Newcomer Ply is home to the city centre’s only wood-fired pizza oven. Covered in mirrored tiles like some ginormous disco glitter-ball, the oven looks great in this loud, bustling space – think: a trendy student union bar; the clientele all beards, beanie hats and craft beers – but it is no mere novelty. Ply’s sourdough pizzas are light, easily digested and their bases (a shade thick, perhaps) boast a complex depth of flavour thanks, not least, to a sound distribution of char. Like the antipasti dishes, Ply’s pizzas utilise quality cured meats, Italian wild broccoli, smoked pig’s cheek and such like.
Bullseye: Margherita – persuasively creamy mozzarella, sweet fresh tomato sauce (£8). plymcr.co.uk
The Manchester is smitten with Hawksmoor’s bone-in-sirloin and British-reared rib-eye is no surprise. Less talked about (and much cheaper) is its upper-floor bar, a handsome space with a certain, louche, art deco glamour where you can linger over sterling cocktails and great beer from regional stars such as Buxton Brewery and Runaway. Picks from the short but fantastic food menu include braised short-rib filled potato skins (£6); French-dip sandwich with bone-marrow gravy (£12); and fried oysters with tartare sauce (£6).
Bullseye: Longhorn burger with Ogleshield and the best triple-cooked chips this side of Heston’s Hind’s Head originals (£12). thehawksmoor.com
Once a counter-cultural enclave, the vibe in the Northern Quarter has been watered down by an influx of mainstream bars. That is why, when Common closed for refit, many N4 veterans held their breaths. This DJ bar and kitchen is one of the few local venues that cleaves to a left-field agenda, while also serving excellent craft beers and sharp bar food. Would we still love it post-facelift? The consensus is, ‘yes’. It’s very different: blonde wood and stone finishes; but appears to have retained its edge while putting food front-and-centre. Small plates now augment its next-level sandwiches (try the chorizo and shrimp with chipotle mayo, £7), burgers (from £7.50) and beef chilli (£8). it serves breakfast too now.
Bullseye: Keep it to yourself, but the awesome reuben burger (salt beef, swiss cheese, sauerkraut etc.) is still available as an off-menu, in-the-know special (£9). aplacecalledcommon.co.uk
Attentive olive readers will recognise the name Honest Crust. Based a short hop away from Manchester city-centre, at Altrincham’s terrific Market House food hub, it produces some of the UK’s best sourdough pizza and is now putting its wood-fired oven and its superlative air-dried meats and cheeses to similarly impressive use at the neighbouring Little Window. It serves several deli-style platters, flatbreads and dishes such as roasted carrots with tahini, awesome baba ganoush and burrata with peppers and rocket.
Bullseye: Montgomery cheddar and leek grilled sandwich with pickles (£6.50) – a monster!
Located on The Avenue, in Springfields, amid swanky designer stores, the first northern outpost from this London tapas group already feels like a fixture. Outside its precious bellota and other cured meats, the menu, designed by chef Nacho Manzano, puts a modish spin on taps (chorizo lollipops, £5, spring onion tempura with lemon aioli). Certain dishes, such as the pork loin sliders with Basque piparra peppers (£7), are sensational. Others (serrano ham croquettes, £6, valdeón cheese and apple salad, £4) deliver flavour competently, but without fireworks.
Bullseye: Twice-cooked lamb and marinated cherry tomatoes with preserved, roasted red peppers (£9). A perfectly balanced meal.
This feature was published in June 2015
Photographs: Sebastian Matthes, Claire Harrison
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