Many cultural establishments seem to forget that food is part of our culture; a sensory, thought provoking experience and that it can make or break a day out. There’s been many times when, feet aching and tummy rumbling, I’ve gone in search of respite and been faced with packaged sandwiches, bought in muffins and dishwater coffee: it’s as if the cafe is an after-thought, a mere money making addition rather than a proper supporting act.
Manchester’s Whitworth Gallery, however, have realised that good food equals a good time and have partnered with The Modern Caterer to provide a bustling, homely space with food so good you’ll go there just for the cafe itself. I first came across The Modern Caterer at Joderall Bank’s Planet Pavilion, another Manchester University museum (as is The Whitworth Gallery), and was so over joyed by their brilliant food, local sourcing and friendly staff that I couldn’t wait to get to The Whitworth.
We’d planned to have lunch first, before looking round the exhibits, but the cafe was rammed with local workers taking advantage of the great eats on their doorstep (there’s not much down that way that’s actually good, unless you want a curry!). So we pootled round a bit and then came back. Still rammed, but we managed to get a seat in the atrium – however, eagled eyed, we spotted someone paying and found their just vacated table in the main part of the cafe. Much better as you get the full spirit of the place (and there’s no draft from the front door) – but the museum may want to lend a few more bits and pieces to jazz up the place; as it’s all white walls, slightly too close tables (it’s a very small space to be fair) and the Modern Caterer’s trademark giant blackboards proclaiming what’s in season and what there is to eat.
As we’d experienced the food before and knew how good it is, we decided we’d share a selection of dishes – they’re not too expensive here and the portions are decent. The Whitworth Gallery Cafe is self service, just like their Joderall Bank outfit, so we rocked up to the counter and ordered; there was bit of a wait on the drinks, but the staff were absolutely run off their feet with orders and we were in no rush.
The bruchetta of new season beetroot was massive for the £5.25 we paid for it. There must have been at least four beetroot used (all cut in to wedges) and there was piles of sharp blacksticks blue to cut through the earthy beetroot and the sweet dressing it was wrapped in. A soup of tomato and spring greens was thick and homely, heavy with a good black pepper kick to warm us up (guess what, it was raining) – served with three large slabs of Barbakan bread, this would have been enough for me on my own.
Because we’re greedy, and because we’d been blown away by it at The Planet Pavilion, we ordered the terrine of local pork. Salty, sweet piggy perfection; the pork was left in large, rustic pieces, giving you a good feel for the texture and flavour of the meat. This was served with a sharp rhubarb compote (last time it was apple, they change the menu to fit the seasons) and more bread, we were stuffed and admitted defeat before we could try any homemade cake – but I did buy some homemade baklava from Peter Booth’s son Gabriel, who had a little stall set up selling his own jams and cakes by the door – like father, like son hey?
Manchester University and her various museums seem to have hit upon the winning formula of culture AND food; creating memorable experiences that stimulate all your senses – no wonder the place is rammed most of the time – the food and galleries provide plenty of soul soothing for weary workers, studied out students and cultural tourists alike.
Ps All the food is local, seasonal. sustainable and fair trade – The Modern Grocer is committed to sourcing all the best the North West has to offer and provide wholesome, home cooked food to us all – bless ’em.
Price for three small meals and one cup of coffee –
Food – 8/10
Atmosphere – 9/10
Service – 6/10 (it is self-service, but they were rushed off their feet)
Value for money – 7/10 (on the pricier side, but massive portions and quality ingredients)
Total – 30/40
Go again – Yes it’s a great place for lunch and a fab little gallery too.