Where in Manchester serves the best scran? Ancoats, of course - the industrial suburb that fringes the city's edgy Northern Quarter. Known for its red-brick buildings, sprawling warehouses, canalside streets and a dining scene that has everyone, including Michelin inspectors, talking, this up-and-coming district is the city's new dining room. If you're heading out for lunch, breakfast or just a cup of coffee and a natter, it's odds-on that you'll be making tracks to Ancoats.
No wonder, then, that city natives Patrick Withington and Will Sutton picked the neighbourhood as the setting for their natural wine bar and small plates restaurant, Erst. Keen to open in the kind of place they'd want to hang out in on a day off, they had a premonition that good things were on the cards for Ancoats' cobbled streets. They were right. Since opening in 2019, Erst - a slick but unshowy dining destination that serves a menu of punchy small plates - has become a pillar of the area's fresh-faced food scene. Pitch up on a Saturday evening and you'll be tucking into escabeche-bathed mussels served under a blanket of lardo, cold roast beef with tonnato, and baby artichokes scattered between plump butter beans, doused in sunshine-yellow olive oil. Once, Ancoats was famed for its bell-bottom-trousered, brass-tipped-clog-wearing scuttler gangs - criminal enterprises that stalked the canalside streets in the 19th century. Your fellow dinners are likely to be just as nattily dressed these days, but they're gangs of creatives rather than felons, French bulldogs at their feet.
Patrick Withington, left, and dishes from the Erst menu
If you're heading to Manchester, swing by Erst for a taste of the city's new food scene - it would be criminal not to. And when you've finished dining, Patrick and Will have plenty of recommendations for where to go in this happening Manchester neighbourhood, from a favourite boutique hotel to the late-night joints worth staying up for.
A food-focused guide to Ancoats, Manchester
What is the Ancoats vibe?
Ancoats has gone through a massive regeneration over the past 10 years. It's now full of young creatives living in former cotton mills and the surrounding flats. It's important to remember its history, though; there are still a lot of families that have lived here for generations, which is great. Lots of young people have moved into the area, too, and they really embrace new bars, pubs and restaurants. Compared to when we first opened, there's now a real buzz.
Will Sutton, left, and the airy dining room at Erst
We've heard it's the centre of Manchester's food scene…
It's probably the newest place on the scene. You've got Mana, which was awarded a Michelin star in October 2019. Then, there are Manchester institutions like Rudy's Pizza and Sugo Pasta Kitchen. The guys at Flawd, on the marina, are offering up some really interesting small plates and excellent wine, too. Each venue brings something different but demonstrates the same passion for creating a unique experience.
Where should we stay in the area?
We often invite chefs to do takeovers in the restaurant and always book them into Cow Hollow - a small, boutique hotel on the edge of Ancoats.
Moody interiors at Cow Hollow boutique hotel
Where's best for breakfast?
For the best baked goods and sandwiches, head to Pollen, on the marina, or Trove, near Erst. If you need to sort out a fuzzy head, Glamorous, a Chinese restaurant above speciality supermarket Wing Yip, opens at 11.30am daily and does amazing dim sum.
We're having dinner at Erst, of course. What do you recommend?
Start with a flatbread, some Cantabrian anchovies and Northern Cure charcuterie, with an Ayinger Helles lager. Then, move to a bottle of Vinyes Tortuga Doolittle, a light but intense barbera from Catalunya, as you work your way through the menu. We'll always have cured or pickled fish on there as well as larger fish cooked on the grill or a slow-braised meat dish.
Patrick, you started your cooking career at supper clubs. Are there any new ones on the scene we should know about?
Our sous chef, Anna, and former sommelier, Kim, have started a supper club called Suppher, which raises money for women's charities. They work with a different local chef for each event, so the offering is always changing.
Give us a run-down on the local bar scene.
The dining space at Mana, left, and a dish from the restaurant's menu
What about a night out?
Ancoats is a residential area, so late-night licences are thin on the ground. You'll need to venture out of Ancoats. Soup, in the Northern Quarter, is one of Manchester's best independent clubs, and it's just a five-minute walk from Erst.
Any recommendations for late-night food stops?
There's a place on the other side of Great Ancoats Street, at the top of the Northern Quarter, called Cocktail, Beer, Ramen & Bun, which does exactly what it says on the tin - until 2am.
How should we spend a weekend in the neighbourhood?
Check out the artists, producers and shops packed into converted shipping containers at Meanwhile Creative's Pollard Yard, then book tickets to see a play at Hope Mill Theatre. Finish off the night at Peste bar, opened by the people behind The White Hotel, an experimental club on the outskirts of Salford.
We're heading for a pint - where are we meeting you?
The Marble Arch. There are lots of great beers brewed by Marble itself and poured in a traditional pub space. The food is superb, too.
Ancoats at dusk, left, and Flawd natural wine bar
Any independent shops we should check out?
By day, Peste is a great stop for records, books and art. There's also a market at Cutting Room Square that happens once a month. Loads of independent makers take part.
What's a suitable album to load up for a walk around Ancoats?
Everyone knows all the great Manchester bands going back decades - this city has an unequalled musical heritage - but there are also many new acts making great music right now. We'd put Honest Labour by Space Afrika on, which represents the new music scene well. They launched their album at Erst earlier this year.