We’ve been reading the headlines for at least two years: “Over-priced, over-hyped and over-rated”, “London is Over”, “Is London Dead?”.
Attention-grabbing though these articles may be, London is demonstrably neither over nor “dead”. Yes, it can be eye-wateringly expensive and the Tube is the bane of us all, but the idea that every Londoner is living in a personal hell is slightly over-dramatising things.
Which brings me to food and drink: an area where the London vs. everyone else debate is a commonly discussed topic. Journalists would like us to believe that, in some sort of Hunger Games-like dystopian reality, districts like Manchester and Leeds are rising up against the tyranny of the Capital. As much as I like the idea of Theresa May as President Snow (and in fairness they wear remarkably similar jackets), again, I think this is overly dramatic. Having said that, the idea that London is the only food city in the UK worth visiting is clearly false. There is growing momentum in cities, and areas, outside of London that is making the UK as a whole an exciting place for food and drink. The following are my top three food cities outside of London, decided upon in an entirely subjective, probably biased manner.
I’m going to come straight out and say that Manchester is my favourite UK city. I love everything about it, except for the fact that I can’t wear my Chelsea F.C. scarf for fear of being heckled. But I’m used to that. There’s been no lack of discussion around Manchester’s food and drink evolution over the past couple of years, and brands like Hawksmoor, Wahaca and Busaba Eathai have recognised it as a viable city for expansion outside of London.
The city centre has seen an explosion of new bars and restaurants, including Australasia, the completely mad Albert’s Schloss and Oast House, which is perfect for al fresco drinking when the sun comes out. So for a few hours every three months, then.
I would encourage people to venture outside the city centre to experience what really makes Manchester amazing. I currently have my eye on Altrincham, which has the brilliant Altrincham Market, regional Southern Italian cuisine by way of Sugo, and a soon-to-open grill restaurant by a protégé of Tim Bacon. Likewise, West Didsbury is home to community stalwart pub The Metropolitan and the award-winning Volta. Speaking of Volta, we have been lucky enough to work with them on the recently opened The Refuge, in the refurbished Palace Hotel.
Poor Glasgow. Not only has it often been overshadowed by London, it is often considered the naughty little brother of over-achieving Edinburgh, with its pretty buildings and fancy festivals. Look past this, however, and you will find a vibrant, arts-based city with an edgier vibe than its stately sibling.
Glasgow has an exciting food and drink scene at the moment, with many restaurants championing Scottish produce. This may come as a surprise to those who consider “deep fried” to be the mainstay of Scottish cuisine. Ubiquitous Chip is a Scottish icon, having served regional Scottish dishes using solely Scottish produce since 1971. Ox and Finch on Sauchiehall Street was credited as being “exactly the sort of restaurant that Glasgow needs” when it opened in 2014, with its focus on seasonal produce, named suppliers and relaxed atmosphere. Then there’s always the brilliantly named Fanny Trollopes, a compact Finnieston bistro focusing on honest and seasonal Scottish food.
The bar scene in Glasgow is largely beer and spirit focused, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The Pot Still remains a local favourite, with an extensive selection of whiskies and beers and solid pub food to boot. WEST is a bit of a walk from the city centre, but the brewery-bar-restaurant provides the perfect place to relax on a sunny day, or drown your sorrows on a rainy one.
It’s perhaps not the first place you would name as a food city, but Leeds offers an ever-growing, diverse drinking and dining scene, ranging from street food to (now) Michelin-starred dining.
You’ve possibly read about The Man Behind The Curtain, which received Leeds’ first Michelin star last year and consequently an 11-month waiting list. The whimsically named restaurant offers an experimental “carte blanche” menu that gives full creative freedom to the chefs, led by chef-owner Michael O’Hare (and his hair). Respect for Michael O’Hare can only grow when you learn that he actually hails from Middlesbrough, the home of chicken parmo and the place where I once saw someone eat a London pizza: a margherita pizza with kebab meat, chips and garlic sauce on top, which is definitely not from London.
Leeds is a great place to be if you love street food, with everything from regular street-side vendors to innovative concepts like Trinity Kitchen, a shopping centre space housing rotating street food restaurants and pop-up carts. There’s also a vibrant craft beer scene that includes the likes of North Bar, Friends of Ham and Tapped Leeds.
So there it is: three cities that prove London isn’t the only food city worth visiting in the UK. Saying that London is dead is stupid, because it isn’t, and so I won’t. I will say, however, that everyone – tourist or resident – should jump on the train once in a while to see what the rest of the UK has to offer. The cost of the train fare will be extortionate, but that’s a matter for another blog.
By Laura Condon
Cover image credit: Albert’s Schloss