Market House, Altrincham
Our Food and Drink ed discovers a market hall that's making a serious case for the best place to eat in the Northwest
Altrincham had never really been on my gastronomic GPS. In fact, the closest to Alty I'd got until recently was one of the Drunken Butcher's supperclubs in nearby Sale. It can be just that little bit too awkward to get to from Levenshulme, where we live; I recall getting stranded – having missed the last bus home – and forking out the best part of £30 for taxi fare.
But all that has changed of late. I've discovered Market House, which brings together some of the region's most talented food and drink traders under one roof. I say discovered, it's more "have been arsed to go and see what the fuss was about." Now I can't get enough of the place. If your only experience of a food hall is at the top of an escalator on Market Street, then ready yourself for a culture shock.
So that you know what to expect: it's very firmly middle class. Expect the children – and puppies (yes, this is great dog-watching territory) – to be better dressed than you. If you so desire, it's the kind of place where you can get a glass of Prosecco, a delicate sea bass and salad, or buy a tweed blanket in the winter. In short, a semi-affluent person's idea of a wholesome day out.
The main draw here is Honest Crust. Blistered and head-turning, their pizzas are the best I've had in the country – actually, make that anywhere; their margherita is a lesson in perfectly-executed simplicity. A pizza sandwich – made from fresh dough shaped into a roll and popped in the raging hot oven – stuffed with cool mozzarella has me thinking "why is this not more of a thing?" It's hard to make a mis-step: a pistachio and fennel sausage with a pinch of chilli flakes is equally as good.
There's Tender Cow, the new-ish venture from the guys behind the immensely popular Mumma Schnitzel, whose grass-fed steaks I'm yet to try. Word on the grapevine is Great North Pie Co and Wolfhouse Kitchen are excellent too. And Sam Joseph's impeccable chocolaterie is about as good a dessert option as you could want.
Supplying alcoholic refreshment are Blackjack Beers' Jack in the Box and Reserve Wines. The former stock bottles, and cask and kegged ales from their own range as well as from other well-vetted UK brewers like Wild Beer and Weird Beard. If the former's Ninkazi is on, get it: the champagne yeast fermentation and New Zealand hops make for a lively, complex beer. At 9% ABV, you'll want a side of something edible to stave off inebriation. Reserve's wine expertise brooks no criticism and the staff will happily recommend a wine to match your food choice.
Visiting in February, I felt a little sorry for the outdoor traders. But come the warmer months their lot is sure to improve. South America-inspired Yakumama, all hats and gloves and hunched shoulders, put on a brave face. Their piping-hot vegan spring rolls – soft and savoury with tofu and oyster mushroom – and beef empanadas are enough to banish the chill temporarily. Madame Francoise's crepes and galettes are a welcome addition; a Marmite and cheese galette makes a brilliant cultural hybrid. On a recent trip, Cafe Horchata were doing their first ever event: their tortas – generously-filled Mexican sandwiches – layer on the flavour, with a veggie version just trumping the chipotle chicken.
My only real lament is that, for now at least, there's nowhere else quite like it anywhere in Manchester. But, hey, it gives me an excuse to go to Altrincham.
If you liked Market House, try:
Camp and Furnace, Liverpool
Levenshulme Market, Manchester
Belgrave Canteen, Leeds