Tag Archive for: Bar

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.

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.

The atmosphere will be eclectic at the upcoming Red Bank Festive Trail, the only slightly off the beaten track antidote to the fake jollity and craven rapacity of Manchester Christmas Markets. As 2021 draws to its uncertain close it has never been more important to support the city’s independents and I can’t think of any more indie stretch than the arches above the ‘Green Quarter’ (but don’t get me started on that nomenclature).

Contributing to the Festive Trail celebrations (Saturday December 4, 12pm-6pm) are The Spärrows, Blackjack Brewery, Beatnikz Republic, Popup Bikes, Base Bar, Runaway Brewery, Chapeltown Picture House, GFFdamian Dance Studio and admirable street food champions GRUB, who are the very definition of grass roots.

I’ve been along for the rollercoaster ride with founders Jason and Juliana Bailey from the start back in 2014 across a variety of pop-ups and venues, with a constantly shifting roster of vendors they have supported and mentored. It’s great to see them in a permanent home  now at the top of Red Bank – its bar, events space and street food garden a beacon of sustainability. 

In a Manchester scene where corporate developers pay lip service to ‘street food’ and ‘artisans’, hosting them for fixed terms to give cool cachet to their building schemes, GRUB is the real deal.

This Saturday afternoon may offer a promenade of brewery tours, live music, dance performances, street food, cinema screenings, fresh produce stalls and a record fair, but such vitality is not a one-off thanks to an eclectic (that word again) calendar of events and fairs GRUB generates. I recently attended a packed wine and cheese matching at their Red Bank HQ featuring Reserve Wines and Chorlton Cheesemongers.

GRUB have led the way in plant-based promotion, so no surprise to see they are hosting a 100 per cent Vegan New Year’s Party.


The Baileys’ events company also reaches out across the region in collaborations. Its latest project epitomises their approach. Following their major reopening earlier this year, Contact performing arts venue on Oxford Road has sought to reenergise its catering. 

GRUB have recruited for them a street food chef to watch – Michael Anderson, owner and creator of Tikka Chance On Me. Describing himself as “a gobby Irish Mancunian with a big belly and an even bigger mouth who loves life and lives to eat”, he quit his day job in 2019 and has since been creating ‘Northern’ dishes inspired by Indian ingredients, until recently from an Ardwick base. To match his culinary creations at Contact beers will be local, cocktails from the GRUB team. Opening hours will be 10am-8pm Monday-Friday, 12pm-8pm Saturday.

GRUB, The Red Bank Project, 50 Red Bank, Manchester, M4 4HF. Wednesday-Friday 4pm-10pm, Saturday 12pm-10pm, Sunday 12pm-6pm.