Category: Manchester


Albert Square was all decorated for Chinese New Year. It’s here that the dragon and lion begin their dance before heading off to China Town. One of my favourite views of Albert Square is from Clarence Street looking across the square towards the Great Northern and Hilton Towers. You can see the lanterns in the trees but the picture is spoiled by work to move underground services prior to the new tram route passing through the square.

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In the square itself, I was pleased with this picture of the trees full of lanterns with the backdrop of the Town Hall Extension (left) and a slice of Central Library. This view has been off limits for several years now because of work being done restoring both buildings. The building on the right looks in good condition. I’m pleased as there was a fire in the kitchen of one if the restaurants based in it. We were worried we might lose it but it’s all good. I like the presence of the black cabs, a British iconic vehicle that people expect to see on the streets of out cities.

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And this was my attempt to be arty, taking pictures of lanterns and water spouting out of the gargoyles surrounding the Victoria Fountain. They are gargoyles because of the presence of water. If they don’t transport water I think they are called grotesques.

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I’m really behind with posting my pictures of the Chinese New Year celebrations in. Manchester a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t actually go to see them as I was working part of the day and the weather was filthy. But I did go in the day before when the city was all decorated in readiness for the big day. This was in China Town itself…

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In the autumn, as part of the the commemoration of the start of World War 1, the city planted 1000s upon 1000s of snowdrops in the city’s parks and gardens. The snowdrop, being the first flower to bloom after the winter is seen as a symbol of hope so it was appropriate to plant them as a symbol for the coming of peace after a war. 

At the moment they are all blooming. They look at bit thin on the ground at the moment because single bulbs were planted but over the years they will multiply and spread to form a dense white carpet in late winter. These ones were in the gardens surrounding Manchester Cathedral.

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And these were in St John’s Gardens, a garden created by the demolition of St. John’s Church many years ago when the city centre spread and commercial buildings replaced the houses that were there. Things grow well in these gardens, possibly because of the 1000s upon 1000s of former Mancunians who were buried in the church yard and are still there. Something the office workers probably don’t think about when they sit on the grass enjoying their al fresco lunches in the summer months!

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The rather grim, grey, 60s office block in the background has its days numbered. It, together with another equally unprepossessing building behind it are destined for demolition. It will be replaced by another glass and steel office tower connecting Spinningfields to the new St. John’s Quarter being built around the former Granada TV Studios that have decamped to Media City. Behind the cross, in the distance, seven apartment towers are planned to line the banks of the river. People are saying it will make St. John’s Gardens look like Central Park. I think that’s pushing it a bit but we will see.   

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They reopened the Victoria Station tram station last week and, for the first time in a long time, we can get to that part. The train part of the station has remained open, amazingly, all the way through the rebuild. For the first time you can really appreciate the space and the great sweeping curve of the roof. It’s not finished yet of course. The opaque material filling the spaces between the struts will be replaced with clear, self cleaning plasticised glass of some sort. But people were waiting for the tram and staring heavenwards with a sense of awe on their faces. These pictures don’t do it justice but you do get some idea of what it will look like. You can see the line of the old railway shed on the wall of the office block. I think they are keeping that as a reminder of the station’s history. It’s all shaping up to be a lovely job.

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George Osbourne was in town this week. The London based politician was here to announce another huge chunk of money (£6 billion this time) and powers that are to be devolved to the city. This money is coming so that the city can run its own health services independent of the rest of the country. It’s controversial. We’ve had a centrally controlled health service since 1948. But Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland now run their own health services and Manchester, with a population bigger than Northern Ireland and about the same as Wales, wants to run its own affairs. The present government keep showering power and money on to the city while the opposition party, Labour, are in disarray about it. The local Labour Party, that runs the city, has wanted the local power and financial clout for years and has gladly accepted. The national, London based, Labour Party hate the idea probably because they didn’t come up with it. The local politicians aren’t playing the game and won’t do what London wants. It’s all quite entertaining.

But this post isn’t about politics, it’s about food. The media is full of stories about ‘Northern Powerhouse’ Manchester, the developments, the new buildings, the rise in population, the opportunities and it’s not been lost on the London foodie community. London based restaurants are queueing up at Euston to get into the city. Hawksmoor opened a couple of weeks ago, Iberica opens next week, Wahaca and Pho are opening in the reconfigured Corn Exchange along with twenty other restaurants in the summer. And that’s just off the top of my head.

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Another London foodie institution that has just made the journey north is Urban Food Fest. They have been operating in London for a while now bringing street food to a site in Shoreditch not far from the Silicon Roundabout near the Old Street tube and trendy, hipster Hoxton. Street food vendors arrive at the site and people just turn up and eat. It’s a popular idea.

Street food isn’t a stranger to Manchester of course. We have our own Guerrilla Eats organisation that has been doing stuff in the city for years. And street food turns up at the markets in the various squares and in the trendy suburbs like Chorlton and West Didsbury. But it’s always nice to have a new kid on the block.

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I’d heard Urban Food Fest was setting up residence on a car park at the end of Deansgate in the shadow of the Hilton Tower. It was my first day out after a few days in bed with a particularly nasty bout of the man flu. I’d lost half a stone. But I needed to get out so I took the tram into the city. As the tram approached Deansgate/Castlefield you could see them setting it up. It didn’t look ready for visitors so I stayed on to St. Peter’s Square and went for a wander for a while to do a few errands.

I headed along Deansgate about 4 30. It was grey and darkening and there was a cold wind, not the sort of evening that would encourage people to eat outside especially in a city full of well appointed, warm, dry dining rooms. Then it started to rain. I love my city but February isn’t the best time to come if you are expecting sunshine. I worried about the venture but was presently surprised by the number if people who had already turned up and were enjoying the vibe and the food and drink.

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I got chatting to one of the people running one of the food concessions, SMOKIE’S BBQ. We had a animated chat while her son finished setting up their pitch. She introduced me to Jessica and her colleague (name gone….sorry) who were up from London overseeing the running of the first event in the city. In spite of being busy they had time to chat. Many thanks. They explained the concept and their plans for the future. This event will happen every Saturday evening between 5 and midnight. I thought that they might have been bringing up some London street food vendors but not so. I’d spotted Ginger’s Comfort Emporium from Chorlton with the homemade ice creams as soon as I’d arrived but the others were new to me. but they are all operating close to the city.  They had a good mix of savoury and sweet, English and other cuisines. There was even a mobile cocktail bar.

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It was all doing well. But, because I wasn’t actually doing the food thing or, indeed, the cocktail thing due to last week’s unpleasantness, I didn’t actually have anything. But, once my appetite is back, I’ll be back as well.

Follow Urban Food Fest on TWITTER @UrbanFoodFest

On Facebook….. Urban Food Fest

Or at www.urbanfoodfest.com

Follow SMOKIE’S BBQ on TWITTER @BBQsmokies

On Facebook….. BBQsmokies

The cocktail bar on wheels…

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I like a piece of cake…

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Rainbow Cake…

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Not been able to come up with anything to say about this sign…

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Artisan hot dogs with homemade pickles…

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Random pictures…

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I went into Manchester Art Gallery to check out the rest of the ‘snowdrop’ installation put in to mark the opening of the gallery’s World War 1 art exhibition. I posted pictures of the ones outside a couple of weeks ago. They are still looking fresh in the cold, early spring, Manchester weather. I couldn’t get inside the gallery then as it was closed. Some more pictures here.

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Inside the warmth of the gallery has caused the snowdrops to flower early and there were few on show. That was a pity. When the installation is taken apart they will all be replanted in the city’s parks and gardens.

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Work has started on No. 2 St. Peter’s Square, a new office block next to No. 1. Am I alone in thinking there’s been a lack of imagination in the naming of them? I suppose they do what they say on the can.  At the moment they are demolishing the existing buildings including, sadly, Century House. From St. Peter’s Square this is what you see….

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But behind you can see the demolition taking place. You can see a part of No 1 St. Peter’s Square and the building on the left will eventually come down for another new office block called No. 3 St. Peter’s Square. More imaginative, creative thought I guess…

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Buildings seem to be shooting up all over the city at the moment. They start a project and then it seems to take months for anything to appear above ground. There’s lots of groundwork to be done, basements to be cut out and foundations to be laid. When that’s all happened suddenly the buildings shoot up. The first bit are the cores that will have the lift shafts and the like in.

This one is where Cambridge Street where it turns under the Oxford Road Station viaduct and into Whitworth Street. They are shoehorning a series of apartment towers into this tight spot. This core is for the tallest which will be 26 floors tall when complete. It reached floor 21 on Valentine’s Day (you can see the heart) and is now up to floor 25 in less than a week.

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This is what it’ll look like when it’s finished….

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Meanwhile, in Spinningfields, one of the cores of the Cotton Building has shot up to its full height. I posted about this project a couple of weeks ago on the 7th when there was one crane and no core. Now there are two cranes  one of the cores. The huge yellow struts have disappeared as well. As had some of the fencing around it. It was blown down in the wind and I was able to get to the edge of the hole to take some of the pictures. Having done so I went and reported it. Didn’t want anyone falling into it in the dark.

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Diagonally across Whitworth Street from the Deansgate/Castlefield tram station and the site of the Axis Tower, one of Manchester’s biggest building projects of the last few years is nearing completion. It’s on what’s called First Street and will be the home of Home, Manchester’s newest art centre that will bring together the homeless Library Theatre and the Cornerhouse gallery and art house cinemas later this spring. I’m still not sure about the location of this venture. It’s a bit off the beaten track. Cornerhouse is on Oxford Street near the Palace Theatre on the main route from the universities into the city centre and the Library Theatre was on St. Peter’s Square in the actual library. We shall see how it fares. I read what they are putting on in their first season and there was nothing I actually wanted to go and see. Oh dear….

And I’m not that keen on the look of the area. I’ll reserve my final judgement until I can get in and the landscaping is in place. This is the hotel they have built. It’s one of a Spanish chain called Innside. It’s a bit too blocky and red for my taste. It took me a while to see it actually had windows. The red did look good against the blue of the sky though.

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The new buildings are all different, geometric shapes, building materials and styles. There’s no harmony. Sometimes a jumble of styles can work, most European cities are like this and people come from all over the planet to visit them. But it doesn’t work, yet, here. This block will be full of restaurants and cafes. It’s all pointy and angular. The restaurants worry me as well. We have a slew of new restaurants opening along Deansgate and in Spinningfields. And later in the summer the entire Corn Exchange on Exchange Square will open with goodness knows how many new eateries. These, in an out of the way part of the city, might struggle. Oh dear….

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This is the home of Home. It looks black but is blue. And it looks a bit overshadowed by the surrounding buildings. It’s not a ‘look at me’ building which I think arts institutions have to be. I’m told the inside will be state of the art but the outside looks like it is apologising for taking up the space. The gold coloured building behind it is a multi-storey car park.

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Jammed between the Deansgate/Castlefield tram station and the Rochdale Canal is a tiny piece of land not as big as our garden. It’s minute. On to this tiny, but expensive piece of land they are going to build a twenty eight storey apartment building, the Axis Tower. It was actually started in 2008 as an office tower but fell foul of the recession. With the UK economy bouncing back and the Manchester economy out performing the economy generally, it’s time to dust off the plans. The ground floor will fit the piece of land but then the rest of the building will be canterlivered out so that the other floors will be much wider than the ground floor allowing them to provide space for the apartments.  There will be some huge, very expensive penthouses at the top. It’s an interesting idea.

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This is what it will look like as you leave St. Peter’s Square near the Midland Hotel. You can also see the city’s symphony concert hall, the Bridgewater Hall. It’s just passed its last hurdle of planning permission. They want to put a huge screen on the side facing the city for advertising. The people running the tram system were concerned that the moving images might distract the tram drivers. And we wouldn’t want a tram in the Rochdale Canal would we? It’s a very striking building. The people behind it have also hinted at the possibility of another tower just across the street from this one.

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