I started with just a gazebo and a fryer but now my Manchester food is on Aldi’s Next Big Thing on Channel 4

A real Manchester success story will feature on Aldi’s Next Big Thing tonight.

By Sofia Fedeczko 30th April 2024

 Desert Island Dumplings, the UK’s first vegan fusion dumpling restaurant, is one of Manchester’s most exciting street food success stories of recent years. Having opened their first permanent spot in Afflecks Palace last year, now the business is hoping to bring their fusion dumplings to wider audience thanks to the latest series of Aldi’s Next Big Thing. 

The six-part Channel 4 series invites small food businesses from across the UK to compete for a chance to get their product on the supermarket chain’s shelves. It is presented by broadcaster Anita Rani and Eat Well for Less’ Chris Bavin, but the person contestants need to impress is Julie Ashfield, Managing Director of Buying at Aldi UK, who assesses the products on a variety of factors including packaging, market demand and price. 

 We spoke to Desert Island Dumplingsfounder Lucy Linford to find out more about the business and her plans for the future. 

‘Veggie food can be exciting’

When Lucy, 28, started Desert Island Dumplings in 2021, all she had was a gazebo and a fryer. She had been working in the food industry for a while, having previously ditched her unfulfilling career as a writer to explore her passion for cooking. 

 She found a job with the Gluten Free Pie Company, based in her hometown of Liverpool, but had been experimenting with different dumpling flavours with her friends and family in her spare time. Lucy’s older sister always swore by dumplings as a miracle hangover cure so they were always a popular treat in her family. But as the only vegetarian – Lucy is one of five sisters – she was always disappointed by the meat-free offerings. 

 Lucy told ManchesterWorld: “I think there is an idea that veggie food is a bit bland and a bit restrictive, so the passion to start the business came from the idea that veggie food can be exciting, full of choice and tasty – and enjoyable for people whether they're veggie or not. 

 “Because I've been veggie since I was 14, I've always been messing around and experimenting with different flavours, so it just came quite naturally. When we started giving them out to friends that weren't even veggie, they would be like: Wow, all those flavours.” 

 One flavour that was a big hit among her sisters early on was the Christmas dinner flavour, which Lucy had sent out as a festive treat. Other combinations, that are still big hits at her cafe in Afflecks Palace today, were also inspired by family and friends. She came up with the cheeseburger flavour with her housemate while sat in the garden one lockdown afternoon. And the salt and pepper chicken dumpling was first created as a birthday treat for a friend. 

 This is how Lucy decided on the fusion approach to dumplings, inspired by family, friends and home cooking. She said: “I called it Desert Island Dumplings, like [the radio show] Desert Island Discs – if you were on a desert island, what would you miss, what would you need. Initially, it was all my favourite foods, stuff that I'd been making veggie versions of since I was in my mum's kitchen at 15, like veggie lasagnes, veggie meatballs. It helps, because obviously we like different stuff, so there is always an option for everyone.”

 Another inspiration for Lucy was her former boss at the Gluten Free Pie Company, Denise Pendleton. It was while working for Denise that Lucy learned how food traders operate. Lucy said: “She was really working class and started this business because she was coeliac and thought there was no gluten free pies. She was really inspiring. 

 “Because it was such a small team, they showed me all the intricate things of running a business, like dealing with accounting and receipts. I got a really good first-hand experience about what running a business was. The camaraderie, the community, it was something that I think I had been seeking and I didn't expect to find it there.”

‘This has got legs’

Lucy’s first event as Desert Island Dumplings was at the Smithdown Road festival at Sefton Park Cricket Club and it was a sell out. This was when Lucy started to think: “This has got legs.”


She continued setting up her gazebo and fryer at food events, eventually getting residencies at places like Kazimier Garden in Liverpool and GRUB in Manchester. GRUB founder Jules Bailey let Lucy keep the gazebo in her shed so Lucy didn’t have to travel with it on the train. 

 Desert Island Dumplings was getting a lot of trade in Manchester and after she was offered a six-week stint at Stretford Food Hall, she made the decision to move back to Manchester, where she had lived and worked before as a writer. 

Lucy: “The street food scene is better here and I missed it. I took the plunge and got a flat in Whalley Range, it's just been gig after gig. I did Ancoats General Store and then last summer Afflecks asked if I fancied opening up a permanent cafe.

 That was something that was really scary because of the responsibility of rent and staff and all of that, but I just went with it. That's when Aldi were knocking on the door.”


Aldi had scouted Desert Island Dumplings to appear on the show via Instagram. Not wanting to appear on TV alone, she took her partner Lou to the filming, which took place last year. While it may have been a daunting experience, Lucy said it’s “good to do it and it was a cool step in terms of getting out there to the wider people in a way that isn't costing us anything.”

 Seeing Desert Island Dumplings on supermarket shelves is one of Lucy’s goals for the business, especially because not many competitors in the vegetarian food world come from working-class backgrounds.

 She said: “The whole sort of breaking into the supermarket world has always been a bit of a glass ceiling because it's who do you know, who do you contact and all of that. I think there is a reason that if you look at any product in the supermarket, even just the veggie stuff. Linda McCartney is posh in her own right and she was married to a Beatle, then you've got Kirsty's Kitchen, Deliciously Ella – all these people are really, really posh. So we saw this as our chance to break through.”

 If her products were to take off in the retail industry, Lucy would be able to fund another one of her “dreams” for Desert Island Dumplings. 

 She said: “For me, the dream future would be having it in stores. My friend Sam always says it's like making money when you're asleep, and then, with that money, use it for big events because they are expensive to get on and it's not just the pitch fee. Glastonbury always say they take in your circumstances to account, but you're still looking at paying five grand, and then you have to rent a freezer for the weekend, so it's a lot of money, but you'd be making so much.”

 Lucy told ManchesterWorld that she will be watching Tuesday night’s show nervously “from behind a cushion,” but she also has another big event to look forward to. Desert Island Dumplings has been nominated for one of the UK’s most prestigious Asian food awards, the Golden Chopsticks.

 This is the second year Desert Island Dumplings has been shortlisted. The first time was when Lucy was still trading out of her gazebo and they lost out to a big restaurant in Birmingham with three sites. But now Desert Island Dumplings has its own permanent site which is thriving and a growing online store, so this year might be different.

Desert Island Dumplings is located within Afflecks Palace for both eat-in and takeaway. You can also buy the dumplings to cook at home via the website. Aldi’s Next Big Thing will air on Tuesday, April 30 at 8pm. Episodes are also available to stream on the Channel 4 website.



The 25 best vegan food spots in and around Manchester

Georgina Pellant - 2nd January 2024


If you’re thinking of exploring a more plant-led diet, or simply curious as to where you might find the best vegan restaurants in Greater Manchester, or at least predominantly vegetarian to get you started, we’ve pulled out a list of must-visit for you to try below.

1. Desert Island Dumplings – Afflecks

"These are not your average dumplings – the little parcels of joy served up at Desert Island Dumplings are inspired by other foods like cheeseburgers, salt and pepper ‘chick’n’, and even overnight oats. And they’re all vegan."

Manchester's Finest


Desert Island Dumplings

Vegan and vegetarian fusion dumplings that go well beyond the usual fillings.

Our city prides itself on personality and individuality. The kind of town that’s so unique it has continued to start trends that influence the world, from the industrial revolution to the socialist response, post punk to industrial ambient. If anywhere embodies this independent spirit more than Afflecks, we’d like to see it. Asprawling totem of indie commerce spread out over four floors, within this labyrinthine maze you’ll find another example of North West ingenuity pushing back against the grain — Desert Island Dumplings. 

No prizes for guessing what this place does — extraordinarily well  — the he establishment is all about dumplings – enjoyed by veggie, vegans and meat-eaters alike. If that sounds common, it’s important to note the whole idea behind this place is to offer a menu that doesn’t rely on mushroom, tofu, or miscellaneous ‘veg’ to cater for those that don’t want to, or can’t, eat meat. Launched in Liverpool, the business proved a huge success on Merseyside, with founder Lucy originally hand-delivering parcels of joy on her bicycle, and has since set up shop at a permanent site in Manchester’s beloved Afflecks. Third floor to be exact. 

So, step into Desert Island Dumplings and you’ll find a range of Dumpling Fantasies on offer. These include the Salt & Pepper Chikn Dumplings, made with soy, Cheezburger Dumplings, which also have pea protein, and Hoisin Mock Duck Dumplings, which add wheat to the equation. Meal deals are big here, too, with a set number of dumplings, drinks, and sides. The latter options include Drunk Udon Noodles, deep fried with seasonal vegetables, Krispy Salt & Pepper Kale, and Potato Salad. It’s also possible to punt for steamed rather than fried dumplings, if the mood takes you. Well worth seeking out when you’re in the Northern Quarter and looking for something you really don’t find on just any street.  

Liverpool ECHO

By Ellen Kirwin What's On Editor- 7 APR 2024

Business went from a gazebo to Channel 4 programme Aldi's Next Big Thing


Lucy Linford started Desert Island Dumplings out of her rental flat in South Liverpool