Sunday out: Altrincham Market and Blackjack brewtap

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One of the most frustrating things about the weather in Manchester is that the few sunny days are never when you want them to be. Almost every day that I had to spend in the library, the weather was gorgeous. But as soon as my dissertation was finished, hello rain. This time, however, I was happily surprised. As I was on the verge of having a panic attack a week before my dissertation was due, I made plans to go to the Altrincham Market House on the following Sunday, to have something to look forward to. To my dismay, the weather, which had been glorious, was supposed to be at its worse. However, to my delight, the weather forecast was wrong, and that Sunday was as sunny as it could possibly be. I grabbed my sunglasses and headed to Altrincham, which is a 30-minute drive away from Manchester (also accessible from Piccadilly Gardens by bus (X41) and tram). Altrincham is a snazzy suburban town in Southwest Manchester, with big, pretty houses, leafy gardens, and nice little shops.

We first had a look at the covered market, which welcomes a wide range of traders every Sunday; you can find artisan bread, vegan cosmetics, handmade cards, and all kinds of gourmet bits and bobs. I could not resist buying a pistachio and chilli dark chocolate bar from Cocoa Nut Grove, and handmade orange and poppy seeds biscuits from Carlos’ Biscuits, all delicious! Upon my recommendation, my friend bought cheese from a cheese maker I recognised from Levenshulme Market, whose name I cannot remember unfortunately. I spotted Madame Françoise’s stall, from whom you can buy French crêpes made on the spot. However they were out of savoury galettes, and by the time I had eaten my lunch I was too full for a sweet one. Next time!

After roaming the covered market for quite a while, we decided to have a look at the food hall, located in a recently revamped market house next to the Sunday market. The result is quite impressive: a dozen of long wooden tables, surrounded by tastefully decorated stalls, from which you can order food and drinks. After having a look around, we settled for a fennel pepperoni pizza from Honest Crust, a Cesar Salad from Little Window and a glass of house white wine. The pizza was heavenly: a very thin crust and deliciously seasoned toppings. The Cesar Salad was made with anchovies, which is not common I believe, but nonetheless delicious, with homemade croutons and lots of Parmesan. All the ingredients were very fresh and wholesome, and the wine was good as well. It all came out pretty cheap, about 25£ altogether.

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We had no room for dessert, but I spotted some pretty good-looking cake, and chocolate truffles from Sam Joseph. Every stall was very tempting, each offering something different from traditional English pies to Middle Eastern inspired dishes. The crowd was made out of families, elderly couples as well as groups of friends in their twenties. There is a children area with colourful wooden toys, for those of you who wish to go there for a family day out; it is very child-friendly.

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After lunch, as it was still early in the afternoon and the weather was too good to be wasted by spending any time inside, we drove back to Manchester and went to Blackjack Brewery’s monthly brewtap. Blackjack is a local brewery located North of the city centre, somewhere between the Northern Quarter, Ancoats and Victoria station, which throws a three-day party every month from March. We had a little bit of trouble finding it, as it was quite far off, and almost gave up. However, when we finally made it there, we were happy to have persevered.

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It was all very simple: a few tables and benches, a couple of deck chairs and a DJ playing good music, all under a railway arch. Although we had got there at the very end of the week end, the atmosphere was still good, everyone was soaking in the last rays of sun and drinking the last pints of beer of the week end. Mac Daddies’ truck was there, providing gourmet mac and cheese, which we did not have the pleasure to try, as we were still full from the pizza we’d had. We had a pint of lager and stayed for quite a while, enjoying every moment of that surprisingly sunny day, ready to face another week at the library.

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Altrincham Market: Greenwood Street, Altrincham WA14 1SA

Blacjack Brewery and Brewtap: 36 Gould Street, Green Quarter M4 4RN

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Ziferblat – The next big thing? + exciting news!

After the surprising success of my article on study cafés – thanks to everyone who shared it – I have been looking for more places other than the library to work on my dissertation/assignments and to share with you guys. But before I tell you about my latest discovery, let me tell you the exciting news, because I am sure you cannot wait to find out what it is (please curb your enthusiasm). Well, here it is, I am now a contributor for Spotted by Locals, a travel website based on the contributions of the locals of cities around the world. After more than two years in Manchester, I felt like it was time to start sharing what I know of the city, and I will be posting regular contributions about my favourite spots on there. Of course I will also still write on my own blog, but the posts for Spotted by Locals will be shorter, and of a different style. You can buy PDF city-guides from the website for 2,99€ (about 2£), which can be handy when you go travelling this summer, or simply read the Spotters’ tips online, or download the app for 3,59€. Spotted by Locals was founded by Dutch couple Bart and Sanne van Poll, who wanted to create a network of local Spotters sharing tips about their city, to make travelling and visiting easier and more authentic. I think that Spotted by Locals is an excellent initiative, because I believe that a big part of travelling is experiencing local and community life, apart from visiting museums and touristy places. So there you go, have a look at it, and I will let you know when my articles are published in the Manchester section.

Anyway, on to today’s topic, Manchester’s NQ newest spot, Ziferblat. I have to give all the credits to my friend Marianne for this discovery, as she is the one who dragged me there last Sunday, having been to a similar place when in Paris for her semester abroad. Ziferblat is a Russian chain where all you pay for is the time you spend. You give your name upon arrival, and pay 5p per minute you spend there, or 3£ per hour. This gives you access to the kitchen, where you can make tea, coffee, and toasts, as well as the cupboards where you can find biscuits and cakes. You can then sit down in one of the couches or armchairs for a chat with your friends or to read a good book; or at a table to do some work or play board games. Cookie jars are spread around the room, and you can go refill your mug whenever pleases you without paying anything extra. And of course, free wifi. Seems like a pretty good idea, right?

Well, I think it is if you are a professional snacker. When I went I wasn’t particularly hungry, so I basically ended up paying 6£ for a cup of tea and two toasts. However, there is more to Ziferblat than just basically an all-you-can-eat buffet. In France, if you spend more than the time you need to drink your coffee at your table, you will get dirty looks, and will be pressured to reorder, or leave. Although the situation isn’t that bad in Manchester, it is difficult to legitimately stay in a café for 6 hours having only ordered a coffee. In Ziferblat, you can stay for as long as you want (or as long as you are willing to pay) without getting kicked out. It is indeed more expensive than going to the library, but it is a good alternative to it, and you won’t have to worry about getting hungry (or use it as an excuse to go home early). Moreover, it is a group-friendly place, as the main room is spacious, with big tables, as well as cosy couches and coffee tables. You won’t get anything served to your table though, and it is common, and expected, that you clean up after yourself and wash your dishes. This might be unsettling at first, as you don’t expect to have to do that in a café, but think of it as a space that you rent, and that you have to return in its original condition. It is also a place where you interact with other people, something that is rare in our increasingly individualistic society.

I did not really know what to think of Ziferblat after my first time there, however, after I suggest you go see for yourself and decide whether it is worth it or not. The concept seems to be spreading across Europe and beyond, and we might see more of them soon. You can find Ziferblat in London, Moscow, Ljubljana, Kiev, and New York. In Paris, L’Anti-Café is based on a similar concept.

Ziferblat – 23 Edge Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester, open 10am-10pm

A Sunday afternoon in Chorlton – Electrik Bar and Epicerie Ludo

This new semester began with the January edition of the Pangaea student festival, which, for the second time this year, I missed. Although last time was unintentional, I was ill for the whole of freshers’, this time I was punished for my carelessness, as I could not be bothered getting a ticket early and they sold out. Although I could have bought one last minute, I wasn’t too happy to pay 50£ for something that’s normally worth 25£. So I missed out on Pangaea, again.

However, the good thing was that I wasn’t too hungover to get out of bed and decided to go to Chorlton for a Sunday roast with my flatmate Tilly who is also a food enthusiast (read her blog full of amazing recipes here!). Although we got on the wrong bus and ended up walking almost all the way there, it wasn’t too bad considering the amount of food we were going to have! I had heard of Electrik Bar through Twitter and thought it’d be a good idea to go try their Sunday roast, which looked amazing, and we weren’t disappointed.

I rang them a little too late to book a table, but we decided to go anyway, thinking that we would be able to find somewhere to sit, as it was only two of us. It worked this time but I strongly recommend you call to book in advance, especially if it is going to be a lot of you, as it is very busy. What is interesting about this place is that you can see a rather different crowd than that of central Manchester, which is usually full of students. Electrik seems to be a favourite for families with children, as there were a lot of them, all well behaved. Anyway, let’s get serious and talk about the food. You can choose between a chicken, beef, pork or vegetarian roast, but we opted for an Electrik board: a bit of each, just because we thought it’d be a good way to get to taste everything. Our table neighbours looked quite jealous as we were served this massive wooden board full of different meats, buttery veggies, roasted and mashed potatoes, Yorkshire puddings and stuffing, as well as the extra cheese cauliflower we had ordered.

The meat was succulent, especially the pulled pork, which was terrific. The beef was nicely cooked and very tasty. The chicken, however, was a little bit dry, not quite as outstanding as the rest, but still good. The cheese cauliflower is worth mentioning again, and even though you have to throw in a couple of extra quid to get it, I strongly recommend you do because it is truly amazing. The vegetables could have been a bit more exciting, and there could have been a bit more of them, but the rest was so good it made up for it. We could not finish the whole board and left some of the mash and a couple of roasted potatoes as there was a lot of them. I wouldn’t lie if I told you that by the end of it we were so full we could hardly move. But it was just too good. Drink-wise we had a beer each, chosen among a very large selection of English and foreign beers.

Overall, Electrik is a very good place to get a Sunday roast from. If you call early enough you can book a large table and bring all your friends for a nice Sunday party. You can get sharing boards for 2 or 4 people, respectively 24£ and 46£, or an individual main for 11.50£. You can also add some extras for a few pounds, such as the cheese cauliflower I mentioned earlier. We paid 17.50£ each for a big portion of roast with three different types of meat and a beer, which I would say is a reasonable price. Also, for the locavores out there, the vegetables are locally grown in Manchester.

These cakes looked delicious, but unfortunately there was no way we could have any more food... Maybe next time!

These cakes looked delicious, but unfortunately there was no way we could have any more food… Maybe next time!

After the meal we walked around Chorlton, where you can find plenty of nice pubs and shops, and we went to Epicerie Ludo on Beech Road, another one of my Twitter finds. Nostalgia pushed me through the doors of this French fine-food shop, and I soon found myself eyeing the rillettes and the Camembert. However my New Years diet resolutions came back to my mind and I managed not to buy rillettes (which are, if you don’t already know, essentially duck meat cooked in duck fat). However me and Tilly decided to buy a few things for dinner and so we left the shop with artisan pizza bases, tomato sauce and mozzarella to make homemade pizzas (not French but oh well!) on the same night, as well as wine from Alsace, comté, Cornish yarg, baguette and a special box of chocolate for wine, to throw a little wine and cheese party the following night. Tilly also bought a box of Williamson Tea earl grey, which is very fragrant (I will definitely be stealing some from her, sorry Tilly!).

Chorlton is a bit out of the way from the places we usually go to as students, but it is worth spending an afternoon there for a change, and there are plenty of shops we haven’t had time to explore but are certainly very interesting. With all its cafés, restaurants and shops, Chorlton is definitely an up and coming area of Manchester, and reminded me and Tilly of North East London. So next Sunday get out of Fallowfield/Rusholme and go to Chorlton! To get to Electrik, take bus 85 from RNCM to Chorlton/Wilbraham Road Post Office, or walk down Alexandra road and then down Wilbraham Road, but it will take about 45 minutes from Oxford Road. From Wilbraham Road to Beech Road, simply go down Whitelow Road and then left on Beech Road.

Where should you go this weekend? Food Fight at the Great Northern – UPDATED

For some reason, food courts do not seem to be as popular in France as they are in Britain (and elsewhere for that matter!). My first experience of a place where you can all eat food from different restaurants and still sit together (my very own definition of a food court) was thus fairly recent, when I had the chance to go on holiday to Malaysia a few years ago. As you can guess, I loved it.  The only thing that I found hard was choosing where to get my meal from, too much choice.

Anyway, it wasn’t until I moved to Manchester that I had access to this kind of place. From the not-so-exciting Arndale Food Court to more sophisticated venues, one particularly stands out: Food Fight. Although it technically isn’t a food court, it is still a place “where you can all eat food from different restaurants and still sit together”, and that’s what matters, right? This pop-up street food event brings together the finest dirty food you can find in Manchester: a plethora of South-Western style snacks, burgers, hot-dogs, you name it. Add to that an attractive choice of cocktails and funky music provided by the resident DJ, and you’ve got the perfect Friday night outing.

So, I ended up in Food Fight last Friday, not knowing what to really expect. The whole concept is a bit unusual, but as soon as you get into it, it is very much enjoyable. Although it opens at 5pm, there is no need to get there that early, we showed up at 8 and had no trouble getting in. First, we decided to share a cornet of almojabanas from El Capo: cheese and chilli fritters from Puerto Rico, which turned out to be very tasty. I then had a hot-dog from Piggie Smalls. Now, hot-dogs are usually my preferred choice of street-food, as I never cook them myself. This one had the quirky name of Chilli con Kanye (among a choice of Amy Swinehouse and Notorious P.I.G), and consisted of a frankfurter topped with chipotle sauce, chilli con carne and crushed Doritos. The meat was good, as well as the sauce, which was perfectly spicy. My friend had a burger from Chow Down, which was, according to him, delicious.

For drinks, we both had a Dark and Stormy, ginger beer mixed with rum, which wasn’t bad at all, and then my friend had a Moscow Mule, which I do not need to introduce, and I had a Hot Winter. The Hot Winter turned out to be a surprising mix of warm Rekorderlig with spices and rum: very nice for a cold November night.

The only thing we didn’t quite get our head around was the token system in use to pay for the food. Basically, before you order, you have to collect 1£ and 5£ tokens from a stall, which you then use to pay for your food order. The prices weren’t outrageously high, although it all adds up quite quickly. The cocktails were 6.5£ each, the almojabanas were 3£ (more than enough to share between the two of us), the hot-dog was 6£ and so was the burger. So expect to pay about 15£ each, or more if you decide to try different cocktails. The portions are big though, so you do get your money’s worth.

If you want to go with a large group of friends I’d recommend you book a table to make sure you’ll be able to all sit together. The place was not too crowded when we went, but you can expect it to be on a different night. GOOD NEWS: although it stopped for a few weeks across Christmas break it is back on from the 23rd of January!

It is located in the Great Northern Warehouse, and you can access it from Deansgate (just across the Santander Bank). It closes pretty early – 12am – so you can still go and party the night away after paying it a visit. Let me know how you find it!

Castlefield Market – Review

I recently bought Ceviche by Martin Morales, the founder of the trendy Peruvian restaurant of the same name in Soho. Although I am the biggest fan of world cuisine, I find it hard at times to cook it at home for one main reason: a lot of the ingredients are hard to find in your average supermarket.

So I found myself roaming the internet in search of aji amarillo and aji panca, only to find that the shipping was always more expensive than the product itself. As I had given up on the idea of making an authentic ceviche, I came across Viva Peru. First surprise: they are based in Manchester. Perfect, I thought. Then came the second surprise: they were going to have a stall at the Castlefield Market on the following weekend.

What stroke me when I first arrived in Manchester two years ago was the huge amount of chains in the city centre, and the relatively small amount of independent places. When I found out about the Castlefield Market as I discovered Viva Peru, I decided it would be the perfect place to go for a nice break between nightmarish essays. I ended up there with a friend, going through piles of handmade headbands (food isn’t the only thing you can find there), tables full of organic cosmetics, and all sorts of artwork.

On the food side, there was plenty to choose from. We first decided to have lunch from one of the food trucks. I went for a mushroom and truffle pizza from The Pizza Maker and Margaux had a pumpkin soup from 4Lunch. Although we struggled to find a seat in the rammed hall, the food was worth it. The pizza I had was absolutely delicious, with a thin crust and real mozzarella, the closest I’ve had to a real Italian pizza in Manchester so far. The pumpkin soup was equally delicious. For dessert we had paleo, gluten free and dairy free muffins from Tyler and Hall, so good you could not tell they were that healthy. The banana and walnut muffin especially was heavenly. Pricewise, it was all fairly cheap and good-value for money, 5£ for a medium sized pizza, 2.5£ for the soup and a roll of bread and I think about 2£ per muffin.

When we finally got to the Viva Peru stall, we got to meet Adam and Xavi, the two lovely guys running the business. As we tried samples of the products, they explained that they decided to open Viva Peru as Xavi, who is a chef, struggled to find the ingredients he needed. I decided to buy a jar of aji amarillo paste, one of aji panca, the basis to most Peruvian recipes, and a small bottle of Rico Picante ‘Oops!’ Chilli Sauce, with the promise that it would bring extra picante to any dish. I also ended up buying a packet of instant chicha morada, a sweet drink made with fruits and purple corn, that turned out to be delicious!

Overall, the Castlefield Market is a place I highly recommend, mainly for the food products, although the other stalls offered pretty good gift ideas (thinking ahead for Christmas!). There was also a DJ, playing all sorts of music, which added to the nice, joyous atmosphere.If you want to have a good time grab a couple of friends and take them there for lunch, make sure you check the dates though because it is only on every first Saturday of the month. Next time will be a Christmas special, and will be on a bit more frequently, to match the Christmas Markets in the city centre: every Friday to Sunday from the 28th of November to the 21st of December.

Also, sorry guys for the lack of pictures, I did not have a camera with me when I went (and the one on my phone is terrible), but next article will definitely have some so keep an eye out!