When we think of crossing the pond for a cultural and culinary adventure, London usually leaps to mind. But I wanted to travel the path less taken and broaden my horizons. A serendipitous introduction to British travel photographer Nicholas Hardy had piqued my interest in Manchester and Liverpool – two cities steeped in history, boasting burgeoning food scenes and hidden restaurant gems. With Hardy as my guide and photographer, I had backstage access to the nooks and crannies that only a local knows.
Manchester’s Northern Quarter
Touchdown! After landing at Manchester Airport, I hailed a black cab and headed straight to my hotel. I was lucky enough to be able to lay my head at The Cow Hollow, in a breezy room packed with all the amenities and some shiny extra touches, like endless candy nibbles, a bottle of Prosecco, and a complimentary breakfast in bed featuring freshly squeezed OJ.
With no time to spare, Hardy arrived and immediately took the reins. Knowing of my fondness for chasing down a city’s best food – and that I was woozy with jetlag and a growling stomach – he led me straight to our first stop: a late-morning breakfast at Evelyn’s Cafe and Bar, within walking distance of The Cow Hollow.
I revelled in a stack of supernaturally fluffy pancakes with fresh berries (ricotta, I learned from my server, was the secret weapon). In keeping with my plan to try new things, I sampled their lavender-infused lemonade, which was equal parts acerbic and wonderfully sweet. Hardy’s poached eggs with avocado toast came with a side order of homemade lamb sausage that crackled from the heat. His sounds of delight indicated a menu choice win!
Evelyn’s Cafe & Bar
44 Tib St.
Market Street: Buskers
Beware Manchester streets: their liveliness and beauty would have you wandering into oncoming traffic – if it weren’t for the fact that they are pedestrian-only. We followed the cobblestoned twists and turns, delighting in buskers and craning our necks at the architecture and the rod iron balconies lined with people enjoying the show. Soon it was time for lunch.
Walking into Ply, located in the heart of Manchester’s Northern Quarter, we were enveloped by the smell of wood-fired, Italian-style pizza. Our two pies came out piping hot and fully loaded: one laden with spicy sausage, caramelized onions, tomato and mozzarella; the other with dripping roasted red pepper, spicy pepperoni, and portobello mushrooms. Yes, pizza can seem like, well, pizza… but these had that soft, Naan bread feel, tender enough to seem like they could fall apart, but sturdy enough to hold all the toppings. No morsel of crust was left behind!
26 Lever St.
The East Lancashire Railway Steam Train to Ramsbottom
It’s hard to imagine feeling more free than I did on the East Lancashire Steam Train, sunk into an ancient seat in a plush, velour cabin, the window wide open, fresh air rushing in and vistas whizzing by. Upon our arrival in Ramsbottom, fuelled by a chocolate bar and an energy drink, we made our way to the top of the world – or, as the locals call it, Peel Tower on Holcombe Hill. The climb was slow, and the wind and rain fierce at times, but it was so worth it for the views from this 128-foot tower. Imagine a postcard of English countryside dotted with goats and sheep, sky stretching forever, and the cities of Bury and Holcombe off in the distance. We bathed in the smell of the grass and trees, and despite the cold, windy, wet descent, it felt like the sun was beaming a smile across my face.
After a long train ride back to hotel, Hardy led me to what felt like a college hangout – a minimalist, loud spot with a boisterous crowd draped around the bar. I was skeptical until I tried the signature ramen soup: a Tonkotsu pork broth with sizzling pork belly and perfectly sliced hard-boiled egg, in a hot broth so flavourful I wanted to curl up in the bowl. It was the perfect way to end a drizzly day before some much-needed shut-eye, and the next day’s move westward to Liverpool.
Cocktail Beer Ramen + Bun
101–103 Oldham St.
One quick train ride later, we had arrived at the Lock and Key Hotel, a boutique-style hotel in the heart of Liverpool. Walking distance from the train station, the hotel is also a partnered hotel #withaeroplan, making it incredibly easy to find and reserve. I was amazed at the thoughtful details of my spacious, old-world, Hollywood-meets-Art-Deco room: crystal-cut glassware, a decanter that begged for a 100-year-old malt whiskey, and a loveseat swathed in emerald green velour.
Our first stop in Liverpool was The Baltic Triangle, once an industrial area, now home to studios, hipster hangouts and artist types. Gorgeous graffiti splays across vast brick walls, and overheard laughter filters through the hidden side streets, where you might also spot a steamy rendezvous or three. Hardy led me through gardens and pathways that left me feeling like a kid on an adventure, to the shoreline of The Royal Albert Docks, reminiscent of Montreal’s Old Port with its gorgeous buildings stretched against the river. I loved the romantic locks lining the protective rails, each professing love vows and personal messages. Best of all, our final stop and most memorable meal of that trip: lunch at Mowgli Street Food.
A huge pour of white crisp chardonnay hit the first high note. Closing my eyes, I could feel the crushed grapes swirling as I enjoyed with one epic, spicy dish after another. The dishes in their cozy tiffin seemed familiar at first glance, but the combination of curry flavours and spices was unlike anything I’d ever tried. A dish of potato with turmeric and Mowgli masala tingled the tongue. We scooped lamb curry, “Mother Butter” chicken and pearly white basmati rice with Elephant Roti bread, lapping up every last bit of sauce and revelling in how each dish played off the other.
Mowgli Street Food
3 Water St.
You know those places you feel so connected to, even after a brief visit? As I headed to the airport the next day, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed more time in these beautiful cities. Thank you to Nicholas Hardy for dispensing such wonderful guidance. Your photos have given life to my adventure in the way it deserves, and I am wholeHARDYly grateful.
Travel with me each month, as I seek out delectable culinary finds in cities all over the world. Whether traveling with friends, family or solo, a new city can be daunting. I hope to share my knowledge of must-eat-at restaurants, and indulge you in behind-the-scenes access to the chefs at the helm of the kitchens.