There was a time when Watson Street was the preserve of garages and mechanics, a through road for MOTs and traffic avoiding the gridlock on Deansgate. But I am happy to report that the railway arches are now home to Manchester’s latest alcohol and food destination. 

Three Little Words is the brainchild of Manchester Gin and the Spirit of Manchester Distillery, which will soon have a working distillery up and running on site. It includes a gin school where eager students can enrol to learn the secrets of the trade and make a bespoke bottle of gin; Hamiltonic is ready to sign up and report back. Having been expelled from my alma mater many years ago, I hope to make up for lost time and graduate with honours. Mother will be proud (for readers wondering about the reason for my expulsion, let’s just say an inspector called).

It is here that I meet up with Helen Nugent, editor-in-chief of Northern Soul, and, as that other great Northern writer, J. B. Priestley would say, a good companion. I am sat at the bar sampling a fine Manchester Gin signature tipple, chatting to Claire who is making a batch of lemon-tinged palate cleanser. It is extremely cleansing. Helen arrives hot-foot from Northern Soul Towers, which happens to be around the corner. Claire promises us a tour of the distillery after we eat.

Three Little Words The arches have been derelict for a hundred or so years and it has taken some extensive restoration to turn this space into a fine dining room and bar. It is light and airy, designed to be inviting. The food is bistro-styled and handsome on the plate, although Helen’s starter of breaded courgette flower with cherry tomatoes leaves little to the imagination (you can see what I mean by the picture below). Hiding her blushes, Helen declares it “delicious”. I forgo a starter to leave room for a pudding as we head to the mains. Jake, our affable attendant, brings us a bottle of Tempranillo. He kindly offers me a taste. I accept, not because I know what I’m doing but because I love the ritual. A bit like Mass.

Three Little Words I go for the Ox Cheek with polenta and pickled onions. A side order of fried cauliflower proves to be irresistible. Helen chooses the sole and samphire. Jake, faster than Johnny Ringo, asks if that would be the Northern Sole. The tenderness of the ox cheek is offset by the creaminess of the polenta and the tang of the onion. Meanwhile, we are so taken with the cauliflower that we order another portion. Chynna, our other affable attendant, tells us that this dish is her favourite. I have to say that the staff are brilliant and friendly.

Three Little Words As the kitchen is all out of Manchester Tart, I settle for sticky toffee pudding. It is light, moist and without the heaviness that often attends this pud. In the absence of a designated dessert wine (my only criticism), I wash it down with a sweetish Salento Rosso. Jake was extremely helpful, and it was a satisfying substitute even to an old soak like me.

To end a pleasant afternoon, James shows me and Helen around the distillery and gin class. As well as being a North East lad, James was enthusiastic and informative, and I look forward to going back to school. I hope that Three Little Words thrives – the next time my tastebuds need an MOT, I know where to go.

By Robert Hamilton

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