Fancy a weekend mincing about Manchester but want to do it with a little bit of pomp? Want to wine and dine your beloved in the best restaurants the city has to offer, get pampered to oblivion in the finest spa and rest your weary head on the plumpest pillows in town? Luckily for luxury-loving pleasure seekers craving the very best, I have come up with a nifty guide on where to stay, play, dine and unwind in the city famous for its fun-loving folk, fine architecture and naughty yet dashing footballers.
Where to play
This sultry cocktail bar is hidden down Manchester’s quiet South King Street and is often frequented by those in search of serious cocktails made with good quality liquor. When we arrived at the address given to us, we were slightly perplexed to be met with a nondescript door and not much going on around it. After discovering the staircase and making our way downstairs we were pleasantly surprised by a candlelit bar filled with happy people drinking, chatting and generally celebrating life – what Mancunians do best we found.
We took our seats at the bar and were welcomed warmly by the chatty bar manager who recommended a selection of experimental cocktails based on the spirits and flavour combinations we said we preferred. I was particularly enamoured with the Fountain of Youth – a delicate yet zesty combination of rosemary, grapefruit and freya – a clear spirit distilled from the sap of Nordic birch trees. The Holy Mole was a gloriously boozy pudding in a glass whilst the Mexican Lady was a delightfully smokey combination of tequila and bitter citrus. The perfectly on-trend Golden Elixir was a dream-like concoction of rum, turmeric, mango and custard, which tasted like an exotic trifle for booze-adoring adults.
Deep and funky house tracks were being spun by the bar’s resident DJ, which got us in the party mood for the night ahead, and as we wobbled out of the dark door onto chilly streets, we made a mental note to return next time we paid a visit to this city that doesn’t appear to sleep. Who needs New York?
Where to do lunch, and satisfy you sweet tooth
After recently appointing Head Chef, Ben Mounsey, Grafene offers its diners an adventurous, yet traditional British menu comprising of a daily changing market-based a la carte, seven-course taster and exciting small sharing plates. All of the ingredients used in the restaurant’s eclectic dishes have been sourced from non-GM local or artisan suppliers, so the food prepared is always of optimum quality.
Booze lovers can choose from vintage champagne, local beers and experimental cocktails, whilst watching talented pastry chefs create all manner of tempting baked goods in the open pastry kitchen, situated in the bustling heart of the restaurant. The cep consommé with truffle was a delicate, yet powerfully flavoursome starter, as was the tuna tartare- elegantly served with piquant capers and a deep orange egg yolk. Our mains were a hearty homage to great British comfort food – with a refreshingly modern twist. The spiced brisket with chunky barrel chips was one of my favourite dishes and the corn fed chicken served with fluffy potato croquettes, charred gem lettuce and cauliflower was a powerhouse of British flavour.
A cheeseboard of my dreams and an extravagant mint chocolate brownie ended our meal, as did a couple of captivating cocktails – make sure you try the infamous Mancunian, a heady concoction of Woodford reserved bourbon, chocolate liqueur, cinnamon, spice and walnut bitters – a perfect winter warmer before heading out into cold city streets.
Where to dine – with a spot of celeb spotting
This ultra trendy Modern Australian restaurant and bar in Spinningfields is known for its exquisite food, sexy social atmosphere and glam clientele. Known as the celebrity dining hotspot of the city, Australasia has been frequented by the likes of premiership footballers, Liv Tyler and the Beckhams. Australasia serves modern Aussie cuisine merged with a blend of Indonesian, Japanese and Southeast Asian influences.
The decor is effortlessly chic and achingly cool – you enter the restaurant via an artistic geometric-style basement opening in the street, before entering a buzzy dining room and separate bar area – complete with a tune savvy DJ to get everyone in the mood for pre-munch mingling.
We were encouraged by our friendly waitress to choose a selection of small plates to share. We devoured the tasty Peking duck roll with hoisin sauce and spring onion and politely hoovered up the buttery black cod – baked in an authentic hoba lea. We didn’t know what a hoba leaf was either but whatever it was, it did the job well. The lamb cutlets were the highlight of the evening – perfectly pink and rich in meaty flavour, they pleased our meat-loving Moroccan and Iranian tummies and had us yearning for more. The pan seared duck breast and “angry prawns” were also winners. Again, we were slightly perplexed as to why the prawns were so miffed (probably being caught whilst swimming) but they tasted great so we didn’t pay this much thought – angry vegans, don’t judge me.
As I sashayed up the stairs in my highest heels and tightest dress to carry on my evening of Manchester merriment, I silently wished I had worn looser clothing to disguise my rapidly emerging food baby, yet I didn’t regret my epic feast for a minute. Australasia I will return.
Where to stay…and spa
I stayed with my favourite person at the stately Midland Hotel, perfectly nestled amongst the buzzing bars, clubs and arty places of the city. Visited by an array of kings, queens and rock stars over the colourful years, this elegant yet edgy hotel instantly makes you feel at ease once you step into the spacious, yet homely lobby. We indulged in the champagne afternoon tea in the plush tea room before making our way up to our stylish room to get ready for the evening’s shenanigans. The next day, we gorged on a plethora of sharing plates in the hotel’s renowned restaurant, Mr Coopers. The cauliflower and cumin fritters arrived first along with the smoked aubergine served with shallots, chilli and a silky smooth yogurt. Both dishes ensured we ate in silence due to their sheer levels of fabulousness.
Our mains included pan-fried swordfish steak smothered in miso butter and a slow-cooked lamb rump, which arrived smugly perched on a pile of minted courgette slices. We ended our feast with the dream-like creme caramel with rosemary shortbread and an ample cheese board, which arrived with quirky fennel seed crackers and a happy jar of sticky fig chutney.
The next day we swanned into The Midland’s idyllic spa for our stress-busting full body massages – perfect the morning after a frolicsome night on the town. I had chosen the blissful sounding Serene Sleep Signature treatment and my other half chose the Relax in Manchester massage. Our therapists were lovely enough to offer us the couple’s double treatment room so that we could both be pummelled to a relaxed state side by side. A heady combination of essential oils by ESPA were used to help smooth our skin and relax our hectic minds. Afterwards we found sleepy solace in one of the sleep pods in the hotel’s dimly lit relaxation room, rocking ourselves gently to the land of nod. London suddenly felt a million miles away.
Featured image: Australasia