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Arndale Food Market Reviewed

David Blake heads back to dine in the Arndale… the good bit

Written by . Published on November 13th 2013.

Arndale Food Market Reviewed

A couple of months ago I was assigned the unenviable task of reviewing the Arndale Food Court. Unsurprisingly, it got lambasted. You see, in many ways the ‘Food’ Court is to food what Lambrini is to wine. Crap.

The Arndale Food Market is an indoor produce market crossbred with a super-takeaway. The result? A one-stop global scoffing pot.

Why though, many of you had asked, had we not reviewed the much better Arndale Food Market at the other end of the shopping centre?

Quite right too. There was one reason in particular though. It’s not as funny. I wish I had.

You see I got lambasted too, in a number of ways on the rant section of Confidential. I was called ‘twatty’, ‘odious’ and ‘snobby’ – only the last of which I really contend. The editor said, "You probably deserved it. Just take it on the chin. It's character building for a writer, you know."

Readers were right, of course, the Arndale Food Market has quietly toiled away on its relatively small patch: unlauded, modest and dutiful. As the Food Court hops around the family party smashing shins with a plastic golf club screaming “look at me, look at me”, the Food Market sits politely in the corner, perhaps painting, doing their homework, or rustling together a burrito the size of a Chinook helicopter.

The ugly entranceThe ugly entrance

The OK way inThe OK way in

We’d always recommend approaching the Arndale Market from the indoor shopping centre side, as the High Street/Church Street alternative is a lesson in cold, ugly and inhospitable. There’s a grumpy Balrog guarding the Black Gates of Mordor with a migraine and a huge thorn in its arse that’d be more approachable than this entranceway.

The Food Market sits side-by-side with the Arndale Market, a chintzy collection of stalls assembled with fancy dress shops, hair extensions, nail bars, shoes, bags and jewellery. The diamante iPhone covers have to be seen to be believed. This place, positioned next to the Food Court, would be a match made in heaven.

The chintz of itThe chintz of it

But back to the Arndale Food Market cross the way. The rose amongst thorns.

It’s quite simply a fantastic and frantic little lunchtime spot.

The perfect place for a quick bite in the city centre. Great value, speedy, sociable and for the most part, tasty (of course, we couldn’t try all of it). An added bonus of course is that unlike the Food Court, this area isn’t plagued by feral packs of marauding sugar-high yoofs. Just the odd transient, one of which was tucking into a hearty portion of Wings noodles – beggars can be choosers here.

The lunchtime surgeThe lunchtime surge

The Arndale Food Market is an indoor produce market crossbred with a super-takeaway. The result? A one-stop global scoffing pot. Indian nosh sits by Chinese by Mexican by Greek by Afro-Caribbean by trans-European in a buzzing canteen environment.

The potential here for a peckish pissheads Mecca is huge, should it ever stay open later than 8pm. Still, it’s likely that you’d need the entire A-team to even police such an operation.

But there's a real affable and communal atmosphere instead. Casual afternoon drinkers chortle away at The Microbar whilst the cheese lady natters on next door. Folk peer through the glass at pork pies the size of saucepans in Hansfords baker and delicatessen, there's a Polish food store with cracking bread and shelves of seriously questionable grey gelatinous jarred thingys, kids salivate in the sweet shop, there are fifty shades of green at an olive store, while the fruit and veg stand, Strawberry Garden, boasts such an array of fresh and vibrant colours that it makes Tellytubbyland look like Chernobyl.

Around the back, the more odorous operations are under way. A butcher mercilessly hacks away at a meat joint with a cleaver the size of a fence panel, whilst around the fish market haggles are in full flow. All cockles this and halibut that. A trio of middle-aged Chinese women crowd over a sharks head chattering at break neck speed.

The Strawberry Garden (left)The Strawberry Garden (left)


The one redeeming quality of the nightmarish bedlam of the Food Court at the other side of the Arndale is its undeniable multiculturalism. The human need for processed slop transcends all ages, genders, races and beliefs. The Food Market is very much the same, in a vast multicultural sense, this time with a global audience with better tastebuds.

At any given lunchtime the Market is a fascinating place to just sit and watch as you eat your way around the world as the world (in the Arndale at least) passes by. An old man nursing a cuppa and sandwich over the Racing Times, couples slurping shared noodles and more prams than there are actual children. People are poised with polystyrene trays ready for the seat race.

The much-loved market MicrobarThe much-loved market Microbar

Still, less gazing, there was much eating to be had and very little money to be spent doing so. Brilliant. Not least for our Accountant who has to deal with Gordo and the Ed. eating and drinking their way through at least half of this publication's turnover. I shall be doing so for less than a tenner. Thereabouts.

With so much choice at hand, making an actual choice can become, well, difficult with a splash of annoying. Let the punters decide. The two busiest vendors would provide starter and main respectively.

A quick scan and the results were in, Greek gaff Zorbas for starter and Pancho's Burritos for main (which unfairly has two stalls and thus two sets of punters but I fancied Mexican so the decision stands).

Zorbas and a man's headZorbas and a man's head

Zorbas, presumably named after the classic Greek novel Zorba the Greek but probably just named after a bloke called Zorba, is a frantic operation, at least it is between midday and 2pm. The most takeaway-looking of the lot the yellow-shirted bunch look like a Cypriot Eurovision troop.

The offerings here are hearty and laid out in front like a school canteen: Stifado stews (£4), chicken and spinach (£4), lamb lentils (£4.50), dolmades (£1.20), mezes (£3.50) of hummus, feta, beans, peppers, olives and tzatziki.

Being a starter I opt for a halloumi pitta with salad and a good dollop of hummus (£3). I'm a sucker for halloumi, the warm, rubbery, grilled, salty, squeakiness of it. Served in a fresh pitta with cold crispy salad, homemade hummus and enough onion to floor even Shrek. Just how I like it.

It had me at the first bite, instantly becoming my new favourite city centre bite, my new go-to snack. So much so in fact that I've now had three in less than two weeks. Bargain too.

The halloumi pittaThe halloumi pitta

On to Pancho's a little heavier than I should be following a starter. Which isn't ideal considering Pancho's only really serve food in boulder form. They should have used a Pancho burrito to tie down the whole of Cornwall during the recent St Jude storm. Naught would have budged.

A main (burrito, fajita, tacos, enchillada) and a Corona beer will set you back only £6.99, with a soft drink £5.99 - which, when considering the price of a Corona in a bar (around £3.50) or a BarBurrito - works out at a pinch.

One of two Pancho's in the marketOne of two Pancho's in the market

The boulder of burritoThe boulder of burrito

Call me a philistine but I'm just not one for fruit on my meat, I strongly object to cranberry/apple/plum sauce.

But I trusted this Pancho vendor.

She had a knowing sagelike eye, "What's the best?" I ask. "The pork in lime." She answers. Sold. And it was fantastic. Crucially with critic flavours it need not be too citrusy and mask the flavour of the meat. I once ate a chicken lemon kiev that tasted like a lemon Fanta. Bloody awful it was. This was great. The succulence and slight sweetness of the pork, onions and peppers toying with the thick, sturdy flavours of the homemade pinto refried beans amongst the calm of the sour cream.

The only problem being that it was unfinishable, weighing about the same as a Mexican burro.

And that's the beauty of the Arndale Food Markets, this warm, all-accommodating, slighty frayed around the edges and culturally vibrant hotch-potch of food and drink offerings.

As long as you've got somewhere near a fiver it's nigh on impossible to leave the place either unsatisfied or dissatisfied. Unless you eat the fiver.

Follow @David8Blake on twitter.

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

pammyranNovember 13th 2013.

The food market is great, and the meat and fish counters have raised their standards in recent years, the meat counter especially, which went through a poor phase. Bearing in mind that there are now no other butchers in the centre, well worth the wander down. And definitely a special mention for the fruit and veg stall - fantastic array of produce!

Beast is backNovember 13th 2013.

I love this place, great value for money. A couple of pints of Boggarts Rum Porter in Microbar on a cold Winters day, perfect

KabandiNovember 13th 2013.

I love this place. I was a regular during lunch time. The variety is superb and specially Zorbas. Miss it!

AnonymousNovember 13th 2013.

I always eat at Zorbas if lunching here - great choice David.

ShybaldbuddhistNovember 13th 2013.

I've only tried the pizza and noodles in the food court, but I'll be eating at Zorbas very soon. I do love halloumi!

AnonymousNovember 13th 2013.

Is so so but TOO small.....Deserve better as with so MUCH in this city....

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousNovember 13th 2013.

Small but perfectly formed. Well, maybe a few more seats would be nice, but it's not exactly holding the city back.

AnonymousNovember 13th 2013.

Only problem with the butchers is so much of it is frozen

1 Response: Reply To This...
Aaron CornishNovember 14th 2013.

Totally agree, just posted the same below! Annoys me when they lie, I have specifically asked if a joint of meat has been frozen, they say no, get it home and the centre of it is still frozen!

AnonymousNovember 13th 2013.

An absolute disgrace that this is the only butcher in the City Centre.

5 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousNovember 13th 2013.

There's also Gabbotts in the Arndale

HelenNovember 13th 2013.

I agree -- Gabbotts is better than nothing, but it's not Frost's of Chorlton. Could do with a proper deli, too, besides Harvey Nicks and Katsouri's, which isn't a patch on the Bury branch.

AnonymousNovember 13th 2013.

I'm a big fan of Lady Gaga and made my own meat dress after a shop at Gabotts. It cost me £4.99 all in, and that included bacon for a Sunday brunch too.

AnonymousNovember 14th 2013.

Surprised that La Famille Frost don't open a swanky "retro" bucthers somewhere on Thomas Street. The Northern Quarter types would absolutely lap up being able to put a pound of their tasty Toulouse sausages in the baskets of their single-speed bikes.

AnonymousNovember 15th 2013.

I can see the juices dripping onto their beards and their tweed jackets at the thought of it.

SquirrelitoNovember 13th 2013.

Now then, that's a bit more like it. Should make a mini-series devoted to the different stalls. Around the world in 80 (polystyrene) trays. Oh, and I'm totally with you on the perversion that is "fruit with meat" even when done by michelin star-cravers. (and no, before anyone starts, tomatoes, courgettes etc don't count, so don't start!)

Aaron CornishNovember 14th 2013.

The whole market is great! Lots to choose from. However, I find the butchers is pretty hit and miss. I have had great sausages and bacon from there. However, on more that one occasion I have been sold 'fresh' joints of beef, only to get it home and find it is frozen in the middle. Complete pain if you need to cook it straight away!

Axel LariatNovember 14th 2013.

I asked the butcher there for pork chops and he sold me something which was extremely salty, I'm not sure what they were, tasted like gammon but with more fat. Wasn't impresssed.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousNovember 14th 2013.

Sounds like you bought fatty gammon chops by mistake.

FoodieNovember 14th 2013.

It was pork scratchings

AnonymousNovember 15th 2013.

The butcher and fishmongers are ok (but we had much more before the rebuild some years ago). The beer is good and cider too. You can get you pants mended quickly in the Market but not just before you go to eat your Man Con cheepo offer at some posh restraurant. BUT the Arndale is supposed to be open until 8pm The market is not.

AnonymousNovember 15th 2013.

Remember the old Arndale Market in the eighties ?

Jo StollNovember 15th 2013.

Thanks for telling people NOT to use the High St entrance, the footfall from this entry is small enough as it is, and doesn't need to get any smaller! The 'nattering' cheese lady!

Pretty Brown GirlNovember 19th 2013.

Why are people talking about Gabbotts? Its gross. Wings Soup Noodle with roast meats, Mmmmmmmm! Great Atmosphere I agree but depending on where you sit, you can have the fishy smells wafting over from the Fish counter; very strange indeed.

Jenny CollinsNovember 20th 2013.

You can see the meat prep area in Gabbotts and it's spotless... their turn over is so quick that I always find it fresher than supermarket meat (and also not frozen like the Arndale market). I must admit it's not the best quality but I tend to shop there for cuts (neck of lamb etc) for curry's and chinese dishes; the butchers are happy to go and prepare such cuts anytime. Saying that I would LOVE a high end butcher in the city centre...

Nickster123November 22nd 2013.

I love the buzz of the food market, there are a few places that are completely standout for me being Panchos, Wings, Zorbas and the littel Indian food stall at the entrance by the cupcake stall - she does some lovely kebab wraps and the sweetcorn cups are delicious!!

AnonymousNovember 23rd 2013.

Yep we've done all the down to middling places and the eat as muchas you can ... with the Corn Exchange to come. Now lets go to bit up market Trinity Kitichen in Leeds.

Mr SaintJanuary 24th 2014.

The Zorbas Chicken Pitta is an absolute steal at £3.50. By far the best value lunch in the City Centre when you consider a tasteless cold sandwhich from M&S is that much these days. Going to try Panchos when I am next there!

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