San-Carlo-Cicchetti
Guide

Manchester’s Best Restaurants For People Watching

A restaurant that is good for ‘people-watching’ is not an easy thing to define. Because they’re not just fancy schmancy celeb-spotting spots – even been to a curry house in the early AMs? And what is ‘people-watching’ anyway? The observing of people, yes, but we do that all the time. Somewhere where you can go, alone, order some food, kick back and watch the world go by? Perfect. Somewhere you can go with mates and talk about people’s shoes? That works. Somewhere with lots of good-looking people to ogle? Yes. Somewhere full of weirdos? Even better.

Anyway, here’s our pick of Manchester’s best restaurants for people watching… for some reason or another.

  • tattu
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    Tattu

    Chinese

    Located in the heart of Manchester’s gleaming business district (and also on East Parade in Leeds), Tattu is an Instagrammer’s dream. Think penumbral lighting, body art-inspired cocktails and a full size cherry blossom tree with hand sewn silk petals. You’d be forgiven for expecting such opulent surroundings to outshine the food. Not so. This ‘contemporary Chinese’ restaurant revels in equally artistic and playful dishes – such as Peking duck buns and kimchi crab cakes. It’s not cheap, a main of their signature, umami-rammed Yuzu black cod will cost you over £30, but the very decent lunch menu (two dishes for £13, three for £18, four for £22) is sure to impress dim sum devotees.

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    San Carlo Cicchetti

    Italian

    As the first San Carlo Cicchetti, the Manchester restaurant had a lot to prove on opening in 2010. Seven years and several awards later, it’s still going strong. Why? We think it’s attention to detail. Founder Carlo Distefano is a stickler for quality and you’ll find the same passion for produce and impeccable service at every San Carlo. Let’s just say it runs in the family. Located on the ground floor of House of Fraser, Cicchetti is ideal post-shopping. But the restaurant has become a destination in its own right, known for expertly-crafted small plates washed down with a beer or glass of wine. Cicchetti is a Venetian custom, much like Spanish tapas. Enjoy one or two as a snack along with drinks, or several as a meal that’s bursting with variety. With relaxed yet sophisticated surroundings, San Carlo Cicchetti gives everyday dining a sense of occasion. Don’t miss the homemade potato gnocchi with parmesan and black truffle, or house risotto, served in portions made to share.

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    Hawksmoor

    British

    The best steakhouse in the North. Opening on Deansgate in 2015, the first Hawksmoor steakhouse outside of London is a confident affair. Steak and attention to detail have created a branch like no other, whose beef is among the world’s finest. Sourced from Yorkshire’s Ginger Pig, choose from huge sharing cuts such as T-bone, Porterhouse and prime rib, with solo steaks available if you’re not into sharing. Starters such as Caesar salad with airy Doddington shavings, an artisan burrata made in Wiltshire or sticky, rare breed Old Spot belly ribs are meals in themselves,while seafood is strength. Ethically sourced scallops bath in white port and garlic butter, or try the UK-sourced monkfish, grilled over charcoal. Side orders such as triple-cooked chips, creamed spinach, anchovy hollandaise and bone marrow gravy are reason enough to visit, and the location is lovely. Packed with nooks and crannies, the wood-lined former court room feels unpretentious and the Mid Century light fittings, sourced from the US, reflect the subtle good taste at work. Drinks take in classic cocktails and ‘Sharpeners’ (we recommend the Hawksmoor Collins and ridiculously gingery Shaky Pete’s Ginger Brew) while the winelist is packed with intriguing, accessible wines. A reliably brilliant experience.

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    El Gato Negro

    Spanish

    Upmarket Manc-Spanish fusion, that really, really works. Originally from Yorkshire, chef Simon Shaw has created an indulgent, three-storey church to his passion for the best in Spanish food and wine with El Gato Negro. Top floor is a bar and dining, complete with retractable roof, fine wines, bespoke g&ts and cocktails, while wedged in the middle of the upmarket tapas bar on the ground floor is the restaurant proper, complete with open kitchen, exposed brick walls, comfy booths. Be warned however: there’s seldom a spare seat anywhere in the building. The menu moves slightly, according to where you sit too – so its roasted Valencia almonds at the bar and groaning dessert platters, replete with crème catalan, homemade ice creams and the signature Valrhona chocolate tart with spiced coffee syrup at the table. Must tries include Morcilla scotch eggs with mushroom duxelle, apple purée and aioli, mini Catalan chorizo with Aspall cider, chargrilled heritage carrots, aubergine purée, miso and walnut pesto and manchego, even better when eaten at the bar that overlooks Shaw and co in the open kitchen. Both sexy and moreish, this Spanish restaurant is far greater than the sum of its parts.

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    The Refuge

    European

    Winning small plate fusion in an iconic and glamorous setting. Housed in Manchester’s iconic The Refuge Assurance Company dating back to 1858 , this DJ-run restaurant and bar is large and sassy. There’s a Winter Garden; an enormous bar; a restaurant; and subterranean ballroom. The venue (as opposed to the wider Principal Hotel, of which it is a part) is run by Luke Cowdrey and Justin Crawford AKA DJ duo The Unabombers who were given the job on the coattails of their success with West Didsbury bar and restaurant, Volta. The dining room is all soaring ceilings and bright tiles, while service is friendly without being pushy. Food is still a focus though: think Middle East meets Manc via India. The whole menu is, bravely, small plates, or ‘Voltini’ as they’re called here. Highlights could include sticky cubes of Gloucester old spot pork belly with cumin and chimichurri, crispy lamb shawarma with harissa and yogurt or slow cooked ox cheek, egg and Sriracha. The rich and buttery black daal makhani and beetroot pakoras are a thrill while a pleasingly succinct wine list – with some accessible wines at £18 a bottle and six taps dedicated to regional craft beers – offer plenty of opportunities for fun and games. Sunday roast sharing boards are the stuff of legend, as are puddings like rhubarb and custard doughnuts, chocolate fondue and homemade Eccles cakes with Lancashire cheese . An truly enjoyable experience, day or night.

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    Australasia

    Pan Asian

    Pacific rim fusion fare for the fashion set. The undeniable theatre of the place, the approach of the staff and the craft of the food make any occasion feel like a million dollars at Australasia. Sashimi with edible flowers, served on a hand-thrown ceramic bowl of ice chips is a great place to start, while fine wines (rolling right up into the £1000s) hint at the high flying regulars that Australasia attracts. The menu takes in Japanese, New Zealand and Indian influences while shell-coloured lanterns and soft fawn booths set a seductive scene. Highlights from the small plate selection include soft shell crab California rolls, Loch Duart salmon sushi and torched mackerel with kimchi style fennel. Pork belly and pineapple curry crafted to a genuine Thai recipe is as flawless as the trademark mango soufflé. A Manchester favourite – with good reason.

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    Albert’s Schloss

    European

    A Bavarian-inspired fun palace of extraordinary dimensions and clever design. Behind the glistening tiles of the former Manchester and Salford Wesleyan Mission building from 1910 there’s a vast bar, real fires, perfectly preserved original plaster, a wall stuffed generously with flowers by floral artists’ Frog – not to mention a stage, DJ booth and network of beer pipes and tanks serving unpasturised Pilsner Urquell to hordes of adoring punters. The strapline for Albert’s Schloss – ‘Cook Haus and Bier Palace’ – is accurate, the menu an indulgent delight that’s as popular on weekday lunchtimes, as Saturday nights and Sunday brunches. Start with a ‘morning bun’ with cinnamon sugar and Oreo coffee, crayfish Benedict or the Broke’n’ English sandwich, named after a homegrown hip hop outfit and comprised of broken yolks, treacle-cured bacon, avocado, chilli jam and cheddar on a morning rolls. No, this isn’t somewhere that’s sticking to the classics; its all about giving you what you really, really want which could be a ‘sausage fest’ of three house wurst or schweinshaxe (crispy bavarian pork knuckle, red cabbage, apple and horseradish gravy), an ‘Alpine pizza’, creamy burrata, beetroot hummus banana waffles or a halloumi schnitzel burger. Drink house wines, cocktails (blood orange and cranberry g&t and Espresso Martini are favourites), or press the ‘push for prosecco’ button on your table for £20 bottle on weekday happy hours. Happy hours indeed.

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    20 Stories

    European

    Manchester’s highest – and possibly finest – restaurant, bar and grill. D&D restaurant group’s flagship Manchester restaurant, 20 Stories bar and grill, has been the opening of 2018. Floor to ceiling windows (and a huge, outdoor terrace, the same size as the entire restaurant floor), afford breathtaking views of the city and surrounding countryside, while the menu riffs on Hawksmoor’s luxury steakhouse concept. Lymm-based chef, Aiden Byrne runs the food side of things. He’s taken a giant step across Spinningfields from his former employer, Manchester House, to 20 Stories and his cooking style has changed on route too. Start with sticky, roast pigeon with cherries and violet mustard, or pea and mint mousse with air-dried ham. Steak or giant sharing cuts such as wing rib or leg of local lamb are a thrill (and often cheaper than at Byrne’s pub, The Church Green, which is also one of the Top 100). They do great ice cream, and tiramisu (this is a people-pleasing kind of place afterall) but the best dessert, hands down, is the freshly baked apple tart tatin for two. A sexy treat for any occasion.

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    Harvey Nichols 2nd Floor

    British

    Solid British brasserie with delicious views. Panoramas are a feature at Harvey Nichols Second Floor restaurant where food is quality modern European brasserie fare, with a penchant for locally-sourced meats and fine patisserie. Served in lively surrounds, the restaurant has evolved from fine dining enclave to more chilled kind of place, but cooking still follows a seasonal bent. Highlights could include beer-braised beef with sticky red cabbage and a potato and horseradish pancake, game cottage pie with a rosemary breadcrumb crust or locally sourced prime rib for two, with French fries and bearnaise sauce. Typical veggie choices include pumpkin hummus with marinated aubergine, barrel-aged feta and truffle honey. Meanwhile, chocolate Sachertorte with smoked chestnuts and poached pears is a house classic, the perfect prelude to the cheese board plucked from Harvey Nichols extensive delicatessen. To drink, choose from one of more than 400 acclaimed bottles stocked in the Harvey Nichols wine store.

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    Volta

    European

    A thrilling take on the neighbourhood restaurant format.

    Volta is owned by Luke ‘Unabomber’ Cowdrey and Justin Crawford. They’re the homebred team behind Chorlton’s Elektrik bar, the Electrik Chair club night, and Electrik Elephant festival, as well as the Refuge by Volta at the Principal Hotel in Manchester city centre’s Principal Hotel. The DJ/restaurateurs are masters of putting creative energy behind a project and their second venture is a grown up affair, offering luxurious steaks, and house aged negronis (and various other cocktails using the likes of lavender syrup, burnt orange peel and sanguinello) in a space that blurs the lines between bar and restaurant. The emphasis is on fun and the interior includes reclaimed vintage details, mixed in with a bare-brick. An old school, NYC grill house vibe. The menu is mostly ‘small plates’ plus steak. By turn adventurous and comforting, these could include smoked feta, beetroot, hazelnuts and dill, crispy baby squid with home made aioli, kale tossed with crème fraiche and Cambodian pepper or deep fried Monte Enebro goats cheese. Puddings such as the chocolate pot and the lime posset are of the grown up party food variety, and change seasonally. A thrilling new take on the neighbourhood restaurant format.

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