30 January 2023

END. took a trip to Manchester to celebrate the independent businesses at the cornerstones of its food and drink industry.

Unbridled creativity is something that has long been synonymous with Manchester, permeating every aspect of the city for many, many decades. It’s led the Northwestern metropolis to be one of the most important cultural hotbeds not just in the UK, but also globally, positioning itself as one of the vanguards in a long list of industries and creative fields. From its status as an 18th-century textile powerhouse, to the Madchester music scene that defined underground music culture in the UK in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, Manchester has long sat at the crossroad where talent, ambition and experimentalism intertwines.

The city’s residents have a desire to forge their own paths that translates into every aspect of life in a feverish manner, with Manchester’s food and drinks industry being no exception. This motivation to colour outside of the lines has resulted in a plethora of diverse establishments, ones that take facets of global culture and combine them with this creative, distinctly Mancunian vision. Championing this, END. visited a selection of the restaurants, bars and cafés located across the city, ranging from restaurants putting their own contemporary spin on Sicilian classics to stores blurring the lines between creativity, community and wellness. 


Denton, located five miles out of Manchester’s city centre, is a town historically known for its industrial and mining heritage. It’s also steadily becoming a hotspot for Manchester’s food and drink industry, largely thanks to businesses like the Sicilian café located on Manchester Road: Ornella’s Kitchen. The owner of Ornella’s Kitchen, Ornella Cancila, opened her doors eight months ago, prior to which she delivered food from her house during lockdown: “I started just delivering to family and friends, but we had a great response and demand from people”. This demand kickstarted a desire for Ornella to open her own physical space, creating “a smaller coffee shop that gave the feeling of being inside a house living room”. Beyond just its cosy and welcoming atmosphere is food that’s rightly credited as some of the finest Italian cuisine Manchester has to offer, with classic recipes updated through an inventive and contemporary lens — like Ornella’s Nduja arancini with hot honey, for instance, or fried ravioli with pesto dip. On this approach, Ornella said “I like to keep things fairly traditional; I am from Sicily, so everything stems from my family background, but we like to do things with a contemporary twist to keep things a little different”.

Ornella was born in a small Sicilian fishing village home to around 800 people, where cooking was very much a family affair: “my dad had a big restaurant there and I learned how to cook from my dad, my mom and my grandma. All of my dad’s family and my mom used to work in the restaurant”. That generational knowledge and experience passed on to Ornella is something that shines through with her cooking, with Ornella stating that “all of the flavours I grew up with” are integral elements. Achieving these authentic Sicilian flavours can be a little trickier in Manchester, though, “In Sicily, everything grows wild, like asparagus or fennel, but here it can be much harder to find these ingredients”. Nonetheless, Ornella successfully perseveres, managing to replicate the milieu of her Sicilian upbringing and offer a true, authentic taste of Italy to the people of Manchester.


Over the past decade, natural wine has represented an important cultural movement in the food and drinks sphere, one where a more eco-minded, health-conscious stance towards the creation and enjoyment of wine is championed. Central to Manchester’s independent food scene is Ancoats: a neighborhood filled with eclectic food and drinks establishments, ranging from specialist coffee shops to natural wine bars. KERB, located on Ancoats’ Henry Street, is one of the many places flying the flag for the neighborhood's independent scene, operating equal parts natural wine bar and community hangout space. Step into KERB for the first time and you’re greeted by a warm, friendly atmosphere, with a refined, stripped-back interior which lets its centre piece do the talking: a striking, concave wall illuminated by a sea of natural wine bottles and their artistically designed labels. On what KERB is all about, Fiona, store manager, said: “KERB is a natural wine bar, shop and online store. All we sell is natural wine — which is wine made without chemicals. You can drink in and you can take away”. What initially drew Fiona to KERB was the relaxed, easygoing atmosphere, something which serves as the antithesis to the seriousness often found in the wine world: “What drew me to KERB was how relaxed and casual it is in here – it’s not that serious, when you think of a wine bar you think of something quite stuffy, or people talking about wine, but that's not the case with KERB”.

The following behind natural wine is something that resonates massively with the creative, eco-conscious clientele of Ancoats, with Fiona commenting “obviously, avoiding using chemicals is better for the environment, but it’s also better for you in terms of what you’re putting in your body. I think that resonates with a lot of younger people particularly”. Beyond just a wine bar, KERB also serves as a space for monthly art exhibitions and events — a crossover into the creative sphere Fiona puts down to KERB’s “relaxed environment and lack of lecturing about wine, meaning it becomes more of a party atmosphere”. It’s something epitomised by KERB’s free monthly zine’s, which operate just as much as a love letter to the creative community as they do to KERB's bread and butter, natural wine.


Upon arriving outside of Raphale Evans’ space on Polygon Street, Ardwick, you’re greeted by tall, airy glass windows beneath brown wooden signage reading “ARMR Store”. Step inside, however, and you’ll immediately recognise it’s much more than just a store, as its signage denotes: exuberant artworks cover walls, the aroma of freshly made, vegan Jamaican food fills the air and a welcoming, easygoing feeling washes over you. It’s all part of Raphale’s aims, “It’s a little bit more than a shop — we’re a community hub. We operate both our café and CIC from this space, so we can support members of the community a little bit better”. The space was opened in 2019 with the mantra of “better options to the community”, providing access to nutritious vegan Caribbean food, plant-based supplements and health-conscious ingredients. On the importance of being able to provide plant-based Caribbean food to the people of Ardwick, Raphale said “there’s so much research around the benefits of plant-based diets, but crucially, it tends to be those with higher disposable income who tend to spend money on this sort of thing”. To combat this, ARMR Store’s prices are centred around accessibility, with Raphale stating they’re “50% cheaper than our competitors”.

Spend just five minutes in ARMR Store and you realise community really is its beating heart, with regulars flowing through the door and ordering ARMR Store staples: hearty chickpea curries, warming red pea soups and freshly made dumplings. It goes way beyond that, though, with ARMR Store providing mentorships for young people, as well as having acted as a food bank during the pandemic. When asked about community, Raphale said “It’s vital. Any local business owner should have the integrity to admit that their shops are run on the shoulders and the finances of those local to us”.


From the afternoon until early hours of the morning, the streets of Wilmslow Road — or Curry Mile, as it’s more commonly known — are jam packed with a myriad of people all in the pursuit of some of the finest South Asian food the country has to offer. For over three decades, Mughli Charcoal Pit has represented a cornerstone of the fabled curry mile, ran by the four Arshad brothers who took over from their father in 2009. On speaking about following in the footsteps of their father, the Arshad brother said “us brothers took over in 2009 and gave it a lick of paint and changed the dining concept — we really focused on the charcoal pit at the front, which is predominantly what we’re known for: charred meats, lamb chops, leopard rolls. We focused on Indian soul food — the small plates vibe — and incorporated this with the curries we already had set up prior to that”. Mughli stands as one of the longest-running restaurants on the curry mile, something which has played an enormous role in both the restaurant’s and the brothers’ sensibility: "I can’t stress enough how important it is — I don’t think you’ll find a road like this in Manchester where it’s busy from early afternoon until 2-3 am”.

When it comes to introducing new items to the Mughli menu, the Arshad brothers have tough scrutiny to pass through first, their mom: “whenever we do a menu change, it needs to run through mom, if she approves, it goes on the menu, if not, then it’s on the back burner. She’s the main boss.” The rigorous taste testing is something that's proved fruitful for Mughli, with a plethora of accolades under its name, such as one of Manchester’s best restaurants by the Telegraph and BBC’s Good Food Guide, as well as being visited by a slew of A-list celebrities. It’s something the Arshad brothers can't contain their smiles over when discussed, commenting “we’re really honoured. Especially when it’s family run from top to bottom”. The beating heart of Mughli is its open angithi charcoal pit, the smells of which envelope your senses upon walking through the restaurant’s doors: “It’s the centre of our restaurant. It’s what we were known for before the refurb in 2009, but it’s something we wanted to just give more importance. The best way to describe it is burnt to perfection".


Step inside Gulf and it’s easy to forget you’re in the Northern Quarter. You’re instantly immersed by not just its overall structure, which founder Zahid says is inspired by traditional mud houses, but also its majilis-style interior design. It’s all intentional for Zahid, who is looking to provide a slice of home for those who have moved to Manchester from the Middle East, “it’s centred around majilis, which in Arabic means a place to sit and to welcome guests. Traditionally, that’s how houses look with their furniture. The whole idea was for customers to come in and feel at home” — an approach which translates into everything Gulf does. Karak — which is a strong, sweet, milky tea — is a Middle Eastern staple, representing a cornerstone for Gulf alongside its freshly made chapati. “A lot of the migrant workers over there drink it. In places like Dubai, Kuwait and Qatar there are so many places serving karak. It’s what people grow up on and miss when they’re over here, so I wanted to make them feel at home”, says Zahid.

On what kickstarted Zahid’s passion for karak, he said “I’ve been to Dubai a lot of times, I love it over there. Each cafeteria has a different way of making it, they add different spices, sugar or milk. So, I started making and selling it from home, it actually did pretty well, though it was under a different name, it was just called Karak then”. This gave Zahid the encouragement needed to expand his business, launching his own physical space inside the popular Northern Quarter bookshop and café, Chapter One. On what the future holds for Gulf, Zahid excitedly states “my goal is to have a massive warehouse where I can host events with Arabic music playing and things happening every hour”.

writerJack Grayson
|photographerAdam Thirtle
|stylistJack Errington & Lucy Davis