The couple behind one of the more popular Northern foodie twitter accounts and semi-dormant blogs (Good Gobble) and better Manchester street-food offerings (Arepa!Arepa!Arepa!) clearly felt they weren't busy enough handling those on top of their day jobs and have taken the next step towards world domination with GRUB. After a successful stint overseeing the food offering at the recent Cup North coffee festival, they teamed up with Blackjack Brewery and Shebeen Events for Grub vol. 2 which was due to be held at a brand new top secret venue but due to last minute issues was held at the Runaway brewery, under the arches on Dantzic street.
Street food in Manchester feels a bit like it's stalled to me, Friday Food Fight has lost it's way - moving away from genuine street food into overpriced drinks and restaurants dishing the food up; it's clearly a format that works well for them, it just isn't to my taste. I've been to a few Guerilla Eats events and always felt like their heart is in the right place but there’s never any atmosphere. The GRUB folk seemed like they were attempting to fill a genuine gap in the market in Manchester – realistically what could be better than hanging out in a brewery, eating some fantastic sounding street food and quaffing a ton of beers?
I bought tickets early on for the two Saturday sessions and it was no great surprise to see that the weekend sold out in advance - a real testament to their hard work on the line up and well-deserved support they've built up over the years.Seeing as the event was a "Winter Beer Festival”I did the right thing and headed immediately for the bar. There’d been a beer list doing the rounds and I had a short list of priorities (OCD, what?) of beers that I was keen to try – most of which unfortunately didn't appear over the two sessions on the Saturday. I was still spoiled for choice but it was a little frustrating that there were very few changes between the sessions - I fully appreciate that they’re bound by how much beer had been sold during the day so I shoulder my share of the blame. Still a slight disappointment for a "Beer Festival".
The token system (the bane of many a beer festival) initially seemed a little overcomplicated but actually worked well resulting in quick service - £10 bought you a sheet of 20 tokens and then beers were priced depending upon third / half or pint serving and scribbled off the sheet accordingly as payment. As you got to the end of a sheet it did become slightly problematic to figure out if there was enough left for a round as you couldn't actually see the prices until you saw them scribbled on the pumps – adding a thirds / halves / pints prices to the board would’ve been a great help. I did enjoy the extra challenge of achieving a FULL HOUSE by getting my sheet crossed off right down to the last token.
Entertainment wise - the background music and bands were ideal for the event, I wasn't sat too far from them but they were just pitched at the right level (volume and intensity wise) whereby I could easily drift in and out of paying attention and they didn't ruin conversation. It all felt very well planned, major kudos for getting this so right - must've taking some serious planning given we were all essentially sat in a giant echo-y room it could have all gone wrong pretty easily.
Food - All of the food traders across the weekend were different enough to sound interesting and make the food alone a major temptation for visitors. Saturday showcased sweet treats from Ginger Tart, Andy's Low and Slow BBQ, Fu-Schinkens with their steamed buns and Comida serving up a range of Spanish themed goodies. I decided to follow my nose and I was lured over to the Comida stand and once there it all sounded pretty enticing so I just asked them to sort me out with a taster set from the menu. They sorted me right out. I ended up with a pair of Deep-fried Croquetas, a 'Blue cheese and squash' and a 'Black truffle and cheese'. Honestly, i'm glad I didn't have to sit and watch me eat these, I was a like a dog with a bone as soon as I got a sniff of them - they hit the spot like only deep fried cheese dipped in some wonderfully thick alioli can.
I also dug into their Montados', which after a little research i'm told are essentially toppings on bread. The flavour combinations on offer (I had one of each) were smoked salmon, tinned squid with Spanish ketchup and aubergine with a padron pepper speared on top. The squid was my favourite but I thoroughly enjoyed all three, I'll definitely have my eyes peeled for any future supper clubs they arrange. Whilst not the first food I'd think of as ideal for snacking on at a beer festival it certainly filled me up and kept me going through the evening.
Overall, I had a hugely enjoyable day out and was impressed with what was accomplished; especially considering the last minute issues with the original venue. I jinxed myself by mentioning early on that the poster looked too wintery for the end of January - my god it was cold in there at times which is absolutely out of their control, just wish i'd stuck a thicker jumper on. I’m certainly looking forward to a summer winter beer festival where I’ll be able to feel my fingers for the 24 hours afterwards.
Regarding the new venue, there is currently a Kickstarter under way to 'supplement existing investment'. It appears that they've wrapped Grub, Shebeen and Blackjack under the banner of Keystone and are running a campaign offering rewards including tickets to a Shebeen festival in May. There's a link to the Kickstarter here – clearly they have some big ideas and I thoroughly recommend you take a read for yourself and do what you can to support them, I've already chipped in. Manchester is certainly short of the type of venue they are hoping to set up and I'm excited to see how things progress.