The rise of the foodie footballer
PUBLISHED: 14:28 16 December 2014 | UPDATED: 21:22 18 April 2016
What’s the score with footballers and food? United legends open the world’s first football hotel, right near their ground
2015 will see the doors open at Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs’ Hotel Football opposite Old Trafford and while it has all the trappings for fans like a soccer pitch on the roof and 40-inch TV with unlimited Sky Sports, it is offering a menu designed by creative director, two-star Michelin chef, Michael Wignall.
‘The 133 bed hotel and conference facility aims to capture that authentic football culture, with hints to the great game running throughout the menu and décor, making it the go-to destination for fans, families, business users and tourists,’ says the publicity blurb.
And that’s not bigging it up. It may be just down the road from that fixture of the Old Trafford football scene - the Lou Macari Chip Shop - but in every other sense, it’s a million miles away.
Now, instead of owning a chippy or a pub like Manchester City’s Mike Summerbee, today’s soccer stars are blazing a trail on the culinary scene.
Yes. Ever since Gary Neville and David Beckham rustled up a plate of pasta and tomato sauce on a ‘reality’ TV documentary some years back, soccer stars have had an influence on the north west food landscape.
The most famous in Manchester is Rosso, the uber-glam Italian part-owned by another former Manchester United player, Rio Ferdinand. This connection with business savvy Ferdinand isn’t just what gives the restaurant at the top of King Street in Manchester its patina of glamour. It is one of the city’s main celeb haunts - just check out the walls of the place, a gallery of ‘Who’s Who’ of famous clientele.
What’s to love about the place? The buzz for a start, as well as a menu packed with Italian favourites and a ‘Shelf’ where you can sip cognac costing a cool £750 a shot. Mere bagatelle for the footballer on £100,000 a week.
Then there’s the former Manchester City player, Urmston-based Michael Johnson who has unveiled plans to open a new restaurant in Didsbury with his own Michelin-starred chef on board.
Meanwhile, Liverpool player Steven Gerrard has already brought fine dining to Southport at his co-owned trendy Warehouse Kitchen and Bar.
And, where footballers go the rest of the world want to follow...
Posh and Becks brought global attention to Belle Epoque, Knutsford, in the 1990s and The Living Room in Manchester was a regular haunt for the youthful Giggs, Gary and Phil Neville, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes - all now involved in the new enterprise, a kind of football version of Planet Hollywood.
It seems the new ‘relaxed dining’ experience of all those years ago has had a ripple effect, especially on Gary Neville who was recently at Manchester’s Food and Drink Festival helping Wignall and the hotel’s executive chef, Brendan Fyldes cook up such signature dishes as Nev’s Noodle Pot and CF Sausage Roll.
Also on a menu that reworks old favourites like fish fingers, chicken in a basket and beans on toast are Karren Brady’s Match Day Classic - pie mash and chilli liquor, Giggsy’s Red Dragon sausage mash and onion gravy and Vaughny’s Cup Final Dish of 1991, perfect ham, fried egg and chips.
Admittedly, this doesn’t sound like the kind of food fit for a marriage proposal (or maybe it is) but make no mistake the cooking is serious.
Food critic Jay Rayner’s verdict on the sausage roll sampled at Giggs’s cafe football in London was ‘a glorious thing that I want to adopt as my third child.’ Said Giggs after being questioned by The Times about his foodie ambitions: ‘We’re not chefs and we’re not experts in hospitality, but we’ve had a lot of experience travelling the world, eating at nice restaurants, eating at nice hotels. We knew what we wanted, it was just putting it out there.’
The ambitions don’t stop there. The elegant building in Manchester city centre which housed the sophisticated Italian, Stock, has been bought by Gary Neville and rumour is it will be turned into a private members’ club.
And he’s not the only Neville brother with a commercial interest in food. Hale-based Phil Neville shares the passion of wife Julie for their health food enterprise Win Naturally and can often be seen pricing up gluten free bakes and nutritional supplements at their Arndale store.
This is all good news for the region, where a novel restaurant experience occurs every week. Still, if you want a taste of retro - well, there’s always Lou Macari’s chip shop.