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Amber Café

Lynda Moyo enjoys the food but hates the fuss in this city centre café

Written by . Published on June 2nd 2010.

Amber Café

Manchester city centre is your oyster. Museums, bars, shops, restaurants; we have a plentiful selection of it all. That is all but cafés.

Soaking up the overspill of university students (they get 10 per cent off), the hungry workmen in the area and of course local office workers, it's little wonder why Amber was a full house

Cafés have become few and far between in the city centre, unless your idea of a lunch time snack or afternoon coffee venue is one of the big brands. Starbucks, Pret, Eat or Nero all overshadow the independents. The Northern Quarter appears to be the only area of town where you can get the real café experience and come out with some change in your pocket.

On the prowl for daytime places to eat and drink in other parts of town, colleague Tamar and I, stumbled upon Amber Café - a big and busy, independent cafeteria on the very quiet Hulme Street. Situated below the Quadrangle apartments, off Oxford Street, Amber Café appears to be well-hidden, but they couldn't have picked a more perfect spot.

Soaking up the overspill of university students (they get 10 per cent off), the hungry workmen in the area, and of course local office and shop workers, it's little wonder why Amber was a full house.

We joined the queue at around 2pm on a Tuesday afternoon. Having merely glanced at the wall menu behind the counter we heard a bark, “Next please.”

We stepped aside as we hadn't chosen yet. “Can I take your order please ladies?”Pressured to pick, we blurted out a few lunch time favourites; jacket potato with tuna and cheese (£2.70) and BBQ chicken melt panini (£2.69).

“Take a seat and we'll bring it out to you. We'll sort the bill out at the end,” said the worker abruptly. She clearly runs a very tight ship, however we hadn't even had chance to order drinks and were already feeling a little sea sick by the militant manner of service. We added a peppermint tea (£1.10) and after being told three of the smoothies on the menu weren't available, settled for a Pash 'n' Shoot smoothie (£2.95). We were glad to sit down.

As we settled in what is a fair sized café with spongy seating and handy side benches with free Wi-FI for laptop users, we could overhear more 'orders' being barked.

Now that we were audience as oppose to victim, we could see that this somewhat aggressive tone wasn't because the lady was horrible, but because she was run off her feet. Multi-tasking between taking orders, making meals and taking orders out whilst being the sole provider of initiative for the other dreamy staff, it was little wonder she was still standing. Yet she soldiered on, and by the end of our visit we had grown to sort of like her.

One of her minions came out with my jacket potato, table-hopping and repeatedly asking 'did you order a jacket with tuna and cheese?' I gave him a wave.

Perhaps a system of table numbers might benefit this chaos and prevent 15 different people eye-balling then declining my poor potato. The panini followed a few minutes after in the same way, and later our drinks: it was a jumbled and staggered order.

Weighing in at the size of a one year-old's head, the jacket potato was excellent. Crisp, oven baked skin, melt in the mouth fluffy flesh and coated in fresh ingredients. The panini too lived up to expectations and the smoothie, I am told, was “full of bits of passion fruit, pineapple, mango and orange, so you know it's a proper smoothie.”

Sitting back, bellies full, we looked around, wondering if we'd have to catch their eye to get them to bring the bill, like in a restaurant. But no, you have to go back to the counter to pay.

Whilst I was there I ordered a Fererro Rocher milkshake (£2.95) and a slice of carrot cake (£1.10) to take back to the office. It was a pain having to queue again and I have to reiterate that this place really does need to work out a better system. Still, it was good to chat to the woman who had initially served us as we waited for the drinks. Clearly a hit with the regulars who are used to her ways, she's a no nonsense kinda gal that works damn hard.

“You'll definitely be back after that milkshake. It's lovely,” she said. Indeed, the milkshake was lovely, but too watery and therefore not worth returning specifically for.

What does make this place worth a trip however, is the prices and range of really great lunch time eats on offer. Sandwiches, breakfasts, paninis, jackets, salads, pasta, bagels and even samosas - most for under £3; it's the kind of café we're lacking in this city and the popularity of it is testament to that. This one just needs to keep up with the pace...and the demand.

Rating: 12/20
Breakdown: 7/10 food
3/5 service
2/5 ambience
Address: Amber Café
Unit 7
Hulme Street
M1 5GL

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away

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7 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

NortherngeezerJune 2nd 2010.

That 'slop' in the baked potato looks disgusting!!!!.

JayJune 2nd 2010.

I too was a victim of the abrupt service from the woman behind the counter on my one, never to be repeated trip to Amber.
One Sunday morning I saw the sign outside saying 'English Breakfast with free tea or coffee, 10% student discount'. Good deal I thought (how wrong I was), I ordered the breakfast which was the worst I've ever had; cooked on a panini grill with the worst sawdust filled sausages ever and no bacon. Then when I came to pay my bill I was told that my tea wasn't free and I couldn't have my 10% discount. After arguing for 5 minutes I got the tea free but that awful woman refused my 10% discount even though the sign outside clearly said I should get it.
I don't think being 'run off your feet' can be used as an excuse for the way that the staff in Amber act.

DanJune 4th 2010.

How on earth can the ingredients be 'fresh' when you have ordered a jacket potatoe covered with tinned tuna?!
Lazy journalism.

DanJune 4th 2010.

That was Potato by the way before you start.

LyndaJune 4th 2010.

The tuna tasted fresh as opposed to tasting as though it had been sat there for days. So that's 'how one earth' it can be fresh.

LyndaJune 4th 2010.

That was 'on' by the way before you start.

Aisha CarterJune 18th 2010.

I don´t know about the jacket potatos, but Amber Café has the best Capuccinos and Orange Juices ever, and now with the summer it´s definetely the place to go for a tasty ice-cream when you´re on Oxford Rd.

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