The Best Things We Ate & Drank in 2021

Including the city's Michelin-starred burger, huge subs, rice and three and ramen...

By Manchester's Finest | Last updated 4 January 2022

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The Michelin-starred Burger
Of course, the dishes that Simon Martin and his team produce on a daily basis in Manchester’s only Michelin-starred restaurant are sublime, intricate, magnificent and awe-inspiring, but it was his attempt at the humble beef burger which impressed us most this year. An idea plucked out of the air during the lockdown at the beginning of the year, he turned his restaurant into a take-out – creating a burger that surpassed anything we’ve ever eaten before or since. Let’s start a petition to get him making them again!

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The Combo Box
Rita’s Reign @ Piccadilly Gardens
If you’ve not tried Rita’s on Piccadilly Gardens yet then WTF is wrong with you!? It’s absolutely bloody brilliant and excellent value for money too. It’s a regular amongst most of the Finest crew every single week, and there’s nothing better than their HUGE Combo Box, which is filled with succulent boneless Jerk Chicken, Curry Goat, Fried Plantains, Jollof Rice, salad and ‘The Purple Stuff’ – Rita’s excellent homemade slaw. They’re slogging away every single week on Piccadilly Gardens – get yourself down there ASAP!

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Aged Goosnargh Duck
Seemingly appearing out of nowhere on Oldham Street back in June, DISTRICT was quick to make a huge impression on the city’s food and drink experts, with a unique blend of Blade Runner and Bangkok’s street BBQs. They introduced us to ‘THE FULL EXPERIENCE’ a taster menu taking you on a journey through the culinary delights of Thailand, via the prism of a bunch of eccentric minds in the kitchen. We were thoroughly impressed with the lot (including the cocktails) but this Aged Goosnargh Duck on a bed of little apple aubergines really stood out of the crowd. One of the reasons; the outstanding spicy Phat Phet jus that it was smothered in; a Thai red curry reduction that will blow your mind.

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Tomahawk Steak & “The Best Chips in the North West”
The Moor
We proclaimed back in July that this was the “steak and chips that takes 45 days to make” – and we weren’t exaggerating. The Moor in Heaton Moor burst onto the scene in the summer, and this tantalising steak and chips was its signature offering. Made using retired dairy cows, adding to the maturity and marbling of the meat, and chips that were deemed the best in the North West – this was our favourite steak and chips of the year by a big, big margin.

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Tempura Abalone
Umezushi Omakase
Manchester’s Most Exclusive Restaurant. That’s what we called Umezushi this year, essentially risen from the grave as the city’s greatest sushi joint – now a member only venue that feeds just four people per sitting. Chef and owner Terry Huang has created one of the most intimate restaurant experiences on the planet, preparing and serving dishes in front of customers from an ever-changing menu of his choosing, usually when he feels ‘inspired’ to do so.

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Italian Meatball Sub
Fat Pats
Sure, we’ve probably all had a Bada Bing sandwich by now, and they’re very, very, very good indeed, but we were hugely impressed with this Chorlton newcomer in December and their Italian Meatball Sub. Made using the very freshest of ingredients, and freshly baked eight-inch milk rolls, they then stuff it with soft, house-minced meatballs that are covered in marinara sauce, double mozzarella, house seasoning, parmigiana reggiano, and fresh basil. A classic sandwich done so, so well.

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Sweet ‘n’ Sour Battered King Prawns
Pho Cue Kitchen
Pho Cue in Chinatown continue to impress, and this year we’ve had a LOT of things from there that could have made this list. We’ve whittled it down to these pho-nominal (yes!) Sweet ‘n’ Sour Battered King Prawns. Absolutely smothered in a homemade tangy sauce, the prawns were tasty AF and coated in Pho Cue’s signature salt and pepper batter. A sure-fire winner every single time, make sure you order it on your next visit.

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Brownies & Bakewell Cookies
All Things Nice
A true hidden gem that was uncovered by Lee during a weekend jaunt in Marple, All Things Nice is one of those places that do A LOT, and all of it is well thought out, considered, and always on point. In amongst their charcuterie boards, black pudding scotch eggs and an outstanding shakshuka, we absolutely devoured their homemade brownies and cookies – seriously – we couldn’t get enough of them. Even if you’ve not got a sweet tooth though, there’s something for everyone here, and if you’ve not been yet, get it on your ‘To Go’ list for 2022 straight away.

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Camembert & Rosemary Garlic Bread
The Holcombe Tap
A verifiable Ramsbottom institution, The Holcombe Tap is a proper boozer with a truly magnificent food menu, dishes that are perfect to enjoy with one of their many, many gins whilst sitting next to their log fire, perhaps with a dog at your feet to really finish off the scene. Out of the many dishes that we tried, their Baked Camembert was a winner, especially when dipping their Rosemary Garlic Bread in there. The perfect winter warmer.

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Tantan Ramen
Tokyo Ramen
We popped down to Tokyo Ramen in October to grab some bowls of their legendary ramen, a few ice-cold Asahi’s and a bit of a catch up with the lads. They still serve up some of the best ramen bowls in the city and always a favourite is the Tantan – Koji-fried chicken in a chicken bone broth, roast garlic-sesame tare, kale, seasoned egg and fermented chilli oil.

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Indian Chicken Roast Dinner
A few years back we were lucky enough to tuck into Zouk’s truly magnificent Whole Roast Lamb Dinner, but you can’t really have that every week now, can you? This Roast Chicken one though – we could eat every single day of our lives. The chicken is marinated for hours in Zouk’s special spice blend, before being roasted and served with all the trimmings. Best of all is Zouk’s signature spicy gravy, adding a little bit of a kick to it all and putting a welcome Indian twist on the classic Roast Dinner.

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Classic Lasagne Slab
Lazy Tony’s
This year saw the arrival of the city’s first ever ‘SLAB SHACK’, as Lazy Tony’s opened for collection in Ancoats, before moving on to a residency at Foundation Coffee House in the Northern Quarter. We hosted a massive party for their arrival in the NQ, and we all ended up eating way too much lasagne – if that’s even a thing. Lazy Tony’s classic lasagne is truly glorious – everything a lasagne should be; meaty, cheesy, packed full of flavour and huge – enough for one portion to fill a very greedy grown man or a small ape.

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Eyes That See At Night
Lost Cat
If you haven’t been to Lost Cat on Oldham Street yet then – shame on you. They do some fantastic cocktails, which are both imaginative and seriously boozy – all you want really. Their ‘Eyes That See At Night’ is the perfect dessert-style creation made with clementine-spiced rum, and carrot cake syrup. Yep, it’s basically a carrot cake in drink form, which is then topped with a cream cheese foam. It sounds a bit mad, and it is, but it’s also very, very tasty indeed.

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Firehouse Chicken
The Firehouse burst onto the scene this year with what could only be described as ‘pimped up Nandos’. That’s actually a bit of a disservice to the excellence of the food here – which all revolves around their slow-fired chicken which is farm-reared, grain-fed and field-grazed and tender AF. Cooked over a naked flame and then presented to you in all its beautiful simplicity, Firehouse have also created an impressive range of sides and small plates that perfectly complement the meat. A class act all round.

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Ox Cheek Eggs Benedict
Top contender for the best brunch in Manchester, Blanchflower in Altrincham is a very impressive place indeed, with everything on their menu made from scratch in their kitchen and bakery. You’re always assured a decent selection of seasonal dishes which are a huge step above anything you’ll have ever eaten – which is exactly what happened when we went down in May to try their new Eggs Benedict dishes. Typically not the most exciting of dishes, Blanchflower have taken a rather bog-standard pairing of eggs and bread and elevated it into the stratosphere with a range of unique toppings and twists. Their Ox Cheek version were easily the best Eggs Benedict we’ve ever had.

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Rice & Three
Yadgar Cafe
A particular favourite amongst one member of staff here in the Finest office, Yadgar’s is up there with the city’s best Rice & Three venues, and as others proclaim the best to be This & That or Kabana, Fred at Yadgars cares very little – simply cooking and serving his excellent curries day-in, day-out. It’s a no-frills kind of place, which are usually always the best, and it’s easy to see that this would be the kind of gaff Anthony Bourdain would have been sat in if he’d have visited Manchester.

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The Lamb Döner
One Star Döner Bar
Michelin-starred chef Brad Carter swung into town back in September with his very own donner kebab bar at Escape to Freight Island. Inspired by Berlin’s cult favourite Mustafas Gemüse Kebab, Brad’s kebabs are seriously tasty, and as far removed from a mucky donner at a takeaway at 3am as you could imagine. His home-made lamb donner is a winner, served with salad, smoked chilli sauce, peppers and on the side – his signature potato Smileys coated in Cacio e Pepe Sauce.

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Vazhai Ilai Parotta
BrewChimp Indian Social Club
It’s almost impossible to pronounce properly and it’s highly likely that you’ve never seen this beauty on any menu here in the UK before, but after the launch of BrewChimp Indian Social Club in Stretford this year – you can now enjoy this delicacy without spending 11 hours on a flight to India. Plucked straight from the streets of Tamil Nadu, this dish consists of a flaky fried paratha flatbread, topped with a spicy dry chicken curry, trimmings and then wrapped in a massive banana leaf. The whole thing is then grilled in the leaf and brought to your table so you can enjoy alongside a few beers. Amazing.

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Foie Gras Old Fashioned
Butcher’s Quarter
The Butcher’s Quarter pulled something super-special out of the hat this November, and we were absolutely bowled away with it. It’s not often that we get so excited with meat flavoured booze but their Foie Gras Old Fashioned was pretty much the most perfect cocktail that we experienced this entire year. It was included as part of their Steak Dinner Box for two – which was pretty spectacular itself – and was perfect when supped alongside a perfectly seared steak and dauphinoise potatoes.

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All You Can Eat Pinxtos
It’s been an exceptionally busy year for Baratxuri at Freight Island this year. Coming out of a pretty dire lockdown in April, they got their fires burning hot almost immediately, absolutely smashing the BBQ game, and with our frequent visits this year – it’s hard to ascertain the most impressive. We’ve had the steak – which was outstanding, and we’ve also enjoyed their all you can eat pinxtos on Wednesdays too – which is quite possibly the city’s best evening out. Simple.

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