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Fig & Sparrow, Northern Quarter, Reviewed

Niamh Spence gets cured in this NQ café gallery space

Written by . Published on June 17th 2014.

Fig & Sparrow, Northern Quarter, Reviewed

THERE is an ailment that plagues all writers at numerous points in their lives.

I went for a delightfully moreish peanut butter brownie (£2.20) that, when finished, I mourned for the next three days.

There's no proven cure and it can strike any of us down at any time. Writer's block comes and goes but when you get it, it's a little bugger to get rid of. I had it, and I had it bad.

Writing was like trying to pick all the seeds out of a watermelon with a toothpick; painstakingly slow and frustrating with little to show.

"Go and sit in a coffee shop and get some inspiration," said some helpful so-and-so. Starbucks felt too much of a cliché. Caffé Nero was rammed and Costa had two screaming kids fighting next to the only available table. A little independent it would have to be.

Fig & SparrowFig & Sparrow

Fig and Sparrow is another small indie business to spring up in the Northern Quarter, a haven for the creative types that crawl these streets.

However, Fig and Sparrow's point of difference is the variety of art, crafts and design on display (and for sale) inside.

"Nobody else had done this gallery within a retail concept," the helpful assistant told me from behind his desk as he peered over his large iMac. "Everything is locally sourced, or at least from independent designers. The greetings cards, the tea towels and the artwork on the walls are all for sale and give these designers and artists a gallery space as well as a platform to get themselves noticed."

I set myself down in a corner, claimed one of the wooden tables and switched on my laptop. Looking around I could see everyone was the same, eyes focused and locked into the task in front of them. The atmosphere was of quiet concentration, rather than 'look how creative I am with my fairtrade latte and my iPad' pomp. It is this perception that's always put me off working in coffee shops in the past.

The staff were friendly and smiling and seemed to be on first name terms with many sat inside and out.

Fig & SparrowFig & Sparrow

Fig And SparrowFig And Sparrow

Offering typical tea and coffee menus, it also serves up fresh loose tea in a variety of flavours; from pure himalayan to mint marrakech to 'builder's tea' (£1.70 to £2.70)

The café serves breakfast all day including smoked salmon and creamed cheese (£4.75), porridge (from £2.50) and greek yoghurt (£1.50) with an array of accompaniments including honey, flaked almonds and brownie, alongside a full toast selection board (from £2).

Being lunch, I opted for a Parma ham, mozzarella, rocket and pesto sandwich (£4.75) with olive and rosemary bread from the increasingly popular Levenshulme artisan cafe, Trove. Fig & Sparrow are the only city centre operation to stock Trove's bread, very proud of it they are too.

The sandwich was a touch on the light side for nearly a fiver (as was a flat white), but the finish was impeccable. Handmade to order, Trove's bread was beautifully rustic, tough and crusty on the outside and so soft in the middle you could bed down in it for the night. Often pesto in a sandwich can fight the flesh for attention, but this was a mild-mannered pesto that allowed the subtle flavours and texture of the Parma ham and mozzarella to run off into the peppery rocket sunset together hand in hand.

A ruddy good sarnie, if four bites too light for the price.

Parma ham, mozzarella, rocket and pesto on Trove bread with the world's smallest flat white coffeeParma ham, mozzarella, rocket and pesto on Trove bread with the world's smallest flat white coffee

So to the baked goods to plug the gap. I went for a delightfully moreish peanut butter brownie (£2.20) that, when finished, I mourned for the next three days. I'd have licked the plate clean should it be more publicly acceptable.

I was also impressed with a full selection from Fentimans.

Most bars and restaurants have a few of their twee bottles, usually Dandelion and Burdock, cloudy lemonade or even ginger beer if they're pushing the boat out. But Fig and Sparrow had more flavours than I had ever seen, including rose lemonade (£2) - my current favourite. My love of pink drinks strikes again, this time with a striped straw and a retro glass jar to drink out of.

Fed and watered, the words flowed. Customers came and went, as did other workers, yet still I remained undistracted and focused. When it reached six o'clock one of the smiling waitresses had to come over and ask me to get lost, in the nicest possible way.

"How long has this place been here?" I asked, keen to come back for another productive afternoon.

"We celebrated our first birthday yesterday," came the reply.

Happy Birthday Fig and Sparrow. We'll be old friends by your second.

Follow Niamh Spence on Twitter at @missnspence

Fentimans And BrownieFentimans And Brownie


Fig and Sparrow: 20 Oldham Street, Northern Quarter, M4 1LW.

Rating: 15.5/20 (remember venues are rated against the best examples of their type - see yellow box below)

Food: 4/5 (Please Sir, can I have some more)
Drinks: 4/5 (Tea, coffee, Fentimans and pink drinks...what more could you need?)
Service: 3.5/5 (Smiling, friendly but not overt)
Ambience: 4/5 (Quiet determination is catching)

PLEASE NOTE: 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, we get carried away.

For more information about Fig and Sparrow, visit their website here or follow them on Twitter: @FigSparrow

Opening times: Monday to Friday 8am - 7pm, Saturday 10am - 6pm and Sunday 11am - 6pm.

Drinks MenuDrinks Menu



Fig & SparrowFig & Sparrow

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

AnonymousJune 17th 2014.

Food looks very average and over priced.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousJune 17th 2014.

Why don't you actually go and try it and then post something more useful.

AnonymousJuly 24th 2014.

The cake looks nice

AnonymousJune 17th 2014.

you've been very diplomatic regarding the size of that sandwich

AnonymousJune 18th 2014.

"How long has this place been here?" Finger on the pulse of the city as always ManCon.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousJune 18th 2014.

Thanks for wasting our lives with your pointless comment.

GordoJune 18th 2014.

and, anon, what pulse is your finger on?

Jonathan Schofield - editorJune 18th 2014.

We don't only review new places first Anonymous here. Sometimes we even review old places. What's your point? We even do stuff about old buildings and architecture. Yesterday I removed your comment because it was asinine but now because weirdly you've decided to repost it, I'd like to ask what's your point?

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousJuly 23rd 2014.

Oooh Jonathans angry.

Calum McGJuly 23rd 2014.


Poster BoyJune 18th 2014.

Is this 'review' satirical?

AnonymousJuly 23rd 2014.

Looks pretentious.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousJuly 23rd 2014.

Go to Little Chef then.

AnonymousJuly 23rd 2014.

How condescending.

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