North West’s 55 Best Restaurants #NW55Best @HungryHoss

(Published on 9th April 2016)

Welcome to my list of 'The North West’s 55 Best Restaurants' #NW55Best - as voted for by me.

Speaking volumes about the healthy state of the NW’s dining options, there are probably loads of great places which “deserve” to be featured but are not. 

The #NW55Best is purely a representation of where I like to eat, feel comfortable and, of course, well fed – your opinions will undoubtedly differ from mine so feel free to post a comment or slag me off on twitter @HungryHoss.

The one “rule” I have imposed on myself is that I must have eaten in each of the restaurants listed within the last couple of years (2014 to present) – this may explain some notable absences to which I am overdue a return. I have blogged about most (but not all) of the places – some links predate revisits which I have not written up.

The list spans from “high end” and Michelin starred establishments to pub grub, burger joints, pizza parlous, kebab shops, brasseries and cafes. Cuisines ranging from British, French, Italian, Spanish, Indian, Thai, Japanese, Chinese to Afghani are represented.

As always, I aim to acknowledge, celebrate and promote the region’s best restaurants – I’m particularly fond of supporting our independents.

Why 55? Five is an important number for the region as there are 5 ceremonial counties in the North West: Cumbria, Lancashire, Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshireit’s also enabled me to bend my own rules by including 5 places that I’m either yet to visit or haven’t returned to within my time frame.

One more obvious thing, as the #NW55Best has been compiled based on where I have eaten, it is obviously geographically biased to where I live and eat out most regularly – so apologies to the under represented Merseyside, Lancashire and Cumbria.

1.    L’Enclume, Cartmel, Cumbria – largely serving produce from their own farm and Cumbria, with 2 Michelin stars Simon Rogan’s flagship restaurant has to be considered ‘the crown jewel’ of North West’s dining.  Being ranked as Good Food Guide’s ‘Best UK Restaurant’ for three years in a row, it’s also my favourite.

2.    Fraiche, Oxton, Merseyside – a long time holder of a Michelin star, the multi sensory experience Chef/Proprietor Marc Wilkinson has created makes Fraiche one of the most delightful places to eat in the country. Good luck getting a table!

3.    The Forest Side, Grasmere, Cumbria – a hot ‘new entry’, I absolutely loved the food Chef Kevin Tickle has created to showcase the best of the Cumbrian larder.  Keep an eye on this one.

4.    The French by Simon Rogan, Manchester – some said that Simon Rogan’s food would not translate from its rural setting to a luxury hotel dining room. The French and Fera at Claridge’s have proved that is not the case. The best place in Manchester for a celebratory meal.

5.    Sticky Walnut / Burnt Truffle (soon Hispi Bistro) – I may be ‘cheating’ here but the food on offer at both places is equally good so I couldn’t split them. Chef/Proprietor Gary Usher has seemingly created a blueprint for the perfect neighbourhood bistro – with the help of myself and 717 others, they (we) have part crowdfunded the soon to be open Hispi Bistro… expect more of the same quality!

6.    Parkers Arms, Lancashire – Parkers Arms’ Chef/Proprietor Stosi Madi has a reputation for feeding people and feeding them well. From traditional pub fare, such as pies and local game to exciting world flavours that tell of her heritage and travels, everything is cooked with passion.

7.    Yuzu, Chinatown, Manchester – consistently one of my favourite places to eat in Manchester. Simple, authentic Japanese food.

8.    Altrincham Market House, Altrincham – the home of the excellent Honest Crust Pizzas, Tender Cow, Little Window and Wolfhouse Kitchen plus many more, the Market House is another North West place that could show other parts of the country how it’s done.

9.    Siam Smiles Café, Chinatown, Manchester – some of the best Thai food I’ve eaten outside of Thailand. The café setting adds to the experience. Don’t believe me? Read what Marina O’Loughlin said in The Guardian – here.

10.SoLita, Manchester – I’m not a huge burger fan but sometimes I get the hankering for a big beauty and SoLita arguably do the best - their creative specials often set my twitter feed alight. I typically just eat their smaller plates or steaks – the ‘Cheeseburger Spring Rolls’ and ‘Sticky Lime Wings’ being firm favourites. They currently have 3 sites (with a new one coming to Preston) – I currently favour the Prestwich site.

11.Volta, West Didsbury, Manchester – with one of the best atmospheres and the best small plate menus in the North West, Volta has been a firm favourite of mine since it opened. The menu changes regularly and there is always something of interest.

12.Lunya – the food quality at both sites (Liverpool and Manchester) is equally good but, partly thanks to its location in the beautiful Barton Arcade, I am biased towards the Manchester branch. Both locations have excellent delis, stocking high quality Spanish foods, booze and gifts. The cheese counter is brilliant.

13.Baratxuri, Ramsbottom, Lancashire – if you’ve ever been to San Sebastián, you’ll know all about pintxos bars and will have fallen in love with them. Now you don’t have to travel to Spain – I just wish more pintxos bar would open in the area so I can go on a proper pintxos crawl.

14.Sadaf, Rusholme, Manchester – there are a few Afghani and Kurdish kebab shops along “The Curry Mile” that I frequent. Kurdistan is another favourite but the ‘Kobeda’ and ‘Qabili Pilau’ at Sadaf are consistently the best in my opinion. The freshly made naan breads take some beating too.

15.Mughli Restaurant + Charcoal Pit, Rusholme, Manchester – another place where I often swerve the mains in favour of the smaller plates or “street food” as they call it. My top dishes include the ‘Pau Bhaji’, ‘Keema Pau’ and ‘Lamb Chops’. There are a few imitators but Mughli remain the best.

16.Nutters – Nutters may not be ‘on trend’ but I have huge respect for the talented Chef/Proprietor Andrew Nutter. For the type of food and experience they offer, they are second to none in the North West. Take your mum, she’ll love it!

17.Hawksmoor, Manchester – sure the steaks are good but it’s the bar menu and small plates that I enjoy. Their Triple Cooked Chips accompanied by the Anchovy Hollandaise is a beautiful thing.

18.Sugo Pasta Kitchen, Altrincham – a small independent restaurant breathing life and soul back into Italian food. In my opinion, two things sadly lacking in most Manchester based Italian restaurants.

19.Levanter, Ramsbottom, Lancashire – Levanter is a traditional tapas bar around the corner from and by the same people who run Baratxuri. Their ‪#TxuletonSunday‪ featuring Galician beef rib steaks is the one that gets most people talking.

20. Mr. Cooper’s House & Garden, Manchester – another entry for the food of Simon Rogan. Here his Cumbrian cuisine and some produce from the farm is enhanced with world flavours. The ‘Roasted sweetheart cabbage, teriyaki sauce, truffles & hot wasabi mayonnaise’ is a particular fave.

21.Rogan & Company, Cartmel, Cumbria – now serving a similar menu to Mr. Cooper’s House & Garden, Rogan & Company offers Cartmellians a more accessible option to sample Simon Rogan’s food.

22.Mei Dim, Chinatown, Manchester – forget Wings and Yang Sing; from my observations, Mei Dim is where the Chinese population go to eat dim sum. If you want to experience authentic food, don’t let them fob you off with the “English menu”.

23.Lahori Dera, Longsight, Mancehster – I love Mughli and Indian Tiffin Room for their modern take on traditional Indian foods but for a “proper curry”, the curry cafes around places like Cheetham Hill, Longsight and Levenshulme are tough to beat. The ‘Nihari’ (on a Sunday) is the one to go for.

24.食唯 Shi Wei Xian (Mr. Fresh), Salford – like Mei Dim, Shi Wei Xian seemingly offer two menus, one for the “English” and one for the “Chinese” – I don’t know what the food is like on the former but their “Chinese Chinese” is a joy.

25.Northcote, Langho, Lancashire – another long time holder of a Michelin star, the quality of Northcote’s food can not be questioned.

26.Indian Tiffin Room – there are now two of these, the tiny original in Cheadle and the fancy new one in the city centre. For atmosphere, I prefer the original but the food at both is equally good.

27.Simon Radley at The Chester Grosvenor, Chester – a holder of a Michelin star for may years. The bread course alone is worthy of an entry.

28.The Church Green, Lymm, Cheshire – owner Aiden Byrne may get the column inches for his cooking at the celeb fave Manchester House but TCG pleases me more because its not trying too hard to please… if that makes sense? Some of the best burgers and steaks in the area. The ‘new’ small plates menu looks good too.  

29. Manchester House – my recent experience of the evening tasting menu did not quite live up to expectation but the set lunch remains one of the best value for money lunches you’ll get in Manchester.

30. Brassica Grill, Heaton Moor, Stockport – a Michelin Bib Gourmand rated bistro, Brassica grill is a delightful, independent local restaurant. I love this type of place.

31. The Fat Loaf, Sale – like Brassica grill, The Fat Loaf another delightful, independent local restaurant. Quality produce, well cooked at keen prices.

32. Joseph Benjamin, Chester – I don’t get to Chester as much as I’d like (and when I do I tend to eat at Sticky Walnut) but Joseph Benjamin is one of those friendly high quality bistros I wish was around the corner from me.

33.The Chef’s Table, Chester – ditto the Joseph Benjamin comment.

34.Oliver’s at Bollington Green, Cheshire – another indecently owned, family run bistro serving quality food. A delightful little village too – worth a drive out from Manchester.

35.The Northern Quarter Restaurant, Manchester – another place that could do with reigning in the presentation and putting their slates back onto roofs. This aside, the food is always good. The ‘Express Menu’ offers exceptional value.

36.The Yew Tree Inn, Bunbury – there are few decent gastropubs in this area of Cheshire and the The Yew Tree Inn is definitely amongst the best. I like the quirky décor as well as the food.

37.Cholmondley Arms, Cheshire – you’ll love it here if you are a Gin drinker as they stock over 200 varieties. I like it because they are in a former school building.

38.The Assheton Arms, Downham, Lancashire – one of the quality places belonging to Jocelyn Neve’s Seafood Pub Company. If you like good seafood, you won’t be disappointed at any of her gaffs.

39.The Easy Fish Co. Heaton Moor, Stockport – the restaurant at the back of the The Easy Fish Co.’s fishmongers is unchallenged as the best place to eat seafood in Manchester. They overdo the presentation a little but the quality of produce can not be denied. 

40.Rudy’s Neoploitan Pizza, Ancoats – with Honest Crust and PLY, Manchester’s pizza offerings are top notch. Rudy’s are made with passion and quality ingredients in a cool setting.

41.The Railway Café, Alderley Edge, Cheshire – a ‘world café’ in Alderley Edge from the Arshad clan (Mcr’s answer to the Sethi family) who also own Mughli and Evelyn’s (and a couple of London outposts). A real bonus is that I don’t have to worry about looking out of place with when I park the Bentley outside.

42.La Bandera, Manchester – maybe not consistently the best Spanish food in the city but I love the vibe in their friendly family owned place (especially when the football is on). The croquettes are always good and their Canarian wrinkled potatoes, ‘Papas Arrugadas con Mojo’ are a must.

43.Greens, West Didsbury – a veggie restaurant that satisfies many a carnivore. No greater compliment than that.

44.Cartford Inn, Little Eccleston – a quality gastropub just outside of Blackpool.

45..Well Hung Kitchen / Bangers and Bacon, Manchester – two words… “Swine fries”.

46.Splendid Kitchen, Manchester – some days a bit of “dirty” down home Americana and fried chicken is needed… for these days Splendid Kitchen was invented. Make sure you order the Eggs Benedict Fries.

47.The Pasta Factory, Manchester  – a delightfully simple Italian restaurant serving a small menu of in house made fresh pastas.

48.Quill, Manchester – Quill really should be placed higher on this list but my lunchtime visit was just not worth writing home about. If it lives up to its hype and promise maybe it will work its way up my list next time?

49.The Clarence, Bury – a pub that does decent food and a great Sunday roast.

50.Sanskruti, Manchester – I like veggie food, especially Indian. Since I no longer work nears Lily’s Vegetarian Café in Ashton, Sanskruti has helped me get my fixes of dosa and paneer.

51.Lake Road Kitchen, Cumbria – I’m yet to visit LRK but trusted sources have raved over it and it looks right up my street… a possible top 10 next time around? Read Marina O'Loughlin’s Guardian review.

52.Old Stamp House, Cumbria – like LRK, the Old Stamp House is a restaurant that has been on my radar for quite some time, I’ve just not managed to get up that way. When I do, I have a strong feeling it will be up my alley.

53.El Gato Negro, Manchester – the Spanish Armada’s invasion of Manchester commandeered some heavy artillery when Chef Simon Shaw decided to move his Michelin Bib Gourmand rated ‘The Black Cat’ from Ripponden to Manchester. With reservations hard to come by (certainly on the times I’ve tried), I’ve only been in for some drinks and nibbles but I’m sure it will soon work its way up my list.

54.The Samling, Cumbria – another place that I am overdue a visit to. They have changed chefs since I last went (in 2013) and expectations are high.

55.Freemasons, Wiswell, Lancashire – Freemasons is a gastro pub with Michelin stared aspirations. I’ve eaten there on a few occasions but am overdue a return visit.

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