Creative, quirky places in Manchester
One of my general life resolutions is to educate myself more about this island I live on. So when a long weekend between jobs came free, I hopped on a quick 2 hour train from LDN to Manchester to discover the city that everyone holds dear.
My boyf and I stayed in this lovely spacious Air bnb (as always) and it proved to be the perfect location for our ambles around the creative Northern Quarter. With lots of close streets, Manchester is the perfect city to get lost in and discover for yourselves. We fell into the Craft and Design Centre by accident (photo of the artists studios below) and came across more restaurants we loved the look of than we could ever have hot dinners. #GreedyPeopleIssues
On the evening we stayed in the city, we drank craft beers in a ‘tasting room’ basement and then popped to a jazz gig next door. Here are a couple of the favourite places we ate, shopped and drank in that are worth putting on your list. Then see where the night takes you!
Lunch – A Place Called Common
Hungry? If you find yourself in the Norther Quarter, make your way to Edge street where really, you can’t go wrong. Tossing up between colourful chicken world Coop and equally creative looking Common wasn’t easy but we made for a good choice for ‘we’ (that’s the lovely Blogging locals Rebecca and Clare and I) were craving everything from ciabatta to chocolate cake.
Its chilled, communal vibe encouraged us to stick around for as long as we liked whilst nodding in appreciation for the decor. Scalloped wooden hen coop style wall? We’re in. The drink of choice here is the hot Vimto (verified by the girls) and for food we went for stuffed sarnies and a giant sculptural tortilla bowl that flummoxed my boyfriend with its near indestructible structural strength. My shrimp, avo and chorizo sandwich was so great, I tried to recreate it at home the next week. That’s a biggie.
Common are big on neighbour-befriending events so if you’re sticking around for the week, pop in and get your mingle on, there’s sock-muppet-making people!
Bar, Eatery, Coffee Spot, Bakery / 39-41 Edge St. Northern 1/4, Manchester M4 1HW
Afternoon Treat – BonBon Chocolate Boutique
A wooden sign that says ‘Chocolate’ outside a tiny black shop front does a lot to change your mind when you’re not particularly peckish.
Bonbon cafe lured us in with promise of artisan melted chocolate in variety of flavours from chilli to deep dark. Though the consistency wasn’t quite as thick as expected, the taste is great (salted caramel for me, obvs) and was served by a charming, retro dressed and tattooed lady who was up for having a good gossip.
You’d have to be so, working behind the till. Nothing gets said in secret in this little Victorian style den, but that’s a big part of the charm. Add to that copper chocolate making instruments, shelved laiden with sweet treats and chocolate themed pop-up books and you might mistake yourself sitting in your eccentric aunts kitchen except, arm, you have to pay her.
Bonbon Chocolate Boutique / 9 John Street, Manchester, M4 1EQ / Open 11/12-5/6
Shopping – Oklahoma
One glance at that colourful scrabble-style sign and I was ‘in there like kitchenware’ as the phrase goes. ‘Home to fun’ as they put it, Oklahoma is filled with over 2000 unusual products from both independent and established producers and holds the crown for the biggest independent gift shop in Manch.
I don’t need to say much, there was colour everywhere, toys to fiddle with, stationery for me to inevitably purchase (damn you cute illustrations!) and crockery to add to my mental ‘when I’m a real adult with my own home’ wishlist. Alas that day may never come but one can dream, in Oklahoma.
Oklahoma gift shop / 74-76 High Street, Manchester, M4 1ES / Open 10-6 daily
Culture – Manchester Art Gallery
Visiting a new city isn’t all about hunting down the most Instagramable street, nor eating your way through all the burger joints. No, it’s also your chance to get cultured. If you’re like me, you’ll suddenly feel a bolt of inspiration the moment to step off a train into a new land and make a list of all the cultural sights that you would never actually visit if you lived there. Oh the irony.
Anyway, all the guides pointed me to the Manchester Art Gallery and so off I went. From heavy duty machinery inspired mechanical insects and wheelchairs that wrote their own messages to you, to impossible looking Japanese glassware and Dutch landscape paintings, there was a bit of something for everyone. Especially the gift shop, for me.
Manchester Art Gallery / Mosley Street, Manchester M2 3JL / Open 10-5 every day with lates until 9 on Thursdays
Breakfast – Federal
Start your day Aussie style at Federal. Think subtle antipodean touches like a nice big cuppa Milo and a lamington. Or, make like us and thaw out with a hearty eggs Benedict and the most delicately delicious porridge you could imagine. Poached pear, goji berries and rose petals. Kinda what you might imagine if porridge were a ballerina.
The tip here is to get in early or anywhere for that matter. Our first choice was full but 10:30 but we were definitely better off here. By 11 the queue formed and we sat there smugly, breezing through brunch watching the world go by at the bar.
Federal Cafe / 5 Nicholas Croft, Northern Quarter, M4 1EY / Open 07:30-20:00 weekdays, 9:00-17:00/19:00 weekends
Shopping – Fig & Sparrow
Fig & Sparrow will lure you in, there’s no getting by it. Whether a design lover, someone looking for a caffeinated pick me up, or someone just snooping, this filled to the rafters cafe slash shop will stock something you’ll want in your home. Like tumblers that lie on their side like we saw in our Air Bnb perhaps? Trendy, cheap, boom.
Look out for the twinkly lights in the windows and the wooden exterior.
Fig & Sparrow cafe and gift shop / 20 Oldham Street, Manchester / Open Mon-Fri 8-7, 10 or 11-6 weekends
Cocktails/Cake – Sugar Junction
You know when you’re really in need of a cocktail but also craving cake and you’ve had dinner but you’re waiting for the night to start? Sure, its a rare case but one I appreciate having solved thanks to places like Sugar Junction. Serving Manchester its glycemic desires, liquid or solid, no matter what hour, it’s a little haven.
If vintage decor is your jam, you’ll love the references here and it it’s not, well, I’m sure the traditional tiered cake stand style afternoon tea will swing you. Pick from their 18-strong selection of teas and coffees or have a retro cocktail whipped up for you. A tearoom that serves prosecco as its house wine is my kinda place.
Sugar Junction Cafe / 60 Tib Street, Manchester, M4 1LG / Open 9-8/10 and 9-11 Friday & Saturday
Dinner – PLY MCR
A bit disco, a bit uni bar, a bit having-your-mates-round-yours, add to that a modern pastel look and feel and some chic pizza and you’ve got yourself PLY MCR. It’s not surprising that PLY doubles up as a communal art space, offering up swapping parties, craft beer and pizza pairing and photo book launches (that’s just a flavour) and boasts a website I want to call my own.
Eating at PLY feels a bit like you’re in the club. One where pockets of people chill out in book corners, drinking or eating or maybe just chatting, it’s got less of a restaurant vibe and more of a hangout feel. The pizza is on (and to the) point I.e nice and short. Full from general overconsumption, I opted for a fresh mozzarella and speck side dish which is perfect if you’re sharing a table with someone who likes to leave their crusts…
PLY Bar and Pizza hangout / 26 Lever Street, Manchester, M1 1DW / Open 12-11/2
Lunch – Teacup Kitchen
I’m deceiving you slightly here for there are in fact two Teacup Kitchens in Manchester; Teacup Kitchen and Propertea. Whilst they both serve up an extensive array of loose leaf teas and salivation-enducing cakes, the first feels more like a restaurant geared towards lunch and food and the other, situated in what feels like a giant greenhouse opposite a church, is a little more grown up and perfect for a tea and cake scenario.
For ‘research’ purposes, we tried both, one after the other! The latter was hard to find in the pouring rain but made sense once we realised we were around the back of it. Stupid Google Maps. The former did the most hearty ‘pies’ we ever did taste (although a bit hard hitting on the salt side) but still worth it, after all pies are the thing in Manch, apparently. Definitely give at least one location a go.
Teacup Kitchen / 55 Thomas Street, Manchester, M4 1NA / Open 10-6/late
Propertea Tea Room / 10 Cateaton St, Manchester M3 1SQ / Open 10-5/7
Keep up with all my trips on Instagram!