By Alicia Grimshaw
Home to casual dining spots, fine dining establishments, and a diverse offering spanning a variety of cuisines, Manchester's restaurant scene is booming and well worth shouting about.
However, despite the growing number of independent eateries, coupled with homegrown talent and prestigious openings a city centre restaurant has not held a star since the 70s, while greater Manchester has been without the accolade since the departure of Paul Kitching's Juniper in 2009.
El Gato Negro, a Mediterranean-inspired tapas bar, was on Friday awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand for the fourth year running. Simon Shaw, chef patron and creative director of El Gato Negro, said: "To get a Michelin Bib Gourmand or star is hard, such a small percentage of restaurants make the cut. It's a real seal of approval.
"There are a number of great guides out there, and they, along with regional listings, are all really important. The Michelin guide is really the most prestigious, however. It reaches people outside of your immediate catchment and brings people in, I'm regularly told people found us through the guide. If you're a restaurant located in a rural setting it's of even greater significance."
He added: "For a city like Manchester that has a strong tourism trade, or for a city looking to build one, a Michelin star definitely has value, it elevates not just the restaurant's profile but that of the town or city. From a chef's perspective it's the pinnacle of success. There are certainly restaurants in Manchester deserving of one, it's a crime Manchester has missed out in recent years."
Last week Thom Hetherington, CEO Holden Media and Northern Restaurant and Bar told The Caterer: "Manchester, once again, will be the story, whether it gets a star or not. Assuming that Michelin are not up for turning as regards existing restaurants (such as Adam Reid and the brilliant French) the focus is on the newcomers. Mana, with chef Simon Martin, is absolutely exceptional, and it is difficult to see how Michelin could ignore it. But equally Exaneta has food deemed perfect by Exec Chef Paco Perez, who already holds five Michelin stars across three restaurants in Spain and Germany. Will Michelin be as consistent as he is?"
Last week I Love Manchester took the matter of challenging the lack of stars into its own hands and invited more than a million Mancunians to vote for their favourite place to eat out - be that a restaurant, casual cafe or a take-away.
Simon Wood's first restaurant, Wood, came out on top, with contemporary Chinese restaurant Tattu, and steak house Hawksmoor, taking second and third place. Elsewhere, luxury Italian restaurant Rosso, and Simon Shaw's award-winning Spanish-influenced El Gato Negro were awarded fourth and fifth place.
Simon Wood, the MasterChef champion from Oldham and chef patron of Wood Manchester, which was listed in the 2019 guide, said: "I think being a part of the guide in any way is a privilege and certainly something to be proud of. Walking into my restaurant and seeing that red plaque by the door gives you a sense of pride and achievement and a platform to build on and get better and aim higher!"