“Listed building, listed food, listed drink, listed atmosphere, it all should be listed, what a great place!”
I can see it now, councillors meeting across the great towns of the North West, head in hands, next on the agenda, “how do we fill our 1970’s concrete, litter strewn, windswept, soulless shopping centres with eager punters?”. Ever since we bulldozed our ornate, Victorian, colonnades we seem to have lost a touch of quintessential England. Well hats off to the powers that be in Altrincham, either by blindingly, sure footed foresight (or maybe just plain luck) they kept their ancient market structures and have now put them bang centre of the regeneration of a great little Cheshire town.
Faced with a couple of hours to kill one Sunday afternoon, having dropped the wife off in nearby Knutsford for a girlie afternoon, I ventured the few miles to ‘Alty’. Mere moments from the standard, pedestrianised, shopping mall the fabulous, brick built Market House came into view. Adjoining is the aforementioned, wrought ironed market stall canopy. Today it was half full, with a mixed bag of craft stalls. As it was 3pm things were winding down, but a live duo was still in full flow. I’m sure earlier things had been a lot livelier. I managed to buy the last two pies from the Great North Pie Company, so it couldn’t have been too bad!
Still, given that I was hungry, it was the market house next door I had come to witness. This is where nine, pioneering, street food vendors ply their trade. A wonderful, chalked mission statement dictates the ethos. Indeed once inside it is pretty clear the blackboard sign writer has a job for life here. All the traders use the same bloke! Indeed branding, normally a key feature of the street food scene is strangely absent. Not that I’m complaining, each trader is set around the perimeter in their own, brown painted box, complete with gold, capital type legend. I casually wander round the edge to take in whose doing what.
In the centre is a series of large, rectangular, multi coloured, wooden tables seating around ten people. The place I reckon could seat around two hundred, and let me tell you they were all taken! The place was rammed. A wonderful cacophony of good natured banter, couples, families, young and old all mingled to create a totally beguiling atmosphere. The problem as a lonesome punter, how do I get served?
I decided to go for a steak sandwich with béarnaise sauce and caramelised onions on sourdough by the aptly named ‘Tender Cow’. A platoon of cheery youngsters manned the tight galley. First question, what’s your table number? Hmm, I haven’t got one. No worries, “get a pint of locally brewed real ale from ‘Jack in the Box’ and wait there. We’ll be over in twenty five minutes!”. Given the steak has to rest and I love real ale, we struck up a contract and I parted with a heady nine whole English pounds.
Some might suggest that one could acquire two steak sandwiches and two pints of John Smiths at a nearby Wetherspoons for pretty much the same money, but please, hear me out. Is their steak 28 day aged? Is it rested after being cooked? Is the pizza dough handmade and allowed to prove for 48 hours? Has Katie herself hand sifted the flour to whip up that light sponge? I think not. We are talking, passionate, young, artisan producers here, who know that if they fail here they’re not going to survive. This is quality stuff.
I manage to muscle on to table nine. The tender chap has noticed and delivers my sandwich. It is indeed a thing (a small thing sadly) of real beauty. The taste is sublime, pink juicy steak, sweet onion, tangy sauce. Totally delicious.
For something sweet I womble over to ‘Wolfhouse Bakery’ and pick a raspberry cheesecake brownie (£3.65). Delivered with a quaint fork on a painted plate, rather lovely. As with the mains the empties are quickly spirited away by a brigade of willing helpers. A pink pig, centre table, dictates the table number and doubles up as a tip collector. It’s all brilliantly organised.
A coffee from the ”Market House Coffee’ finished off a thoroughly enjoyable hour. It’s open daily (except Monday) until late, 6pm on Sunday. The market next door varies with its fayre and timings. The combination of food and craft is exquisite. You have to try it.
The market and the traders are all social media savvy. Wi-Fi wafts around. The food on offer is as follows
- Tender Cow (rare breed, heritage steak based offerings, with chips if required)
- Jack in the Box (purveyor of Blackjack beer and other craft ale)
- Honest Crust (wood fired pizza, I resisted one of these as I have already sampled many times, and yes they are very good)
- Wolfhouse Kitchen (cakes and Korean fried chicken based products. Will be trying these next!)
- Great North Pie Company (as it says on the tin! I am a big fan, best pies ever)
- Sam Joseph (chocolatier, macaroons, hot chocolate and ice cream)
- Market House Coffee (artisan coffee and teas)
- Reserve Wines (wine)
- Little Window (small plates, olives and were doing all day brunch when I was there)
I am tempted to keep this little gem a secret, it really is a place you should all try. I’ll definitely be a regular from now on. Still based on my current stats around thirteen or fourteen of you will read this so it shouldn’t spoil things too much!
See the rather splendid website for more details
Altrincham Market/Market House