Noting on the school diary that I had been enrolled onto a course I had the usual mixed feelings. On the plus side, it’s always good to develop professionally and hopefully learn something new that will revolutionise my good teaching practice (and, more importantly, a day out of the classroom means an evening free from marking books!) On the down side, I have to leave additional planning and detailed instructions for whomever will be taking the class (and, more concerningly, face the prospect of sharing a dull sandwich buffet with a room full of
strangers fellow professionals.)
When I discovered that the course would be held at one of the University of Manchester buildings on Oxford Road, I had the bright idea of forgoing the ‘provided’ lunch and whizzing along to the Gallery Café at the neighbouring Whitworth Art Gallery. What I didn’t realise is that the group would vote to take a shorter lunch in order to leave slightly earlier – a great idea, but it meant that in order to get to the café and back in time, I’d need to get a wriggle on.
I grabbed my bag and started to walk double time past the Freshers and the overly keen flyer giver-outers, inviting me to spend my student loan at the student union bar. I managed to avoid signing up to a march against the Tories and dodge being flirty fished for some church or another and swerved the individuals inviting me to a big poster sale! I’m 36 … do I really look like the kind of person that would want a poster of Che Guevara or a spliff toting little grey alien saying ‘Take me to your dealer’?
No, what I want is Fairtrade coffees and teas, organic fruit juices and homemade cakes. I want locally sourced produce and a menu of freshly made food that changes seasonally. I want muesli, humous, bruschetta, salads, olives and wraps. Fortunately the Gallery Café serves just such fayre. They also cater for vegetarians, vegans (and meat eaters) and those with food allergies or who need gluten free products.
Opened in 2005, the café, the company ‘The Modern Caterer’ (who also run Gabriel’s Kitchen and the Discovery Centre Café at Jodrell Bank) and its proprietor chef Peter Booth have won numerous awards. Including, in 2009, The Good Food Guide’s Best Family Restaurant and the Manchester Food and Drink Festival (MFDF) Award for Healthy and Sustainable Eating. Peter Booth is also a winner of the MFDF ‘Food Hero of the Year.’
An unseasonably hot day for the end of September, I arrived to find an eclectic mix featuring students, art lovers and nurses from the nearby Manchester Royal Infirmary enjoying the sunshine and making full use of the café’s al fresco dining facilities. Inside, the glass domed and marble pillared gallery foyer doubles as a reception and additional seating area. To the left, the gallery shop, selling the usual postcards, books and souvenirs. To the right, the café, selling the unusually high quality fresh food – not a pre-packaged sandwich in sight.
The café itself is clean and functional, no frills here; it’s all about the food. Chalkboards over the open kitchen and counter, proudly display what is on offer, including the soup of the day, children’s options, homemade cakes and specials.
The menu was varied and there was lots that I fancied; I opted for the ‘Orrechiette Pasta, Sweet Peas, Garlic, Parsley & Pecorino’ - only to discover that they were out. Instead I went for the Wrap of Smoked Salmon, Herb Cream Cheese & Rocket. A tasty mix of crushed herby potatoes with olives, cumin seeds, pasta and vegetables accompanied the wrap, which contained a generous serving of hot smoked salmon. Certainly the best smoked salmon wrap I’ve ever had.
I also opted for the Mezze – served with Tzatziki, Moroccan Carrot Salad and House Marinated Olives & Flat Bread. I felt that the Tzatzkiki could’ve done with a bit more flavour from more herbs, lemon juice or pepper but the crunchy blanched carrot salad was perfect with punchy Moroccan flavour from more cumin seeds. The bread tasted fresh and the home marinated olives were good quality and tasty.
To soak up the herby marinade on the olives I also ordered the Barbakan Bread & Butter - provided by the nearby Barbakan Delicatessen nominated in this years MFDF Awards as the ‘Best Food & Drink Retail Outfit’.
Making the most of the seasons best, I ended my lunch with a deliciously moist homemade Plum slice.
Sadly, on this occasion, I needed to hurry back for the afternoon part of my course and did not have time to view any of the gallery’s fine collections. Including works by Henry Moore, Lucian Freud, L.S. Lowry, David Hockney, Blake, Bacon, Klee, Turner, Gaugain, Cézanne, Degas, Matisse, Picasso and van Gogh (among others)… but those along with the Orrechiette Pasta are reasons to go back, sooner rather than later.