Cutting Room Square, Ancoats

East of Manchester’s popular Northern Quarter is Ancoats, an area of the city that has been transformed almost unrecognisably in recent years. Only almost, though: unmoved are the former factories that characterise ‘the world’s first industrial suburb’, deconsecrated church and Grade II listed building Hallé St Peters, and the streets named after Manchester’s violent Victorian Scuttlers gangs, such as Bengal Street for the Bengal Tigers. In fact, these historic features have become a central part of Ancoats’ regeneration, with the mills and factories turned into elegant flats, and Hallé St Peters sensitively extended into Cutting Room Square. Elsewhere, modern blocks have sprung up on untended lots, with an influx of new independent bars, restaurants and shops opening alongside the historic pubs and canals – and giving us a lot to cover in one guide.

Great Ancoats Street separates Ancoats from the Northern Quarter, a traffic-heavy frontier that belies the quiet, pedestrian-friendly streets beyond. There are gems here, however: the Grade II listed Crown and Kettle pub, with its extraordinary ornate ceiling, gives a flavour of the area’s history, while modern corner shop Ancoats General Store and the run of restaurants beyond it are an indication of Ancoat’s present reinvention. These include excellent Vietnamese street food restaurant Viet Shack and serene Japanese teahouse Cha-ology, where the peaceful atmosphere is maintained via firm rules. Here you can enjoy quality Japanese tea and seasonal treats in quiet surrounds where selfies, laptops and even strong perfume aren’t allowed.

Cutting Room Square, the heart of Ancoats, is a short walk from Great Ancoats Street. Mainly pedestrianised and filled with trees and planters, the space has the feel of a spacious Mediterranean courtyard. Tapas restaurant Canto, from the award-winning team behind El Gato Negro Tapas on King Street, and the Edinburgh Castle, a historic pub restored to its former glory, are on the periphery, their outdoor tables (in good weather) leading on to the square beyond. Here you’ll find Neapolitan pizzeria Rudy’s, neighbourhood bar The Jane Eyre, Seven Bro7hers Beerhouse, second Vietnamese restaurant Nam, impressive local eatery The Counter House, laid back sports bar Second City, and Elnecot, which takes its name from the first recorded settlement in the area in 1212. Here, too, is the aforementioned Hallé St Peters, the principal recording and rehearsal venue for the Hallé Orchestra, and a Grade II listed building. With a stunning semi-circular apse built to distinguish the former church from the area’s blocky mills, Hallé St Peters is a regular host to concerts, events and weddings.

Another cluster of independent businesses can be found on Jersey Street, just off Cutting Room Square. Head to Blue Eyed Panda for genuinely good Chinese food, or tucked-away barbers Jersey Street Social Club for hair and beard trims alongside beers supplied by Seven Bro7hers Brewery. Also here is Tooth and Talon, an independent tattoo parlour with experienced artists and great music.

Ancoats marina

In the streets behind Cutting Room Square, further into Ancoats, are more of the independent businesses that make this area such a draw. Directly off the square is Blossom Street, home to wine bar Blossom Street Social: the wall of wine to takeaway at the back of the space is an indication of the expertise of the team, while the kitchen is regularly home to temporary residencies. Mana, Manchester’s first Michelin-starred restaurant after 42 years without the culinary accolade, is on the corner of Blossom Street and Murray Street, serving up exquisite dishes behind the sheer curtains that shield the tables from the pavement. It’s neighbours with The Hip Hop Chip Shop, a fish and chip shop complete with projector and screen, as well as passionate purveyors of Italian food, Sugo Pasta Kitchen.

Along from Mana on Murray Street are two spots to tempt your sweet tooth: chocolatier, cocktail bar and tearoom Cocoa Cabana, and Trove, an artisanal bakery and café that serves beautiful pastries alongside inventive brunch dishes. Erst takes up a corner unit on the same street, with wide glass windows giving a view of the stylish interior of this natural wine bar and small plates restaurant. Find coffee shop Just Between Friends in Beehive Mill on Jersey Street, small artisan bakery Campanio on Radium Street and plant and lifestyle boutique Northern Lights Home next door to this.

From here, it’s a short walk to a sculptural bridge across the Rochdale Canal, and across to Ancoats Marina, a waterside wharf that’s truly glorious in the sunshine. Dotted with moored canal boats and gently paddling swans, as well as being spanned with bridges across to the pocket-sized Cotton Field Park, the marina is also home to cask and craft beer bar Cask, coffee house and lifestyle store House of Esk, and sourdough and Viennoiserie bakery Pollen. Pollen is rated locally as one of the best bakeries in the city, with queues occasionally appearing for the patisseries behind the counter here – and for a seat at one of the restaurant’s long tables for brunch or lunch.

Ancoats canal

Ancoats Marina is on the ambiguous border between the area and New Islington; at the neighbourhood’s opposite end is Oldham Road, with a row of small restaurants and shops on one side, and the monolithic Wing Yip superstore on the other. Wing Yip is worth visiting for the Ho’s Bakery stand alone, but also stocks ingredients difficult to find elsewhere, and an inexpensive selection of veg. Opposite are Sushi Marvel, a small space serving up beautifully prepared dishes including takeaway, as well as authentic Vientamese restaurants Vnam and Pho No.1. Homeless charity Mustard Tree occupies a recently redesigned building further along Oldham Road: the furniture, homewares and clothing on sale here all support a good cause, with some very affordable gems to be discovered.

Last, but not least: Ancoats’ own hidden gem, a peaceful oasis often overlooked by those who visit. Ancoats Green is only a few minutes walk from Mustard Tree; dotted with mature trees and shielded from traffic, it’s a lovely spot for a picnic.

By Polly Checkland Harding, Freelance arts copywriter and journalist

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