Chefs defend Manchester’s food scene after criticism from footballer’s wife

A Manchester City footballer’s wife has been told to get out more and to stop choosing restaurants on the basis of their Instagram appeal, after claiming food in her new northern English home town was “horrible” and “all frozen”.

Sara Arfaoui, an Italian model who married the Man City captain, İlkay Gündoğan, earlier this year, said in an Instagram Q&A that she had “tried so bad to find a good restaurant” but that Mancunian eateries were focused on “making money with drinks and shot[s] like a nightclub” instead of providing quality food.

Ben Chaplin, whose food at the Black Friar gastropub was praised by Jay Rayner for being “profoundly beautiful and profoundly eatable”, said footballers’ wives tended to stick to a small number of restaurants with food designed more for Instagram than refined palates.

He worked for three years at 20 Stories, a rooftop restaurant beloved of the footballing fraternity. “People don’t go there for the food. They go there to take pictures to say ‘look how high I am in Manchester’. That’s the sort of places these people are eating. They are places that are churning out food because they are Instagrammable spots.”

Gary Usher, who owns the Manchester restaurants Kala and Hispi, said he was pleased not to serve footballers.

“We have two restaurants in Manchester & I’m genuinely delighted that footballers & their wives don’t come because I’d be questioning our offer if they did. Good taste & class is hardly synonymous with footballers wives & their leopard print themed cinema rooms,” he tweeted.

Chaplin insisted Afaoui and Gündoğan were welcome to visit, saying the ex-Manchester United defender Gary Neville was already a regular. “I don’t think they’ve looked for decent places. I think they’ve looked for places that look good on Instagram,” he said.

Simon Wood, the head chef of Grace Dent-approved Wood, which specialises in “unintimidating high-end dining”, said: “I’m going to call out Sara Arfaoui on the fact she hasn’t been to every restaurant in Manchester. I know for a fact she hasn’t been to mine. We do get frequented by some City players so they are obviously not chatting in the dressing room. She’s very welcome to come in and try us and if it’s not up to her standard she can come in the kitchen and show us how it’s done.”

Gary Weir, chef-owner of the local catering company and consultancy Hot Buttered & Co, suggested Arfoui get out more. “Perhaps she lacks the instinct or curiosity that would very quickly lead her to one of the many amazing independent eateries Manchester has to offer these days: Erst, The Jane Eyre, Sparrows, to name just a few. Maybe they’re not high-brow enough for her to be seen in? In which case I wonder why she doesn’t frequent Mana, or even the top floor of part-[Pep] Guardiola-owned restaurant Tast. How about [Rio] Ferdinand’s Rosso for her Italian hit? Or Yuzu for the freshest Japanese food available?”

Bev Craig, the leader of Manchester city council, said Arfoui was talking “nonsense”, adding: “Manchester’s restaurant scene has been transformed over the last decade. That’s one of the reasons why, from Time Out to the Economist, Manchester consistently ranks as a top global city – so thousands of people across the world would disagree.”