Road, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester M21 9EG



184-186 Deansgate, Manchester M3 3WD

Higher Ground

Faulkner House, New York Street, Manchester M1 4DY

Schofield’s Bar

Sunlight House, 3 Little Quay Street, Manchester M3 3JZ

Where The Light Gets In

7 Rostron Brow, Stockport SK1 1JY


8th Floor, Blackfriars House, Manchester M3 2JA

Wood Manchester

Jack Rosenthal Street, First Street, Manchester M15 4RA

Sterling Bar

4 Norfolk Street, Manchester M2 1DW

Tast Catala

20-22 King street, Manchester M2 6AG



8th Floor, Blackfriars House, Manchester M3 2JA

Higher Ground

Faulkner House, New York Street, Manchester M1 4DY

Restaurant Örme

218 Church Road, Urmston, Manchester M41 9DX

Fold Bistro & Bottle Shop

7 Town Street, Marple Bridge, Stockport SK6 5AA

The Jane Eyre

60 Beech Road, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester M21 9EG


Minshull House, 47 Chorlton Street, Manchester M1 3FY

New Century Kitchen

34 Hanover Street, Manchester M4 4AH

Stretford Canteen

118 Chester Road, Stretford, Manchester M32 9BH


Joseph Otway (Higher Ground)

Danielle Heron (OSMA)

Luke Richardson (Climat)

Julian Pizer (Another Hand)

Shaun Moffat (The Edinburgh Castle)

Patrick Withington (Erst)

Seri Nam (Flawd Wine)

Mike Shaw (MUSU)


Higher Ground

Faulkner House, New York Street, Manchester M1 4DY


8th Floor, Blackfriars House, Manchester M3 2JA

Another Hand

Unit F, 253 Deansgate, Manchester M3 4EN

10 Tib Lane

10 Tib Lane, Manchester M2 4JB


132 Bury New Road, Pretwich, M25 0AA


9 Murray Street, Ancoats, Manchester M4 6HS

The Spärrows

16 Red Bank, Cheetham Hill, Manchester M4 4HF


42 Blossom Street, Ancoats, Manchester M4 6BF


Recognising people who have contributed something outstanding to the hospitality industry in Greater Manchester.

Two weeks to Indy Man Beer Con (October 5-8) and a smattering of tickets remain for the UK’s best celebration of craft beer. OK, I’m biased. I’ve attended every one since its inception in 2012. The organisers trumpet it as “a multi-sensory, headlong, hop-forward beer extravaganza.” Which is spot on with 150 plus beers available at each session.

Its venue on Hathersage Road, Manchester, Victoria Baths, has been around much longer. Since 1906. First as a working public pool, latterly as a hugely atmospheric Grade II listed events space. Ticket prices have been frozen for this year’s bash, which as usual features an array of quality street food ballast alongside beers and other drinks (including non-alcoholic). 

The opening Thursday night session costs £14.50, along with the Friday morning 11am to 4pm session, with the weekend daytime and evening sessions at £19. Sunday’s afternoon slot is back to £14.50, and a full weekend pass for all sessions is £75. Check for late availability at this link.

Two waves of breweries attending Independent Manchester Beer Convention 2023 (to give it its full title) have now been announced. The line-up is post-Pandemic less extravagant but still packed with stellar names. My tips: Zapato, Beak, Brasserie de la Senne, Pastore, Tommy Sjef, Neptune, Drop Project and our own Pomona Island, whose (genuinely) eagerly awaited Manchester city centre pub, the North Westward Ho opens for business on Wednesday, October 4. So that will make an ideal base camp for IMBC, if you are staying over in the city.

Keeping loyal to ‘Cottonopolis’, a further exciting arrival this October is Manchester’s Best Beer Pubs and Bars by Matthew Curtis (CAMRA Books, £16.99). Based upon his own sensible displacement from London to Manchester, it is a sequel to 2021’s Modern British Beer, lauded by this website. This will be published on Wednesday, October 18, with a launch that night at Cafe Beermoth.

Before then Matthew (above left) is also involved in an exciting new initiative at Indy Man Beer Con, wearing another hat of his, as co-editor in chief of online magazine, Pellicle, to which I am a subscriber (and so should you be, drinks lovers). Over the four days they will be running a series of live podcasts, featuring sessions including panels of craft beer professionals, including Pellicle co-founder Johnathan Hamilton (above right), brewer at Newbarns in Edinburgh. The sessions, all in the basement beneath the Thornbridge room, are… Thursday 4pm – ‘How Does the Beer Industry Navigate a Cost of Living Crisis?’; Friday 1pm –‘ An Open Discussion About Sustainability in Beer’; Saturday 1pm – Interview and Q&A with David Jesudason, Author of Desi Pubs;  Sunday 1pm – ‘The Great Craft Beer Debate 2023’.

The one I hope to attend is the Saturday event, focused on Desi Pubs, a ground-breaking CAMRA Books publication, a guide to the British-Indian pubs that have sprung up throughout the UK since the 1960s. Its author, David Jesudason, spent months travelling the length and breadth of the country, to unpack the idea of the British pub as an institution and how Desi Pubs have built on this, as various communities have sought to create safe, inclusive spaces for themselves.

The book makes a fascinating companion piece to Desi Kitchen by Sarah Woods (Michael Joseph, £30), which explores the culinary evolution inside various second generation sub-continental communities across the UK. Check out my round-up of a whole new genre of ‘ethnic’ cookbooks.

Meanwhile, I’m cleansing my palate ahead of Indy Man after sampling many of the 38 smoked beers on offer at the annual ‘Smokefest’ at Torrside Brewery, New Mills, Derbyshire. It was a showcase for the subtlety and sophistication of this niche pathway. Variety is all in the brave new world of brewing.

My friend Matthew Curtis has a new book out on Wednesday (October 18, Manchester launch at Cafe Beermoth). The incomer from Lincoln, now a proud Stopfordian, has dared to write a book entitled Manchester’s Best Beer Pubs and Bars.  My blog view on it. It should be an absolute corker on the evidence of its 2021 predecessor, Modern British Beer (Buy it from CAMRA Books, £16.99).

A Proustian madeleine moment? With hops? Not quite. The lager in the iconic Budweiser Budvar tankard glass flaunted all the right credentials, including the distinctive huge frothy head, bringing back glorious travel memories. Yet the taste was subtly different from what you’d expect of the classic Czech beer. 

Adam Brož, the brewmaster of that state-run enterprise was at my elbow to explain their unique link-up with Derbyshire’s finest, Thornbridge. Our native Golding hops and Maris Otter malt give Czech Mates (a bit of an ouch name, but hey) its own tang, benefiting from the legendary Budvar yeast. Cheers – or, as they say in South Bohemia ‘Na zdraví’!

Budvar’s first ever collab outside its home country is not meant to replicate the original. At 4.8 per cent it is weaker and the maturation period is shorter, though considerably longer than most lagers including even Czech rival Pilsener Urquell. And don’t even mention the dreaded American Budweiser, which perennially bombards Budvar with legal challenges over the brand.

I am at a Czech Mates launch night in a Thornbridge tied house in Leeds, The Bankers Cat, and Budvar global ambassador Ridem is generously plying us with samples of Thornbridge’s crisp, well balanced labour of love. Like Adam, he is delighted that I have visited their iconic brewery in České Budějovice. I tell them how it was the final destination of an eye-opening pilgrimage to the Czech Republic (or Czechia as it now styles itself). That was in 2016. My previous visit to their country had been in 1976, just eight years after the Prague Spring and the Soviet crushing of Czech dreams of freedom. How different it all felt…

A land of fairy tales and golden lager

Advent Sunday in Český Krumlov (main picture) and the bells are ringing. The first sighting of blue sky in this most misty of autumns in South Bohemia has lured me out into the old town before breakfast. Winding alleys that had breathed mystery after dark are equally entrancing by day. Who needs Prague when you can have a place like this to yourself?

Except around the corner comes a selfie-driven Japanese coach pack. UNESCO World Heritage status means off the beaten track just doesn’t happen these days. Still this historic city, set in a horseshoe bend of the River Vltava (Moldau) and lorded over by an immense 13th century castle, wears its tourist honeypot trappings lightly. 

We are 170km south of the Czech capital, not far from the Austrian border. This has been territory fought over for centuries. When Germans ruled the roost it was called  Krummau an der Moldau just as the region’s main centre, České Budějovice, was Budweis (hence the brewery name, more of which anon). 

After the collapse of the Soviet empire and the splitting of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia Český Krumlov arose from decades of decay like some Sleeping Beauty. Which seems quite apt in a land entwined in folklore and fairytale.

Especially around Christmas when it all takes off. Well, Flying Baby Jesus does. When the Velvet Revolution kicked out Communism there was a rush to introduce Czechs to that burly guy in red with the white beard. They were having none of it. Their festive bringer of gifts is Ježíšek, variously depicted as a baby, toddler, and young lad (see the image below from a church we visited). 

On Christmas Eve families deck the tree and share a traditional Czech dinner of carp and potato salad, then the children are sent to scan the skies for Ježíšek. When a bell rings they rush back to find their presents have arrived.

Snacking on the Christmas Markets

The Czechs have the highest beer consumption in the world – 129 litres a head. Their food, from pretzels to goulasch via dumplings, sauerkraut, grilled meats and sausages, seems custom-built to match the foaming brews.

We were there at Christmas Markets time, more home-made affairs than the ersatz ones inflicted on the UK every November and December. In both Český Krumlov and České Budějovice I sampled these Czech snacks for the first time:

Trdelnik: a hybrid of cake and sweet pastry made from rolled dough that is wrapped around a stick, then grilled and topped with a sugar and spice mix.

Sazanka: a thin omelette on rye with gherkins and browned spring onions.

Kapri Hranolky: carp fries, the fish chunks spiced with cumin and ginger then floured and deep-fried. Delicious with a noggin of mulled mead, but I opted for a bottle of Krumlov’s own local beer, Eggenberg. 

Green man riding a catfish and other tall tales

My best present was discovering the unanticipated wonders of Český Krumlov. After being captivated by the view from the Castle of its close clustered rooftops encircled by the river came the defining focus of the stay: the Fairytale House – Puppet Museum. Here you could learn about contemporary puppeteering, even try your hand, but it is the marionette mausoleum aspect – some tableaux dating back to the 18th century – that captivated. Czech childhoods seem populated by sprites, witches and demons. None more creepy than the water spirit ”vodník”. This green man riding a catfish drowns unwary folk and captures their souls in a jar. 

Equally spooky is the White Lady who haunts the Castle and makes appearances in the nearby Hotel Růže. If the spirit is smiling, good news will follow; if she looks serious, and wears or carries black gloves, the news will be bad. Legend has it she threw herself off a cliff when her father refused to allow her to marry the man she loved.

Another Krumlov story, much more horrific, featured deranged Don Julius, bastard son of the Hapsburg Emperor Rudolf II. When he took up residence in the Castle in 1607 he was joined by the local barber’s daughter, Markéta Pichlerová, with her family’s permission. 

Tiring of her, he beat her up and threw her from a turret window – she escaped death only because a rubbish heap broke her fall. After she recovered from terrible injuries, the tyrant demanded her back – and then cut her into tiny pieces. In subsequent captivity in the Castle he degenerated into a human wreck and was probably murdered on the Emperor’s orders.

Near the knuckle – St Reparatus and Egon Schiele

A dark past but visiting the Castle nowadays is a jolly experience. The exuberant Baroque theatre is only open for occasional concerts and the two resident bears penned below the battlements are coy about showing themselves, but the 29 room Museum in the colourful tower is equally colourful and eccentric. Don’t miss the reliquary of St Reparatus, his bones gaudily embellished by nuns.

Just as near the knuckle is some of the raw, explicit imagery inside the Egon Schiele Art Centrum. The Austrian painter died in the Spanish flu epidemic, at just 28, in 1918, the same year as his inspirational mentor, Gustav Klimt. This gallery in a former brewery exists because Schiele’s mother came from the town and he spent time here, enraptured by the Bohemian forests, before being driven out because of his bohemian (as in unorthodox) lifestyle. This is charted in exemplary fashion alongside changing exhibitions of current artists.

The Museum Fotoatelier Seidel is an altogether sedater affair. This house/studio of early 20th century photographic pioneer Josef Seidel is a time warp with its abundance of original cameras and props. He was a chronicler of a pre-war, pre-Soviet age and the images are fascinating. 

All these attractions are within close walking distance. The best passport to seeing them is the Český Krumlov Card, covering five museums and the Krumlov monastery complex. For a single adult it costs £15

Czech craft beers and a castle crammed with antlers

Visiting castles is bound to work up an appetite… and a thirst. Hluboká nad Vlatou, 10km north of České Budějovice, is home to a very stately pile. The 13th century Hluboká Castle was transformed into its current Neo-Gothic Windsor look in the 19th century by the Schwarzenberg family. They had downsized from Český Krumlov Castle to this 11 tower, 140 room, glorified ‘hunting lodge’. In the hall the Schwarzenbergs pose en masse in a family photograph of the time, the menfolk itching to get away and blast the life out of all the stags they can bag. You can’t move for trophy antlers and gun racks throughout the public rooms, only the odd manic boar’s head breaking the plush monotony. 

There are various tours on offer, after which you will probably be ready for a  substantial repast at the village’s characterful restaurant, Solidní Šance. Specilaity is potato pancakes stuffed with cabbage and pork. The house strudel is benchmark stuff, too. To accompany there’s a range of unfiltered and unpasteurized ‘Czech-style craft beers’ brewed in-house at the Pivovar Hluboká, using Budvar yeast, Czech or Bavarian malts and Žatec hops. Go for their Žatec semi-early red, if available.

Some 20km to the west of České Budějovice is another UNESCO heritage gem, the model village of Holašovice. Ranked around a village green are several dozen houses refashioned in the 19th century in the ‘Folk Baroque’ style aping noble mansions. Think lacy, colourful gables.

I’m told the number of houses has remained constant throughout Holašovice’s  800 years of existence and most are still lived in by villagers. Two taverns, a chapel and a blacksmith are here to serve them, and No.6 of the 17 farms in the village offers a fascinating collection of bygone rural tackle. Thought-provoking indeed our lugubrious guide’s demo (without animal) of how to castrate a sheep.

Our journey’s end – the refreshing city of České Budějovice

But then the whole trip was full of quirky revelations. The main purpose of our visit to České Budějovice 25km north of Český Krumlov was to visit the brewery but on a guided tour around the town every building seemed to boast an odd back story. Climb the 250 steps to the top of the Italianate Gothic-Renaissance Black Tower (1577) and you are rewarded with a spectacular view over Budějovice’s vast main square and the Blanský Forest in the distance. The abiding memory, though, is of the goat who once shared the tower apartment with the guardian.

Walk over to Piarist Square. On one side is the steeply gabled Salt Warehouse, once an armoury, today a motorcycle museum. Inset randomly in the facade are three reliefs of stone faces, believed to represent a trio of thieves beheaded.  On the other side, high on the exterior of the Church of the Sacrifice of Our Lady, a frog-like gargoyle bulges just below the roof. It recreates a frog crawled into the foundations of the Dominican church during construction and kept causing the church walls to crumble; in the end, it was ejected from the foundations. It is said that its sculpture used to be placed lower, but the stone frog has been crawling upwards step by step until it reaches the roof and then the church will collapse and it will be the end of the world.

An equivalent doom will arrive when the vast underground lake that supplies the perfect, pure soft water for making Budvar beer runs out. It’s not going to happen any time soon but it’s a nagging long-term quandary for the state-owned brewery that upholds the country’s beer traditions, lagering (slow conditioning) its top-fermented, burnished gold beer for 90 days in comparison with just 25 for arch-rival corporate-owned Pilsener Urquell in the northern town of Plzeň, where the classic beer style was created.

Budvar are meticulous, too, in sourcing locally only pale Moravian malt and Saaz whole hops (not the pellets used by most brewers, even the of the artisan craft persuasion). It was a glorious sight watching hops being loaded into one of the gleaming copper vessels.

So does Budvar Budweiser taste better at hallowed source?

At the end of our Budvar Visitor Centre Tour we tasted the end product in the cellar. Patiently conditioned and unpasteurised, lacily frothy fresh from the tanks, it lived up to Garrett Oliver’s tasting note in his magisterial Oxford Companion to Beer: “Refreshing, showing a rich malt and vanilla aroma, and fine, floral hop character. The finish has a fine balance of juicy malt, tangy hop resins, and a delicate hint of apple fruit.” Quite.

Oliver touches at length on the decades-long legal wrangling over naming rights with the US brewing giants Anheuser-Busch, who produce their own (vastly inferior) ‘Budweiser’ and Bud Lite. At the height of the squabble Budvar was saved from a takeover by them after the intervention of then president Vaclac Havel and today worldwide sales are soaring. In the fairy tale land of Bohemia they like happy endings.

Budějovický Budvar Brewery, n. p.K. Světlé 512/4 370 04 České Budějovice. To plan your (highly recommended) Brewery Tour visit here. End your tour with a meal at Budvar’s own restaurant 100 metres away on the corner of Pražská and K. Světlé streets. The rich, dry Budvar dark lager is a consummate match for the house speciality, goulasch. For full tourism information about Czechia visit this link. fly regularly from Manchester to Prague. České Budějovice is two hours south of the Czech capital with Český Krumlov a further half hour away.

My memories of Indy Man Beer Con 2022 remain vivid, culminating in a desperate tumble down uneven Edwardian stone steps as I scrambled to use up my remaining drinks tokens at the end of the Saturday afternoon session. Miraculously, like some charmed mountain goat, I arose unscathed. Most of my tokens had been spent at the 3 Fonteinen stand, supping their sublime Belgian qeuzes. I hope this year’s emphasis on sustainability at the UK’s best craft beer festival doesn’t preclude such overseas legends.

This year’s IMBC, returning to Manchester’s Victoria Baths for its 10th year, is all about discoveries. Last year’s joyful event introduced me to the ‘honeyed epiphany’ of wasp yeast. Thanks Wild Beer Co (a sign of the difficult times for the industry it has since collapsed into administration).

There’s already a sweet smell of success about Indy Man 2023 (October 5-8). Tickets, frozen at 2022 prices, went on sale on Thursday, May 18 and already both Saturday sessions are sold out with tickets ‘running low’ for both Thursday and Friday evening sessions. There is greater availability for the Friday afternoon and Sunday afternoons, where tickets cost £14.50, as opposed to £19. For true devotees there are also Full Fat tikcets for all sessions at £75. To snap up your slot before it’s too late (plus advance deals on token bundles) visit this link. Breweries involved will be named nearer the time. International participants will have to guarantee their beers are transported to the festival in a way that uses the most carbon efficient modes of freight.

Tokens will function in the same way as they did in 2022: namely, that it’ll be one token for one third of a beer across all three days. Organisers will also be reinstating the ability to sell back unused tokens to the festival at the end of each session. Which could save this over-keen punter from ale-addled dismemberment!

Sup up! Communal beer fun before Indy Man

Real ale diehards will, of course, home in on London’s Olympia for the Great British Beer Festival (August 1-5). Personally, I find supping on this kind of scale overwhelming. More manageable is a local CAMRA event such as the 35th Stockport Beer Festival (June 22-24) at its new venue, the Masonic Guildhall. One of the best trad gatherings, it promises over 250 beers ciders and perries. 

Still, I don’t expect I’ll make it there either, but I have purchased advance tickets for two delightful festivals at once under the radar breweries, respectively in Lancashire and Derbyshire, that book-end big brother Greater Manchester.

Rivington Brewing Co Farm Trip (August 31-September 3)

I’ve voiced my admiration before for this farm-based craft brewery with its scenic hilltop beer garden. Across one special long weekend they fill it to the brim to showcase their favourite beer peers. This year they welcome over  60 breweries from across the globe, pouring across 50+ lines, natural wines, gin and cocktail bars, local street food vendors and live music. Book here. There is availability (£12.50) on the opening Thursday and the Sunday (Family Day) and a few tickets for the Friday, but Saturday is sold out. Also a limited amount of caravan/campervan packages remain.

Torrside Smokefest (September 16-17)

Franconia is the German home of Rauchbier. Hence this single-minded New Mills brewery have named one of their beers after it, brewed with 85 per cent smoked malt. Each year across two eight hour sessions they replicate the Bamberg heartland of this style. You have to book in advance an there are £15 tickets left for the Sunday. Book here. For your £15 you get a memorial glass and your first distinctly smoky third, then access to over 20 similar tipples plus smoked toppings on your pizza.

Summer Beer Thing (June 30-July 2)

Meanwhile, there’s always Indy Man’s little brother, which used to be based in Sadler’s Yard before Cloudwater Brewing picked up the Pilcrow and turned it into Sadler’s Cat. Now  Kampus’s canalside garden will be host its eclectic range of craft beers from across the UK. A big plus in this buzzing urban neighbourhood are ballast options from the likes of The Great North Pie Co, Nell’s Pizza, Madre and Pollen Bakery. Tickets for the three weekend sessions range from £6 to £10 (including branded glass). Buy them here.

Poretti, Moretti, Peroni? As if they were concocted on a Scrabble board (big score for Mezzogiorno, but I digress), all those big Italian beer brand names sort of morph into one generic light lager. That’s what they taste like to me. Still, on a (let’s pray) sunny August Bank Holiday Weekend in Manchester’s Cathedral Gardens they hit the spot to accompany pizza slices, arancini, even gelato. Yes, Festa Italiana (August 25-27) is back for its sixth outing. With, you guessed it, sponsors Poretti offering a new upfront attraction.

Equally refreshing is the presence of newer blood at the demo counters. Yes, there will be returning veterans such as Jamie Oliver mentor and UK brand ambassador for Parmigiano Reggiano Gennaro Contaldo and Giancarlo Caldesi (Return to Tuscany, Saturday Kitchen, Sunday Brunch), alongside Festa founder Maurizio Cecco. But they will be joined by rising stars such as Great British Bake Off 2021 winner Giuseppe Dell’Anno and Masterchef UK 2021 quarter-finalist/ICG Cooking Competition Award winner Sofia Gallo. Another huge Festa fave is pastaia Carmela Sereno Hayes offering pasta classes for all ages.

The line-up has been announced in a week when Maurizio has also been celebrating the first birthday of the latest outpost of his Manchester empire, Salvi’s, set among the four colossal towers of Deansgate Square. Prosecco and Poretti (naturally) flowed freely at the big party in this sleek, buzzing restaurant.

Festa Italiana offers an alternative immersion in all things authentic Italian and gastronomic . Think al fresco meets dolce vita in the shadow of the National Football Museum and the Corn Exchange. Street food and workshops aplenty. Music is also very much part of this very family-friendly, free-to enter festival. Want to sing along to That’s Amore? Or Tu Vuo’ Fa L’Americano?At the live music stage your chance will come. Possibly fuelled by ample sips of Poretti…

The Birrificio Angelo Poretti will be pouring at its ‘iconic Piazza’, pairing its beer with food at a sit-down dining spot. This ‘Grande Tavole’ experience is a ticketed event on Saturday 26th with the area open to all on Sunday 27th. 

Quite a day. Two Glasgow bucket list musts ticked off in a couple of hours: Crabshakk restaurant and Barrowland Ballroom. A reward – after two intense days of butcher awards judging – of a feast of fresh seafood in still hip Finnieston, then Father John Misty in full sardonic flow at the legendary Gallowgate venue. For all this I had the blessing earlier in the day of Salvador Dalí’s Christ of St John of the Cross, as breathtaking as ever on its astral perch in the Kelvingrove Museum.

It’s the kind of fervent embrace I’ve come to expect from that great sandstone city on the Clyde. On previous visits I’ve rigorously researched Glasgow’s thriving food and drink scene or thrown myself into its rich musical heritage. Yet there were always gaps to be filled. 

Thanks to the judging invitation from the Q Guild (from bacon to rib-eye via sausages, pies and stir-fries  it was a lot of fun) and a handy Merchant City base in the Moxy Hotel I had time to explore. Extra time thanks to rail strikes extending my stay.

King Tut’s, St Lukes, Oran Mor – I’d done them all on that specifically music trip but I’d only stared across at the Barrowland from The Gate cocktail bar opposite. In the absence of a gig that night, the famous Technicolor lights were out. The raucous Father John Misty concert more than made up (even if lonesome me was adopted by the Glaswegian equivalent of Beavis and Butt-Head bellowing out the lyrics they knew by heart).

Dining solo at Crabshakk was an altogether more sedate affair. Even if I probably needed a large bib as I messily ripped into a whole crab at the counter. Contender for most beautiful fish dish of the year so far followed – a tranche of halibut in a tomato miso with a draping of monksbeard.

This brilliant ‘high tea’ made up for a less convincing dining experience the previous evening (in company). Tucked into the Cathedral Hotel, Modern Italian Celetano’s came with a glowing recommendation from The Guardian’s Grace Dent but, fennel salami and a couple of accomplished pasta dishes aside, it didn’t deliver the promised bliss.

It is handy though for a mooch around the spooky Necropolis, which looks down on a cityscape packed with steeples and towers. This 19th century burial ground, inspired by Paris’s Pere Lachaise, lies on a ridge close to the city’s pre-industrial centre, rubbing shoulders with the magnificent Gothic Cathedral. For 700 years St Mungo’s tomb has drawn pilgrims there.

The Necropolis boasts 3,500 monuments, commemorating the city’s grandees. More than 50,000 other souls keep therm company from their unmarked graves. The cemetery upkeep is an ongoing challenge, my guide from the Friends of Glasgow Necropolis, told  me as we stood beneath the hulking monument to religious reformer John Knox (“he is Edinburgh, nothing to do with us really.”). 

Glasgow-based journalist Peter Ross in his great celebration of Britain’s graveyards, A Tomb With a View (Headline, £20), says the Knox statue “functions as a sort of Statute of llliberty, representing all that is stern and joyless and unbending about Scotland”.

His own favourite Glasgow cemetery is the gentler Cathcart on the Southside; for Gothic ghoulish, though, head for the Southern Necropolis, across the Clyde from Glasgow Green. Here the eerie marble figure known as The White Lady, marking the grave of two women killed by a tram in 1933, is said to turn its head to gaze at passers-by. It’s also the alleged haunt  of the Gorbals Vampire with its iron teeth and lust for the blood of local lads.

Such urban folklore is enough to make you turn to drink. Wee drams aside, in this city that’s traditionally been courtesy of Tennent, whose mass market lager brewery looms to the south of the Knox Necropolis. As a family business it predated the boneyard by centuries and there were once genuine fears the arrival of corpses would contaminate its spring water supply.

Tennent’s commitment to the present is undoubtedly its collab with Alloa indie brewers Williams Bros – Drygate, a converted box factory on its estate, now home to a US-style craft brewery tap. The Drygate labels are designed by students from the Glasgow School of Art.

Which leads us neatly to the on-going saga of the iconic Art School building designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. This was extensively damaged when a blaze broke out late in the summer of 2018 as it neared the end of a £35 million restoration project following a previous fire in May 2014. The scaffolds and tarpaulins remain in place. It will be years yet before the current rescue project is finished.

Born in 1868, policeman’s son Mackintosh had none of the advantages of his architect contemporaries, just more talent. To get a taste of the whole Art Nouveau-dabbling coterie sign up for one of the Mackintosh’s Glasgow Walking Tours or download as self-guided leaflet.They all offer an illuminating introduction to the city as a whole, particularly the Victorian and Edwardian era where the vast wealth raised through shipbuilding and the sugar and tobacco trade was lavished on elaborate architecture.

I like the fact that Mackintosh designed both the main newspaper offices – the Daily Record, all glazed brick down a dark lane (home to vegan cafe and gig venue Stereo) and the Glasgow Herald building, deftly transformed into the panoramic Lighthouse, Scotland’s Centre for Architecture and Design (alas still closed post-pandemic).

My favourite building on our tour had to be James Salmon Junior’s Gaudiesque 1902 St Vincent Street Chambers, nicknamed the ‘Hat Rack’. Small in stature, Salmon was nicknamed the ‘Wee Troot’. A recent bridge over the Clyde has been dubbed the ‘Squinty Bridge’. Yes, the city’s dry humour takes no prisoners.

So much architecture but Glasgow has a wealth of green spaces, too. I love Kelvingrove Park and the shady promenade along the River Kelvin, taking in Kelvingrove Museum. This fantastical Spanish Baroque pile, spring cleaned inside and out two decades ago, houses an eclectic collection of art and objects that takes your breath away – from Rembrandts, Van Goghs and Salvador Dali’s vertiginous Christ of St John of the Cross to armour collections, a stuffed elephant and a dangling Spitfire. It’s a great place to acquaint yourself with Mackintosh’s influence and the contemporaneous Glasgow Boys art movement.

The interior of the Glasgow house where Mackintosh lived with his wife and artistic collaborator Margaret Macdonald has been reassembled up the hill within the University of Glasgow’s Hunterian Museum, featuring a definitive collection of his austerely beautiful furniture. From here it’s a 10 minute walk to Byres Street and the West End – the 

Bohemian buzz of which would surely have delighted the dandy in Mackintosh.

Much quieter, in the southern approaches of the city, is another green oasis voted Europe’s best park in 2008, Pollok Country Park, home to elegant Pollok House, great walks and the remarkable Burrell Collection Museum – a Mackintosh-free zone.

It is a custom-built modern repository for more than 9,000 objects bought by Sir William Burrell, cannily using wealth from the family shipping business. Chinese, Muslim, Medieval and Gothic treasures rub shoulders with Impressionist masterworks. Unlike the Kelvingrove, it feels uncluttered, displaying at any one time only 20 per cent of the collection. The landmark building reopened last spring after four years shut for water damage repairs.

t is too far out to feature on Glasgow’s official hop on hop off (with commentary) City Sightseeing Tour. This double decker’s circular route takes in the East and West Ends as well as the revitalised banks of the Clyde with its award-winning, Zaha Hadid-designed Riverside Museum. Offering an even more fascinating insight into the city’s past is the People’s Palace on Glasgow Green in the East End. This sandstone working class cultural centre charts everything from tenement poverty to entertainment diversions. Attached to it is the elegant Victorian glasshouse of the Winter Garden. 

Nearby you’ll find the Templeton Carpet Factory, modelled on the Doge’s Palace in Venice, and, of course, The Barrowland Ballroom. Take them both in on a walk up to Merchant City, once home to mansions and markets and now reinvigorated as a creative hub after decades of decay, good for bars and people watching. 

It’s after here you start to recognise the grid system Victorian expansion built along. Look down long straight streets and you’ll inevitably see church towers or steeples framed at the end. It all feels uncannily American. Indeed when the cityscape turns hilly around Blythswood Square it might almost be San Francisco. Not quite sure John Knox would have approved.

Fleeting tips on food and drink in Glasgow

Crabshakk, as you already know. The Finnieston original has spawned a sibling up at the Botanical Gardens. Other fish restaurants of note – the veteran bistro Gamba on West George Street and the Finnieston Bar and Restaurant. Nearby Gannet, paragon of Scottish sourcing, is probably the pick of the Argyle Street eateries.

Pubs? My fave remains The State Bar, off Sauchiehall Street, with its glorious Victorian interior, fine cask ales and Glasgow’s longest-running blues jam. In the Merchant City, a short stroll from the Moxy Hotel, is the laid-back Babbity Bowster, named after an old Scottish wedding dance and offering a countrified beer garden at odds with its urban surroundings. Current craft beer mecca is down on Southside – Koelschip Yard with 14 cutting edge keg lines.

I seem to spend far more time in taprooms than actual pubs. Only the other day, in Manchester, I popped into Bundobust Brewery to sample their new Bombay Sandwich-led menu with a couple of in-house beer pairings, naturally, then sashayed the 300 metres down Oxford Road to check out the beer and bar formula at the new North taproom. This latest outlet of the Leeds brewery of that name opened a couple of weeks ago, but rail strikes and Biblical downpours deterred me from trekking in.

It was worth the wait, but does North’s count as a taproom proper? Perhaps we play a little fast and loose with the definition. Surely a taproom has to be an on-site bar in the brewery whose beers it pours? North now have a string of venues, but the taproom proper, in this pedant’s eyes, is at their Springwell production base alongside the brewing vessels.

After this nit-picking let’s salute the Age of the Taproom. No longer just a rickety bar and a fridge servicing some garden furniture among the mash tuns, in the teeth of a chilly blast whipping through an arch’s open doorway. 

Not that I’m knocking this prototype, habitually offering great beer at source. It’s just that some serious, and seriously brave, investment has also gone on of late. Trading up or key part of a fresh new package, they draw me in.

I’m not alone in being a devotee of those lavishly illustrated online compendiums (compendia?) of the world’s most beautiful independent bookshops or libraries. Lit porn, let’s call this fetish. From my own experience, nowhere beats the Livraria Lello & Irmão in Porto, with an honourable mention for Manchester’s own Portico Library. I’m biased there, though, as a card-carrying member.

Now I have a new crush. The other day social media granted me a peek at Wiper and True’s new Old Market taproom (above) in Bristol and I was smitten. No one’s going to recreate the look of  those palatial, ornate Victorian city pubs, even less centuries-old thatched and beamed country inns. But in the 2020s there’s a stream of spectacular (yet functional) taprooms created by the new wave craft breweries. 

The hypothesis is simple – when there’s a dwindling number of outlets for your wares in a competitive market invite your customers around to your place. Taste all the latest beers, meet the folk behind them, support the brand. Maybe grab a bite from the current street food operation in residency. Wood-fired pizza fuels that US bar-room feel.

Still with one UK brewery going under each week due to financial pressure (that’s according to my pal, Pete Brown, doyen of beer writers) a taproom can be a scary investment. I was shocked when ultra-cool Wild Beer Co went into administration recently, their planned, crowdfunded showcase mothballed for too long.

While I was compiling for Manchester Confidential (in tandem with staff writer Davey Brett) a piece on the city’s mooted ‘Piccadilly Beer Mile’ and its legacy (parts one, two and three) a mood of optimism against the odds was evident. Below I’ve widened my net to pick out some favourite taps across the land.

North Brewery, Leeds

Let me kick off my tap bucket list with the aforementioned Springwell, set in a former tannery along post-industrial Buslingthorpe Lane. North only unveiled their new site in November 2020, moving a mile up the road from the original brewery they had launched in 2015. Softy, softly. The brewing arrived a full 18 years after founders John Gyngell Christian Townsley had opened North Bar in town, arguably the UK’s first craft beer bar proper, but everything they have done has been worth the wait. Springwell has now doubled brewing capacity and created an airy taproom and beer garden, James Ooi’s formidable Little Bao Boy dishing up the ballast.

What to drink: ‘Transmission’, North’s signature tropical and piney IPA – East Coast meets West Coast.

Northern Monk, Leeds

Earlier than North they established a bar presence in Manchester but atmosphere-wise it’s not a patch on the original ‘Refectory’ above the brewery in The Old Flax Store of Marshall’s Mill, Holbeck. From Monk’s inception in 2014 the brewing operation and taproom worked in tandem, linked by founder Russell Bisset’s cute take on the traditional monkish bond with beer. I feel rival North has overtaken them in both profile and overall beer quality, but the bare brick taproom is still a sweet, off-the-beaten track spot to linger in. Yet it’s just a 10 minute walk from Leeds train station.

What to drink: Worship their decadent annual ‘Heaven’ – just the 12.5 per cent, featuring maple syrup, chocolate and vanilla, and aged in Heaven Hill bourbon barrels.

SALT Beer Factory, Saltaire

An old tram shed is home to this offshoot of Ossett Brewery but with its own distinctive, craftier range helmed by Colin Stronge. I know him from his time at Marble in Manchester before a peripatetic journey involving Black Isle, Buxton and, yes, Northern Monk, but it is his inspirational work at SALT that won him UK Brewer of the Year before Christmas. The £1.7 million micro-brewery opened up in October 2018. Its actual tap among the equipment only opens at weekends, but the Salt Bar + Kitchen at the front is open seven days a week, its wood-fired pizzas heartily recommended (my tip: the Moroccan lamb).

What to drink: ‘Tram Double New England IPA’. Not the obvious link, it’s a beer name-checked for a double twisted silk thread weaving term. Expect a lot of USA and New Zealand hops in the mix.

Verdant, near Falmouth 

Just the 400 miles from Saltaire, West Yorkshire to Penryn, Cornwall and the shiny new home of one of the UK’s great pioneers of US-style hop-driven beers. These hazy IPA  specialists were founded in Falmouth proper eight years go, but the swanky new state of the art brewery and taproom is four miles upstream in Penryn, the original port when Falmouth was just a marshy foreshore. It’s a 20 minute suburban trek to Verdant from Penryn Station. Well worth it; the interior is spectacular and, guess what?, there’s some toothsome wood-fired pizza.

What to drink: ‘Even Sharks Need Water’. Juicy hop and yeast driven  NE IPA that tastes of sherbet refresher sweets with lashings of peppery mango, lemon and grapefruit.  Smooth, full and fun to drink! That’s the brewery blurb, but they’re not wrong.

St Mars of the Desert, Sheffield

And back to God’s Country and the People’s Republic of South Yorkshire. Here in the former industrial heartland of Attercliffe, surrounded by ranks of contemporary factories/depots, you’ll find an unshiny taproom that’s so old school it has inkwells. Well, not quite, but you get my drift, as soon as you penetrate the picket fence, bearing the sign “Please don’t let Grimbold the dog out”. This brewery specialise in “hoppy koelship beers, foeder-soured stingos, rustic lagers, deep malty dark beers and Benelux-inspired creations”, according to their website. Koelship? Pronounced cool ship, it’s a long, slender, open top stainless steel vessel akin to those traditional Flemish/Dutch koelschips, originally made of wood, whose high surface-to-mass ratio allows for more efficient cooling of the wort in the brewing process. Full details in this report. Whatever, SMOD is a quirky, civilised boozing bolthole. The taproom will re-open in March 2023. 

What to drink: ‘Jack d’Or’ Belgian-style saison. Originally conceived at the Pretty Things brewery in Boston, original project of SMOD duo Dann Paquette and Martha Holley-Simpson.

Rivington, north of Bolton 

Let’s stay pretty rustic at a farm-based brewery that initially suffered profile-wise because it was just outside Greater Manchester. Ben Stubbs and his farmer brother-in-law Mick Richardson launched their brewery in 2014 next to the dairy operation and hilltop camping site with a spectacular view of Rivington reservoirs and Winter Hill that is now shared with the beer garden. The ‘taproom’ is a converted barn and find the marquee a more copacetic drinking hole, especially when the site is hosting the annual ‘Farm Trip’ festival. Dough ‘n’ Co are in residence serving burgers from Wednesday to Sunday and pizzas from 4pm Friday and all weekend.

What to drink: ‘tI has to be ‘Never Known Fog Like It’, a 5.2 per cent New England pale ale, whose success was instrumental in giving up his day job. Hazy and hopped with Citra, Mosaic, Simcoe and Chinook, it never fails to charm.

Wylam, Newcastle

Palace of the Arts is a posh address for a brewery. Factor in its tap serves Sunday roasts as well as burgers and is shortly hosting gigs by the likes of Kula Shaker and Mr Scruff and you realise what a unique venue this is even before you get stuck into the delicious range of beers brewed there. The Grade listed building in parkland was originally constructed for the Great North East Exhibition of 1929. Former music promoter Dave Stone has been the driving force since the brewery, once a run of the mill cask operation, moved into the Palace in 2016.

What to drink: Again let’s stick with the standard bearer, ‘Jakehead’, the first IPA the brewery ever created. Brewer Ben Wilkinson is proud of its mix of British malt character and a tropical US take.

Runaway, Stockport

After almost a decade in an arch on Manchester’s Dantzic Street, Mark Welsby’s pioneering craft operation, is currently moving to a sizeable new home in Stockport, so the taproom like the brewery and barrel store – is still very much a work in progress. When it opened as a pop-up (with pizza from the redoubtable Honest Crust) for three weekends before Christmas the response of local was ecstatic. Reassuring in troubled economic times, for Mark, who told me: “Taproom ambitions are key to the move. We’ll offer a food menu. The scene is not just about craft beer any more. Natural wine, proper cider, small plates all have their place at the table. We’ll have space for barrel ageing, too. More control over our destiny. If it doesn’t work, then it’s all down to us.”

What to drink: I’m tempted to recommend ‘Yuzu Sour’. based on a classic Berliner Weisse but substituting pure Japanese citrus for the usual sugar syrups, but with winter still engulfing us will plump for Runaway’s American Brown Ale. another transatlantic hybrid, robust British maltiness mating with Yankee pine and grapefruit pithiness.

Sureshot, Manchester

Even James Campbell, Manchester brewing royalty (Marble and Cloudwater) must be surprised at the rapturous reception for his new post-Pandemic project across the UK. Alongside a raft of playfully conceived and marketed hop-driven brews he has leapt in with a taproom that’s boldly open six days a week. It’s twice the size of the brewery next door in an arch once home to Track. The tap manager is Lucy Clarke, whose CV includes Cloudwater, Siren and bottle shop Epicurean. Draught cocktails (and mead from a member of the team) add to the jollity.

What to drink: A hard choice with such a hyperactive list so let’s go with the latest offering, a New England IPA,’Have Thee Nowt Moist?’, accompanied by the ‘dry’  wit of the Campbell spiel: “Our first (proper) release of the year is this worthy knight, questing for moisture in a land of dryness. Dripping with Bru-1 Lupomax, Citra BBC & Galaxy hops, pineapple and citrus joust for the favour of thy taste buds. Henceforth, this January shall be known as Moist January! As we banish the dry and embrace the damp.”

Track, Manchester

It’s not the right time of year to enjoy the large suntrap garden, but the stylish taproom itself, open six days a week, is dazzling and airy, a stunning repository of craft (and cask) curated by bar manager Dev Parmar. The current food pop-up from Greek specialists Taka Taka Mam is also worth the 15 minute trek up from Piccadilly. Ask for their epic ‘Zeus Platter’. Dog and family friendly, it’s a haven for cyclists too. The project was inspired by a two year round the world cycle ride by founder Sam Dyson where he discovered the craft breweries and taprooms of the States. Staying active, Track also offers its own running club, One Foot Forward (at the end of the 5km run there’s a welcoming glass).

What to drink: Sessionable pale ale Sonoma is the signature beer, particularly appealing in the cask version, but Track also excel in the stronger DIPAs. Try the new version of Sea of Stars, 8 per cent,100 per cent fresh Nelson Sauvin hops, so all resinous fruit on reamy base of pilsner malt, oats and wheat.

Torrside, New Mills

‘Eclectic’ doesn’t do justice to the range at this special place tucked away by the canal in a Derbyshire mill town. Smoked and barrel-aged beers are the speciality of this operation set up in 2015 by a trio of home brewers (one of them a Japanese translator). The taproom opening is sporadic. The next one is Friday, March 25 and Saturday, March 26. For the rest of the 2023 dates visit this link and look out for their annual Smokefest festival, which is what it says on the bottle. They even offer smoked snacks – cheeses, meats, nuts and tea cakes!

What to drink: Any of the ‘Dogs of War’ series in sharing bottle (you don’t have to share). To encourage a snooze on the train ride home perhaps go for the ‘Swiss Guard Sighthound Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Porter’ (10.5 per cent).

Bundobust Brewery, Manchester

Back to where we started in quest of a Bombay Sandwich. For the record this exotic toastie, available 12pm-4pm every day bar Saturday, is filled with potato and spinach, green chutney, red onion, tomato and vegan Cheddar, seasoned with chaat masala and served with sambhar. The combo of Gujarati vegan/veggie snacks and craft beer has been the group’s big selling point since the original Bundobust opened in Leeds in 2014. The Manchester Piccadilly branch followed a couple of years later, ahead of the Bundo Brewery ambitions being finally realised in September 2021. A basement of the city’s Grade II-listed St James Building has been transformed into a US brewpub style integrated brewing facility and bar dining room. Both Manchester venues stare up into a great glass atrium and share quirky design touches. Here each chair is made from 40 recycled plastic water bottles, while school-style desks have been repurposed into beer hall-style tables, complete with “I Woz ‘Ere” etchings.

What to drink: Brewer Dan Hocking, once of Holland’s world-renowned Uiltje Brewery, has been very active in collabs with other breweries, including a dark mild with Thornbridge, but the perfect match for the spicy food offering is the in-house, 4.8 per cent Dhania Pilsner with its hit of citrusy toasted coriander seeds.

Such a joy when two of my favourite food and drink passions consummate a relationship and the twin offspring are equally appealing. That’s what happened when Balance Brewing and Blending met Polyspore to create a brace of tremendous mushroom beers, available to buy now.

I tasted both Freckled Chestnut and Lion’s Mane from the bottle at the collab’s launch in the upstairs bar of Manchester’s Port Street Beer House. Both sets of business partners were present the christening – Will Harris and James Horrocks of mixed culture, barrel fermentation specialists Balance and Polyspore specialist mushroom growers Mike Fothergill and Dylan Pybus.

I’ve profiled both groundbreaking operations in recent months, visiting their respective bases in North Western Street near Piccadilly Railway Station and in the Radium Wrks Altrincham (Balance are currently moving to Sheffield Street nearer the station). Read those respective backstories here and here.

The collab beers, named after specific mushroom types, were scheduled for release at IndyManBeerCon at the start of October but weren’t quite ready Will and James (ex-brewers at Track and Squawk respectively) are nothing if not particular. The presence of Wild Beer Co at the festival, where I tasted their wasp nest yeast beer, reminded me that the Somerset-based brewery had once brewed a mushroom beer of their own called Breakfast of Champigons. It was a one-off. Down to, I suspect, a reluctance of even the most avid funkheads to grasp the fungi flavour in a glass.

Still there was a rapturous reception across the Pond for repeated batches of Texas farmhouse brewers Jester KIng’s Snörkel – a saison brewed with alderwood smoked sea salt and oyster mushrooms.

All very exotic but how do the new Balance brews stand up? They started off life in a single barrel, filled in December 2021. According to James: “This barrel was chosen as a base due to its nicely balanced acidity, fruity funk and clarity of flavour. The beer was split between two tanks, one had Lion’s Mane mushrooms added and the other had Freckled Chestnut mushrooms. The beer married with the mushrooms for just over a week before being bottled and laid down to condition.

“The wonderful mushrooms grown by Polyspore have imparted their own distinct character while letting the beer shine too. Lion’s Mane shows some really nice citrus character with vanilla and gentle umami whilst Freckled Chestnut has more earthy tones and nuttiness with a beautiful savoury element.”

Spot on. The brewers prefer the more up-front funk of the Lion’s Mane; I marginally prefer the Freckled Chestnut’s more brooding charms, which will open out surely with a year or two’s bottle ageing. Visit Balance’s website and both limited edition beers, priced at £18, appear to have sold out but, as with previous releases, you may be able to seek them out at specialist bottle shops. 

Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus)is often cited as a myco adaptogen –  a class of fungi credited with medicinal merits across the centuries, especially by the Chinese. Hence it features in an IPA, part of a recently launched vegan and gluten free beer range called Fungtn. At 0.5per cent it is ‘guaranteed’ to keep you ‘hangover-free’. 

Personally, I’d rather take my chances and drink deep of the strikingly pure and complex 6.5 per cent Balance embodiment.

Some new destinations generate high expectations. Hence the enthusiasm with which I greeted Exhibition. Not just because it is heartening to see a historic Manchester edifice (home to a functional Pizza Express in its least interesting incarnation) given a stylish makeover; the presence of three quality indie food operators alongside a slick bar operation promised to set it apart from more canteen-like places chasing that food hall pot of gold.

Before this 400-capacity venue opens to the public on Saturday, November 12, I’ve been lucky enough to get a sneak preview of what’s on offer from OSMA, Caroline Martins and Baratxuri. While not neglecting a drinks offering headed up by Manchester Union Lager alongside smart wine and cocktail options. This was by special, lavish invitation only, so no way of gauging what the overall ‘live’ experience will be like. If that lives up to the parade of dishes served to us then Exhibition is a significant new player. a further bonus… it is dog-friendly throughout.

Here is a link to the lunch menu; and this is what’s on offer for dinner.

I’ve been a fan of Basque-inspired Baratxuri since its inception and over the years I’ve guzzled my share of Rubia Gallega Txuleton, bone-in rib steak from Galician dairy cattle aged over 50 days. At Exhibition £75 will get you 1kg’s worth served blue with fire-roasted new potatoes and tomato salad.

Another speciality of chef/founder Joe Botham also features. Rodaballo a la Parilla (£55) is a whole wild turbot grilled over ember and served with whippd pil-pil. Follow my turbot capital trail in Northern Spain here.

Simpler, less expensive dishes on the menu will satisfy equally well – the likes of immaculately sourced anchovies, the stickiest of ribs and scallops in the shell.

There’s a more compact menu from the offshoot of Scandi-influenced Michelin-rated OSMA in Prestwich, creation of Sofie Stoermann-Naess and Danielle Heron and. The name is an amalgam of duo’s respective home towns of Oslo and Manchester. My Manchester Confidential colleague Lucy Tomlinson gave it 16/20 in her review.

Priced similarly to its turbot rival across the dining rom, their whole cooked lobster is another huge temptation. They have a way with seafood. Check out their exquisite sashimi.

I’ve been a regular at Caroline Martins’ Sao Paulo Project pop-up at Ancoats’ Blossom Street Social. Her foray to Exhibition takes her away from tasting menus to a more stripped down approach, while still fusing Brazilian culinary traditions with cannily sourced local ingredients. Still, she couldn’t resist bringing with her a smaller version of her ‘splash hit’ choc pudding party piece I’ve written about before. My tip: don’t miss her Carlingford oyster with passion fruit sorbet.

Exhibition, St George’s House, 56 Peter Street, Manchester M2 3NQ.

Showing my age. Just realised it’s 30 years since I sat down in the cinema to watch Delicatessen. I expected a celebration of pastrami on rye and coffee-toting waitresses with attitude. Instead I was served a post-apocalyptic, cannibalistic black comedy packed with butchered body parts. 

I blame a movie made two years earlier for my cinematic naïveté. The one where the Meg Ryan character simulates orgasmic cries. The one I always think of as When Harry Met Deli because that scene was set inside Katz’s on New York’s Lower East Side. And, yes, I have visited that apotheosis of all the kosher eateries recalibrating the Old Country in the New World. The touristy sign quotes the film dialogue: “Hope you have what she had.” We ordered differently.

There was a cluttered buzz to the joint, the queues to get in filtered through a ticketing system. The food? Not really star quality. And not really the global template for the Deli  these day, definitely a devalued catch-all term just like bistro and brasserie. Yet neither of these are synonymous with a sandwich shop.

A more positive perspective is the combo of grocer’s and cafe, ideally the latter feeding off the raw materials and store cupboard essentials of the former. A good example (with the bonus of a well-stocked wine shop and bar) was the late, lamented Lunya in Manchester, the original of which is still going strong in Liverpool. That is Spanish with a Catalan influence; the Italian equivalent, equally family-run, is Salvis’ Corn Exchange outpost in Manchester’s Corn Exchange.

My ideal deli though would be a suburban provisioner. The supplier of an impulse wine purchase, a decent cheeseboard, charcuterie, olives and bread to carry home around the corner. Even better, if the budget allows, to be able to tuck into all that stuff upstairs above the shop, augmented by an eclectic beer offering, including the owner’s own acclaimed lager.

Factor in the natural progression 100m away of a sibling butchers/fishmonger with its own eat-in small plates deli counter and it could only be Wandering Palate – The Movie and Farm & Fish – The Sequel. Location? Upwardly mobile Monton, the posh banlieue beyond Eccles. The first is the debut deli of Will and Emma Evans; the second their collab with The Butcher’s Quarter, which has two further outlets in the city centre.

It has taken me a while to trek here. As I sit in the window of Wandering Palate at 190 Monton Road, first with a De Koninck Bolleke, a Belgian amber-coloured pale in the glass of that name, then with a Bodegas Manzanos Gran Reserva Rioja Will brings me a selection of ‘picky bits’.

They are his Manc version of pintxos or cicchetti. The baguette bases are from Holy Grain, arguably Manchester’ best bakery, like Wandering Palate shortlisted at this year’s Manchester Food and Drink Awards. The toppings are sourced from the deli shelves. My favourites the Trealy Farm venison and juniper pâté with salsa verde and truffled Baron Bigod cheese with baby onions.

Time for browsing. A smaller beer collection (“we needed the fridge space for other items”) than you’d expect from Will, who co-founded Manchester Union Lager. That’s on tap here ahead of its unveiling in tank form at Manchester’s new Exhibition food hall this November.

Wine is a major player, though with a substantial natural wine offering, much of it sourced from Les Caves De Pyrene. Coffee comes from Yorkshire’s Dark Woods, charcuterie from Manchester’s own Northern Cure, cheese from The Crafty Cheese Man and much more.

Emma Evans is an acclaimed artist, whose canvases you can check out in the upstairs bar. She also hosts regular life drawing classes there. Probably more my thing is Wandering Palate’s Wine Club Wednesdays with free corkage.

Farm & Fish at 190 Monton Road equally aspires to be a community hub. It recently hosted a Polish wine tasting. But my eyes were for the meat and fish counters. I inevitably splashed the cash, coming away with a kilo of  ox cheeks and a robust boiled crab. I could happily have sat in the window there with a further wine as evening fell… to survey the Monton ‘paseo’.