Nestled on the ground floor of the recently refurbished Principal Hotel on Oxford Street, Refuge by Volta encapsulates modern Manchester. Seamlessly piecing together traditional high ceilings and long-established Victorian tiled walls and hallways with a modern, almost hipster vibe, this venue has taken Manchester by storm and become a personal favourite.
Originating from their hugely successful West Didsbury restaurant, Volta took over this impressive 10,000 sq ft space in what was once known as The Palace Hotel in September 2016, and have cultivated quite the reputation. It’s obvious as soon as you walk through the door that everything from the furniture, to the glassware, to the silverware, has been chosen down to the very last detail. The first thing that really hits you is the sheer size of the space. Broken up into a number of areas you move through the venue effortlessly, as the blend between the classic and the contemporary gives the venue a sense of motion, and reflects the ever-changing face of Manchester itself.
The public bar area is scattered with a variety of sofas and tables, perfect break out spaces, where you find meetings during the day and cosy couples in the evening. The impressive forty-foot granite bar is stocked with every variety of spirit known to man and an eighteen-tap beer selection, including Volta’s own pale ale made in partnership with local craft ale specialists First Chop. The bar also boasts a surprisingly comprehensive wine list including an exceptional full-bodied Syrah, “Shot Through the Heart”, that has led to many a sore head in the following morning.
As you move through the bar you stumble upon The Winter Garden. Placed at the heart of the venue, this space brings the outside in, and is the perfect hideaway with a 1920s atrium atmosphere in which to sample the bar’s excellent cocktails, and avoid the infamous Manchester rain. With an extensive menu of classics, twists and signature drinks there is something for everyone. I highly recommend the Dog vs Bee, a curious mixture of white whiskey, honey, vermouth, and bitters that will certainly have you going back for more.
My only concern on the drinks front is that in the way of bubbles. The Winter Garden is the perfect spot for a cheeky tipple of afternoon Prosecco or late-night Champagne, yet I find their list somewhat lacking – littered with Lanson, Herbert Hall, and off-the-shelf Prosecco. I would advise sticking to the cocktails to avoid disappointment.
Finally, you reach The Den, a more traditional drinking space with table football and snooker table. Often used for parties, it can comfortably accommodate over sixty people with its own private and fully stocked bar. For the more formal affair, the private dining area is the best in the city. Intimate yet spacious, the clever use of glass makes you still feel part of the whole venue but still gives you that important sense of privacy.
Heading up the 139-cover restaurant with an open kitchen is Alex Worrall, and he is turning out some of the best dishes in the Manchester. The two DJ-turned-restaurateurs Justin Crawford and Luke Cowdrey opened the original Volta in 2013 and cultivated a close-knit community style dining experience that has transported effortlessly to this much larger space. Their dishes, formulated by Alex but inspired by Justin and Luke’s travels, are an eclectic mix of dishes from the Mediterranean, and the small plates are the perfect portion, excellently presented and served – I recommend the Lebanese lamb chops. For those with a larger appetite the one kilo grass fed Dexter rib on the bone is a sharer that you won’t regret.
The versatility of the venue knows no bounds. The opening party saw a thousand people watered and fed, and a New Years Eve party that featured guest DJ superstar Mark Ronson taking the decks at the stroke of midnight. The party also attracted some of the biggest names including movie stars Dougray Scott and Tamer Hassan, Saturdays star Vanessa White, opera singer Camilla Kerslake as well as fashion designers Henry Holland and Charlie Casley-Hayford. The venue hosts a plethora of events from screenings to huge parties featuring some on the best DJs in the country.
Refuge by Volta is everything modern Manchester has been transforming into. Effortless style with an industrious work ethic, it is producing some of the best dishes and drinks in the city. As I sit here admiring the vast space, enjoying the rather varied soundtrack, sipping my “builder’s brew”, I see a group of men having a meeting; I see an elderly couple trying to work out how to use their iPhone, a woman diligently working away on her laptop, and a group of friends enjoying drinks. I see Manchester. Refuge is leading the way, bringing people together, welcoming everyone, and I predict it is going to be a major player in the long-awaited Manchester renaissance.
Refuge by Volta The Principal Hotel Oxford Street Manchester M60 7HA 0161 288 1111