When I first heard about the Friday Food Fight in Manchester, the image that popped into my head was one of people throwing plates of spaghetti at one and other. However it seems that my vision of hundreds of Mancunian’s covered head to toe in somebody else’s dinner and their clothes caked in… well cake, were short lived.
What is being described as a ‘turbo-charged’ food court has had thousands of food fanatics queuing up every Friday night at a secret location in Manchester. Aiming to bring together a variety of street food across Manchester, it’s been a big hit!
So I’ll let you into a little ‘secret’ about this location, the Food Fight is found on Liverpool Road in Deansgate, Manchester. If the giant chalkboards with giant scribble on them don’t give it away, it can be heard from Beetham Tower, just follow the heavy beats of R‘n’B and House music. I think the Food Fight may have blown the cover of this location, sorry Manchester; you still have many more quirky places that are impossible for the public to find.
So after barging your way through Manchester at half past 5 on a Friday evening you’re ready to start your weekend with a bang. I wish a good luck to those of you who choose to drive, you may just make it there before it closes at 11pm, when you have weaved your way through the snaking Manchester rush hour traffic (Surely not everyone in the north finishes work at the same time?). You may also end up beginning your two days off a week with belly ache from eating far too much food and a hangover from all those exotic cocktails you just had to try.
Friday Food Fight is a chance for everyone to get stuck in to the food they love, without any arguments. It’s the kind of place you might want to drag all of your fussy friends, who normally spend a whole evening trying to decide what they want to eat and then ending up going with the first thing they picked. There’s no more fearing a dirty look from your partner, who would normally stomp their feet in a restaurant and awkwardly claim they don’t like anything and want to leave; all because you forgot your anniversary for the twelfth year running. It’s a place for first dates, where there’s no fear of the ‘Oh well actually I’m a vegan, I’ll just have a glass of water’ scenario. It’s also a place just to go and sit on your lonesome and eat all of the food your heart could ever desire, there’s no judging.
So who’s behind this series of genius food gatherings, I hear you cry. Who could have ever thought of such a revolution? You have B.eat Street to thank for this creative food festival, the Manchester based duo behind the event. The team is made up of Chris Legh and Will Evans, who started talking about their debut event late last year. While Chris was working at high profile events such as Parklife on the catering side, Will was working in the North West selling craft beer. When the two got together, they threw ideas around and with their excellent knowledge put together B.eat Street.
As they were very keen on their choice of venue, they got together with Asif and Jodie who put on the Victorian Market in Upper Campfield market over Christmas. When the two agreed to help out, the four of them got to work creating a fantastic space to come on a Friday night. I spoke to Chris Legh about B.eat Street, the event and putting a modern edge on entertainment.
What is B.eat Street?
“B.eat Street is a play on words where we combine music and food, we do events with a sort of street food edge, and we just like to do things a bit differently to what’s already out there. I just think Manchester’s ready for this kind of event.” By combining the majority of the North’s favourite things… food, drink and music, it’s no wonder there’s already been talks of other events and more Friday Food Fights to come.
The event is running for 12 consecutive weeks and began in March. “I don’t think it’d necessarily work as a weekly thing,” Chris points out, claiming that the event is something new that will only work for a short period of time. With a huge variety of audiences the event has been planned to cater for everyone (pardon the pun). “We’ve got a wide demographic of people from students all the way to 45 something’s,” this includes families earlier on in the evening, which means the music starts off less heavy and more mainstream. “I suppose the music is eclectic, for want of a better word.”
Upper Campfield market, which is home to the Friday Food Fight, has been around since the late 1870’s and is somewhat of a hidden treasure in Manchester. When you add good beer, food and music to it, you’ve got yourself a perfect Friday night.
What attracted you to the venue?
“It’s been around a long time and it’s such a beautiful Victorian Market Hall, in terms of doing markets in it, I mean that’s what it was designed to do. It’s just a great place in the middle of the City but I like that it’s not immediately obvious to everyone.”
When walking into the location, you find yourself in a dimly light alleyway with restaurants either side of you, which you may be starting to wish you’d booked onto instead, by the looks of the creaky double doors ahead of you. Don Marco’s (a posh restaurant) is bursting with people and waiters juggling a wide variety of patterned crockery. The bouncers who guard the door opening up the food emporium are somewhat like guard dogs from the exterior, in bulky black jackets with security boldly printed on them. However when approached they simply smile and give a greeting such as ‘Alright there love’ before imprinting your hand with a symbol of a small red burger and claiming you as one of their own.
A room which is much bigger and more impressive than you thought could have fit in the small gap you arrived in then is opened up before your eyes. It reveals a circle of different stalls selling a variety of food and drink. Music consumes the room creating a relaxed vibe for the audience, while food sizzles and dances on the grills furiously cooking away to feed all the hungry mouths. A smell which mixes alcohol and grilled meat is spread across the smoky, dimly light room, with fairy lights strung across the ceiling. The sense of an almost den is deepened by the high ceiling with bits of ripped cloth keeping the light out.
So what’s the idea with the Friday Food Fight?
“I like to think of it as the Arndale Food Court but really good. That’s the idea we’re trying to achieve.” Well it’s safe to say there’s a lot less McDonalds here and many more exciting new tastes to be tried. However the idea is the same, it’s a fresh food court which allows you to travel the world without leaving the room. “In terms of the offering it’s a mixture of the food, in terms of street food, restaurants, people and local new starts.”
With 12 food vendors each week, some returning to do more than one night, others only doing a taster evening, you are guaranteed a different event every Friday. “Each week we reinvent it. Promoting local food and restaurants is important because we’re advertising places people might never have heard of.” With the likes of SoLita, Luncha Libra and Diamond dogs, you will expect a whole range of new food inventions and unusual ideas. Bobby’s Burgers could very well be the only place to ever serve a roast dinner on a stick which isn’t quite as messy as it sounds. Plus, with names like Piggy Funky Smalls, Hip Hop Chip Shop and Shake, Moroc and Roll, crowds of adoring fans are dying to tweet they’ve eaten strange foods from even more strangely named places, you can just imagine the names of their food dishes.
With ¾ sized portions, you’re encouraged to fill your boots and try out two or three dishes to see what your favourite is. However if that’s not enough for you, Sugar Rush Gals are on hand with some amazing puddings to try, because hey, there’s always room for desert, isn’t there? Is your stomach rumbling yet?
So Chris, how do you decide which vendors to use at FFF?
“At the start there were a few people we already had in mind so we approached them first but we’ve also got new restaurants who had to go through a series of cook offs to be given a space here.” With limited spaces and restricted weeks, B.eat Street had a hard choice when it came to which food they would let into Upper Campfield Market.
Shake, Moroc and Roll who serves fantastic Indian cuisine, sometimes a little on the spicy side, had to go through a cook off stage. They said, “We loved cooking for industry superstars but we weren’t really nervous we just hoped they loved our food as much as we do. There was some tough competition but Friday Food Fight has helped us so much in starting our business.”
Interestingly, it’s not only restaurants and street food vendors who are fighting it out each Friday night; the crowd also get involved in their own battle in the Challenge Ring. Set to one side of the room sits a boxing ring with a row of seats facing the crowd; this is a boxing ring that has brought grown men to tears. While being home to tasks such as hot dog speed eating and an extra hot wing eating challenge, there have also been battles involving pitchers filled with 22 scoops of ice cream and topped with sauce and sweets. So if you’re thinking of giving it a go, I’d advise a few weeks training beforehand.
How have you promoted the event?
“We’ve only really advertised on Twitter, we’ve not done any print advertising. I guess that’s just the modern way of things now, especially in a city like Manchester. We have our own social media team who work with us, it’s not like we’re just tweeting every day, there’s a strategy behind it.”
The Forward thinking event has gained over 10,000 followers, which grows more each day. By announcing the line-up of vendors each week a few days before, everyone is keen to know what grub they’ll be able to feast on next. Also, even though it is a no ticket event queues can still be expected at peak times, so the queue jumps are pretty handy which are given away on Twitter too. This means you can be those smug people who walk past a snaking line of eager food fanatics and go and see what they hype’s about.
What are the plans for the future of the FFF?
“Next time we come back there’ll be a few differences, we’ll do different things with the music and drink offerings and we might twist the food element as well.”
So finally Chris, where did the name come from?
“The idea is you don’t have to have the Friday Food Fight with your friends and it’s a catchy name I suppose. Food’s too good to throw at people.”