A Far From Fallow Year

We speak to the Fallowfield hangout that's bringing its student-heavy clientele more than just cheap shots and stacked burgers

Feature by Jamie Faulkner | 07 Jan 2015

In our Best Cafes category, Fallow Cafe stood out among the food survey regulars (can we say that already?) of Leaf, Bold Street Coffee and Aubergine. Though it opened in late 2013, after taking over the old Trof site in Fallowfield, Fallow feels like a relative newbie. We talked to general manager Mark Henderson about consistency, gigs and how to not patronise students. 

The Skinny: Fallow is from the guys behind The Ruby Lounge: how's it been running a business in Fallowfield over the last year? A big adjustment?

Mark Henderson: The biggest adjustment was accepting that, being in an area with a large student populace, the business would be so ‘seasonal’; manically busy in term time then long ‘fallow’ periods (sorry!). We try to counter that by being consistent enough to draw from a wider area and realising that south Manchester is made up of a far more diverse demographic than just students.

Obviously our readers think you're great: have you had a lot of positive feedback in general since opening?

Lots! There were some doubters at the outset as we took over a site that was already well established and well loved. We kept our heads down, worked hard, reinvested and held ourselves to high standards. That seems to have done the trick and is definitely getting paid back in kind words and repeat custom from the (obviously very smart) folk who come in.

Cafes tend to have a reputation for either doing average food or being quite tame spots: you seem to have blown that idea out of the water with gigs and a cracking food menu.

It was simple: we all love music... even our chef used to be in a reggae band back in Italy. Our chefs are all pros and have worked in ‘proper’ restaurants – we’ve not scrimped on the talent. With the live music, obviously we had a head-start with our diary from The Ruby Lounge and lots of our favourite people have put their hand on the tiller to bring us some cracking bands. Matt from Interstellar Overdrive, Jo from The Travelling Band, Scott from Guerilla Eats, Jay Taylor from Classic Slum/Ruby Lounge and SJM concerts have contributed to a phenomenal first year and a bit. Darlia, Circa Waves, Fat White Family and scores of others in our tiny upstairs room have blown us away. Family Tree are our promoters to watch for the new year. Fresh over from Sheffield and Bradford they sold out their first three shows for us in Manchester with some amazing lineups.

What's it like catering mostly for students? Do you think your average student is more discerning these days or are they still looking for a comfy, cheap place?

Nothing wrong with a comfy cheap place; it’s not just students looking for that, is it? I’ve never understood grouping students together and aiming low with your food, drink and musical offerings. You’re talking about not only the most connected, informed and mobile generation in history but also about the future doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers, (and some bankers, politicians and estate agents, but oh well). We'd be pretty daft to patronise or underestimate them, right? Just piling up cheap shots, out-of-date bottled lager and pre-made paninis doesn’t fit with a group who have made it through school, A levels, have supportive, motivated parents and are on their way to bright futures. 

Any big plans for 2015?

Yes. More bands that you might not have heard of but within months will be kicking yourselves that you didn’t go and see for a couple of quid; upping the ante on the food menu (while avoiding an arms-race to build the tallest, sloppiest, most cumbersome burger in the world); and also Fletch, our remarkable manager, has asked for a day off. Not sure about that one…

The Skinny Food and Drink Survey 2015:

• From co-operatives to, well, ALDI – your favourite Northwest food shops

• Your Manchester and Liverpool favourites in full