A Manchester man who first started baking during lockdown to help raise funds for the NHS is now planning on opening his own cafe in the new year.
Whilst furloughed from his fashion retail job, Loaf founder Aiden Ryan started baking from home to raise money for the NHS to tackle PPE shortages and a lack of staff food on site.
Within a month, he’d raised £1,000 selling just 120 sweetie and chocolate-loaded loaf cakes and carried on baking until restrictions were lifted – at which point he was ready to hang up his apron strings and return to his day job as a manager at Belstaff.
Life, however, had other plans – with Ezra and Gil getting in touch to ask if he might consider baking cakes for their cafes after seeing them on Instagram.
“At first I was going to politely decline (as I didn’t know where to start!) but there was an overwhelming feeling of ‘it’s meant to be’ – as cheesy as that sounds,” says Aiden.
“So, I said yes, and I haven’t stopped baking since.”
In the past year and then some, he’s not just supplied Ezra but also Feel Good Club, Hampton and Vouis, Propeller Coffee, Makers Quarter and more – with his loaded loaf cakes going down a storm.
Now, he’s ready to open his own cafe for fans to get stuck into the cakes, which come covered in all manner of sweet treats including Lotus Biscoff, Jammy Dodgers, Kinder Buenos, figs, creme eggs and Bourbon biscuits.
But he needs your help to make this dream, which he’s been working towards since the start of Covid, into a solid bricks-and-mortar reality.
Aiden is currently fundraising to open a Loaf cafe all of his own on Oxford road, with plans to take over the former Patisserie Valerie unit in March.
The fundraiser, which is hosted over on Kickstarter, has currently raised £4,508 of its £45,000 goal at the time of writing – and still has quite a way to go before the Kickstarter closes on 14 January.
Funds will go towards the cost of fitting out the unit, essential machinery, marketing and hiring new staff for the business – all of whom will be paid a living wage.
“I started Loaf with nothing, but we’ve grown through community – and so it only felt right for our next step to be crowdfunding,” said Aiden.
“There’s been a fantastic response to the brand and the growth in just a year has been phenomenal. I think it’s time that we gave Manchester it’s very own Loaf Mcr destination.”
Those pledging will receive the same amount – or more – back in treats once the shop opens, plus the satisfaction of helping a young Manchester business get off the ground in the city.
To pledge to the fundraiser and help the Loaf cafe become a reality, click here.
Inside the underground Manchester noodle bar serving Chinatown’s spiciest scrans
Over in Chinatown, there’s a relatively new little noodle bar that’s been making a big, spicy stamp on the city’s dining scene.
Its owner, Wendy Ren, hails from the Chinese province of Sichuan – a region that’s home to giant pandas, traditional Sichuanese opera, and some of the spiciest food going, thanks to its famous Sichuan pepper.
Also known as the Chinese prickly ash, the citrus-like peppercorn leaves a tingly numbness in the mouth and on the lips that you’ll either love or hate.
It’s an acquired taste, by all accounts – but those who love it can’t get enough. In fact, on my visit during a packed-out Wednesday lunch service, Wendy stopped to chat with an Italian family holidaying in Manchester who had been in to eat three days in a row. Now that’s an endorsement if I ever heard one.
She’s opened the restaurant alongside her Cantonese husband, Ken Chen, but the recipes are all hers – and on our visit she laughs with us about how it has taken him some time to get on board with her spicy food, saying: “he found out pretty quickly that he either eats it or he doesn’t eat at all.”
For big fans of spice, this is fast becoming the absolute go-to spot in Chinatown – and for those who aren’t so tough, don’t worry, because Wendy’s put some things on the menu for you too (and possibly, also, for Ken).
Called Noodle Alley, the restaurant is tucked away underground on Faulkner Street and beautifully decked out in red and green with little nods to the famous wide and narrow alleys of Chengdu.
Formerly home to China City, a real old-school Chinatown legacy restaurant, the space has a special place in Wendy’s heart.
She tells me that she and her husband used to come and eat here “all the time” when they first started dating, so the location really means a lot to both of them.
Chinatown restaurants aren’t exactly known for their glamorous interiors, and China City, Wendy jokes, was one such place – with the same old carpet, and the same old tables that had been used for the past twenty years.
Now the space is her own, though, it’s markedly different – lovingly decked out in cheerful colours, with little green windows, hanging lanterns, and bamboo rattan paneling on the walls.
Her story of getting into the restaurant business is something of an unusual one. Prior to opening Noodle Alley, she tells me, she spent nearly two decades working at The Marriott Hotel.
After seventeen years of service and the birth of her second child, she asked to go part-time but her request was refused – so she quit the very next day, and began building her own route to independence.
It was during the Covid lockdown, she says, that she really got into cooking group meals – making meals for her friends and spending hours in the kitchen busying away happily over her stove.
A friend with several restaurants in Chinatown suggested she start her own business, and the rest – as they say – is history.
Dish-wise, her menu spans a mouthwatering selection of dry noodles, soup noodles, street food, and small plates, including the likes of deep-fried wavy potato chips with chilli and Szechuan pepper and steamed beef strips wrapped with chilli paste, numbing Sichuan pepper, and five-spiced rice powder.
Dan Dan noodles, the Sichuan dish we probably all know the best, don’t feature – they’re a bit old news now, apparently, and Wendy has some cooler alternatives for us to try.
One is her Su Jiao Mian, a mixture of minced pork, sesame sauce, and house chilli oil, the other is the Wan Za Mian, a fiery mixture of spices combined with minced pork, soft yellow peas, and more chilli which Wendy says is “one of the most popular noodles in Sichuan.”
Apparently, if you’re eating with the cool kids in Sichuan, you should order this. Not one to argue, I dig in – and it’s safe to say her food is pretty damn exceptional. Almost immediately, I’m planning my next trip back.
Other signature dishes here include Wendy’s steamed beef strips, which can be eaten alone or dipped into one of her noodle soups, and a dish of ‘saliva chicken’ – a crunchy, cold, textural dish with steamed chicken, fresh chillis and ribbons of cucumber that sit swimming in a bath of homemade Sichuan chilli oil, so named because it literally makes your mouth water.
We also opt for a dish of pork knuckle with butter beans in an umami-rich pork bone broth. Not one for the faint-hearted, even Wendy seemed a little cautious to recommend this one, but as fans of ‘the weird stuff’ we insist – and it really ends up being a highlight of the meal.
We end up needing a little help with it. It’s a slippery bugger and I end up wearing a fair bit of the broth. before she returns with a knife and fork to cut it up properly for us.
That broth it’s in, though, is so beautiful I could happily bathe in it. Some might say I did, to be fair. As for the soft, succulent pork meat? When sliced into tiny morsels and dipped into an extra special Sichuan chilli oil she retrieves from the kitchen, is something else entirely.
If this is Sichuan heaven, then I’ll happily stay here forever. From plump hand-made dumplings stuffed generously with flavourful pork and drenched in chilli oil, to chicken giblet soup noodles, there’s so much on the menu I will be coming back for.
And for those who really can’t handle the spice, I guess I’ll be recommending the scallion oil noodles with soy sauce and crispy egg. No matter what you order here, I don’t think you can go too wrong.
Featured image – The Manc Eats
Food & Drink
Top Manchester chef to host special £250 dinner – but vegans aren’t welcome
The French at The Midland Hotel has revealed it will host an exclusive dining experience next month with Hubert de Billy from the esteemed Champagne house Pol Roger – but there won’t be anything on the menu for Manchester’s vegans.
Adam Reid at The French is set to host an exclusive dinner next month as the esteemed chef patron joins forces with one of France’s most luxurious Champagne houses.
Taking place on Friday 6 October, diners will be treated to an indulgent four-course dinner pairing Lancashire lad Adam’s stylish Northern cooking with matching wines.
Due to the specific nature of the vent, however, specific dietary requirements will not be catered to on the evening – so vegans are being warned to stay away.
Wines will be introduced and described by none other than Monsieur de Billy, the fifth generation of the family-owned Champagne house and Pol Roger’s great-great-grandson.
Founded in 1849, Pol Roger is regarded as one of the finest of all the Champagne houses.
Guests will be given the opportunity to taste the prestigious Pol Roger Champagne, a notable favourite of late Prime Minister Winston Churchill, with some snacks on arrival before digging into a sumptuous four-course meal.
At £250 a head, it’s not cheap – but then we are talking about one of Manchester’s most premium restaurants, collaborating with one of France’s most prestigious Champagne houses, so it seems par for the course that you’ll be paying a pretty penny for it.
Starting at 6.30pm, things will kick off with glasses of Champagne and special snacks made by Adam Reid and his team before diners are seated in the plush restaurant for their meal.
Tickets for the event are strictly limited, and due to the nature of this event, specific dietary requirements will not be available to be catered for including vegan and dairy-free diets.
Whilst vegans and dairy-free folk might be feeling a bit left out, for the rest of Manchester it’s an opportunity to dine in one of the city’s most famous restaurants.
For those who don’t know the history of The French, in 1974 it made history as the first Manchester restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star.
Back then, it was Chef Gilbert Lefevre at the helm and it really did what it said on the tin – serving opulent plates of escargots, foie gras, and caviar, even committing right down to the menu itself, half of which was printed en français.
The restaurant retained its star for three years, before losing it in 1977, and would go on to have some ups and downs before coming under the stewardship of Simon Rogan in 2013, with its now-Chef Patron Adam Reid working underneath him as Head Chef.
Rogan – already then a proprietor of the Umbel group including L’Enclume, Fera at Claridge’s, and Rogan & Co – famously ended his five-year contract with the hotel two years early after failing to get a Michelin star.
That same year, local lad Adam took on the top dog role and in 2017 re-positioned the offering to reflect his own style – essentially making everything more relaxed.
He dropped the complicated place settings, brought in music so that diners no longer feared dropping their forks, introduced a new chef station in the restaurant, and revised the menu to pay homage to his Lancashire roots.
Under his stewardship, The French at The Midland typically serves an 11-course tasting menu featuring dishes inspired by picky teas, miniature cheese and onion pies, and steaming cups of beef tea served alongside Pollen ‘French malt’ bread and thick pats of beefy butter.
This special Pol Roger dinner is a one-off at the restaurant. It marks the beginning of a new chapter at Adam Reid at The French with its chef patron and head chef looking to host more collaborative events going forward.