The resounding word on the street might be that the all new Mackie Mayor is expensive but that clearly hasn’t deterred hundreds of Mancunians from flocking to the Northern Quarter’s newest food market set in the spectacularly renovated former Smithfield market hall on Swan Street.
Knowing it was being brought to us from the same team behind the successful Altrincham Market House, the return of the Mack(ie Mayor) – Smithfield’s Grade II listed former meat market hall, dating from 1858 – has been hotly anticipated for some time and I think everyone’s in agreement that it surpasses all expectations.
Set over two floors in the vast hall with a capacity for almost 500 people, it’s Alty Market’s (cap. of 180) newer, bigger, sister and while she comes with the family traits: many of the same traders, a robust, industrial aesthetic (industrial style fittings, chalkboards, exposed brick, communal dining tables) and a high price point for market dining (justified by the quality of produce), she’s arrived on an even more spectacular scale.
And, what adds to the Mackie Mayor’s allure, is that it’s one of only two remaining buildings standing of the former Smithfield Markets, the other being Manchester’s Craft and Design Centre, which, if you’ve visited, you’ll have noticed the similarity in architecture, and if you haven’t, is definitely worth a visit.
On a bustling Saturday afternoon, we arrive at around 3.30pm while it’s still light. There’s an excited hum in the air from which no discernible conversations can be deciphered but it’s a noise that’s distinctly recognisable as the chaotic din of hundreds of people under one roof eating, drinking and regaling. I can’t help but to feel excited. We’re keen to see the transition from day to evening and, something good to know in advance, is that many of the traders have a brief gap in service while they make the shift from brunch and lunch to dinner – they change their boards, take stock and breathe a moment before diving right back in to feed the crowds of the Mackie Mayor.
The last of the day’s light is pouring in through the roof when we arrive but no sooner than the sun slips away, by some unknown and unseen hand, the lights are lowered, candles embellish downstairs tables and the music is turned up just enough to compensate for the voices that are now fuelled somewhat by beer, wine and cheer.
As the night progresses, there’s a steady flow of people, and as is the custom in pubs and bars, people gather and stand and drink but there’s still children* around and this seems to deter the revellers from becoming rowdy.
*overall, the facilities for kids are good. There’s a snug/play area, plenty of highchairs and a baby changing room.
After a brief wait for dinner to commence, during which we take the time to have a good walk around to see what’s on offer: French rotisserie at Nationale 7 appeals as do the Taiwanese Bao buns at Baohouse (for the full list of traders with links to their sites, see the end of this post), eventually, we settle on Fish and Chips from Fin Fish Bar (£15), impressed by their offer of really fresh, top quality sustainable line-caught fish. As always, the queue at Tender Cow is a long one but that doesn’t deter our appetite, especially since the hanger steak and lamb chops are already on the grill and oh, they smell good. We plump for a cheaper (but no less delicious) cut: Ox Cheek with sauce (£7) and Triple Cooked Chips (£4).
The fish and chips comes with peas, a segment of lemon and tartar sauce. The fish is everything: fresh, falling apart and mouth-wateringly tasty. The batter is light and crisp. The chips are slightly too salty (we both comment on this – it’d be better to under salt especially since there’s a salt pig to hand for diners at the tables).
The ox cheek is melting and full-flavoured and the sauce is as sticky and enriched with the slow melting of the ox cheek fat as one could hope and the gravy is so deliciously lip-stickingly rich that I don’t run out of it despite dipping every last chip.
Our neighbours order from Baohouse and everything looks good enough to make me envious for a moment: fluffy bao buns, sticky pork, bright green veg topped with crispy shallots and they devour it all.
Despite the Saturday night throng, the bar queues aren’t overly crowded and we’re served quickly. Tables of friends, families, and groups are happily sharing bottles from Reserve Wines, a wise move since, depending on where you sit, the bar might be a full flight of stairs and a bit of a walk. Knowing they won’t disappoint, we head to Jack in the Box, where the bar tenders are knowledgeable and even during busy periods are happy to chat about the beers, offering up opinions, recommendations and snifters to taste. There’s a good range of Blackjack beers on tap as well as those from other local breweries.
Mackie Mayor is as much a people watching spot with its vast bottom floor windows, wide open hall and balconies from which to gaze, as it is a place to catch-up with friends or get cosy with loved ones and I like it a lot.
Yes, it’s pricey here. It cost us £50 for two meals and a few beers. But, the quality, service and setting make it worthwhile. It’s no more than we’d happily cough up in say, The Refuge, and it’s up there among the most delectable spaces Manchester has to offer diners, too.
With its opening almost coinciding with the ever-sprawling Christmas Markets, I wonder if it’ll draw any business away from their usual crowds? Perhaps, fellow Mancs, we can let the tourists head straight for the big sausages, glühwein and stroopwafels and we’ll stay here, warm and dry and free of shoulder barging, and keep Mackie Mayor all for ourselves. What do you say?
Full list of traders:
Honest Crust Pizza (sourdough pizza)
Fin Fish Bar (posh fish and chips)
Wolf House Coffee (coffee and sweet treats)
Nationale 7 (French rotisserie)
Tender Cow (lesser-known cuts of beef)
Baohouse (Taiwanese steamed buns)
Little Window (brunch favourites)
J.Atkinsons and Co (coffee)
Jack in the Box (beers)
Reserve Wines (wines)
Eagle St, Manchester, M4