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Cornerhouse Cafe review

Jonathan Schofield's favourite cafe location and the case against the move to First Street

Written by . Published on December 10th 2010.

Cornerhouse Cafe review

Cornerhouse lies on an awkward, uncomfortable site that works perfectly. For the punters if not the professionals.

Five minutes makes all the difference. The new site is isolated from the Oxford Road corridor, isolated from anywhere. It lacks the natural magnetism generated by the energy of the present location.

Housed in an 100 year old building it faces the busiest and most interesting crossroads in the city where students, residents, office workers, bikers and every type of automotive transport come together. Looking out from the window it's a 24 hour movie with real people as characters.

The place was originally Shaw's furniture store. It was here in the 1930s where my grandad came from Rochdale to buy snazzy, all-the-rage, Art Deco carpets for his newly acquired mansion.

It was here in the late 1980s after conversion to a gallery, where I saw a whole array of video art. One was a coffin with screens at each end. The screens showed a man opening the coffin and getting into it. Then his feet would appear on the screens at one end and his head at the other. It wasn't art but it was funny. It proved to me that video art can be a laugh but little else. The memory stuck.

The catering has stuck too. Talking to Sherry Ashworth before she launched her Hidden Gem Press (click here) we discussed how Manchester lacked any 'salon' culture, those elusive, perhaps imagined, Continental, talking shops for artists and politicos. We agreed the closest we've had has been Cornerhouse bar and cafe, where the buzz of lively engaged chatter is commonplace.

And then there's that view. Many a time I've ordered a coffee, opened a book or a magazine, and then got lost watching the hectic scene below. Someone really should shoot the scene for 24 hours, speed it up and play it back on a screen in the Cornerhouse. It'd be better than most of the aforementioned video art.

This week Cornerhouse, as usual, contained a different crowd from most in Manchester. It was more academic, more interesting, you could hear ideas being discussed. I mentioned this to my friend so he texted me an obscene joke as I took a picture to burst my dewy-eyed pomposity.

We ate a Morroccan bean and preserved lemon tagine (£6.95) and a steak sandwich (£8.25).

The tagine came under a jolly peasant's hat of homemade flat unleavened bread. It was fabulous, over-flowing with dried Iranian lime, lemon flavours and samak. Absolutely 10/10 for a veggie dish.

The steak sandwich was attractively presented, fries ok, salsa fine. The steak was a little tough as is so often the way – but it worked.

Desserts of pear frangipan and tarte au citron (both £2.50) were uneven in quality. The tarte ok, the frangipan too concrete-y, dry as a wadi in a drought.

The bottled beers from Brewdog Brewery were extra special though. Go to Cornerhouse for these alone, they've got so much hoppy flavour, so much character they demand consumption. Their self-confident label states: 'The UK beer scene is sick. And we are the doctor'. Cocky, but they might be onto something.

You might not have heard but Cornerhouse is going to move from the present building. The proposed new site, in a combined structure with The Library Theatre (click here), is at First Street, on the other side of the railway tracks, opposite the old Hacienda at the city end of Princess Parkway. It's a five minute walk from the present site.

Five minutes makes all the difference. The new site is isolated from the Oxford Road corridor, isolated from anywhere. It lacks the natural magnetism generated by the energy of the present location.

The new galleries might be splendid when completed, the new cafe or restaurant a satisfyingly efficient rectangle. But it won't have the present site. Nobody will pop in for lunch because they're passing because they won't be passing.

The audience won't be a mix of academics, ex-academics and non-academics because academics are a lazy bunch who won't be arsed with the walk to First Street.

The galleries will therefore have to radically improve their programming with big name exhibitions to get public. Will that happen? The biggest hope seems to be the new theatre and cinema on the site.

Maybe instead of Cornerhouse we'll have a re-invented Urbis with, if we're lucky, some of the interesting contemporary shows carried over. If we're unlucky we'll have Urbis in its early days: a white elephant.

But back to the catering. None of the recent galleries in the North I know have cracked the food and drink offer. They plunge and teeter between sterile and dull or utterly awful with pre-packaged sandwiches and bought-in quiche. Only the Whitworth Art Gallery with Peter Booth's little cafe is worth dining in.

Oh and Cornerhouse. The food is fine here, the beer's great, but more than that the place has location, location, location. The move to First Street seems expedient and political rather than necessary. Leaving Cornerhouse where it is would be a far better idea.

Rating: 15/20
Breakdown: 7/10 food
3/5 service
5/5 ambience
Address: Cornerhouse
Oxford Road

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

mDecember 9th 2010.

I don't see why they have to move the bar and cafe. The cinema and gallery space will clearly benefit by being housed in a purpose built facility and the prospect of combining with the Library Theater is exciting.

The new build should have a cafe/bar but it's never going to be anything more than a pre-bar for cinema/theater goers.

Surely the existing bar is profitable. More so than the new one will ever be. Why can't they have both?

Sale of the existing building doesn't seem to be a requirement for the funding of the new build.

Capitan NonesuchDecember 9th 2010.

The line about it being political and expedient is spot on. It's a needless move. Just get the Library Theatre down to First Street

M30December 9th 2010.

The sort of people who think that the Cornerhouse move is a good idea are the same people who prefer the Trafford Centre to shopping in Manchester, and who prefer Dubai to Berlin.

The Cornerhouse is a Manchester institution, the building, the contents and the energy it projects is one of Manchester's best assets. It's also in my favourite part of the city. It even reminds me of New York when I'm sat in the Cornerhouse cafe. Moving it would be a huge mistake.

Paul ClarkeDecember 9th 2010.

So we shouldn't move the Cornerhouse cos daft academics can't walk a few hundred yards...I can't decide which is lazier: the boffins or Jonathan's lame arguments against change.

It seems to me Manchester's reputation is based on an abilty to change and mutate. Maybe Jonathan still is nostalgic for the Hulme Crescents?

I won't miss the pokey little Cimemas two and three at the Cornerhouse with their crap seats and sound, the soundtrack of trains going by in cimema one or the tiresome drone of the Chorlton 'elite' who haunt the very average cafe.

This move is long overdue and very welcome in my view.

dweesterDecember 9th 2010.

Please don't move it! It is my favourite place in the city, mostly because of its perfect people watching location. Plus I like the mini cinemas downstairs, they have character!

Eddy (with subtitles)December 9th 2010.

Nice photographs.

Jonathan Schofield - editorDecember 9th 2010.

Eddy, I'm thinking of taking it up professionally.

EdwinaDecember 9th 2010.

Both the library theatre and the Cornerhouse could fit in the Odeon, but wait that makes way too much sense.

Christopher BryanDecember 9th 2010.

If you don't want to get caught up in politics it's probably best not to be reliant on public money.

JoeDecember 9th 2010.

The move doesn't sound a great idea. I think the library theatre may be even more hurt, as it really gets lots of audiences from people passing by.

Now, the film programming at Cornerhouse has gone really dull recently. It used to have really exciting seasons and a bit of an edge, but now it seems to just simply carry films already at the multiplex. Has anybody noticed how thick the programme used to be and what few pages it has now? I think the programming at Cornerhouse for both the cinemas and the galleries would be worth to be re-evaluated

Paul MastersDecember 9th 2010.

The steak sarnie looks ok but as for the shadowy chips oh sorry it was £8.25 "fries"

AnonymousDecember 9th 2010.

a bit sad: I think they could have asked our opinions before making the final decision. What is (was) their membership scheme for, if they do not listen?

Cosmo!!December 9th 2010.

The move is a shame for the location, and I agree with the suggestion that a move to the old Odeon would have been a good one. We'll never know why not, I guess.

As for the Cornerhouse cafe: I've eaten here a number of times, usually pre-film. The food is generally pretty good, but the service, on the other hand, is surly at best and downright awful at worst.

AnonymousDecember 10th 2010.

This is really sad. Downstairs cinemas may be better if the place relocated, but I think they're part of the charm and serve a good purpose as a venue for smaller films which won't always command a large audience. Seems a shame to lose Urbis and now have The Cornerhouse moved. What happened to 'mend and make do'? Think of the character that'll be lost!

StephDecember 10th 2010.

I have spent so much time at the Cornerhouse since I moved to the North-West, I think they are going to start charging me rent! I was a bit sad at first at the idea of the move. The postion is so good but the best things about the Cornerhouse are the films, the exhibitions, the cafe, the courses and of course the very knowledgeable, helpful and friendly staff and all those can be transported. Let's give the new place a chance.

Smyth HarperDecember 10th 2010.

ooh, just posted but it didn't appear. Was saying that the council report on this makes interesting reading and good for those wanting to gain an informed view of the proposals:


NortherngeezerDecember 10th 2010.

You cant mention the Cornerhouse without thinking of those immortal words uttered by Paul Calf..............."As much mung bean salad as yer eat".

exUrbisDecember 10th 2010.

Well, obviously those of us made redundant when Urbis closed will be hoping that the promises made at the time (not least in the comments left by Cllr Amsbury on this site) about finding a new home will be fulfilled in this venue.
But we're not holding our breath.
Could be a good place for a football museum though?

AlamonyDecember 10th 2010.

This is my local, literally and has been for 15 years, I even did a stint of bar work there many years ago. Great place, love the locaation and drinks, service is a bit hit and miss. Staff don't stay long enough to get to know the locals. Food, nothing to write home about since they cancelled the delectable carrot cake they used to serve! Please don't move this landmark to an unknown redundant location. The library can have it's own cafe!

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