The amiable chaos that was Teacup has gone. The satellite enterprise off Piccadilly Gardens, which I thought was an expansion and a daring excursion into slightly plebeian territory, turned out to have been a 'pop-up' cafe, but now it has deflated. Over at Thomas Street, the refurb seems to have wiped out the character of the place almost entirely. Where once were mismatched chairs, wierd bits of crockery and rickety tables, we now have fake homeliness on a grand scale. Row upon row of red-legged farmhouse tables, so lots of people can gather and pretend that they are families - although, interestingly, the place is emptier than I've ever seen it. The choice of music, antique blues, is too contrived and too samey. I want to hear a playlist compiled from a box of vinyl found under a table at a jumble sale. The menu is further from vegetarian than it once was, and spattered with depressing offers of artisan toast, and an 'ambient' salad. Since when has 'ambient' been a good thing on a menu?
Studiously turning a blind eye to the new open kitchen, where somebody is dismembering a dead bird, G orders the usual veggie sausages and mash. They arrive, smartly arranged on a white plate, not bundled into a bowl in the time-honoured fashion. The sausages are smaller, in fact the whole thing is smaller, with not much more than a tablespoon of mash and a heaped teaspoon of red onion relish, on a puddle of thin gravy. Sob! What a tragedy!
He was lucky. My de-luxe cream tea fails to arrive altogether. By this time thoroughly depressed by the general faux-boho ambiance, and also by the waitresses, who no longer look as if they're trying to earn a crust by helping out friends whilst working on their doctorates, and now come in various shades of orange with alarmingly vacant expressions, I'm inclined to leave without my scone, but G demands my rights. OK, it's heart-shaped, but it's not really huge. As for lashings of clotted cream, I'd call that more of a smear. The whole thing is as dry as dust and very cold. Is it 'ambient'? It's been in the fridge for ages. I wonder why it took them so long to get it out and stick it in front of me. I don't feel particularly grateful.
What a crushing disappointment, it really feels as if the life's gone from this place. The Northern Quarter used to be a bolt-hole, a sanctuary for the broke and the quirky who didn't fit the Market Street mould, and didn't care. Manchester city centre is all style and no substance, and has been for years, and now the dead hand of the developer is starting to finger the Northern Quarter. You can't fool me - somebody's buying up the whole thing, giving it an authentic seventies style paint job, shrink-wrapping it, and trying to sell it back to us. Would madam care to purchase the bohemian look? My scone was nearly seven quid. A man walks past the window with a bag of chips. It looks like the sensible choice.