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The Trafford Centre, Orient, Reviewed

L'Oréal Blackett cruises around Trafford's answer to an all-inclusive trip around the Mediterranean

Written by . Published on January 22nd 2014.


The Trafford Centre, Orient, Reviewed
 

This is the third in a series looking at the food offer in the region's major shopping centres. Last year we reviewed Manchester Arndale's Food Court and Market.

I HAVE enjoyed two cruises in my life, so it’s testament to The Peel Group's multi-million pound efforts nearly 15 years ago, that I can say The Trafford Centre’s Orient is almost exactly like a cruise.

No. Wait.

Actually, cruises are almost exactly like the Trafford Centre’s Orient.

Well, sort of. Hear me out.

The Trafford Centre’s approach to interior design isn’t far too dissimilar to Michael Jackson’s vision of his Neverland Ranch: there is always room and purpose for an elaborate Egyptian Mummy and a gold sphinx. 

I am the only twenty-something I know that’s opted to spend two weeks on a ship where the average age range jumps from 5 to 95. Yet they can be fun especially as they encourage you to eat at least five times a day.

You just have to disregard the lumpy elderly airing out their varicose veins and curious moles on the sun loungers. And also the fact I was confused for staff on the Royal Caribbean, because I am Caribbean.

Cruise ships: the food, the cheesy entertainment and the typically resplendent design, is the overtly obvious theme to The Trafford Centre’s Orient.

A theme the developers ran with and then went a little OTT.

The Trafford Centre, Orient.The Trafford Centre, Orient. A little OTT.

Swallowed up inside the 200,000 sq ft marble shopping monstrosity is a 1930s style Cruiseliner and along with what seems like every typical artefact from every country, island and corner of the earth. Even a piece of the sky...

The two tier hall is fashioned to feel like you’re outside when you’re inside, as if to say, ‘who needs to see the world, we’ll bring the whole world to you, we’ll take you where you want to go, China, Italy, Egypt, America or Laser Quest.’

Img_2723Trafford Centre will take you where you want to go - presumably to Narnia with this lamppost as well

The upstairs, or top deck, is split by two entrances – New Orleans and Chinatown– and consists of a good range of restaurants, from your tapas to your American diner. Every cuisine brashly shouts what type of food it’s selling by displaying lots of cultural clichés. For instance, the most decorated section, Chinatown, has lanterns, a dragon and a giant iPhone. 

 

Chinatown Trafford CentreChinatown Trafford Centre

Downstairs TV dinners have been brought to a new level. The Orient’s focal point is a water fountain, stage and a gargantuan screen showing movie trailers while you’re stuffing your face with fast food.

Now owned by Intu, the entire shopping complex is deliberately kitsch.

The Trafford Centre’s approach to interior design wasn't dissimilar to Michael Jackson’s vision of his Neverland Ranch: there is always room and purpose for an elaborate Egyptian Mummy and gold sphinx. The Trafford Centre does not do subtlety; The Peel Group showed off its net wealth like a 1990s rapper with 20 gold chains around his neck and diamond ‘grill’ in his teeth.

It’s a multi-million pound food court that comes complete with a Great Hall filled with faux eighteenth century statues, a diamond chandelier and what our Editor once described as a ‘migraine-inducing amount of marble’.

Inside_The_Trafford_Centre

 



The Great Hall

Breakfast: Est Est Est

There’s a scene in the film Eat Pray Love where a woman on a journey of self discovery, love and good food, played by Julia Roberts, sits outside alone in a restaurant in Italy. There she sensually enjoys a large plate of spaghetti, without a care for spills or calories.

Sat alone at Italian restaurant Est Est Est, outside (inside?) on a pretend street, under the pretend indoor (outdoor?) street lights, I felt just like Roberts.

Est Est Est

Est Est Est

As it was 10am, I chose a classic breakfast fail-safe: scrambled eggs and smoked salmon with tea.

Img_2741Breakfast in Italy, at Est Est EST (£6.75)

It was presented well, served by a helpful waitress and all in all everything was strangely serene for the Trafford Centre. 

Given I’ve been to Italy three times (yes, twice via cruise) I can see where the Trafford Centre were going with this. It’s romantically lit, there’s archetypal European balconies (also pretend) and just in front there’s a ‘garden’ perfect for  two star-crossed lovers to exchange lingering looks.

Only problem is the ambience is ruined by close-by loud American neighbours such as the Exchange BBQ and neon blue lights from the massive Odeon cinema. Not exactly Piazza San Marco. 

LUNCH: Rice Shack, Real Street Food.

Most of the Trafford Centre’s fast-food offerings are large chains. You’ve got the usual McDonalds, Burger King, KFC and the growing favourite, Nandos.

Yet I opted for one of the few unknown brands; Rice Shack for Real Street Food.

Dressed up to look like a beach hut, I felt like I wanted ‘real street food’. What is ‘real street food’? 

I found it was combination of quick to cook dishes that you can pick up on various exotic back streets: from Jamaican jerk chicken to duck spring rolls.  

I choose ‘Australian BBQ ribs and rice’. Considering I had to wait a good 10 minutes I was given the impression that this was freshly cooked by real chefs.

It tasted like it was, I hope it was.

Img_2763American BBQ ribs (£7.95) 

I was presented with a decent sized box of sticky ribs, with meat that came off the bone, fine enough but not good enough to make you want to stand in a real street, in the cold, and wait for it. The rice was stodgy. Not good. 

DINNER: Chao Baby, Buffet

Img_2737Chao Baby

I am not a fan of buffets but I assumed one that was a spin-off from popular Thai Restaurant Chaophyra would be a good bet. After all the restaurant has a bit of a reputation.

Chao Baby has a small selection of obvious Thai favourites: Thai Green Curry and Pad Thai. It’s an unadventurous menu but well prepared by authentic Thai chefs. Despite the hedging their bets  Chinese Sweet and Sour chicken you could use this as the basis for an introduction to Thai food. Price was on the steepish side at £12.95 per head.

Img_2654Thai Banquet (12.95 per adult)

As food courts go there's nothing particularly wrong with The Trafford Centre’s kitsch approach to dining.

It may lack the eclectic offer of Manchester Arndale with its excellent Market and its wild youth club of a Food Court - such rowdy shenanigans would immediately be cut short in the Trafford Centre. But it's neater and seems more hygenic than the Food Court thanks to the happy-to-help Intu staff. 

What's weird though is that people come to the Orient for big days out. Some even come for evening meals. Maybe some romance. Wow. OK, there's free car parking but this is, when all is said and done, a shopping mall, a children's party failsafe, a shopaholic's breather. It isn't 'special occasion' dining. 

In fact the harmless food, the efficient control and management, the lack of anything to get your teeth into makes reviewing a difficult task. The only point of exception is the crazed ornamentation of the place. But even with this you wonder if the daytime regulars notice this after the third visit. 

So while I have no problem with the Trafford Centre dressing itself up as if the Queen is coming to visit every single day, this particular cruise won't be taking you anywhere very special.

But yes it will be clean and yes everyone will smile at you. 

Follow @LOreal_b on twitter

Trafford Centre, Peel Ave, Manchester  M17 8AA.

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

AnonymousJanuary 23rd 2014.

yeah we get it, you're well traveled but please leave your pretensions at home - the *fact* of the matter is that there is barely any difference in actually being in China/Italy/America than within the trafford centers recrated zones as the decoration/ambiance has been that well judged by the architects.

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

*squints* Can't tell if serious or trolling. Anyways, good article. I clicked on it thinking there wasn't much that could actually be said about the Trafford Centre food court, but this was a clever angle.

AnonymousJanuary 23rd 2014.

Ha!

Big AlJanuary 23rd 2014.

I think you'll find the 'giant iPhone' is in fact an interactive menu for our customers :) You'll have to pay us a visit next time you're visiting the Trafford Centre and try it out.

AnonymousJanuary 23rd 2014.

LOL to be fair I went on a RC cruise and thought I had walked into the Trafford Centre!

VixJanuary 23rd 2014.

Isn't rice naturally stodgy? That aside, the Trafford Centre is a shopping venue for the masses, with food outlets that appeal to the masses. I don't think anyone over 16 would go there for the food offerings alone. Personally I think the TC has better food choices than any of the malls I've visited in the U.S. even if the décor is a bit cheesy. I try to avoid the place myself, but if I am forced to visit then a full English at Ma Potters makes it more bearable. And parking is free...

James SmithJanuary 23rd 2014.

People mock the Trafford Centre but its design is based on/inspired by/a tribute to the Art Treasure Exhibition held in Trafford. The shape of building resembles the glass structure which held the exhibition, and it explains all the mock classical statutes and the like dotted about. Admittedly it’s got more than its fair share of Las Vegas shopping mall to it but I think it’s quite nice that it gives a massive nod to a major achievement of Manchester’s past. Having said that, I’m not quite sure where the cruise liner bit fits into it.

AnonymousJanuary 23rd 2014.

It beggars belief that people go to such an awful place voluntarily.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousJanuary 30th 2014.

To avoid ghastly snobs like you.

AnonymousJanuary 23rd 2014.

I'de say the centre is better decorated, far roomier and the choice of food in the Orient is far superior than in Meadowhall ,Sheffield. Plenty of room to walk about, not stifling there are good restaurants to try. It is designed for day time shoppers and for evening enjoyment too. I love visiting Selfridges also.

Poster BoyJanuary 23rd 2014.

Sheep.

pollolocoJanuary 24th 2014.

The chinese is rank.

AnonymousJanuary 24th 2014.

trafford center is under-rated imo, name a better alternative...

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousJanuary 26th 2014.

Anything is better than the trafford centre!

David in CheshireJanuary 30th 2014.

One word: Tampopo. You know it makes sense.

AnonymousJanuary 30th 2014.

Chaobaby was great when it first opened, Standard dropped very quickly indeed.

AnonymousJanuary 30th 2014.

Does anyone else think the Traff could have been designed during the Third Reich? It looks very Nazi

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