Born and raised in London, I'm ashamed to say that I've not seen much of the UK. I've yet to venture into Scottish territory, I've visited Wales all but twice and I've only been to Manchester a handful of times. But on the few visits that I have squeezed up north? Cottonopolis has almost always been on the agenda. Even more surprising than my pathetic exploration of Britain is that my Mancunian mates seem to know little of this gorgeous bolthole.
Perhaps there’s a reason that many Mancunians don’t know about Cottonopolis. Hidden in the Northern Quarter (yes, I really mean hidden), it’s got an entrance so discreet that I walk past it every. single. time. When you do get inside, though, the place is lively. There’s a clear trend in Manchester’s food and drink scene and that’s elevated industrial chic. Cottonopolis has been ahead of the game for some time, with its bronze exposed pipes, brown brick walls and drop lighting providing the perfect setting for after-work drinkers, date-night diners and weekend brunchers alike.
Winner of Imbibe’s ‘avant-garde cocktail list’ a couple of years back, this trendy bar is not one for a regular sip. Pornstar martini lovers and mojito drinkers should look elsewhere because it's anything but ordinary. The new menu draws inspiration from the principles of Japanese aesthetics, with moments interpreted through ingredients, textures and aromas. To be honest, I skipped through the paragraphs on ‘simplicity’ and ‘artistic creations’ and headed straight for the good stuff.
Kicking off from the ‘Wabi Sabi’ section, whisky, honey & chamomile (£10) promised a heady fusion of Chivas, chamomile, bee pollen and beeswax, but the whisky was so overpowering that I had to use my toasted honey garnish as a sweetener. Pine, citrus & quince (£10) was also not as expected; with Nikka vodka, Suze, quince gin, lemon balm and a bunch of other ingredients blended together for a cordial-like mix.
As for the edible part of the evening, we were here to try the monthly set menu (£18). With 5 dishes coming in at under 20 quid (plates range from £6 to £30 here), I was interested to see if the quality would hold up to the slashed prices. Yuzu asparagus salad lacked that citrusy kick, though spicy katsu chicken brought an eruption of deep, rich flavour. Rice bowls came topped with tofu or meat; both arriving as huge, chunky slabs that packed a punch (though difficult to tackle with chopsticks).
Catching glimpses of our fellow diners who had ordered from the regular menu, I was feeling envious. The sight of fatty tuna tataki, wagyu tacos and katsu sandos was making my mouth water, while our mushroom salads and salmon maki did little to tingle the taste buds.
When it came to dessert, we were definitely saving room for something from the usual list. A chocolatey miso brownie (£6) was laced with tangy cherry and a fruity ume sauce. Playing it safe with rum, banana & molasses (£9) – think Plantation pineapple, Fair cacao liqueur, roasted banana, fennel pollen and molasses – it was just the kind of deliciously juicy note that I was after.
The DesignMyNight Digest
There’s no denying that Cottonopolis is a stunning place to eat and drink in the city centre. The concept is interesting and presentation is pulled off to a T. The more experimental concoctions do look the part, but balance could do with a little refinement. As for the food? While the set menu is a bargain, you’re better off investing a few pounds in the regular menu, because there really are some unmissable gems to be had… miso brownie, I’m looking at you.