18 St Anns Square
Manchester M2 7HQ
Lunch for three (inc. drinks and service £11.78)
There is a time and a place for most things. Some would argue that there simply is no time and place for a burger, specifically even less a McDonalds. However, a mid-shopping, pre-Science Museum visit, accompanied with two excitable children and a Saturday-football-free-bar hangover is such a time. St Ann’s Square in Manchester’s city centre was the place.
As a child, the lure of McDonalds was reserved for special occasions – birthdays or trips to Wembley Stadium, when they were nowhere near so omnipresent, convenient or price-sensitive. They were similarly positioned in the marketplace where TGI Fridays are today, and equally ‘exotic’. However, the immediacy of this fastest of foods makes it appealing to the parent that has children in need of instant gratification, and who also himself needs the equivalent of no-choice/no-chew food.
Having not made reservations, our small but determined party headed into the reception area at around midday, to avoid the inevitable rush, and ensure a certain amount of freshness to the prepared food available. We were met by, I assumed, the maitre’d – though he didn’t welcome us, introduce himself (no name badge, either) or show us to a table – resplendent in black sweatshirt and speckled trousers. He/it guided us towards to the counter with a hand holding a bottle of over-worked, anti-septic spray, and a filthy, green cloth for a tail.
The counters were clean and free from other patrons, making a swift order possible, though this reduced the open-mouthed, gawp-time required to properly assess the menu and the new (and often avoided) seasonal possibilities. Thankfully, being in the grip of the previous day’s booze-clench meant that the choice for this diner was simple: Big Mac, the house speciality, large fries and accompanied with an effervescent coke. My dining companions were equally easily pleased, having seen the flashing, but thankfully silent, Star Wars toy on offer with the ever-young Happy Meal. One went for a cheeseburger, and for variety in the name of testing the ktichen, the other wisely chose chicken nuggets. Before even lifting a golden fry to drying and eager lips, my concerns were raised when asking for vestibules of ketchup and bar-b-q sauces. Knowing my dining companions as I do, I am aware of the potential volume they can imbibe. “How many meals are you ‘avin’ mate?” was the question I was asked. Given that I had ordered three meals, all including fries, two sachets was a measly offering. Also, that I was washed, had two front teeth (top and bottom), relatively presentably dressed – boxfresh, rare, retro Nike Air Jordan IVs, for heaven’s sake – and approaching middle age, I would have hoped that their prejudice was not inferring that I was looking to line my cupboards with their ketchup? Which, if I were, I would only bring back to a McDonalds to eat with fries and nuggets anyway!
As we were waiting for a fourth member of our party, who had bizarrely decided to import sustenance from another location, and not wanting our meals to reduce from their barely kitten-farted temperature, we established the table we thought would give us access to the counter should we need more food, the bathrooms for the inevitable clean-up and easy attention catching of late members to the party. The location of the table, however, was downwind of the ‘automatic’ doors – meaning they opened when they wanted to, not for any reason involving people entering or leaving the establishment – unleashing a draft of such ferocity that if turned vertically could have been used as an indoor skydiving test centre.
This, also, had an adverse effect on the temperature of the food. The ceremony of opening a Big Mac box with a hangover cannot be too dissimilar to a nurse changing a patients sheets post-op, but if the bottom of the box is cold, the burger inside will be similar. Mine was lukewarm at best, with the inevitable lettuce-explosion; after so many years, perhaps the recipe of the ‘special sauce’ could be amended to include more adhesive to stick the lettuce to the cheese – how does McDonalds melted cheese have the opposite affect to every other cheese on the planet? Magic, according to my dining partner.
The fries were crisp, hot and salted to a suitable level that made the size of the drink relevant and utterly necessary. The nuggets were acceptable in their chicken content, crisp coating, hot and easily dippable into the provided and negotiated accompaniments. That our fourth diner was tucking into a Far Eastern-derived vegetable dumpling, noodle soup, that had the salivating aroma of ginger and freshness steaming from it was of no consideration to my other diners. Their lunch had given way to flashing plastic and attacking each other.
As a dining experience, I would not necessarily return to this branch of the World-famous chain until all others have been visited in the Mancunian metropolitan area, though the Trafford Centre counter and food hall is a novella in itself. The service was far from engaging or personal, and the food had the inevitability and reliability of death. However, as long as there are hangovers and carnivores, children and toys, McDonalds will continue to operate and provide the almost-good-enough consistency that the modern consumer requires, at prices that almost justify not complaining.
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