Will Soho House work in Manchester? and other lunch topics

Jonny Heyes, Camilla Topham, Thom Hetherington and Michael Taylor

That was one of the many topics debated and discussed by our esteemed panel of hospitality and leisure experts at the first Gone Dining Live event held at The Black Friar in Salford.

Neil Burke from this most delightfully decorated and wonderfully atmospheric restaurant and his team not only charmed our 50 plus guests, including sponsor JMW, with their service and welcome but chef Ben Chaplin cooked up a fantastic two courses, which had TheBusinessDesk.com’s specialist food writer and man about town purring with praise for their ability to deliver such quality at scale – the best multi-guest lunch he’d had in Manchester in a long while.

“That (Cumbrian?) lamb rump was perfect, and puddings were ace too. The Black Friar has to be one of the best event spaces in the city. The garden and marquee just won ‘Best Pub Beer Garden’ in a major landscaping awards,” he said.

But the panel discussion that followed lunch was what people also signed up for, and for Thom Hetherington’s insights and contacts book.

Camilla Topham of Distrkt is a native Northerner who has returned to Manchester to practice her tradecraft, working with property owners and connecting them effectively with the right hospitality businesses.

As the co-founder of Distrkt she has plenty of experience in food and beverage and leisure leasing in leading developments across the powerful London property estates.

Manchester is now very much on the radar now of operators and brands that maybe didn’t give the city a look in, she said.

 Case in point was Hawksmoor, the steam house concept that has gone down a storm on Deansgate, precisely because it took time to understand the city. 

But, she’s learned, independent operators give a place a character, a vibe, they make somewhere unique, and her take on whether one thing will work is how the individual business approaches each city respectfully and in an open-minded way.

Jonny Heyes of Common, and most recently Nell’s pizza, is no stranger to developing a brand that’s integral to a place, even before we started bandying around terms like place-making.

He took a gamble on a back street in the Northern Quarter and created the Port Street Brewhouse, as well as establishing Common just up the road.

I asked him about Nell’s pizza joint in the Kampus development by Capital and Centric, between the Village and Piccadilly. His courage seems to have paid off, other operators are following his lead, but the key is being true to the values of quality and consistency.

We could have talked for hours, we probably will again, one day, but for now, we just left the Soho House question hanging.

Why not, was the consensus, but Thom Hetherington made a good point. It will also be a drop in place for the socially curious jet setters of other cities around the world, of which more and more are coming to Manchester. And it’s emblematic of how much the city is on that global map.