Manchester on a weekend can be a little overwhelming as crowds of people descend upon the Arndale Centre and Market Street intent upon shopping until they drop. A gentle stroll or stress-free mooch around the city feels impossible amongst the crush of the main retail areas, and as such, I nearly always avoid visiting the city on a saturday.
However, let us not forget that there is an ever-increasing number of alternative parts of the city to be explored, and having lived here for two years now, I feel a tad ashamed to admit that I am only just discovering all of the little surprises that this metropolis has to offer. For instance, turn off Market Street and wander along Tib Street, and you’ll find immediate respite from the masses, as you plunge into the heart of the mysterious Northern Quarter.
Sugar Junction on Tib Street. A popular cafe with wonderful cakes. Image: Twitter @sugarjunction
Truth be told, the Northern Quarter isn’t really much of a mystery any more. The area has, for some time now, been understood to be ‘up and coming’, or perhaps it has ‘up and come’. A colourful, eclectic and bohemian location, popular with young professionals on the hunt for quirky bars, or hipsters looking to pore over a novel in a discreet side-street café, it’s lack of ‘chain’ stores and restaurants has allowed it to remain a hidden gem despite the fact that it was first conceived in the mid-1990s.
I’ve been to the area before due to the reputation of its many and varied bars. However, I’m only just discovering what the daytime version of the Northern Quarter really has to offer. And my conclusion is that every visit to the city that doesn’t involve a trip to the Northern Quarter is a missed opportunity, because the area is simply thriving with restaurants, bars, cafés, and shops, all of which make a welcome change from the uniform parade of chain stores and restaurants that can be found in other areas of the city. From lovely little boutique florists such as Northern Flower, to vintage clothes stores, and record shops from another era, there is so much to see and do in this part of town.
Image: Twitter @teacupandcakes
The area has an abundance of bars to choose from, but for me, the most exciting aspect of this district is the wave of new coffee houses to have opened over recent months and years. The café culture that is so prevalent in continental cities such as Paris and Barcelona has well and truly pervaded the Northern Quarter. For example, the rather wonderful Teacup Kitchen on Thomas Street, was listed in the Good Food Guide for two years running, and was recently nominated for Best Café in the Manchester Awards. Additionally, Federal Bar & Café located near to the Shudehill metro stop serves delectable breakfasts, and has an Instagram page that will set your taste buds alight.
Image: Twitter @FederalCafeBar
Sugar Junction on Tib Street is a delightful cafe, come restaurant, come early evening bar, and is my top pick for tea and cake. On my most recent visit to the Northern Quarter, I visited this charming place with a friend and, having purposefully skimped on breakfast, ordered the Afternoon Tea for two, with a glass of Prosecco, just for good measure.
At £19.95 per person (including the Prosecco), I found the tea to be excellent value for money. There were beautiful sandwiches, scones with ample cream and jam to slather over them, little fruit tarts, a lemony mousse, and two delicious slices of cake. Oh, and Prosecco too – did I mention that?
Image: Twitter @sugarjunction
And all of the lovely food was topped off by super service and a delightful ambience. The vintage style that the restaurant aims to emulate is pulled off well, and a good balance is achieved meaning the wallpaper, plates, cups, saucers, and tea pots (all in floral print) aren’t overpowering. Think ‘Grandma Chic’ rather than ‘Crazy Cat Lady’.
In the future, when I bring friends and family to the city, intent upon showing them the best of what is now my home, I will always bring them to the Northern Quarter for tea and cakes. Not only because any day in town should always be accompanied by tea and cakes, but because there is so much charm in the independent establishments on offer here, and charm is something that the British High Street hasn’t seen for quite a while now.