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Manchester Food And Drink Scene: Gordo's Annual Report

Gordo's looking forward to a fine 2014

Written by . Published on January 1st 2014.

Manchester Food And Drink Scene: Gordo's Annual Report

SPRING 2014 will see the tenth birthday of The Confidentials. Where did that go then? The Fat One has seen a lot of changes over that time, the most challenging being the onset of a recession that lasted twice as long as anyone could predict. 

Importantly, people going through the Byrne/Rogan training schools will go out into the North West strengthening the DNA of the hospitality industries workforce. 

It nearly did for Confidential, and decimated print newspapers and magazines: the poor old Liverpool Daily Post for one. 

The restaurant world is littered with failures, some because of hard times but more often than not stupidity, mainly involving the magic rules of a restaurant; authenticity, quality of ingredients, care in cooking and great service. 

But the people still standing should be in a good situation to strike forward into 2014 with some confidence. Trading at the three major regional chains, IRC (Piccolinos, Restaurant Bar and Grill), LV (Australasia, Manchester House, Grill On) and the San Carlo Group has firmed up into the autumn, with all three seeing record weekends at one point or another during the run up to Christmas. 

The good mom and pop gaffs are doing well. 63 degrees and Aumbry are fully booked for weeks ahead at the weekends, as is Damson in Heaton Moor and The Rose Garden in West Didsbury. 

The latter has been shown to have improved in the last major review of 2013 and been able to add another twenty plus covers upstairs with no slackening off from waiting times for tables. 

 Rose Garden


Rose Garden

Numerous openings in the Northern Quarter will add to the variety on offer, with Solita and Almost Famous (more of the latter in a minute), now relative old-timers, showing the way forward in the ‘dirty food’ revolution. This will calm down hopefully. This next couple of years will see the NQ really take off, with the Hen parties battering their livers as well as their self-esteem elsewhere. 

One of the benefits of having IRC, LV and San Carlo radiating from Manchester is the birth of the pretenders; these are the people with brains, balls and ambition, who, having soaked up the training at one of the aforementioned or others are out there, revealing their own dreams and doing well with them. 

Lucha Libre, with an outlet in Liverpool recently opened their second in the Great Northern to good effect. Bars are being born out of the old timers as well, Elixir (from Escapade Bars) being Gordo’s favourite, especially as he fell off the bar stool, senseless, on his first visit. 

The remarkable Beau and his even more remarkable wife, Marie, have taken the success story of 2012 and, despite the setback of the fire at the original Almost Famous, have gripped the brand by the throat and opened both in Liverpool and The Great Northern. Instant success for the pair of them followed.

Lucha Libre and the fine southerner, All Star Lanes, both beat Almost to opening in The Great Northern; the three will now feel the benefit of ‘snuggling’ over the next twelve months. 

Almost Famous has sensibly raided the biscuit tin of management expertise and pinched the excellent Elliot from Oast House to run operations. Cute move. A feather in the cap for Living Ventures training methods too.  

Almost Famous


Almost Famous

Trof is really working it, marching out of the Northern Quarter into Peter Street with its remarkable re-invention of The Albert Hall, previously the infamous Brannigans and have jimmied open the hall above turning it into a fantastic event space. Their Deaf Institute is rocking off its floorboards and Gorilla is delivering eclectic, well chosen tuck cooked to a peach. For example, really good eggs benedict with hollandaise made in their kitchen, not in someone else’s factory. 

Completely out of the left field has seen the consolidation of one of the best pretenders of all, the totally indie Black Dog group. This little empire now with Dog Bowl bowling alley/restaurant as well, is headed up by two of Gordo’s pals, Jobe Ferguson, owner of TNQ Bar and Grill, and the delightfully eccentric Ross Mackenzie, with whom Gordo loves nothing better than to have a good row with, then kiss and make up. 

What is becoming clear is that good, fun middle ground food, delivered with entertainment on the side, is becoming a fine business model. Whether it be bowling or movies, gigs upstairs or next door, it delivers the numbers and the spend per head that makes for healthy trades. 

Ethnic restaurants are getting properly back to their roots; the scene has completely changed since the early noughties. This trend is percolating up from London; normally conservative Westerners are watching the cooks on Saturday Morning Kitchen and wondering why on earth they are being served slop on the Curry Mile and down their high street. Pakistani and Bangladeshi families will need to up their game in the coming few years to keep their trade. 

A great example of this is Muhgli in Rusholme, and Zouk in the University Quarter, both of whom have joined EastzEast in moving ‘Indian’ cuisine forward. 

The most startling opening in this genre is The Indian Tiffin Rooms in Cheadle. It has been an unqualified success, serving astonishing Indian street food and a handful of the most sublime curries in the UK.  It is tiny. Fight for your table in 2014. 

Tiffin Room charm


Tiffin Room charm

Chinese cuisine is making a come-back, booted into 2014 almost single-handedly by the second generation Yeung family at the Yang Sing, led by Bonnie, who can talk faster than Gordo and in a cut-glass English accent. The likes of Red Hot and Red Chilli settled in a couple of years ago; they need to keep our imagination going, and not rest on their laurels. 

Pan Asian is coming in strong with stalwarts like Tampopo thinking about introducing more dishes that represent the Indochine middle class ‘mains’ – afterall their version of street food is actually being seen on the street, every street at present. It needs to be remembered that some of the finest French cooking is the mixture that evolved during their residency in Vietnam. There is a whole new genre to bring to Manchester there. 

Street food arrived in a big way in 2013 from the beardy suburbs in That There London and it’s going to get bigger. Ice cream was already here, but panko-crumbed deep fried skinless chicken thighs, in a strangely addictive sweet/sour/hot sauce shoved up the arse of a soft brioche-like bun, possibly the messiest snack Gordo has wolfed down, hadn’t. It bowled him over. More like Mumma Shnitzel please. 

This year expect to see street food invade in numbers, followed by Mad Mike Ingall’s re-invention of the Old Granada Studios, re-invented as the event hub of the North West, awash with the dirtiest food and booze imaginable and riddled with entertainment. 

So, we didn’t get that Michelin star? 

In the high-end fine dining spot what we did get were two restaurants that, with care, consistency and imagination are capable of winning a star. The first is Simon Rogan’s French at The Midland and then came Aiden Byrnes Manchester House. 

Byrne in action


Byrne in action

Food at both of these has seen a thigh-stretching step-up in cooking and delivery for Manchester. Maybe one, maybe neither, maybe both will eventually win a star. To be honest, after recent visits to Simon Radley at The Grosvenor in Chester and Fraiche on the Wirral, both current holders of a star, it seems to Gordo that there is work to be done. The good thing is that both camps are grown up enough to know it. 

Importantly, people going through the Byrne/Rogan training schools will go out into the North West strengthening the DNA of the hospitality industry's workforce. 

In the last ten years there has been a revolution in the quality, consistency and sheer variety of local produce. In an area with a population bigger than Denmark the North West has a diversity of crops, livestock, poultry and foraged goods that makes Denmark look sick. You know when Coronation Street actors are leaving to make cheese and run farm shops within twenty miles of our great city that something is going on. 

Once youngsters, aspiring to become stars in the industry start to discover that they can gain world class training here in Manchester as well as access to the best football, music, club and gay scenes in the UK and be able to afford to live here, you will see an explosion across the North West of restaurants of quality, whatever the genre.

There is good advice for the restaurateurs who think they can get away with piss-poor offerings. The ones that buy in their ‘chicken liver pates’, that have never smelled a tomato after plucking it off the vine in Italy. Yes you, who served me a diabolical steak from Australia, frozen into travesty. You, the one who served me chocolate pudding that has been advertised on the telly. You, the one who allows your chef to throw sliced cucumber, tomato and lettuce leaves onto the plate in an attempt to cover up bone-idled laziness. You are thieves. 

That good advice? Sell up and bugger off. 

Here’s to 2014. Michelin stars or not Gordo for one is lovin’ it. 

Happy Trails. 


You can follow Gordo on Twitter here @gordomanchester

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

Simon TurnerJanuary 2nd 2014.

Pretty spot on Gordo. Have to say though, was so disappointed with food at Artisan some of the LV shine has been lost for me in 2013.

1 Response: Reply To This...
ShybaldbuddhistJanuary 2nd 2014.

I was disappointed with Artisan too. I had a pizza there and it was so bland i got bored of eating it half way through. So i went and had a bottle of pale ale at the bar which was almost £6 from memory. Won't be going back in a hurry.

lukeunabomberJanuary 2nd 2014.

exellent article

Dawn HoldingJanuary 2nd 2014.

Great article Gordo x

AnonymousJanuary 2nd 2014.

spot on Gordo, caught you out though with.......' with whom Gordo loves nothing better than to have a good row with...........'

AnonymousJanuary 2nd 2014.

The French deserved a star easy for the food....think the state of the toilets let them down

AnonymousJanuary 3rd 2014.

Make the NW sound so good think I will MOVE here!!!

Jules HoltJanuary 6th 2014.

Love the North West pride in this! Manchester IS Fantastic! Well done Gordo x

James NewmanJanuary 16th 2014.

Salivating already! 2014 will also see Red's True Barbecue open, looking forward to hearing what you think...

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