Coming to the Royal Exchange? Plan around your visit

Polly Checkland Harding

Make the most of your theatrical trip with our tips for the best places to eat, drink and visit close to the Royal Exchange.

So you’ve got your tickets. Maybe you’re making an evening of it, or perhaps the performance will round off a day out. Either way, booking tickets was the easy bit: now you’ve got to work out where to eat and drink, and where else you might visit. Tricky. You’re after good drinks and great food, close-ish to the Royal Exchange Theatre, right? Nope, no idea who might be able to help with that… oh, hold on.

Coming for the evening

Mr Thomas’s Chophouse, though oddly apostrophe-d, is a very sensible distance away from the theatre. Its Grade II-listed building is also stunning: terracotta blocks and Accrington brick decorate the outside, while the interior boasts beautiful arches and Victorian tiling. The food is “classic British cooking, with a modern twist,” which translates as pea soup, pressed pork belly, corned beef hash, steak and kidney pie and traditionals like Manchester tart for pudding. They also have an excellent wine list.

An alternative with a similarly decorous surrounds is Jamie’s Italian, housed in the old Midland Bank. The food is good, the setting is better: pop down to the basement to see the safety deposit box viewing rooms (now the loos) and the vault turned private dining room. Slightly further away is an elegant dining option at Mr Cooper’s House & Garden in the Midland Hotel, opposite Central Library. Treat yourself to sophisticated plates in a slightly spa-like environment, or, if you’re feeling less decadent, head over to the Northern Quarter. Here, you can choose between deli boards and excellent wine at Wood., or an Indian, Asian and European-inspired menu from Manchester Food & Drink Awards “Best Newcomer” nominee Superstore.

If you’ve no time for food, but would like some liquid refreshment, head for the Botanist on Deansgate. It does excellent botanical cocktails (all the rage, you know) and a selection of snacks and starters. Alternatively, Hanging Ditch wine shop near Manchester Cathedral has a neat little bar running along its front windows. Perch here with a glass of something excellent and watch the world go by.

A whole day out

With a day to play with, you might start a little further out: Asia Triennial Manchester coincides with most of Hamlet’s run and we think the Northern Quarter is a good place to start a walking tour of what’s on. While you’re exploring the Northern Quarter’s streets, keep an eye out for public art in the area; it’s just one of the many free, hidden away things Manchester has to offer. When it’s time for elevenses, take your pick from several great spots for coffee: try North Tea Power on Tib Street, Fig & Sparrow on Oldham Road or Icelandic café Takk on Tariff Street.

It’s always worth having a wander around Manchester Art Gallery’s permanent collection– and, if you’ve booked in for the last few weeks of Hamlet’s run, you can see its new, mega exhibition Sensory War (opens 11 Oct). Across the road, there’s loads to explore at Manchester’s Central Library: don’t miss the Henry Watson music library, the film archive and the Reading Room with its beautiful clock and odd acoustics.

John Rylands is another library that’s well worth a visit, with reflective exhibition Echo and Narcissus, which looks back at female characters and writers in literature, a highlight of the historic Reading Room. Stop off at Côte on Deansgate: the lunch menu is not only delicious, it’s also great value (£9.95 for two courses). Alternatively, hold out for Proper Tea, back in Manchester’s Cathedral Quarter. Overlooking the medieval majesty of the Cathedral, this café does luxurious hot sandwiches, soup and a dangerously tempting array of cakes.

While you’re in the area, it makes sense to visit another of the city’s incredible old buildings. Chetham’s Library, founded in 1653 and one-time host of Marx and Engels, is also close to the more modern delights of the National Football Museum. Finally, it’s worth taking a proper look at the Royal Exchange itself. Once a Victorian trading hall, it still has the original trading board from its last day of action (in 1968) up high on the wall. The theatre in the round, part of a £32 million redevelopment here in 1999 (although the theatre itself dates back to 1976), hangs from the building’s great pillars – making for a unique setting for a radical production of Hamlet.

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