According to a recent Savills report the number of ‘upmarket’ and casual dining restaurants in the city has doubled in the last five years, with 30 new brands arriving in the city since late 2012.
But what is driving this growth, and is the city’s food scene set for a long-term boom or bust?
Thom Hetherington, CEO of the Northern Restaurant and Bar Show, said the rise in openings was linked to London-based operators beginning to rethink their views of the city.
“Quite simply [they are attracted to] the market,” he told BigHospitality.
“Manchester is a large and vibrant city, both in terms of its local population and its visitor economy, and the audience of diners has grown significantly over the past decade. For obvious reasons operators are flooding in to take a share of that.”
A growing number of London restaurants have headed north in the past few years, including Wahaca, Hawksmoor and Pho.
A representative for Drake & Morgan, which is opening its second venue in the city in spring 2017, said Manchester was ‘the fastest growing economy’ outside the capital.
“Creatively and commercially it is thriving and the food and drink scene is on a par with London now,” a spokesperson said.
And it’s not just larger groups looking outside London, Soho stalwart Randall & Aubin is set to open a restaurant near the city’s popular Spinningfields area next year, with around twice the number of covers as its original site.
Co-founder Jamie Poulton told Restaurant Magazine that moving to Manchester allowed the restaurant to target larger numbers of diners.
“People in Manchester like to go out in larger groups than in London,” said Poulton. “We can’t really fit more than six people round a table in Soho.”
Wahaca founder Mark Selby told BigHospitality Mancunians were looking for restaurants that were ‘a little bit different’, and that he was was ‘really happy’ with trading at the group's debut Manchester site a year after its opening.
“[Manchester] was top of the list to open in once we were ready to go outside London,” he said.
“We’ve found customers using us for lots of different occasions - whether its for a quick bite before a gig, cocktails or a longer meal, it seems like the good people of Manchester are exploring all options.”
'Concerned for operators'
But while the city’s growth is certainly impressive, is it sustainable?
Popularity inevitably comes with a price, and Savills has reported that rents in Manchester have risen from £30 -£40 per sq.ft to £40 - £50 per sq.ft in the last five years.
“There will be bumps in the road, and sadly as we are seeing some operators will suffer and some businesses will close,” said Hetherington.
“I am concerned for operators, whether national or regional, who have overpaid for sites or don’t have the margin or reserves to ride through any tough times.”
And despite its growing number of restaurants, the city once again failed to gain a Michelin Star in the 2017 Guide.
Though The French and Aiden Byrne at Manchester House have been long-tipped for approval, Manchester has not won a star since 1974.
Rebecca Burr, editor of the Michelin Guide Great Britain and Ireland, told BigHospitality: “I think it’s great that everyone is on board and wants to see something in Manchester - but we didn’t find it.”
But does it matter?
Jonathan Schofield, editor in chief at Manchester Confidential, told the BBC that the city was not hampered by Michelin’s cold shoulder.
“We shouldn’t worry…we’re not suffering for it - my city is far bigger than that,” he said.
And despite the inevitable ‘bumps in the road’, Hetherington predicts that Manchester's sudden growth is not just a flash in the pan.
“In terms of the long-term ‘climate’ I am absolutely confident that Manchester’s restaurant scene will continue to grow,” he said.
“Manchester’s visitor economy, which has seen it come from nowhere to rival Edinburgh as having the most overnight stays outside London, shows no signs of letting up, as more people come for business, events, city breaks, and for our booming food and drink scene.”
And Michelin’s frosty reception aside, there is no shortage of interesting names announcing their intentions to open in the city in the near future.
Michelin chef Michael O’Hare is launching four Manchester restaurants in the next year as part of his partnership with Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs’ GG Hospitality firm.
D&D London has secured a prime spot in the £73m No.1 Spinningfields project, while boutique hotel The Zetter Group is opening its first site outside London in Manchester’s grade II listed London Road Fire Station.
Drake & Morgan also told BigHospitality the group had an ‘appetite to grow’ and was keen to look at other opportunities for the brand in Manchester.
“I would put money on there being more top restaurants in the city than there are now in five years, ten years or twenty years,” said Hetherington.