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.

A head for heights? Most certainly as long as I‘ve a cocktail in my hand or, better still, a series of small plates arriving against a panoramic backdrop. To satisfy my needs, every high rise development these days seems to come with a rooftop bar or restaurant. At the Manchester version of Soho House, due later this year, they are even throwing in a swimming pool eight storeys up below its bar and I note that the ubiquitous Gino D’Acampo has been getting in on the act over in Liverpool, opening an eponymous Sky Bar Terrace at the top of the INNSiDE by Meliá hotel.

It may be that city’s highest alfresco restaurant and bar, but at 270 ft it’s a mere molehill compared with the tallest viewpoint I’ve visited – Chicago’s Willis Tower, the Western Hemisphere’s third highest building at 1,730ft. One caveat, its Sky Deck with jutting-out glass Ledge is the same height (1,450ft) as the top of that old stager, New York’s Empire State.

Both dwarf our own Shard in London, which stands at a mere 1,020ft. One advantage is that the 72nd floor viewing gallery is partially open air, offering views of the pinnacle, as well as 360-degree views around the building. I’m still gob struck by how tiny Tower Bridge looked from 800ft above.

All of which brings us to Manchester’s 20 Stories, whose major selling point is its huge outdoor terrace and bar (with appropriate shelters for when the city’s weather lives up to its reputation). At 300ft, it’s a glamorous, stunning spot to take in the ever-changing skyline and cityscape (see main image). You can understand its appeal as a special place for a drink and a people watch. The wine list is arguably the best in town, but food quality has been variable with a constant change of head chefs since its inception in 2018. 

I dined there recently, road-testing their new five-course tasting menu, available Monday to Thursday, It started well with a vegan opener of broccoli steak with horseradish and lemon, but after that it didn’t live up to its £65 a head price. A better bet is to pick from the more casual Terrace Menu, perhaps mixing and matching tomato, basil and parmesan arancini, truffle fries and BBQ flat iron steak tacos with a tipple or two from their Aperol Cocktail Menu.

Black Friar, Salford – keeping it down to earth

Casual and al fresco is a good way to go in this sweltering summer and the maturing  ground-level garden of the re-born Black Friar is a choice spot, even if there is no view to speak of. Well, who would want to ogle the traffic hurtling down Trinity Way? By chance, it has chef connections with 20 Stories. Aiden Byrne, launch chef there, was scheduled to do the same for the Black Friar but pulled out around Pandemic time; his replacement Ben Chaplin came from… you guessed it. 

His 20 Stories fine dining pedigree was obvious when I first sat down to eat in the newly planted garden with its big fence two summers ago. A couple of dishes were over-elaborate for what was aimed as a gastropub. The menu has since settled down  from trying to balance all this with ‘pub classics’, maintaining high quality ingredients while  taking fewer risks.

It is good they are still making the most of their urban greenery, though when we went recently to sample their summer ‘Garden Menu’ gusty showers weren’t doing it any favours.This particular menu is served straight from the outdoor bars, so we benefited from its canopy and ski heaters. And a couple of goblets of holy Gavi to heal the soul. There’s a choice of three amply topped flatbreads, including an artichoke version for vegans, who can also dive into a Falafel Friar Bowl. Alongside the charcuterie and cheese platters sat our big extra temptation, definitely not plant-based: Honey-glazed Ham Hock with Welsh rarebit and pickled onions. The Black Friar is very generous with its pickles and, alas with a mountain of coleslaw that accompanied the hock. As a £17 sharing plate this was a meal in itself. We took the half-stripped bone home with us. Combined with yellow split peas and stock, it formed an un-seasonally  ballasting soup that lasted us all next day. As blazing sunshine reappeared.

Queen Bee with a red dot, signature vol au vents – it must be Climat

The other end of Blackftriars Street and Chris Laidler is showing off his stings on the rooftop terrace of Climat, now home to four hives and 40,000 bees, including a Queen, marked with a red dot. The wine-led restaurant’s founder and his exec chef Luke Richardson also brought back from Hampshire a further 50,000 bees that are now ensconced at their respective homes in Wrexham and Chester – all contributing honey to Climat and sister restaurant Covino in Chester, a place I also really love.

Chris tells me they expect the total of 90,000 bees will swell to 500,000 over the summer before reducing in size to weather the winter months. He’s resigned to the occupational hazards of bee-keeping – despite wearing the full gear to handle them. He’s more worried that there’ll be enough opportunities for his charges to pollinate in Manchester city centre, even though it’s leafier than you think.

And there is competition. Chris points across the road to the roof of the car park behind the brutalist former Ramada Renaissance, slowly being transformed into the Treehouse Hotel. Here Manchester Cathedral have installed a total of 10 hives in addition to the six already on the cathedral’s roof producing ‘Heavenly Honey’.

It’s amazing what your eye takes in from a great height. On the eighth floor of Blackfriars House, Climat actually benefits from not being up in the stratosphere. I prefer the more intimate nosiness of being level or slightly above rival rooftops, so you don’t miss intricate features. Seen from the outside terrace (well away from the swarms) or through floor-to -ceiling plate glass. Perhaps with a 500cl carafe of Bourgogne Aligoté at your elbow – ‘is that honey on the nose?’ – and a signature vol au vent while awaiting a small plates parade of what Luke dubs his ‘Parisian expat food’.

Chicago fleetingly came to mind at the launch of Sterling, a new cocktail bar from the Schofield brothers in the basement of Manchester’s Stock Exchange Hotel. All dark wood and sepulchral lighting with illuminated ranks of bottles the backdrop for some serious bartending. 

It’s the kind of joint you might slip into as dusk falls on The Loop, the Windy City’s old commercial quarter where Route 66 starts, the rumble of the CTA elevated railway a constant overhead. Easy to conjure up the ghosts of Al Capone and the speakeasy roisterers of the Twenties.

Chicago has it place in cocktail history for two different creations. One, The Old Fashioned, has conquered the world. Here’s my homage. The other has an altogether less salubrious back story. As in slipping  customers a Mickey Finn, in order to rob and pitch them into the street. This ‘special’ of raw alcohol, snuff-soaked water and a white liquid supplied by a voodoo doctor was invented over a century ago by Mickey Finn of the Lone Star Saloon in what is now the South Loop.

Unsurprisingly, there isn’t an example on the list at Sterling. Like the Bull & Bear restaurant upstairs the name is financial reference to the Norfolk Street building’s past as the city’s Stock Exchange. As soon as I am through its doors separate from the main hotel’s Joe Schofield presses on me his version of my favourite cocktail, the Negroni. It’s the best in town. He knows what I like. With his history of bartending in hotel, including the American Bar in some place called The Savoy Joe is steering The Sterling, while his brother Daniel looks after the shop at their eponymous bar off Deansgate, which picked up Bar of the Year in the Class Bar Awards 2022 and has just been named in the World’s Top 50 Cocktail Bar List. The brothers also run Atomeca at Deansgate Square.

Joe with his slicked back hair and white staff uniform looks the part. His globetrotting CV includes being named International Bar Tender of the Year in 2018 while working in Singapore and he remains creative director of bespoke botanicals specialists Asterley Bros in London. Both his mixology skills and Asterley’s Estate Vermouth were to the fore in my next drink – a Chicago Lightning (£13.75). The rest of the blend? Rabbit Hole Bourbon, Cacao Nib, Campari and Orange Curaçao,

I was convinced it was a stone cold classic and with that Chicago connection I sought its origins online and across my small but perfectly mixed cocktail book collection – Wondrich, Morgenthaler Jerry Thomas,. In vain. Not a mention.

The reason. “It’s my own creation inspired by interest in Chicago of the Roaring Twenties,” Joe tells me. “Lightning was the Chicago gangsters’ nickname for gunfire.”

Explosive stuff then? All guns blazing? Actually pure mellow magic from a great cocktail list that also includes further Schofield Brothers’ own creations, including Aguila (Herradura Blanco Tequila, pineapple, lime, avocado, coriander, red chilli, black pepper) and Butterscotch (butterscotch, butter, Singleton 12 scotch, lemon, egg white) an classics such as Artist’s Special (Highland Park 12 scotch, redcurrant, sherry lemon) and the Martinez (Roku Gin, Asterley Bros. Estate Vermouth, dry cherry, orange Bitters.

Equally impressive is the wine offering from Sterling and Atomeca co-founder James Brandwood (pictured above with Joe in the wine tasting vault). Originally from south Manchester, James began his 20-year hospitality career at university in Leeds, developing a passion for wine after moving to Australia in 2007. He managed venues across Sydney including the prestigious Rockpool Bar & Grill. General manager is Paola Mariotti, whose 5-star hotel CV includes the Beaufort Bar at the Savoy and The Blue Bar at The Berkeley in London. 

The bar snack menu is courtesy of Lush by Tom Kerridge, the two-Michelin starred chef responsible for Bull & Bear restaurant located on the former trading floor. Expect truffle cheese gougeres, whipped taramasalata, squid ink tapioca cracker, pickled red onion and crispy potato bites, creme fraiche and caviar.

Sterling, with a guest capacity of just over 100, is now open for bookings and walk-ins – Tuesday-Friday 5:30-12:30pm and Saturday 2pm-12:30pm. Bookings are available via this link. Stock Exchange Hotel, 4 Norfolk Street, Manchester, M2 1DW.

Question. What the devil is the owner of ‘the UK’s toughest pub’ doing at Manchester Food and Drink Festival debating the food matching merits of craft beer over cocktails?

Of course, every city boasts a roughhouse contender but the Kray twins’ locals around London did have the Wild West edge back in the Sixties. Notably the Blind Beggar in Whitechapel, a local of mine too for a while, as it happens. a quarter of a century after Ronnie Kray notoriously shot gangster rival George Cornell there in 1966.

Brewer and media star Jaega Wise now runs another past Kray haunt, the Victorian Tavern on the Hill in Walthamstow, which once had a “a reputation for being a bloodbath,” according to Sky TV’s Britain’s Hardest. It’s not like that these days with a Jamaican food menu and beers from Jaega’s award-winning brewery, Wild Card, samples of which should feature in the Octopus Books showcase at the MFDF Hub on Saturday, September 24.

Jaega, named Britain’s best brewer in 2018 by the Guild of Beer Writers and winning an equivalent award this year, is promoting her recently published Wild Brews (Kyle hb, £22). At 6pm she comes up against Joel Harrison and Neil Ridley, co-authors of 60 Second Cocktails, to determine if beer or cocktails should be crowned the winning beverage.

It’s not a straight stand-off, hops and malt versus spirits and botanicals, since her primer for home brewers is subtitled “from sour and fruit beers to farmhouse ales”. A sophisticated far cry from the Boots kits of yore, then.

34-year-old Jaega’s talents are spread interestingly these days. I listen to her regularly when she presents on BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme. Her most recent assignment explored the racial connotations of fried chicken. Her telly career includes Channel 5’s The Wine Show and Beer Masters, available on Amazon Prime, where Jaega and James Blunt judged “Europe’s best home brewers going head-to-head across five challenges brewing popular beer styles and taking on creative and technical challenges.” Think Bake-off with ‘stuck mash’ instead of ‘soggy bottoms’.

Filming the latter show appropriately coincided with the gestation of Wild Brews. “The book took me three and a half years… writing’s not really my thing,” Jaega laments. Modesty from a Nottingham girl, who once considered studying English at university before a volte face into chemical engineering. “You see my scientific training in the technical side of the book, but I was determined to make it accessible. It’s both an introduction for the beginner and of use to a more advanced brewer, who wants to be more adventurous with styles.”

Certainly when Wild Card was launched a decade ago sours and saisons, lambic and goses didn’t trip off the average beer tippler’s tongue. London, where Jaega had moved, had only 10 breweries. Multiply that many times now.

She had dabbled in home brewing at university. But it was not until, disillusioned with the day job, she started working in a pub, she was swept up in the hop-driven zeitgeist, joining friends William Harris and Andrew Kirkby, who had first dreamed up Wild Card over a kitchen table. After nomadic years ‘cuckoo brewing’ on others’ kit Wild Card eventually  found their first Walthamstow site, before moving to the nearby Lockwood brewery in 2017.

Result: today’s mini-empire at the northern end of the Victoria Lime with a taproom at Lockwood and another in their Barrel Store, plus the Tavern, overlooking gentrifying Walthamstow, with a Jamaican food residency from The Jam Shack.

Jaega says: “We are very proud to have taken over the pub, the only one in the Higham Hill area. Pubs are incredibly important. They and the role of the publican are not given enough credit. There are issues of loneliness that they can help combat. Weddings, funerals, all kinds of community activity –  pubs can be central.”

And, of course, there’s the beer. Like pubs, it’s under threat too in economically perilous times. Wild Card, by necessity, concentrated on more traditional styles to start off but is now in the forefront of US-inspired ‘craft beer’ with – you guessed it – benchmark NEIPA. Matthew Curtis in his definitive Modern British Beer (my review) described it as “redolently juicy with a fruit cocktail of flavours including peach, apricot, melon and pineapple that’s typically characteristic of the New England IPA.”

Peruse the Wild Card website, though, and you’ll discover a much more diverse array of beer styles that live up to the ‘Wild Brews’ tag. Alongside the current Twilight NEIPA there’s an Amaretto Sour, a Damson Sour, a Cuvee Saison sharing bottle and a Tropical Stout. 

I wonder which of these head brewer Jaega will bring up  to Manchester to pair with probable barbecue accompaniment? “You’ll have to wait and see,” she says.

What she can reveal: “This is the food and drink world I’m lucky enough to operate in. We are so lucky in this county to produce drinks of such  high standard. Our whisky is so delicious, and then I can get the used barrels and the chance to ply with flavours. It’s my life.”

That professional life has obviously encountered pitfalls. As a young woman of Caribbean heritage from the most deprived area of Nottingham entering a male-dominated profession. “Change is slow,” she says. “Statistics clearly show considerably fewer women in senior positions across the whole UK economy, not just in brewing.”

Jaega is obviously not one to shirk a challenge. So watch out Team Cocktail this Saturday.

“Wine has for too long been seen as the obvious match for food and I can see cocktails pairing well with some dishes, but beer is hard to beat. It handles spice better and is a perfect accompaniment to cheese.”

If you don’t catch Jaega at MFDF’s Octopus Cookbook Confidential on Saturday, September 22 don’t fret. She’ll be back in Manchester the following weekend as Wild Card makes its pouring debut at IndyManBeerCon.

In a world of indie hospitality unease it’s wonderful to encounter a bold opening in a suburb. Yet even at the launch party for Libertine, featuring fire-grilled meats, cool cocktails and a real feelgood vibe, the very surroundings set me thinking. 

Back in the day this beguiling building was home to Withington’s Old District Bank. You can imagine some mutton-chopped, fob-watched, pin-striped bank manager encouraging or foreclosing on some entrepreneurial dream or other. It’s been ever thus, even if these days investment contact is more disembodied. 

What is certain is that many businesses are now counting the pennies and it’s not adding up. Come the autumn when our ‘zombie government’ has reassembled and we match the new PM’s promises to actions, we will surely discover if the cost of living crisis and energy price armageddon can be mitigated. Help is certainly needed for bars and restaurants, which are not subject to the energy cap.

Meanwhile, on the brighter note, let’s all relish the greatest gift that banks have given to the food and drink industry – an array of sumptuous venues across Manchester, a riot of marble and mahogany, stained glass and fancy ceilings. 

Libertine, as you’d guess from the team that brought us Cottonopolis and the Edinburgh Castle, takes a different tack from the conversions that dominate King Street and the city’s traditional financial quarter. 

Gordon Ramsay for Jamie’s old joint. Is it a banker?

Take the trio of Edwardian banks, credited to Charles Waterhouse – the NatWest at 53 King Street, Parr’s Bank and the Lancashire and Yorkshire Bank, neighbours where Spring Gardens meets York Street. Respectively they are now L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, Brown’s and Rosso, none of them offering cutting edge cuisine, but all boasting spectacular interiors. If, let’s say a bit on the blingy side.

Across King Street is the big daddy of them all. Sir Edwin Lutyens was the mastermind behind the Midland Bank, leaving the nuts and bolts to a local firm. It’s now divided into Hotel Gotham and what was Jamie’s Italian. The hot rumour is that a certain Gordon Ramsay has plans to re-open the vast Jamie site and install a version of his (critically panned in London) Lucky Cat.

Lucky man if he gets his wish. The main Banking Hall (below) could not be skylit, so Lutyens designed arcading on all four sides and wooden galleries as in Wren churches. In the basement is the original vault, a mini-Fort Knox. Fingers crossed such a wonderful space can be appreciated again, but how much will the heating bills cost? 

The heat is on at the Libertine thanks to a centrepiece grill

What sets my new favourite Withington haunt apart is the scuffed chic. Like at mothership Cottonopolis bar in the Northern Quarter Libertine’s original features are not buffed up. There has been sympathetic restoration of the finely carved frieze and balustrade parapet at roof level and of the marble pillars and previously concealed mosaics. The stripped-back walls in contrast create a rustic patchwork effect.

There’s a similar aesthetic, though smoother, going on at the wonderful Coin bar inside the former Lloyds Bank in Hebden Bridge, one of over 6,000 local branches across the UK have shut in the last decade – a third of the total. Salvaged Libertine is a more ambitious project, offering a restaurant, bar and music space with the emphasis on a ‘community focus’. Cocktails are impressive and there are 20 keg lines and four cask beer lines.

The restaurant is centred on live cooking over wood and charcoal. Veg, not just meat. Even so the trio of dishes that impressed at our soft launch meal involved za’atar herb-crusted lamb rack, oak smoked pork belly with harissa and 35-day Himalayan salt-dried beef pave with salsa verde, all the global flavours handled deftly. Expect brunch and roasts too, while prices are not exorbitant

So a valuable addition to the Withington scene. Even as we tighten our belts and prepare to turn down the thermostat a notch, the message is go out if you can to a local bar or eaterie. Use them or lose them. They are banking on you.

Libertine, 437 Wilmslow Road, M20 4AN. Dog-friendly.

We went for dinner to Hawksmoor Manchester the other night. It’s been a while. We avoided Monday because that’s BYOB day with just £5 corkage to pay, so I guessed it might be rammed. ‘Slowish’ Tuesday it was then and, to our amazement, there wasn’t a table to be had by mid-evening… or a dry glass in the house. We were in the roaring dining room by 6.30pm and the last sharing porterhouse had already been snaffled 20 minutes before. Damn you, carnivores of impeccable taste.

If you associate Hawksmoor only with steaks think again and settle down in the Manchester bar

No regrets, though, that we’d been detained in the penumbral clutches of the bar to sample the five fresh cocktails that constitute the upmarket steakhouse’s Summer Collection. You wouldn’t consider Miller & Carter or even Gaucho (and definitely not your local Toby Carvery) on the strength of the mixology team. At Hawksmoor it’s different. Quick flashback to a vanished age before vegans roamed the high street. Seven years ago I joined a charm offensive press pack ferried to London to gauge what all the fuss was about on the eve of this critically acclaimed outfit’s arrival in Manchester. Their latest conquest has been New York but no plane tickets in the mail, as yet, alas.

The food quality blew us away, especially the meat, with wines that made a splendid match. We visited four of their venues in the day. Somewhere along the line, probably in the Spitalfields original (above), we encountered the cocktail list that was an integral part of the Hawksmoor experience. The original list was created back in 2006 by the legendary Nick Strangeway and Liam Davy, who is still going strong as Head of Bars (his son Jack is now manager  of the Deansgate Manchester venue). Check out the Hawksmoor classics and you’ll find the hardy perennial, Shaky Pete’s Ginger Brew, the ultimate gin-fuelled ‘power shandy’ and the Fuller-Fat Old Fashioned, which I explored in a recent blog.

For the Father’s Day just past Liam devised Midsummer Old Fashioned, mixing Johnnie Walker Blue Label, salted Oxfordshire honey and cold brew camomile tea, topped with a cube of white chocolate fudge. 

That’s now off the menu because it’s not really seasonal. So how did the Summery Five –  launched at the same time and available until mid-September – fare?

Green Snapper is a verdant riff on Bloody Mary. Five a day in a glass almost to send chlorophyll coursing through my veins. Forgive any nutritional, botanical inaccuracies;  this is a zinger. Beefeater Gin’s the base, muddled with green tomato, jalapeno, lime, cucumber and lovage.

Factor 50 Fizz pales in comparison, but then I’m not a spritz fan. It hardly feels alcoholic this mix of Lillet Rose, strawberry, cucumber and sparkling coconut water.

Rimini Iced Tea – Fellini’s home town (Amarcord in the movie of the name) is the tenuous inspiration for this cooler because of the reputation of its peaches. That fruit, basil and sparkling Darjeellng tea make a refreshing  match with ultra-sustainable Avallen Calvados.

R.A.C. Aviation is a classic rhubarb & custard combo. Made with Bombay Sapphire 1er Cru, rhubarb cordial, vanilla, lemon and maraschino. Surprisingly tart, it’s properly summery.

Moselle Martini is my favourite of the five, mellow and approachable with an indefinable complexity. It’s made with Fords gin, cucumber, Riesling vermouth and pear eau de vie.

No Porterhouse – how did we pull through?

Our daughter’s dog Toro gnawed our doggie bag T-bone with great gusto. We adored the steak that was once attached in the company of a soft, summery Pinot Noir from the Loire. Creamed spinach, anchovy hollandaise, triple-cooked chips, heritage tomato salad. To start we shared beef carpaccio and scallops cooked in the shell with White Port. Never lets you down.

Hawksmoor Manchester, 184-186 Deansgate, M3 3WB. 0161 836 6980.

Platinum pandemonium on the streets of Manchester. We have half an hour to spare between engagements and definitely need a refuge from Saturday afternoon’s ‘jubilant’ crowds thronging Spinningfields. SCHOFIELDS Bar, of course… and a sublime Old Fashioned hits the spot.

Inside, the art deco space is quiet, both bar stools and deep blue leather banquettes sparsely occupied. Which is unusual. Since its arrival barely a year ago Joe and Daniel Schofield’s ‘instant classic’ has become an irresistible magnet for cocktail lovers and industry awards. Recently it won New Bar of the Year and overall UK Bar of the Year at the Class Bar Awards. In the separate Top 50 Cocktail Bars List it ran in at number 16 behind nearby Speak in Code, ranked 10th in the UK. 

On Deansgate, equidistant to both, is the atmospheric Hawksmoor restaurant bar, no strange to accolades, while on the fringe of the Northern Quarter Mecanica (above) is also a real contender (Ellie Wright was named Emerging Bartender of the Year in the Class awards).

Completing what I consider Manchester centre’s Fab Five is classy newcomer Blinker up on Spring Gardens. Like the Schofields (Bury) its creator Dan Berger (Heaton Mersey) is a local lad come home. Like Joe Schofield and Phil Aldridge, Dan honed his cocktail craft in Australia. He was also bar head honcho for Gordon Ramsay Holdings.

All of which brings us by a roundabout route back to arguably the oldest cocktail in the book, the Old Fashioned, its recent global appeal boosted by Dan Draper’s obsessive consumption in Sixties homage Mad Men. He would have been in his element at Blinker, which offers a complete page of Old Fashioned variants (The Martini gets a similar menu tribute)…

I’ve tried four out of the five OFs and am particularly smitten with the Sandalwood Old Fashioned (£12) which mixes Chivas Mizunara with a sandalwood and cherry Old Fashioned reduction. Purists, of course, might shy away from using the Chivas, the first Scotch whisky to be selectively finished in Japanese mizunara oak casks, but in general – like SCHOFIELDS – one Blinker emphasis is is on the stone cold classics with perfection the aim. Manhattan, Negroni, Sazerac, Vodka Martini territory.

This sits alongside Dan’ commitment to seasonality in his ingredients: “For the first menu, we’re going to focus on British mint, stone fruits and nectarines. We’re also looking at rhubarb that is grown in Cheshire, as well as pomegranate as a back-up fruit while we wait for more strawberries to come into season.”

Mecanica and SIC pursue more innovative cocktail trails with strong bartender contributions, yet just request and they’ll mix you up a pretty mean Old Fashioned. During pre-Christmas lockdown the latter sold a trio of pre-bottled versions for the Mad Man in your life.

Who’s to say what is a definitive Old Fashioned? Take Hawksmoor, whose culinary obsession with animal fats strays over into their continuing enhancement of the basic formula of muddling sugar with bitters and water, adding bourbon or rye whiskey and garnishing with orange slice or zest and maybe a cocktail cherry. Before serving de rigueur in an old-fashioned glass.

Liam Davy and his Hawksmoor bar team added a first tweak with their Full-Fat Old Fashioned, which begat more recently the Fuller-Fat Old Fashioned – “which still requires a painstaking process of infusing butter into bourbon in a water bath, but now has the added luxury of beurre noisette and a hint of the cigar box courtesy of sandalwood and cedar oil.”

For Father’s Day Liam has devised Midsummer Old Fashioned, mixing Johnnie Walker Blue Label, salted Oxfordshire honey and cold brew camomile tea, topped with a cube of white chocolate fudge. Available for a limited period from Monday, June 13 to to Sunday 19.

Hawksmoor’s not really one for the vegans then. They might turn to plant-based Speak In Code, who have their own way of adding savoury oomph to a bourbon-based cocktail. ‘Track 5’ is an old favourite: Shiitake & plant butter washed bourbon; toasted sunflower sweet vermouth; corn purée, foamer; mushroom jerky

“Bourbon is infused with dried shiitake mushrooms for 24 hours, strained and then melted plant butter is added before blast chilling. You’re left with a savoury, slightly sweet and salt bourbon with a creamy mouthfeel. Toasted sunflower seeds are added to a sweet vermouth, for their oil and fat properties. 

“The strained sunflower seeds are rehydrated as part of the garnish. The house corn purée is citrus boosted to add bite, and tastes like pineapples and passionfruit. The bourbon soaked shiitake mushrooms are blended down with dark soy, maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, salt and smoked paprika, then spread out on baking paper and dried out to make a bourbon mushroom jerky to garnish with the sunflower seeds. It’s a mad tropical meets umami experience.”

Old Fashioned – the Morgenthaler way

I was fortunate enough during a trip to Portland, Oregon to run into the legendry Jeffrey Morgenthaler, author of my cocktail bible, The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique. He was and still is managing the bars Clyde Common and Pépé Le Moko in the Ace Hotel, where I was staying. I went seeking his barrel-aged Negronis but the most requested drink there happens to be the Old Fashioned – what back in the 19th century was th kind of drink you were given if you asked for a cocktail. 

Morgenthaler tells new bartenders that this is one drink that is very easy to make well, but very easy to screw up. Here’s his advice, extracted from Food Republic magazine, on how to make one at home…

“You really only need a small handful of ingredients: a spirit, some sugar, some bitters, ice and a little citrus peel. Notice that you’re not required to have, or even like, whiskey to have yourself an Old Fashioned. If we look at a recipe from 1806 the drink is “composed of spirits of any kind,” which is great news for drinkers, as we can tailor our Old Fashioned to our particular taste without bastardizing the original intent of the drink.

“A note about sugar: you’ll want to make a simple syrup and have it on hand. I always keep a few simple syrups in my fridge at home for use in cocktails. I make mine at a ratio of two parts sugar to one part water, both measured by weight, and heated over low heat on the stovetop and stirred constantly until the sugar is dissolved. But which sugar to use? “Well, that’s the beautiful thing about the Old Fashioned — you can match your sugar syrup to match your spirit. How about a tequila Old Fashioned made with agave syrup? Or a rum Old Fashioned made with Demerara sugar syrup?

Experiment with the recipe below and tailor it to your own personal preference, and soon you’ll be able to regale your guests with the best Old Fashioned they’ll have ever tried. I guarantee it.

Old Fashioned

2 ounces spirit (I most often reach for bourbon, but nearly anything will do), 1 teaspoon of 2:1 simple syrup. 2 dashes bitters (I prefer Angostura bitters, but again, experiment with your favourites)

1. Stir ingredients with ice cubes for 20-30 seconds or until well chilled.

2. Strain over fresh ice in an Old Fashioned glass and garnish with a large swath of citrus peel. I typically use orange peel, but other citrus can make for interesting flavour.

Schofield’s Bar, Sunlight House, 3 Little Quay St, Manchester M3 3JZ. 07311 777606. They also have a side project, Atomeca, at the city’s Deansgate Square and will open Sterling in the Stock Exchange Hotel this summer. Speak in Code, 7 Jackson’s Row Manchester M2 5ND. 07767 658690. Hawksmoor, 184-186 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3WB. 0161 836 6980. Mecanica, 1-3 Swan Street, Manchester M4 5JJ. 0161 806 1492. Blinker 64-72 Spring Gardens, Manchester M2 2BQ. 0161 236 8225.

Two years ago I discovered the leftfield cocktail bar of my dreams and alerted the world to its marvels. It felt like being kidnapped into a playground of flavours and aromas hosted by some Avengers mixology squad in their commitedly vegan hideaway. That seems a bizarre galaxy away. I’m naturally tremulous on my post-lockdown return to Speak In Code, where all its superheroes have been laid low by Covid at one point and commercial survival must have seemed precarious, too. 

Flash back to that pre-lapsarian summer of ’19 when I wrote of Nathan Larkin’s new city centre bar: “Ever wanted to kick in the tumblers all those compilers of the ‘Top Ten Hidden Gem Bars Only Cool Dudes Like Ourselves Can Let You Into The Secret Of’? Quell your wrath. Take a walk up Jackson’s Row, after confusedly seeking an entrance in Lloyd Street, and you’ll arrive at the restrainedly Gothic looking entrance to Speak In Code. 

“There’s a sign. No big secret. It’s not the portal into Cocktail Narnia, just your average Game of Thrones set much given to hip hop and the drip drop of mixologists’ tinctures, Oh and its totally vegan, too, food and drinks, which are symbiotically, sustainably linked. Order a Pornstar Martini at your peril.”

There’s still not an obvious hen party crowd pleaser on the drinks menu, but it all feels more accessible with a £10 Classics Menu occupying a quarter of the majorly revamped list. OK, it’s not your entry level Negroni you’re getting (equal parts, gin, Campari, Martini Rosso); instead it’s a blend of Chamomile Capucana Cachaça, Cynar Amaro and sweet vermouth.

Nathan is over his Covid bout and understandably excited by the new cocktail menu they have created

Sounds enticing but I’m really back at SIC to taste the more challenging elements of a record-sleeve inspired menu that styles itself Selective-Interpretation-Cocktails. Still a palate cleanser is in order, so I take Nathan’s advice and test out that sparkling Negroni offshoot, the Sbagliato. In Italian it means ‘mistake’. It was apparently created in the 1980s by Mirko Stocchetti at his Bar Basso in Milan; when making a Negroni he mistakenly reached for a bottle of spumante instead of gin.

Sbagliato, a bubbly take on Count Negroni’s classic cocktail

Prosecco provides the base bubbles here and sweet vermouth is in the mix. After which it gets more complicated. To create an amaro the team lacto ferment strawberries with non-iodised salt, a starter culture (tofu brine), and SIC’s home-made honey (from birch and quince). They let this sit for five days in an airtight bag until the bag balloons up, then they separate the juices, turn the juice into a 1:1 ratio syrup. They then reuse the fermented strawberry pulp by dehydrating and infusing into the Amaro for 24 hours for a ‘rich strawberries and cream vibe’. 

To complete it they make an oil (oleo) by peeling oranges, massaging the peels in sugar and again leaving for 24 hours for the skin oils to seep out and dissolve the sugar. PS It was delicious. 

Before a similar exploration of the further three cocktails I essayed – Track 5, Track 6 and Track 10 – a brief explanation of that ‘track listing’… I hope I got the drift, Nathan. It was a quick run through before you had to rush off to pick up your Romanian rescue dog, Cheddar. Still I was left in the safe hands of your oppo, Jamaican-Irish Brummie Connan.

Sleeve notes from Speak In Code

The new three part drinks brochure – Signatures (forward thinking), B-Sides (present), ClasSICs (past) comes inside an EP sleeve. The back cover details the plant-based food menu, which retains the cauli wings in buffalo sauce and adds the likes of ‘Neatballs’ and the stand-out jackfruit-led mock duck steamed buns. The front is a green/blue amoebic image created by placing a canvas on top of a bass amp and Nathan playing Dr.Dre – Forgot About Dre on bass, letting acrylic paints fall into this pattern. Well, I did say leftfield. But it mirrors the creativity of the cocktail offering.

The bar’s hip-hop inspiration has been there from the start and Nathan’s innovative bar career (that began with Hard Rock Cafe) has gone hand in hand with his development as a designer and photographer. Each drinks section has an appropriate symbolic image; linking to a music studio come bar; the eight B-sides (£11 each) are labelled Untitled 1 to 8; I’m here to sample three Tracks from the 16 Signatures (£12).

Track 5

Shiitake & plant butter washed bourbon; toasted sunflower sweet vermouth; corn purée, foamer; mushroom jerky

Bourbon is infused with dried shiitake mushrooms for 24 hours, strained and then melted plant butter is added before blast chilling. You’re left with a savoury, slightly sweet and salt bourbon with a creamy mouthfeel. Toasted sunflower seeds are added to a sweet vermouth, for their oil and fat properties. The strained sunflower seeds are rehydrated as part of the garnish. The house corn purée is citrus boosted to add bite, and tastes like pineapples and passionfruit. The bourbon soaked shiitake mushrooms are blended down with dark soy, maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, salt and smoked paprika, then spread out on baking paper and dried out to make a bourbon mushroom jerky to garnish with the sunflower seeds. It’s a mad tropical meets umami experience.

Track 6 

Coconut yogurt washed aged rum; Spanish brandy;  Tio Pepe fino; salted vanilla & coffee bean cordial; dark chocolate & coffee coin

This is an indulgent drink thanks to the infusion of fatty, creamy, acidic non-dairy coconutyoghurt into an aged rum. For the syrup they use both roasted and unroasted coffee beans, with a pinch of salt and a dash of vanilla. The unroasted coffee brings a vegetal and earthy tone to the drink. Dark chocolate is mixed with rock salt and coffee and added to silicone moulds with the SIC logo to garnish.

Track 10

Toasted sunflower Japanese whisky;  Quinquina aperitif; Soju infused with chai and Thai basil; purple sweet potato orgeat; polenta chip garnish 

Japanese whisky this time embraces the toasted sunflower seeds for their oil and fat properties, the Quinquina providing bitter herbiness, the infused Korean Soju floral hints, the orgeat syrup an unguent texture in a cocktail that pretty much sums up the playful SIC ethos of contrasting salty, sour and sweet.

Speak in Code, 7 Jackson’s Row Manchester M2 5ND. 07767 658690. Open Sun-Thu 5pm-12am, Fri-Sat  5pm-2am.