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Getting to know Ramsbottom's food scene

Once known for its mills, this Greater Manchester market town has since swapped cotton for top-class cuisine.

Published 23 Jun 2019, 18:00 BST
Photograph by Bacon on the Beech

Ramsbottom’s Bridge Street is a lesson in how high street shopping ought to be. Picture a neat row of Victorian facades, home to a range of independent shops, including a top-class butcher, bakery and fish and chip shop, plus several enticing bars, cafes and restaurants. It’s only Wednesday, but the tables are full and there’s a buzz about the place.

Located 12 miles northwest of Manchester, in a Lancashire valley on the edge of the West Pennines, Ramsbottom is a pretty market town built from local sandstone, smudged dark from its years as a flourishing mill town during the Industrial Revolution. Its emergence as a thriving food destination has been underpinned by the popularity of its monthly farmer’s market, held on the second Sunday of the month, plus a lively programme of food-related events. These include the hugely popular annual Chocolate Festival (held in April) and a festive market in December.

“Things have really taken off in the last five or six years,” explains Joe Botham, who grew up in Ramsbottom and owns two excellent Spanish restaurants here. Joe learned to cook in Spain and, after a stint serving paella at local markets, he and his wife Fiona took over a vacant shop and opened Levanter serving Basque-style tapas dishes. The restaurant was an instant hit: “We were turning away more people than we were feeding.” So they opened Baratxuri, two doors down — this time a pintxo bar serving delicious morsels of finger food at £3 a pop. That too expanded and a wood-fired oven was installed to cook suckling pig and lamb, plus the amazing Txuleton beef (from dairy cows in northern Spain) for which the restaurant has become known.

Sandwiched between Levanter and Baratxuri is The Vineyard, a welcoming independent wine shop run by the knowledgeable Stuart Rothwell, which specialises in Portuguese and Italian wines and supplies many of the town’s restaurants. 

Meanwhile, nearby Irwell Works Brewery has put Ramsbottom on the map for real ale drinkers. Originally the old tin, copper and iron works, the building sat derelict until two locals renovated it and installed a craft brewery in 2010. A homely pub was opened upstairs, serving beers brewed on site, including the light, hoppy Costa Del Salford.

If Ramsbottom lacked anything, it was a speciality coffee shop, but that changed a couple of years ago when local chef Adrian Barratt-Smith opened Grind & Tamp on Bridge Street. The coffee comes from a handful of roasters in the north of England. “We love to chat about the provenance of the beans and the way they’re brewed,” explains Adrian.

Down the road, at bistro The Hungry Duck, nearly everything is made from scratch. That includes the famed cheese pie, made with Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire cheese, onion and Pommery mustard baked in buttery shortcrust and served with homemade mushroom ketchup.

While Ramsbottom was once very much a pub town, it’s now home to several smart bars, including Grape to Grain. Opened by passionate oenophile Tom Sneesby in 2017, it’s part wine shop, part tasting venue and part bar — grab a bottle from the eclectic selection and drink it in the welcoming bar area for a small corkage fee. 

How to do it From Manchester Piccadilly, take the Metrolink to Bury, then take the 474 bus or the weekend steam train to Ramsbottom. The Eagle & Child has doubles from £75, B&B.

Published in issue 4 of National Geographic Traveller Food

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