Getting Housemate out of bed on a Saturday morning is often an impossible task. But she’s up bright and early (well, she’s on time) to Eat the City with Manchester-based Scranchester Tours.
The brilliantly named company runs street tours with ‘a twist of history’. The brainchild of Rob Kelly, formerly of Marketing Manchester, the tour’s premise is to sample some of the best food and drink Manchester has to offer and ‘learn how food and drink offers an insight into the city’s past, present and future’. It’s three to four hours long and offers eight tastings across the city.
We’re given a meeting point (Reserve Wines, Mackie Mayor) and an instruction to bring our appetites. As usual, I experience Mackie Mayor amnesia (why can I never find that place?) but we arrive in good time to find a table of salted caramel brownies and teacups ready for a brew. Good start. After a brief chat about the history of tea and the building, we’re off on foot through the many historical offerings of the Northern Quarter. I’m not going to give away all the stories – or each little stop and what happens – because I don’t want to ruin the tour.
First up, we head to Lunya in Barton Arcade. Spread over two floors, with a deli and bar on the ground floor and restaurant and kitchen on the first, I like Lunya but I’m not bowled over by the North-African inspired chickpea dish. It’s tasty but a bit much for so early in the day (“needs bread for dipping,” says Housemate).
Next it’s over to The Rivals Bar & Restaurant, the restaurant at the Royal Exchange theatre, where we’re served mackerel scotch egg which is delicious (and the setting is stunning). The current structure is the last of several buildings on the site and for much of its history it was a commodities exchange, primarily cotton and textiles, and Rob shares some interesting stories. I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the Exchange and never noticed some of the original details (“people don’t think to look up,” he says).
Then we head back to the Northern Quarter for some chat about pre-war buildings and Hollywood blockbusters and another tasting in Tarriff & Dale, a building with a fascinating industrial history dating back to 1858, followed by a sojourn to Chinatown – my favourite stop. After some historical titbits about Chinese restaurants in Manchester, we visit Ho’s Bakery and I fall a little bit in love with baked goods. Housemate and I plot to return each week and get our fix of sweet tasty treats (the Portuguese egg tarts are the best I’ve ever tried).
Next on the whistle-stop tour is Oke Poké, somewhere I’ve been itching to try for months. Poké (poh-kay) is a traditional Hawaiian street food comprising a combination of diced raw fish, vegetables and various other mix-ins – or for herbivores like me, marinated tofu. We’re treated to a platter of tasting spoons and, after much giggling (mostly me) about who can fit a whole spoon in their mouth, Housemate takes on the challenge, (of course) and proceeds to shove samples of salmon poké into her gob. I could probably do it but I’m a well-known spiller and don’t fancy wiping tofu off my jacket for the rest of the day.
Our final stop is Ginger’s Comfort Emporium, an ice-cream parlour on the first floor of Afflecks Palace (and self-titled ‘Chorlton Crack den’). We each choose our preferred flavour from the chalk board and find a place to perch. Despite my best efforts, I am far too full to finish my tub of vegan peanut butter and salted caramel (aka Chorlton Crack) but I’ve just started switching to non-dairy treats (my dairy allowance is reserved for cheese) and can honestly say it’s the best I’ve tried yet (even beating Booja Booja).
Scranchester is great fun and, at £50 per ticket, an alternative to a fancy dinner in one of Manchester’s many restaurants. If you’re a long-standing or adopted Mancunian, it’s an intriguing way to find out more about the city’s culinary past and discover hidden gems, and it would make a great gift for a history buff or someone who likes a good feed. If you’re planning a visit to Manchester, it’s the perfect way to see a bit of the city, visit some great spots and learn something new.
I do have one minor niggle. At times the tour fell a little flat (and silent) as our guide left the table. When you bring a group of strangers together the common denominator is you. A little more chat or a few conversation starters wouldn’t have gone amiss, but the tour is in its infancy and our guide possibly still finding his feet. Having said that, Rob is incredibly knowledgeable, full of tantalising tales (I had no clue that Manchester was home to The Vegetarian Society or that Manchester University lays claim to so many Nobel Prizes) and has curated an engaging and enjoyable experience.
Housemate and I had a splendid time filling our stomachs with tasty scran and our noggins with knowledge (Manchester-based pub quiz, here we come) although my waistline may come to regret my new-found addiction to Portuguese egg tarts from Ho’s Bakery.
For more information, or to book tickets to one of Scranchester’s tours, visit the website.