Tag Archive for: MFDF

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

Wholesome Junkies.

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.

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.

Cast your mind back a quarter of a century. ‘Craft beer’ didn’t exist, street food was probably a bag of chips and fusion sounded like something electrical. OK, a certain Robert Owen Brown (above) was probably spit-roasting a whole steer in a car park somewhere, but without his carnivore core audience baying for a commentary. How the scene was about to change.

Flash forward to the 25th Manchester Food and Drink Festival (September 15-26) – a landmark event guaranteed, given I’ve been there from the beginning, to make me feel old. As will the climactic Manchester Food and Drink Awards gala dinner. So many of the places I’ve been instrumental in garnering gongs for as a veteran judge are no longer with us.

Melancholy aside, what a remarkable transformation for the better has taken place in our expectations and how they are catered for. This is reflected in the first wave of the 2022 programme, full details of which are on the website. Cathedral Gardens will once again host the free to attend Festival Hub with its array of street food traders and bars…  plus the Artisan Food Market, open from 15th–18th and 22nd–25th from midday to 7pm.

Among the special events and masterclasses my initial enthusiasm is for the first ever Festival Fire Pit Takeover, coming to the Hub for both long weekends. Sponsored by Weber, it will invite some of the region’s best loved chefs to cook over fire. These will include Caroline Martins, founder of the Sao Paolo Project, Fazenda exec chef Francisco Martinez and, yes, Robert Owen Brown.

The Hub will also feature the Octopus Cookbook Confidential demo kitchen on Saturday 24th September in collaboration with the publishing house of that name. Top chefs and industry experts will come together to share their tips and knowledge in cookery demos and debate. Spaces are free but limited and can be booked now.

Best known of the participants is probably telly’s Kate Humble, but my hot tip is don’t miss Jaega Wise, award-winning brewer/TV and radio presenter, going head to head with spirits guru Joel Harrison in conversation with Neil Ridley, subject Beer vs Cocktails.

Away from the festival hub, an array of activities will be taking place across Manchester city centre. Tickets are available to buy here for the Wine and Fizz Festival in a new home that’s the talk of Manchester. It will be the first event to be held in NOMA district’s New Century, currently being repurposed to open as new events hall and food hub from September. Cork of the North, Grape to Grain and sake masters UKiYO Republic re the first names on the team sheet for that kick-off.

Look out, too for a £25 for 25 years menu collaboration for the duration of the festival. Already signed up to provide these menu bargains are District, Embankment Kitchen, Three Little Words, Mi and Pho, Shoryu Ramen, Tast and Society.

The Manchester Food and Drink Festival kicks off on Thursday, September 16 with the full raucous backing at the Cathedral Gardens Hub of Mr Wilson’s Secondliners (above). As usual the Festival is packed with events and should profit from a huge public appetite for some kind of tasty ‘new normal’. Here is my choice of five very special MFDF opportunities to enjoy yourself and support a resurgent hospitality industry…

Bull & Bear Festival Hub Takeover, Cathedral Gardens, 7pm, Mon, Sep 20. £55. 

Tom Kerridge’s posh operation in the Stock Exchange Hotel will will be bringing the pub to the hub on Monday 20 September for a three-course feast with music, too. Expect potted Loch Duart salmon with apple jelly and cucumber chutney to start and a braised beef and cheese pie with English mustard for your main and a pud of banana custard with dates, pistachio and honeycomb. The Festival Beer Bar is there to add to the pub experience.

MFDF x Eat Well Dinner, Mana, Blossom Street. Tue Sep 21. £200.

This is the big one – a collab between some of the city’s finest chefs at its only Michelin-starred establishment, all to raise money for Eat Well, a social enterprise tackling food poverty in Manchester. Participating are Mana’s own Simon Martin, Mary-Ellen McTague (The Creameries), Ben Humphries (District), Eddie Shepherd (Walled Garden) and Anna Søgaard (Erst), each preparing one course. Tickets go on sale Friday, September 10. 25 spots only are available. Book here.

Elnecot x It’s Alive Supper Club, Blossom Street. 6pm onwards. Tue Sep 21. £65.

Much-loved Ancoats pioneer Elnecot are joined by their wine suppliers It’s Alive for a menu inspired by the British Isles. Natural wines will be paired with the likes of a Yorkshire hogget broth, a surf and turf and a rendang doughnut.

Tast Meets The Macallan, Tast, King Street. 6.30pm Thu Sep 23. £125. 

Exec chef Paco Perez and head chef Julià Castelló have designed a five-course gastronomic tasting menu that includes octopus, oysters, autumn rice with mushrooms, cheese and figs plus poussin, beetroot and truffle. There’ll also be one limited-edition Macallan whisky that pairs with this feast. Choose Barcelona but also choose Scotland via Manchester. Choose a ticket that costs £125.

Sustainable Wine Evening, Open Kitchen Cafe & Bar. 7pm, Thu Sep 23. £28.

Launching a run of seasonal events, Open Kitchen, inside the People’s History Museum, showcase a selection of wines from the Bolney Estate in Kent, a winery known for its sustainable land management since 1972. Taste six wines across the evening (I particularly recommend the Lychgate red) with table snacks and a wider small plates menu available to purchase.

Check out our preview of MFDF – Manchester’s Biggest Chippy Tea Is In The Bag and Your Vote Counts for Everything for a full list of MFDF Awards nominees. For the latest updates on the programme (Sept 16-27) and to vote for your favourites off the shortlists visit the MFDF website.