I’m always amused when residents of Greater Manchester’s more salubrious southern districts talk disparagingly about their town centres. “It’s not what it was… Overrun with charity shops… The Booths isn’t very big…, ” they will groan, as I wonder what it must be like to have viable food outlets which aren’t signposted by a tacky golden M.
It’s all relative you see. From the perspective of sunny Salford, where we must make do with the retail tundra that is Walkden’s Ellesmere Centre, to the concrete charms of Swinton, or the rough and ready reality of Salford Shopping City, anything half decent is relatively good.
So it was something of an eye opener to venture into Altrincham, which according to folklore, has been experiencing something of a decline. Somewhat desensitised as I am, Alty seemed in pretty rude health to me.
But beyond the cafes, clothes shops and, yes, charity shops, we found what we were really looking for: Altrincham Market.
Now, when we say ‘market’ in Salford, we mean fruit and veg, fast fashion, fresh poultry, stolen goods. Altrincham Market is something decidedly more bohemian than that.
The main food hall is a vibrant hub bub of activity when we arrive on a Sunday afternoon and sadly there’s no place to sit. However, it’s still mouthwatering to wander the enticing food stores lining the walls. The steak barms and homemade pies look favourite. You can even opt for a sharing platter of three pies with chutney at the Great North Pie Co.
We head outside to the outdoor covered market, where there’s a range of things to browse and buy, including the latest pieces from Statement Artworks, a brilliant venture founded my former colleague Eric Jackson.
Again, there’s plenty of choice for something to eat and we sit down at the wooden tables in the centre to consider our options. The grown ups go for tasty chicken kebab skewers on top of French stick, with a generous helping of coleslaw and trimmings.
But for the kids it has to be the theatre of the hand-thrown pizza, which they can watch being formed and tossed, topped, and heated in a giant clay oven. It really is a treat.
The good people of Altrincham will probably moan that there’s no longer anywhere good to buy curtains and stolen stuff. But they need to understand how lucky they are. On the scale of shoddy to not shoddy, Altrincham definitely isn’t.
Alty Market-style eateries are now springing up here and there, with one proposed for the Mayfield depot. It’s little wonder that they’re proving popular given the combination of hearty grub, tasty street food and old school theatrical ambience.
I can’t wait for something similar to spring up in Salford!