Conservative Party Conference, which starts tomorrow, is a useful opportunity for the London bubble dwellers amongst us to be reminded of the promise beyond the M25. It sometimes feels as if Manchester is more familiar to football-crazy kids in the Far East than to denizens of this country’s capital city. So for out of the loop visitors, here’s my guide to the best places to eat, drink and sleep.
Where to stay
There are a number of hotels that remind you of the city’s great architectural heritage. Kimpton Clocktower Hotel is a terracotta Grade II listed building dating back to 1890, when it opened as The Refuge Assurance Company headquarters. Breakfast — taken in a beautiful glass atriumed ‘Winter Garden’ (it is October, I guess) — features both a buffet and a la carte for those too bleary-eyed in the morning to jostle for access to the hash browns. You are greeted on arrival by a giant bronze horse by artist Sophie Dickens (Charles’ great granddaughter), which sits in the lobby. The piece denotes a horse-and-carriage ‘turning circle’ that once stood on the spot.
Native Manchester is another great choice: an ‘aparthotel’ that’s utilitarian in appearance from the outside, as befits a former cotton warehouse, while inside it is the very best of industrial chic: glass (which looks like it was polished all of three minutes ago), steel and Edison-style filament light bulbs. And if you want to smell the fresh paint and impress friends with how clued up you are on the Mancunian hospitality sector try CitySuites Two, which opened last month. The apartments (with kitchens) are suited to anything from a one-night stay to a year-long booking for those who can’t bear to leave when the Conference fun is over.
Where to eat and drink
Some of the best casual eating options in the city are attached to hotels. The Refuge is on the ground floor of Kimpton Clocktower: it’s buzzy without being raucous and somehow makes one feel optimistic about this city. Try the slow-cooked ox cheek with mole and the whole roasted sea bass with garlic and almond crumble. There is also a bar with 18 craft ale taps.
Ducie Street Warehouse is as hip as anything you’ll find in East London, with manicured moustaches tapping away at MacBooks in the ground floor hang-out space to the sounds of a live DJ. The food is refined without being fancy (and includes, somewhat bizarrely, a 1kg baked Camembert, presumably for sharing). The cocktails are particularly good: try the Native Peach Spritz or the Heartbreaker.
For something different, try Escape to Freight Island. It’s located at the sort of brownfield site that could be a derelict urban wasteland but has been re-built as a food market and entertainment space. It offers proper restaurant-quality grub, with everything from live-fire Basque cooking (Baratxuri) — where I had possibly the best prawns I’ve had anywhere outside of Spain — to New York pizza pies (Voodoo Rays).
For a smart dinner: Manchester’s first Michelin-star restaurant, Mana, is a major talking point amongst foodies thanks to its stratospheric rise to eleventh place in this year’s British restaurant awards. Chef Simon Martin combines a Japanese methodology with British produce.
Tom Kerridge’s Manchester restaurant, The Bull and Bear, is housed in the grand surrounds of Manchester’s old stock exchange building and serves simple British ingredients that major on flavour.
For those wishing to rise above the politicking, a visit to the rooftop terrace of 20 Stories allows you to chow down on whole native lobster, Korean lamb, Malabar chicken or a sundowner while enjoying 360 degree views of the city’s skyline.