Now, I'm guessing that if you were to sit down and compile a list of your favourite places to eat, "at the airport" would not be jostling with L'Enclume et al for the top spot. Indeed, airport food is notoriously something to be endured rather than savoured, often consisting of an unpleasant burger from a chain or an overpriced breakfast in an airport "pub", chewing sadly on your extortionate withered sausage at 7 in the morning as you try to ignore a/ the group of lads embarking on their second pint of the day and b/ the furtively envious, those-were-the-days looks your own husband is shooting towards said group.
Now, though, things are looking up. I was as surprised as anyone to be invited to Manchester Airport to experience the revamped food quarter at Terminal 1 as well as the new flagship pub, The Grain Loft, but I was seduced by all the exciting talk of going "airside" and "travelling light" and decided to go along for a look (although, distressingly, this did involve travelling without lip gloss in my bag for the first time since about 1993, as well as having to walk straight past a Kurt Geiger sale due to lack of boarding card - difficult times).
Anyway, the new food quarter is on the ground floor of departures at Terminal 1, and looks at first glance very much like any other such establishment - there's a Burger King and a Giraffe amongst the usual suspects - until you see THIS:
This is Ginge-Air, the hopelessly cute younger, smaller sibling of the Ginger's Comfort Emporium ice cream van that has become such a familiar (and always welcome) sight in and around Manchester. Claire's amazing artisan ice creams will be available here for the next three months - the plan then being that another street trader will take her place - and obviously in the interests of professional journalism I was forced to try a scoop of chocolate and a scoop of the legendary salted caramel, despite having an intimate working knowledge of these superlative food items already:
Other vendors within the food quarter include Mi Casa Burritos, Upper Crust and The Pasty Shop - we sampled some of the freshly-made beef, pork and chicken burritos from the former and found them most acceptable, if a little difficult to eat gracefully from a paper napkin whilst standing up and trying to hobnob intelligently. After this, it was up the escalator to The Grain Loft bar, which has already apparently been a great success since opening in March, and of which the airport staff are quite openly proud. This is not an easy space - it used to be a take-a-tray-style cafeteria, and filling the vastness with something inviting and welcoming was always going to be a challenge. Still, operators SSP have actually done a pretty good job, dividing the space into smaller booths and seating areas, including some very cool sound pods which allow you to listen to your own iPod playlist without disturbing other diners. We tried these and they were something akin to magic - step outside the booth and all you can hear is the noise of the bar; step back in and you are surrounded by your own music - and as no-one else can hear, you don't even need to worry about the shuffle option picking something less than cool from your playlist (not that there is ANY Tracey Ullman or similar on my iPod).
We also very much liked the self-serve beer taps - always fun and a clever way to keep traffic away from the bar at busy times. Have a look at Gordo Manchester's attempt at pouring his own pint on his Twitter feed, and if you can spot any beer under all that froth then your eyes are certainly keener than mine. We sampled a number of the local ales available, including Jaipur and Tzara from Thornbridge Brewery; thrillingly, the food menu also offers a "Beer Can" Chicken - a whole, beer-marinated chicken roasted over a can of Jaipur. The menu suggests this a sharer dish, but I'll be the judge of that - it certainly tasted a whole lot better than the chicken I once barbecued over a can of Sainsbury's Value lager. In fact, the whole menu is pretty tempting, offering beer brisket rolls, fish and chips and some amazing beer-battered slices of Bury black pudding amongst other sturdy delights - you can see the full menu here.
Clearly, then, this is not a place you would make a special journey to. But in terms of airport food and drink this is a massive step forward - indeed, I'm already wishing that my forthcoming flight to Amsterdam was going out of Terminal 1 rather than 3, so if I can just get Claire to to wheel Ginge-Air across the airport for me...