Northern Lights

It’s been a while – and basically my only excuse is that I’ve been busy. Which is so teenage, right? “LEAVE ME ALONE I’M BUSY OKAY?” and the like – I haven’t thrown a strop like that in quite some time.

My newish job now takes me all over the place, and I’ve been mainly staying here:

Manchester is one of those places I’ve heard good things about, but never got the opportunity to go. Between the sometimes extraordinary cost (£110 for the Monday morning train – ouch) and the fact that I had no idea where to begin, I figured I’d get there at some point. Truth is, I really should have made the effort earlier.

Things no one tells you about Manchester:

  1. It is crazy easy to get around. There are trams and busses etc but the city centre takes about 20 min to walk across and in that span of time you can take in the Art Gallery, hipster coffee shops, high-end restaurants, historic churches, the Royal Exchange Theatre, the National Footballing Museum and a bustling, vibrant Chinatown nestled next to the gay village.
  2. It rains all the time. Every day I’ve worked there, it’s chucked it down at least once in the day. Queer as Folk NEVER mentioned this.
  3. Train picnics can become a way of life. And never, never drink canned Caipirinha unless you love the taste of sweaty acidic jockstrap.
  4. There are HELLA good restaurants. Seriously.

You don’t believe me? Well try some of these on for size:

Siam Smile

I went to this off the back of a recommend from my cousin literally days after it appeared on Marina O’Loughlin’s top 50 restaurants list of 2015. It was a peculiar experience and I was warned ahead of time that the “restaurant” as such is a collection of tables in a subterranean supermarket on Manchester’s George Street. Others definitely weren’t – a rather astonished-looking couple sat at the formica for all of 5 minutes before the perfumed lady leant over and stage-whispered “I can’t stay here!”

Her loss – the food is incredibly well-priced and beautifully done. Really good, hearty home thai cooking using spanking-fresh ingredients and a real family affair, with a charming 9 year old maitre-d’ who recommended the yellow bean pork noodle soup (“It’s my favourite!”) and who very sweetly offered to sit me at a table with another chap in case I was “lonely.” (OH GOD IS IT THAT OBVIOUS?!) Smashing, delicious and under £15 to stuff myself. It’s heaven in a basement.

Australasia

This rather swish joint definitely ranks on the “special occasion” list for Mancunian nights out, but it is definitely worth the effort. An initially-unpromising journey into a basement opens out into a cavernous and really well-designed underground space which has been sensitively and elegantly designed. The food, a sort of pan-asian tapas, is really well presented and absolutely delicious. While nicking some fairly obvious inspiration from the likes of Roka (Korean miso-grilled lamb chops, anyone?) it also makes its mark via some really cute and inspired dishes, like octopus carpaccio and a delicious curried Japanese Korroke (potato croquette!). The only bum note was a slightly poor beetroot salad – delicious but tiny portions for £9.50 – if you’re veggie, be prepared to feel a little short-changed. That said, a top night out for a night with a Lovely One on travels to Manchester.

Phetpailin

Another George Street institution, this is a fabulous little Thai restaurant which you approach up a flight of stairs from the street next to a giant flashing neon “GIRLSHOW” sign. The food is really beautiful for the price, freshly cooked and the staff are totally charming. Whether you’re looking for excellent pad thai or a superlative fresh green curry, this is a great spot for those on a budget looking for a small, cosy restaurant with a friendly vibe. It’s also got a fantastic selection for vegetarians. Happy faces all round!

Fig & Sparrow

The most delightful cafe in the Northern Quarter, with fresh bread, cakes and bakes alongside some seriously nice teas and coffees. And a fabulous daily soundtrack. A great place to while away the hours.

To be fair, there were some duds…

Cloud 23 came highly recommended for gorgeous views over the city and seriously good cocktails. The drinks were fine, if expensive, and the views were very pretty – you saw the lights of Manchester twinkling away in the darkness and it was all very elegant. But, but but… lord the service was the very worst I’ve ever experienced.

I get it. I’m nobody, not Paul Scholes, not Nick Frost – both of whom appeared to be in the place and who both appeared to be very well catered for in terms of staff fluttering about them like star-dazzled moths. But if you go to the trouble of hiring 12 members of bar staff to walk the floor, and get all uppity about your whole table service vision (, all while charging me £12 a drink, you better damn well make me feel like you give a crap.

Leaving guests to aimlessly trying to catch your eye while your staff throng in a gaggle at the bar, making jokes with each other, then getting seriously BITCHY when I approach to try and pay the damn bill and leave… I genuinely felt like asking if this was an old-fashioned strip-joint shakedown – you know the deal, a poor lad gets lured into a bar, gets plonked at a table and overcharged for substandard drinks but is told that the joint is “table-service only” and gets charged a fortune while a dead-eyed harpy contemptuously pours another watered-down Becks over the table. I was surprised, because having the reputation as being one of the nicest places in Manchester, I was left sorrowfully remembering the brilliant service and warm welcome I got from a 9-year old in a Thai Supermarket. Hilton, the attitude of your bar staff sucks. And your Singapore Sling was over-weak. So there.

BUT THE WINNER IS…

Nudo

This was the place I went as often as possible – eating fresh, delicious and well priced sushi which was delicious on all occasions whether I was running in for lunch, meeting a pal or grabbing a train picnic for the way home. No pictures, which frankly surprises me given how often I’ve been there. But there it is – my favourite place. A small northern-based chain which has just branched out into Manchester after years in Newcastle, it is a fabulous place with a range of hot, cold and snacks items (it even sells the little red bean pancakes!). Nom nom nom.

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