Manchester is a city that I never, ever get tired of visiting. From incredible cocktails to exceptional eateries, messy meateries and Independent venues - these are just a few of my favourites. This city is my spiritual home. I've resonated with it since I first stepped foot in Piccadilly and it will always be my go-to for a U.K. city break.
Where to brunch...
Pot Kettle Black
Opt for the n'duja eggs, which are served up hot with smoked mozzarella, tomato and pecorino with a side of toasted sourdough.
For a pleasant surprise, pick the poached eggs and avocado. A standard brunch selection, but it far exceeded expectations. These eggs were cooked to perfection, with a kick of chilli and a refreshing burst of citrus and bazil.
The smoothies are a scrummy accompaniment. My Banana Oats smoothie was blended with milk, yoghurt, honey and cinammon. Thick, sweet and a real treat. Mark's Super Green consisted of spinach, avo, pineapple, banana, and orange juice. Did someone say 5 a day?!
Located in Barton Arcade in Deansgate, this place is perfect pre-shopping on a weekend. We sat outside (purely because of how packed it was inside), but the café itself is contemporary, with Nordic interiors and reclaimed wood floorboards.
Not the first time in this post that I'll be mentioning this multi-faceted wonder. But for brunch, it's an absolute winner.
Albert's Schloss is most famous for being a German beer hall, but don't let that put you off. I'd been before for their (extortionate but exquisite) cocktails and would never have considered them for brunch. But after salivating over their Instagram feed - packed with perfect poachies and foodie flatlays on a weekend - I immediately added it to my brunch wishlist.
The menu itself is quite limited in terms of quantity, but the options themselves are unusual and packed with ingredients.
Between the four of us we sampled the Broke'n English Sandwich: consisting of broken egg yolk, treacle cured bacon, cheddar, avocado and red chilli jam packed into a soft roll. The Avocado Toast with a side of bacon: sweet chilli jam, smashed avo and poachies on sourdough. And the Steak & Eggs: flat iron steak accompanying poached egg resting upon a bed of potato rosti with a good dollop of hollandaise.
The Bloody Mary's here are spicy as hell and complement the sweetness of the chilli jam and treacled bacon perfectly. Great food, great coffee and really instagrammable interiors. It's not cheap, but it's well worth it.
Where to celebrate...
Australasia in Manchester is my absolute fail-safe venue for special occasions. If you didn't know it was there, you'd walk straight past it. Which I did do the first time I visited, stepping out of the taxi only to find myself circling the glass pyramid that houses this spectacular subterranean haven. (Save yourself the embarrassment and google the venue beforehand.) Once safely inside, you'll descend via a staircase that leads into the reception area. Prepare to be greeted by impossibly good-looking staff and dulcet, deep house beats being played by the resident DJ.
You'll be impressed enough by the bar on your left and its Balinese inspired decor. Low hanging lights levitate above curved wooden booths sat amongst exposed brick ceiling and beams. And a small number of concrete tables adorn the area. Once you avert your eyes long enough to look through to the restaurant area, you'll be met with the most Instagrammable interiors you could imagine. The whole place oozes with natural materials, woven chairs, wood, brick and stone. It's refreshingly classy. No white cloth tabletops or condescending waiters who make you question your outfit choice. P.S. there's no dress code.
Presentation isn't everything here though, it certainly isn't a case of style over substance. The food is out of this world. The menu is extensive and ranges from dishes designed for sharing or traditional starters and mains for those (like me) who don't share food. Please book in advance, try the tempura and - whatever you do - get the crisp suckling pork belly with pineapple curry.
Where to get comfort food...
Home Sweet Home
Whether you visit the original in the Northern Quarter or the new version in leisure complex Great Northern Square, you'll leave equally carb comatosed. Gluttonous and verging on sickly, the Ultimate Chicken & Waffles encompasses fluffy homemade waffles topped with fried chicken, bacon, maple butter & famous chicken gravy. Seriously, wear your stretchiest pair of jeans. And skip breakfast.
Cocktails here are lush. I got the Wunder Jar, which is topped off with love hearts and gummy bears. I plan to partake in the Stay Puffed next time - it includes white choc liqueur and marshmallow reduction. I mean, c'mon.
To this day, Almost Famous is home to the best burger I've ever eaten. The Northern Quarter branch is hidden behind an un-branded doorway, blended into the street's brickwork. I'm starting to see a pattern here, but the first time I went, I walked straight past it.
Without fail (and as an unashamed bacon fanatic) I order the River Phoenix. It's a cheese burger with bacon, shoestring onions, Frazzles (yes, the crisps), red chilies, redneck BBQ sauce, "bacon bacon mayo", and winning ketchup. I washed mine down with a San Miguel, but the 'House Poison' cocktails sound incredible. The Cherry Bomb is on my wishlist: described as containing vodka with cherry puree, cola syrup and fireworks. Go figure.
I don't know what we were thinking, but we also got a side of 'Crack Wings'. 6 pieces of chicken tossed in redneck BBQ sauce with creamy bleu cheese dip. I'm not sorry. It was yum.
DO get the Bacon Bacon fries with bacon bacon mayo and bacon rain. DON'T walk past it.
Where to go on a date...
All Star Lanes
This place is anything but bowling on a budget. In fact, it's kind of extortionate. But you pay for the experience. Plus, Rihanna's been - and that's reason enough for me. The staff are super friendly, interiors are slick and the cocktails are as satisfying as their pun-laden names. If you're familiar with The Big Labowski, order Breakfast of 'The Dude' - it's topped with Froot Loops.
It's all about the little twists here. From the dash of absinthe in the Zombies, to the retro-inspired decor and the fact that you can order lobster - your date will be impressed. Your bank balance won't be.
HOME is a centre for international contemporary art, theatre and film. It's not your standard Independent cinema, it's a huge glass building, decorated with bright, bold colours, low-hanging lights and wooden beams. It's cool, so cool in fact that - to my dismay - they don't sell popcorn. But, I was so enamoured with the Independent bookshop on the ground-floor that I let it slide. We didn't eat there, but the sheer amount of diners were endorsement enough. They serve up pre-film pizzas, as well as brunch, butties and Buddha Bowls. Basically, there's something for everyone. There's creative workshops, art exhibitions and a wide range of award-winning theatre on offer. So this will end up being somewhere you'll visit time and time again.
This Independent bookshop nestled in the Northern Quarter is heaven on earth for word lovers. You really have to experience it for yourself. I'll struggle to do it justice. Their cafe serves up coffee, cake and lush drink options - including my favourite Fentimans Rose Lemonade. There's plants, a fountain, Moroccan cushions and a balcony book boudoir. I swear I could have stayed in there all day, thumbing through pages and sipping on my pink lemonade. It's open everyday, but I can't imagine a place that sums up #Sundaychill quite like this.
The Comedy Store
'Best in Stand Up' is on every Friday and Saturday and is the only comedy gig I've been to and laughed uncontrollably throughout. Who knew the Sinnerman from the Chase was so funny?! By the way, people were tucking into mid-show pizzas at their seats and they looked bloody fantastic. Book early, it's popular.
Where to drink...
Cooper Hall, Manchester
Cooper Hall is a basement boozer that specialises in tank beer. We stumbled across it pre-gig and - despite it being early in the evening - there was already an awesome band on the stage. There's long tables, pretzels, hot dogs and - of course - beer served up fresh from the brewery.
Cloud 23, Deansgate Hilton
Located on - you've guessed it - the 23rd floor in the Deansgate Hilton, Cloud 23 is a cocktail bar with city views. You'll need to book in advance to skip the queues and smugly swan past those who haven't. The designated lift will take you up to a swanky bar with velvet seats and a panoramic cityscape. Drinks are said to be infused with the finest ingredients. In other words, prepare to cough up. A 'Pixelated Porn Star' (that's the name of a cocktail, mind) will set you back £14. Here's my advice: arrange your meal reservation so you've got time for just the one. Ask for the cocktail with the candy floss. Take a few photos. And leave.
Here it is again, the beautiful beer hall that I hold so close to my heart. Bavarian themed, it's filled with mini fireplaces, beams and farmhouse style wood tables - which are no stranger to being danced on. The incredible flower-adorned doorway changes with the seasons, as does the menu.
The cocktails are wonderful (if you're patient enough to wait for service), the staff are friendly and the food is exceptional. As part of the Winter Menu, I tried the Paprikash Chicken Kebab. Soft, tender pieces of chicken amongst lemon, yoghurt aioli, crunchy chickpea, pickled fennel, pomegranate, mint, coriander and rose harissa, served on a warm flatbread. I loved it so much I attempted to reenact it at home. I failed. Mark had an Alpine Pizza with n'duja, chorizo and flamed red pepper. This is another place that I could happily sit in all day (which we nearly did, thanks to the Mancunian weather), eat every meal and then drink late into the night.
Grab a seat by the fire, if you can and order a Purple Reign - if you can't be bothered to sift through the comprehensive cocktail menu. Or, just push for Prosecco.
If I've missed your favourite place in Manchester, please tell me about it, tell me off and I'll make sure to visit next time.