Escape to Freight Island is the newest outdoor food venue to open in Manchester. Based at the Mayfield Depot, Freight Island opened at the end of July, during lockdown.
Before it opened, Escape to Freight Island posted a series of cryptic, mysterious teaser adverts online and around Manchester talking about Freight Island but not revealing what it was. When they released that it was an outdoor food and entertainment venue, I was eager to go!
Due to the timing of its opening, Escape to Freight Island is completely adapted to social distancing measures and they launched with a ‘Safe and Social Manifesto’ to reassure customers of what they’re doing to keep the environment safe.
'We have designed a space where you are able to socialise safely with your party, maintaining social distance from others and remaining alert to the risks of Covid-19, while being part of the overall urban festival atmosphere of Freight Island.'
..and that’s exactly the experience I had.
Knowing how popular the space was, we decided to book a table. When we originally looked, the Saturday we were planning to visit was completely booked up! But upon chance I looked the day after and there was a table free at 12.15pm, so I snapped it up! The booking process was simple and done through Open Table, so it only took a few minutes. They make it clear that they charge for no shows, so if you can’t make it, let them know within 24 hours of your booking.
Located at the back of Piccadilly train station, I can understand how some may struggle to find Freight Island, which makes it feel like more of a hidden gem tucked away under the old railway arches. Luckily I was familiar with the student accommodation next door so knew which way to go!
There is a real sense of arrival when you get to Freight Island, you’re faced with big gated walls covered with Mayfield related graffiti. You can hear the buzz and see some of the structures within Freight Island, so you’re immediately excited about what you’re going to experience.
We were waiting for some friends to arrive so decided to hang around outside for them, we were approached by one of the members of staff on the front door, they asked if we were okay and if they could help us, in a non-intrusive ‘stop hanging around’ kind of way! They explained we could go in and get comfortable at our table, send our friends a picture of the QR code and table number and they could come in when they arrive and join us.
There was a host stand inside the door, I gave them the booking details, they asked us if we wanted a smoking or non-smoking table and they walked us over to our table. On the walk over, they asked if we’d been here before, we told them it was our first time and they seemed quite excited for us, they told us about the ordering system, where the toilets were and told us a little about the food and drink options.
The look and feel was great, there was something to look at around every corner. Different seating options, some covered some not and something for all group sizes.
The atmosphere was great, there was a DJ, it was busy but not too overwhelming, not all of the tables were full which was quite reassuring.
To order, you scanned the QR code on your table, this brought up the menus for the outlets. So you didn’t have to leave your table and wander around. There was one main bar, 4 food outlets and 2 dessert outlets. There was something for everyone, from slices of pizza at £4.50 (or a 22inch pizza!!) to Seabass dishes at £16. The drinks were also well priced, they had a wide selection of beers, wines, spirits and cocktails.
Service at Freight Island was a highlight for me, there was only one bar so all of your drinks were coming from the same place and all of the food, no matter which vendor it came from, was served on the same plate. In the past when I’ve gone to other similar outdoor food venues, the staff seem to only work for the specific vendors, making it difficult when it comes to clearing away the plates, the staff will only collect any glasses or plates that belong to them. But at Freight Island, it was simple, all staff cleared away all plates or glasses meaning you weren’t left with them piling up on the table.
I would absolutely recommend Escape to Freight Island for any occasion (if you can get a table!). It’s the perfect level of experience and atmosphere whilst maintaining Covid safe measures, you almost forget about the outside world whilst you’re in there. It seems like the way food venues could be going in the future, but this is setting the bar high for other venues with its efficient service and seamless experience.
Escape to Freight Island talks about being ‘A place where we can escape, just when we need it the most’. This was brought to life completely by the whole experience, it was an escape where you least expect it, under the old railway arches. Bringing to life Manchester’s industrial past and highlighting and using the industrial space to its full potential with inventive spaces whilst being an innovative food space, setting the bar high for others!