Recently I learned the folly of doing favours for people.
Having offered to pick up my housemate’s parcel from the sorting office, I discovered I couldn’t immediately drop it home without missing my booking at Artisan, a classy restaurant and bar tucked neatly into a corner of Spinningfields in Manchester city centre. This is how I came to arrive at Artisan’s door with a large package of what I – and thankfully I alone – knew to be women’s clothing, clasped tightly under one arm. A true professional, the doorman didn’t glance at it, choosing instead to scan the clipboard on the plinth next to him.
“Ah, Mr…Stocker, hello. Table for one?”
“No, I’ve got this parcel with me,” I explained quickly. “It’s her first time in Manchester.”
To my delight, he didn’t even blink. “Well then, let me show you two to your table.”
You don’t know the meaning of the word rustic until you’ve been to Artisan. It’s made a concerted effort to be unique, and I’d argue it has succeeded. It’s certainly carved out a neat little space for itself in the glassy cluster of buildings that make up the majority of Spinningfields. Dwarfed by the graceful behemoths that tower coolly over it, Artisan’s modest building looks warm and inviting by comparison. Its interior lives up to that impression, seemingly plucked from the inside of a rural countryside establishment and placed in the middle of a city. Somehow, it works.
I seat myself in the new downstairs dining area and gaze up at my surroundings. The shelves are packed with all manner of curious trinkets, apparently without a coherent theme beyond ‘oh, this looks cool’. I can definitely get behind that mode of thinking. The multifaceted lamps dangling from the ceiling glow demurely, illuminating the 2D artwork decorating the far walls. Artisan’s dining space is cosy without being claustrophobic, within a few steps of the bar, and the soundtrack could best be described as serene, with tracks from Groove Armada and Lana Del Rey among others. The latter sang breathlessly in my ear as my first drink arrived. I sort of wished she wouldn’t – I had imminent food to concentrate on. Artisan’s menus claim to put a particular focus on presentation, and I can’t argue with them on that: everything I had was almost as beautiful to look at as it was to consume.
I’d been to the inaugural opening of Artisan’s downstairs bar the previous week for a few tipples, and the cocktails I was served then didn’t disappoint. My favourite was the Apple Pie Cooler – the cinnamon stick combined with the apple and alcohol generated a wonderfully sweet yet smoky flavour. This time around I went for something a little different and found a new favourite in the Raspberry and Vanilla Martini, its hint of Limoncello making it both fruity and refreshing.
Meanwhile, I ordered the NY Deli pastrami pizza; a food easily underestimated. Don’t be fooled (as I was) by its unassumingly thin crust – it’s piled high with quality ingredients, and more than enough for one – it was almost a struggle to finish (almost). The bacon and the smoked applewood cheese were particular highlights.
Throughout it all, the staff glided easily and promptly from table to table, all with smiles on their faces, and sharing the same easy sense of humour displayed by the doorman. It’s probably largely due to this that Artisan has managed to avoid the somewhat haughty atmosphere that sometimes pervades similar establishments of its calibre. It manages to be classy without being elitist or overly-exclusive, and I genuinely felt welcome as I dined.
As I scooped up the bulky package to leave, it occurred to me that there may be a certain danger in naming the place Artisan, given the negative connotations of the word in some areas of popular culture: it’s often associated with self-assurance rather than outright quality. Thankfully, Artisan’s charm and attention to detail is more than surface-deep, and it’s bursting with a simple and appealing elegance. It will probably never become a student haunt, but its prices aren’t prohibitively exclusive, and my word you get what you pay for. I know my housemate’s package and I had a lovely time. Next time you’re passing, pop your head through the door. You might be surprised at what you find.
By Jack Stocker
Where: Avenue North, Bridge Street, Manchester
When: Monday – Wednesday, 12pm until 12am; Thursday, 12pm until 1am; Friday – Saturday, 12pm until 2am; Sunday, 12pm until 11pm
More info: www.artisan.uk.com