Ryan Giggs, 41, is eyeing up a basket of chicken wings in the kitchen of Café Football, his restaurant in Westfield Stratford. ‘I’m not so hot with an oven,’ says the Manchester United winger turned assistant manager. ‘But when the four of us picked the menu together — me, Michael Wignall, Brendan Fyldes and Gary Neville — we did our homework.’
In culinary terms it’s a pretty stellar line-up: Wignall, who acts as creative director, is a two-Michelin-star chef at The Latymer in Surrey; Fyldes, Café Football’s executive chef, ran the kitchen at Richard Corrigan’s Bentley’s; and Neville needs no introduction as Giggs’ former team-mate and England right back.
Popular dishes, including Nev’s noodle pot and Giggsy’s red dragon sausage, mash and onion gravy, have scored well with some critics: The Observer’s Jay Rayner described the food as ‘shockingly good’, although our own Grace Dent labelled a starter of The Treble Pies as ‘a miserable array of microwaved limp pastry’.
‘If it’s not constructive, I just push the papers to one side,’ says the Welshman, who has had a prickly history with the press, having taken out a super-injunction in 2011 to gag reports of his affair with the former Miss Wales Imogen Thomas. It was lifted by the High Court after he was named repeatedly on Twitter and subsequently there was the revelation of an eight-year relationship with his brother Rhodri’s wife Natasha. ‘If you can learn from it, you read it. If you can’t, you move on.
Spaghetti Bolognese is the limit of his cooking skills, but since giving up playing he’s developed a chocolate addiction, which he indulges at his £4m mansion in Salford, where he lives with his wife Stacey and their two children. In London he likes pasta at Cecconi’s or some grilled fish at Zoom in Marylebone. The conversation sags slightly on the subject of his favourite cuisine. What does he eat? ‘Anything really.’ Spicy food? ‘Sometimes.’ I’ve heard he finds Chinese chilli lamb dishes irresistible. ‘Yeah, they’re all right.’ We move on.
But the normally deadpan Giggs is more chipper on his gastronomic empire: ‘We wanted to go back to our roots,’ he says. ‘I remember jumping on the bus down to Old Trafford with my mates then wolfing down pies and Bovril on the Stretford End terraces. We wanted people to taste that match-day atmosphere.’ There are dishes from his childhood in Cardiff: Vimto Ripple ice cream is a nod to the pitchers his mother Lynne would leave out for him and his friends after a kickabout in the local park.
He is partial to a couple of glasses of wine with a meal, and United’s coach Louis Van Gaal will join him. ‘We’ll have a glass of Pinot Noir after a good victory,’ he says, ‘but just the one. Then we head off to see our families.’
Self-discipline hasn’t always been his strong point. In the 1990s Giggs was regularly papped leaving The Hacienda nightclub in Manchester and Back To Basics in Leeds with a string of women, including FHM cover girls Dani Behr and Patsy Kensit. Then Alex Ferguson pulled him up. ‘He used to let me know in no uncertain terms that he was on to me, and I used to think, “How does he know?” Eventually I realised it was because I’d be clean-shaven after a night out, and he’d worked that out. I stopped shaving after that.’
Giggs and Neville look after different areas of the business. Giggs crunches the numbers every week: ‘I just make sure there are more pluses than minuses. So far we’re looking good.’ What does Gary contribute? ‘He’s taken over the tasting,’ he laughs. Hotel Football opened in Manchester in March, a joint venture with fellow Class of ’92 graduates Paul Scholes, Phil Neville and Nicky Butt. As for what’s next for Giggs, it’s no secret he dreams of becoming manager at Old Trafford. ‘The feeling you get when you play a game, that buzz when you do well, you can never relive that,’ says Giggs, who played for United 963 times over more than 23 years. ‘It’s so important to plan something to fill that hole.’ It seems to be working: ‘I managed the team for four games towards the end of the 2013/14 season and I realised I wasn’t really missing playing as much as I thought I would.’
What would he serve if they beat Premier League champions Chelsea to the title next season? Dough balls? Strawberry boot laces? ‘Not much,’ he says with a smirk. ‘I think we’ll be drinking more than eating.’