So, it's September, and despite the general feeling of back-to-schoolness, the days are still sunny and - joy of joys - it's time for the annual Manchester Food & Drink Festival. I look forward to this celebration of all that is great and good in the world for pretty much the whole year; indeed, when each new brochure is released my natural inclination is to run at it with a giant marker pen and start drawing rings round things in much the same way as I do with the Christmas Radio Times. This year's festival has been on for less than a week, and I have already done the following extremely splendid things:
1. Launch Night. This took place at the newly re-opened Corn Exchange, and whilst, in truth, it's not quite finished yet, it's clear to see what a great space this will be once all the units are fully open. Already in residence are lovely newcomers such as Wahaca, Mowgli and Pho, as well as returning favourites like Salvi's and Tampopo - all of whom had set up inside the dome of the Corn Exchange and were handing out samples. After the opening speeches the party moved up to Albert Square which, as usual, is the home of the Festival Hub and which - less usually - was dry and mild for the start of the festival. Albert Square always has a great atmosphere for the Food & Drink Festival but seems bigger and better than ever this year, with a huge beer tent courtesy of the Wainwright Ale Trail Bar, a Fevertree gin & tonic bar, and plenty of street food traders lining the edges of the square. I had a grilled cheese and bacon sandwich from The Cheese Truck followed by an outstanding crab patty with avocado and samphire from Crabbieshack - both London-based vendors, but both worth overcoming some good old Northern parochialism for. A really great start to this year's festival; indeed, I only went home when it became physically impossible to consume any more gin.
2. Big Indie Wine Fest. I love a wine festival, and I love this one more than most, offering as it does the chance to try lots of interesting wines from small, independent producers and traders whilst nodding earnestly and pontificating pompously about mouthfeel. If you've not been to one of these before, essentially your entry fee earns you a wine glass which you then run excitedly about with, profferring it to anyone standing behind a table which bears wine you would like to try. The Town Hall is a perfect venue for this, being both spacious and gracious, and the exhibitors really had brought along some great wine to try. My favourite white was a lovely Albariño from Chorlton Oddbins, but I also sampled some great reds from West Didsbury's Reserve Wines and from Salut, itself nominated for "Bar of the Year" in this year's awards. We left just before the end and wandered into the Festival Hub for some food to soak up all that wine - this time I had some of Splendid's wondrous fried chicken, with another grilled cheese sandwich for afters.
3. Taste on Two at Harvey Nichols. This is another of my favourite annual events, at one of my favourite food retailers (with surely the best views from its food hall and restaurant). Taste on Two is a lovely evening where some of the producers whose food and drink graces the shelves at Harvey Nics come together throughout the Food Hall to offer samples and talk you through some of their products. It was great to see some old favourites there - Burt's Cheese, Woodall's Charcuterie - as well as some exciting new ones. Gin was particularly well represented - I sat in the Hendrick's gin chair and was sprayed with aromas of rose and cucumber (this earned me a gin and tonic, and was therefore time well spent), and also particularly enjoyed newcomers Forest Gin and Manchester-based Thomas Dakin. I left clutching a goodie bag and a cake from Jelly Tots & Dolly Mixtures Cupcake Company, still wearing my Harvey Nichols apron and altogether over-excited by the chance to talk to so many enthusiastic and totally dedicated producers.
It's all change tomorrow, with a whole new shift of street food traders taking up the mantle in the Festival Hub and events continuing until Monday's Gala Dinner and Awards. Still PLENTY of time for at least another three visits I'd say - for the full programme, have a look at the MFDF website (marker pen optional but recommended).