Back to normal, post-pandemic? Well, not quite. Manchester’s food drink scene faces further unprecedented pressures with the current cost of living and energy crises. Yet the daring, innovative flame still burns bright and hell, do they all know how to party. My morning after lifesaver was the recuperative vibe of the city’s glorious new Mayfield Park.
That’s the ‘back garden’ of Escape to Freight Island, again the venue for the Manchester Food and Drink Awards, where there was a rapturous reception for a parade of independent heroes. As fascinating a set of winners as I can recall. Name me another UK city where the big four awards would have gone to such an eclectic quartet as Where The Light Gets In, Eddie (Walled Gardens) Shepherd, Another Hand and Speak In Code.
These winners were chosen by a combination of a ‘mystery shopping panel’ selected from MFDF judges, including yours truly, with a measure of public input. Independent Food Producer and Independent Drinks Producer were judged by a panel taste test. The rest of the awards followed last year’s precedent and were solely the result of the (impressively large) public vote.
Across the board there was evidence of a strong commitment to sustainability, local sourcing, cultural diversity and community values. Buzz words all but sometimes just talking the talk. Not here.
Take the aforementioned ‘big four’. Stockport’s Where The Light Gets In sources produce from The Landing, its own urban gardening space on top of the town’s Merseyway Shopping Centre. Eddie Shepherd is even more hyper-local; his plant-based ‘underground restaurant’ in Whalley Range is driven by the bee hives and herbs in his (walled) garden diners look out on.
In the city centre Another Hand is a committed purchaser of fruit, veg and herbs from Cheshire’s groundbreaking Cinderwood market garden, which supplies several of the establishments on the Awards shortlists. Vegan cocktail specialists Speak In Code, a four minute walk away from Another Hand, is remarkably hands-on. The bartending staff craft the various veg, fruit and spice-led cocktail concoctions alongside plant-based snacks and their own customised ice.
Finally a hugely deserved award cementing the resurgence of Stockport as a gastronomic destination. Restaurant of the Year WTLGI and its baked goods sibling, Yellowhammer, which was also up for an award, had to share the limelight with two of the North’s canniest events operators. I’ve known John and Rosemary Barratt for nigh on three decades and Foodie Fridays, packing the cobbled ginnels around Stockport Market Place, is their benchmark achievement. On the night it earned them both Pop Up/ Project of the Year and the coveted Outstanding Achievement Award. Their on-stage celebration, below, was a fitting climax to a special night.
Here is the list of this year’s winners…
Restaurant of the Year – Where The Light Gets In
Shortlisted: 10 Tib Lane, Erst, The Sparrows, Another Hand, Mana, The Firehouse, Where the Light Gets In.
Chef of the Year – Eddie Shepherd (The Walled Gardens)
Shortlisted: Caroline Martins (Sao Paulo Project), Joseph Otway (Flawd), Sam Buckley (Where the Light Gets In) Patrick Withington (Erst), Adam Reid (The French), Julian Pizer (Another Hand), Eddie Shepherd (The Walled Gardens).
Newcomer of the Year – Another Hand
Shortlisted: The Alan, The Black Friar, Bundobust Brewery, Flawd, Yellowhammer, 10 Tib Lane, Another Hand.
Bar of the Year – Speak In Code
Shortlisted: Blinker Bar, Flawd 9, Henry C, Ramona, Schofield’s Bar, 10 Tib Lane, Speak in Code.
Pub or Craft Ale Bar of the Year – The King’s Arms, Salford
Shortlisted:Bridge Beers, Heaton Hops, House of Hops, Nordie, Track Taproom, Station Hop, The King’s Arms (Salford),
Independent Food Producer of the Year – Dormouse Chocolates
Shortlisted: Great North Pie Co, Holy Grain, La Chouquette, Long Boi’s Bakehouse, Polyspore, Yellowhammer, Dormouse Chocolates.
Independent Drinks Producer of the Year – Hip Pop
Shortlisted: Cloudwater Brew Co, Into the Gathering Dusk, Bundobust Brewery, Stockport Gin, Steep Soda, Track Brewing, Hip Pop.
Pop Up/ Project of the Year – Foodie Fridays, Stockport
Shortlisted: Platt Fields Market Garden, Sao Paulo Project, Suppher, Eat Well Spring Festival, Bungalow at Kampus, Heart and Parcel, Foodie Fridays.
Neighbourhood Venue of the Year – Bar San Juan, Chorlton
Shortlisted: Baratuxi, The Easy Fish Co, Nila’s Burmese Kitchen, Ornella’s Kitchen, Osma, The Perfect Match, Bar San Juan.
Food Trader of the Year – Burgerism
Shortlisted – House of Habesha, Little Lanka, Lovingly Artisan, Mira, New Wave Ramen, Pico’s Tacos, Burgerism.
Affordable Eats of the Year – Salt & Pepper MCR
Shortlisted: Aunty Ji’s, Bahn Mi Co Ba, Cafe Sanjuan, Levenshulme Bakery, Go Falafel, Mama Flo’s, Salt & Pepper MCR.
Coffee Shop of the Year – Pollen
Shortlisted: Cafe Sanjuan, Factory Coffee, Grind and Tamp, Grapefruit, Just Between Friends, Station South, Pollen
Plant-based Offering of the Year – Wholesome Junkies
Shortlisted: Four Side Pizza, Herbivorous, Otto Vegan Empire, Ruyi, Sanskruti, The Walled Gardens
Food and Drink Retailer of the Year – Chorlton Cheesemongers
Shortlisted: Ad Hoc, Hello Oriental, Coopers Lets Fress Deli, Le Social, Out of the Blue, Wandering Palate, Chorlton Cheesemongers.
Foodie Neighbourhood of the Year – Ancoats
Shortlisted; Chapel Street Salford, Monton, Prestwich, Ramsbottom, Sale, Stockport, Ancoats.
Great Service Award – Dishoom
Shortlisted: Bull & Bear, Hawksmoor, Flawd, Schofield’s Bar, Speak in Code, 10 Tib Lane, Dishoom.
Howard and Ruth’s Outstanding Achievement Award – John and Rosemary Barratt (Foodie Fridays, Stockport)
The Manchester Food and Drink Festival, delayed for a week by the Period of National Mourning, continues until Sunday, October 2. Here is my lowdown. Event images mostly courtesy of Carl Sukonik
And finally a plug for the 25 Eventful Years of The Manchester Food and Drink podcast, which I did with festival founder Phil Jones, top food PR Siobhan Hanley and the doyen of Blue Badge guides, Jonathan Schofield. It was a hoot. Listen here.