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Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Cheese and Pate at The Royal Oak, Didsbury

There are of course many downsides to having to go to work during the week, but ranking high on the list of inconveniences is the fact that The Royal Oak only does lunches Monday to Friday. Rather ironic, then, that the only chance to visit has been this week, during a month when my average daily calorie intake presumably nestles somewhere in the high thousands.

Never mind - take the chance to go when you can, even if this necessitates some kind of fraudulent time off work. The pub itself doesn't look anything special - a traditional boozer situated on the main Didsbury drag and populated largely by people over the age of 90. However, the real draw here is the legendary Cheese and Pate Lunch, served from 12pm - 2.15pm every weekday and costing a mere £5. For this you get half a loaf of soft, fresh granary bread and two choices from the vast selection of cheeses and pates spread out along the bar for your delectation.

There are several potential pitfalls here. The portion control is non-existent, and if you have a pleasant chat with the lovely lady, or eye up a cheese that is either rather unpopular or has around a portion and a half left, she is apt to pile even more onto your towering plate. You will now understand why the cutlery table by the bar also carries empty bags - these are doggy bags, to allow you to avoid heart failure by taking some home with you. The smart luncher opts for one pate and one cheese; bear in mind that cheese travels far better than pate. Above all, beware how easy it is to shove it in your handbag and forget all about it, only to discover a bag full of dolcelatte lurking in your Prada at an unexpected moment.

  • The Royal Oak is at 729 Wilmslow Rd, Didsbury, tel 0161 4344788

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Has the Credit Crunch Dampened the Christmas Cheer?

So, a Saturday night in central Manchester, just before Christmas. Everywhere should be full. Yet the normally jam-packed Christmas concert at The Bridgewater Hall was conspicuously un-heaving, with around 600 of the 2400 seats empty.

Is this because the prices at the Bridgewater are starting to look unreasonable in these money conscious times? The cheapest tickets for last night's concert were £18.50, with choicer seats costing upwards of thirty quid, an outlay that gets pretty prohibitive if you have a large family or are on a tight budget.

That said, the concert was as good as it is every year, allowing cheery souls full of mulled wine from the nearby Christmas Market in Albert Square to sing along with Christmas songs in a suitably undignified manner. And where else could you see a full orchestra and a couple of highly esteemed West-End singers performing songs from Slade?

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Manchester Christmas Markets 2008

Are the Manchester Christmas Markets as good as usual this year? As I look forward each year to their arrival with breath that is actually bated, I am loathe to be the one to voice doubts, but it just all seems a bit too samey this year. The stall selling mulled wine or hot chocolate with brandy and whipped cream is as good as ever (and particularly heavy-handed with the brandy this year, ideal in all this cold weather we've been having), and the hog roast stall is still doing a roaring (oinking?) trade, but the problem is that all the other stalls are selling the same stuff as well. There are the lovely steel clocks, one of which already sits proudly in my living room; the frankly bonkers hand puppets that so charmed my nephews a couple of years ago; the slightly over-priced but rather lovely amber jewellery - it's all here again, just as it was last year, and the year before, and the year before that. As I've already bought the choicest items in previous years, either for myself or my loved ones, the Markets are no longer the easy option for Christmas shopping that they once were - please can we have some new stalls?

As a social occasion, the Markets remain as irresistable as ever - just try to feel bah humbug when you're clutching a cup of mulled wine and listening to the brass band playing carols. But the stalls need an injection of new life... and that Father Christmas atop the Town Hall in Albert Square looks way too much like a big scary Zippy in a santa suit.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Morrissey Comes to Manchester

Hurrah - time to fill your pockets with gladioli and rush to the Manchester Apollo to book your tickets to see King Mozzer himself. The singer will be appearing on Friday 22 May and Saturday 23 May 2009 as part of his "Tour of Refusal" (nice to see he hasn't changed) and will no doubt be playing plenty of songs from the album "Years of Refusal" that will be released on 16 February.

Tickets are already on sale, priced at £32.50, and are available from the usual places online (try as well as by calling The Apollo on 0161 8321111.

Expect to see plenty of misty-eyed nostalgic folk of a certain age, wearing faded Meat is Murder t-shirts and burbling on about "back in the day".

Friday, 28 November 2008

Fat Loaf Restaurant Opens in Didsbury

Well yes, I know what you're thinking, if there's one thing Didsbury was needing it was another restaurant. Strictly speaking, though, this is a replacement restaurant, opening up on Didsbury Green in the old premises of the now defunct Didsbury Village Restaurant.

The Fat Loaf already has a couple of other restaurants: one in Altrincham and one in Ashton-on-Mersey, and has already attracted some loyal followers. The menu looks pretty tasty, with starters such as Bury Black Pudding with Old Spot sausage, wilted spinach,
poached hens egg and tarragon sauce (my husband appears to be getting his shoes on already) and mains including Slow Cooked English Lamb Shoulder with minted new potatoes, parsnips and lamb gravy (£11.50).

The prices look reasonable, with starters around £6 each and mains starting from less than a tenner, but is it different or special enough to stand out in a location already overcrowded with restaurants? Time will tell.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Jade Garden Chinese Restaurant, Didsbury

Yes it was very cold last night, but being made of hardy stuff (and bolstered by the consumption of a bottle or two of red wine) we donned our gloves and scarves and made our way in to Didsbury to celebrate the visit of a friend up on a cultural visit from the South.

If there are quite a few of you, then one of the best places to eat in Didsbury is Jade Garden, as they are very accommodating and will give you the best table in the house - the big round one with a gigantic Lazy Susan in the middle. You can amuse yourself with this for some time, by spinning it at such a speed that your friends will simply watch helplessly as the food sails past them (note -some people will not find this funny).

The menu is slightly bewildering, as it seems to offer every kind of meat/fish/vegetable/sauce combination under the sun, so the safest (and easiest) option is to go for one of the banquets. Banquet D at £25 a head is our favourite - crispy duck with pancakes, then a generous platter of ribs, wantons, samosas, fish cakes, and sticky chicken skewers. At this point, you will have already eaten sufficiently, so ask for a break before the mains come - all are delicious but the fillet steak in cantonese sauce is the best, so make sure the waiter puts this one near you.

Whilst the food last night was as good as ever, one tiny gripe. The duck came with 12 pancakes. There were five of us. We asked for 3 more pancakes, which came a little grudgingly, and then appeared on the bill charged at an extra 60p. This seemed a little miserly, particularly as we had already spent plenty on food and wine, so we were equally childish and reduced our tip by sixty pence. Ha - that'll teach them.

  • Jade Garden is at 743 Wilmslow Road, Didsbury M20 6RN, tel. 0161 4456979.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Outdoor Ice-Skating in central Manchester

For the last couple of years, an outdoor ice rink has appeared in Piccadilly Gardens, full of rosy cheeked souls bundled up against the cold as they burn off the calories from all those mince pies. This year sees a change of venue, as the rink has moved to Hardman Boulevard at Spinningfields, just off Deansgate, where it will remain until January 4th (I am idly wondering how long you have to skate to work off a box of Celebrations... a day?)

Early birds can take advantage of reduced rates - an hour's session costs just £5 if you go before November 28th, after which time the prices will go up to £8.50 an hour including skate hire. If you are not naturally gifted on ice, then a six week "learn to skate" course is offered from November 30th at £60 (£50 for under 13s). Anyone who feels that a 6 year course would still be insufficient to achieve proficiency, such as myself, will be staying well away.

Full details at

Two for One Cocktails at The Pitcher & Piano, Didsbury

To be fair, The Pitcher & Piano is not necessarily the first place you'd think to visit during a credit crunch. Many a time has my husband looked balefully at the moths escaping from his wallet as he is informed that, yes, that round of a couple of beers and a bottle of wine really does come to 25 quid. However, one thing the P & P does do well is weekday offers - the current deal is two cocktails for the price of one all evening from Sunday to Thursday. The cocktail list is pretty exciting, and as most cost around £5.50 it makes it eminently justifiable to have a couple under the 2-for-1 promotion....

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Bridgewater Hall Christmas Concerts 2008

Hurrah - it's nearly that time of year again, when you can throw aside good taste and all feelings of cynicism for a few hours and sing along with Christmas songs played by an orchestra wearing furry reindeer antlers. Yes - it's Christmas Concert time at the usually genteel and refined Bridgewater Hall.

The first one to get excited about is White Christmas on Saturday 13th December, a concert promising a whole range of cheesy favourites such as Santa Baby and All I Want for Christmas is You (you KNOW you want the chance to sing along with these); the second highlight is the more traditional Christmas Gala on Wednesday 17th December, which this year is presented by Angela Rippon (one can only hope she throws in a few high kicks). Full details are available at the Bridgewater Hall website.

Anyone feeling reticent about entering into the spirit of these joyous evenings is best advised to visit the Christmas Market first and consume a large amount of mulled wine. Otherwise, stay at home and Bah Humbug to you.

Didsbury Beer Festival Nov 21st - 22nd 2008

At last! Not only is Didsbury having its very own beer festival, but the organisers have very kindly selected a venue a mere stone's throw from my house (as I write I am ignoring sound of husband pacing up and down awaiting start of festival). The event will run over two days - Fri 21st and Sat 22nd Nov - at St Catherine's Social Club on School Lane (LOVE the idea that St Catherine may be nodding in approval at all this) and has been generously sponsored by local businesses who have stumped up £100 each to become stakeholders in the festival.

If you are one of those fortunate souls who knocks off early on a Friday, the doors open at 6pm and will stay that way until you are forcibly ejected at 11pm, all for a measly £4. Hardened drinkers who can cope with beer during the day can partake of the festival between 12pm and 5pm on Saturday (£2), and the rest of us can go between 6pm and 11pm (£3). A limited range of food will be available to soak up all that beer (the organisers have sensibly gone for hotpot), and you can drink to musical accompaniment from Swingin' Affair, an Irish Pipe band, or the Cheesy Weasels depending on what day you go.

All the beers on offer will be local (furthest flung being from the Lake District) and there will also be a selection of ciders available: for a full list, visit the festival website.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Yang Sing is Britain's Best Chinese Restaurant

Congratulations to Manchester's Yang Sing, which has been declared the best Chinese restaurant in Britain at the Tsingtao Legacy of Taste competition. They beat off five other finalists, each representing a different region of the UK and originally selected through a public vote (does anybody remember this? I would have voted for Lotus takeaway if anyone had asked me my opinion).

The award is a presigious one, but may come as a surprise to Manchester residents as the increasingly widely held opinion locally seems to be that the Yang Sing is not quite as good as it used to be. Still, look out for the tourists posing for a photograph alongside the rickshaws that seem to be permanently cluttering the pavement outside the restaurant.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Restaurant Review: Azzurro, West Didsbury

Manchester is very well served for pretty much any type of restaurant you care to mention: Indian, Chinese, French, Turkish, Japanese, even English. The one thing lacking, to my mind, is traditional Italian, by which I mean poky little local places where the tablecloths are made from plastic printed with red gingham, and candles are stuck in fat-bottomed Chianti bottles wearing little grass skirts. The sort of place where you can get drunk on slightly rough red wine of dubious provenance, and eat an enormous calzone pizza for about six quid. If you know of any such place, please let me know immediately.

Meanwhile, I have had to make do with an altogether classier place: Azzurro, on Burton Road in West Didsbury. This is a clean, bright restaurant (no dingy corners here), with neat wooden tables and a simple menu, and a charming owner by the name of Emil. Continuing evidence that people are simply ignoring the credit crunch is that the place was full on a Thursday evening, so that poor Emil had little chance to chat, which he will do quite happily on a quiet night.

The pick of the starters are the mozzarella al forno - a huge ball of cheese wrapped in parma ham - and the chicken liver crostini - smooth pate served with hefty wedges of toast. There are always a couple of fresh fish specials on the blackboard - last night they were mussels in a tomato and garlic sauce, or grilled sardines. For mains, a range of pasta dishes is available: I would suggest the seafood linguine if you are fishy-minded, or if you are staunchly carnivorous then you can choose from several meat options including steak, chicken and wild boar stew.

None of this comes particularly cheap, with starters between £5 and £6, and main courses from around £14 and upwards. However, if you sign up to their mailing list you will receive special offers via e-mail, and can eat your meal smug in the knowledge that you are paying less for it than other, less-special customers!

  • Azzurro is at 242 Burton Rd, West Didsbury, Manchester M20 2LW, tel. 0161 4480099,

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Christmas at Tatton Park

If you are starting to feel unashamedly festive, becoming misty-eyed at the thought of twinkly lights and pineneedles stuck in the carpet, then console yourself with the idea of a trip to Tatton Park. As usual, the mansion will be decorated in traditional style (think the gingham-inspired covers of home & garden magazines round about this time of year) and if you can block the crowds out, you can pretty much swan about pretending that it's all yours.

The best time to visit is on one of the "Tatton by Candlelight" evenings, when you can suspend your cynicism for the night and wander through all the Staterooms lit by candles (the rooms, not you), accompanied by live music from choirs, musicians and - yes, really - bell ringers. Your ticket also allows entry to a traditional Gift Fair, and all the shops are open late to allow the buying of overpriced but charming tat for Aunty and Grandma.

The evenings run from 6.30 - 9pm (last entry 8.30) on Wed 3rd Dec to Fri 5th Dec, and Sat 6th Dec from 5.30 - 8pm (brilliant! home in time for x-factor!). Adult tickets cost £6.50, with children's tickets at £3.50. For more details and to book, call Tatton Park on 01625 374400.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

The North Pole comes to Manchester

More festive news, this time alcohol-related (bravo!). A new bar has sprung up next to Urbis in central Manchester, and is described as the city's first "pop-up" bar and restaurant - in other words, it's in a marquee, and it's temporary. The bar has a capacity of 300, and will serve suitably wintery cocktails (mulled wine, anyone?) as well as a comfort food-laden menu specially created by top chef Robert Owen Brown. The food is great value, with stews costing just £4.95, and you can choose from the following rather mouth-watering options:
  • chicken with slow-roasted tomatoes
  • bacon and wild mushroom
  • garlic and rosemary spiked mutton with jerusalem artichoke
  • slow braised beef with caramelised onions and Guinness (this one gets my vote)
  • creamy chicken, tarragon and leek
  • vension with claret and juniper
A vegetarian option - winter vegetables and barley with Cheshire cheese dumplings - is available at £3.95.

The bar is open until New Year's Eve.

Manchester Christmas Lights Switch-On

Yes, I know it's only the beginning of November, but the Christmas lights in central Manchester are being switched on this Friday, the 7th November. And which glittering stars have we secured to turn the lights on? Erm... Ditchy and Salty from Century Radio (even their names scream "local radio") and X-Factor winner Leon Jackson, whose current single charted lower than a spoof song by a man from Bolton wearing a ginger wig.

Also present will be Alesha Dixon, performing that new song about a boy not washing up, which sounds suspiciously like the Lou Bega song that Channel 4 used to have as the music to the cricket highlights. Traditionalists will be pleased to know that Father Christmas and Frosty the Snowman will also be appearing.

All this jollity will take place in Albert Square between 6.30 and 7.30, and is free.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Bonfire Night 2008 at Platt Fields, Manchester

This Wednesday is Bonfire Night, hot on the heels of Halloween as the second of the two nights per year you definitely don't want to spend at home. Admittedly, on Bonfire Night you won't get your house egged by hooligans just because you pretended you weren't in, but it would still seem preferable to wrap up and brave the cold rather than listen to the loveable local scalliwags letting off fireworks in the street.

Wednesday night is a rubbish night for Bonfire Night, but if for those venturing forth a number of organised displays are scheduled for the Manchester area. IMHO the best of these is at Platt Fields, the park located rather incongruously slap bang in the middle of Rusholme - perecptive souls will immediately realise that one of the draws of this particular venue is the obligation to go for a curry afterwards, not to mention a cockle-warming brandy at Hardy's Well directly opposite the park.

The display starts at 7.30 with the lighting of the bonfire and is free, but there will be plenty of charity buckets around for donations to local worthy causes. A temporary funfair will have appeared as if by magic across the other side of the park, so after the oohs and aahs of the display itself, don't forget to consume a couple of toffee apples and try all the rides until you feel a bit sick.

Full details of all displays can be found at the Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue Service website.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Manchester Christmas Markets

This year's Christmas Markets will be bigger and better than ever, with organisers confirming that the stalls will run until Sunday December 21st after complaints last year that the market finished too early. There will also be six sites this year instead of five, with Exchange Square hosting stalls for the first time. Otherwise, it will be business as usual for this increasingly popular annual fixture, although apparently the main site in Albert Square has been redesigned to ease congestion (not before time - last year, the Albert Square site attracted an average of 43000 shoppers per day, most of whom seemed intent on jostling my drinking arm as I was trying to slurp the mulled wine that is pretty much compulsory at these events).

The Market begins on Tuesday 18th November (some kind of feigned sick-leave perhaps required), with Albert Square hosting the European Market, St Anne's Square the German Market, Brazennose Street the World Market, Arts & Crafts on Exchange Street, and additional stalls on New Cathedral Street and Exchange Square. One can almost hear the brass band warming up and smell the brandy-laden hot chocolate already...

Monday, 6 October 2008

12 Hours in Liverpool

A brave move perhaps, but what with Liverpool being current European City of Culture it seemed a shame not to venture west simply on the basis that Liverpool is full of Scousers. So we boarded our train at Picadilly on Saturday morning, and less than an hour later we were at Liverpool Lime Street Station, touristy map clutched firmly in hand (and handbag tucked even more firmly under arm).

First stop, the Liverpool Tate Gallery on Albert Dock. The docks are extremely impressive, and bring a nostalgic lump to the throat of anyone who fondly remembers Fred the Weatherman leaping about on his polystyrene map back when Richard & Judy were in charge of This Morning. Before embarking on any actual culture, we steeled ourselves with hot chocolate and toast in the Tate Cafe, and then dutifully examined three floors of modern art. To be fair, there is not much installation-style what-the-hell-is-that-meant-to-be art on show here; the Andy Warhol room is worth a look, and there are also works by Picasso, Degas, Henry Moore and Bridget Riley on show. Not sure about the huge furry body on the ground floor though.

Time for lunch: a fillet steak sandwich with fries at The Pan American Club on Albert Dock, a couple of minutes from the Tate. Thus restored, we tackled the impressive new shopping centre Liverpool 1, housing all the shops you might expect as well as an enormous John Lewis where we booked in to have our make-up done at Bobbi Brown (cunning - get nice lady to scrape off evidence of tiring day and replace with flattering new make-up). Many thanks to the lovely Angela who did such a good job on us.

Dinner was booked at Negresco, a modern Italian on the trendy Lark Lane - about £6 in a taxi from the shopping centre. The decor is stunning, the staff friendly and laid-back, the cocktail list ginormous and the food delicious - I had duck liver pate for starter, fillet steak for main, and finished with cinnamon creme brulee with sable biscuits. Prices are very reasonable, andthere is apparently a Negresco in Manchester which I shall duly investigate as soon as humanly possible.

Watch out for the 9,55pm train though - it's more like a bus than a train, rendering sleep impossible, and full of over-excited teenage girls (likewise). It got us back into Manchester around 11.15, safe and sound (slight pun intended).

Friday, 3 October 2008

Review: Shakespeare's Othello at The Lowry, Manchester

Teachers bring much of the stress they so frequently purport to suffer from upon themselves, doing such foolhardy things as booking tickets to see Othello on a Thursday evening. After teaching for six hours - including an hour on Othello - said teacher can think of few things she would rather do less than drive to The Lowry and sit through a couple of hours of Shakespeare: opening a bottle of wine and watching America's Next Top Model clearly being a preferable option.

I did, however, dutifully drag myself to The Lowry, and I am extremely glad I did. Frantic Assembly's current production of Othello, which finishes tonight, is the best interpretation of a Shakespeare play I have ever seen: genuinely ground-breaking without losing the power or the beauty of the original language. The setting has been updated to take place in a Northern pub called The Cypress, a witty reference to the section of the play that has been largely omitted from this production where Venice goes to war with Turkey over Cyprus, and the staging revolves (literally) around a pool table upon which much of the key action occurs.

The acting is without fault, with a particularly menacing Iago and a delightfully chavvy Desdemona standing out from an excellent cast. Don't be put off by the slightly scary fact that Frantic are exponents of "movement theatre" - all this means in practice is that the choreographed fight scenes are stunning, and that the energy of the performance never flags.

If you get a chance to see this production, then do: I can offer no better praise than that the theatre was pretty much filled with sixth form students (some of them mine) and they remained transfixed for the whole two hours - a feat never achieved by any of my lessons.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Special Offers at The Didsbury Pub, Didsbury

Maybe it's the threat of a credit crunch, or perhaps the prospect of the entire population of Didsbury retreating into hibernation, but The Didsbury pub has wheeled out a selection of pretty good food offers for September.

The (ironically?) inappropriately named Summer Menu offers good value at £9.95 for two courses and a glass of house wine. The menu offers a decent selection of options, none of which is remotely summery - I had the rump steak burger followed by a cheese plate so generous even I couldn't finish it, and Mr Liz had gammon, egg and chips followed by steamed treacle pudding and custard (summer menu indeed). This offer runs from Mondays to Thursdays until the end of September and requires a voucher.

Another tempting prospect runs next week only - two main courses for £10. Again, a voucher is required - these can be obtained from the pub's website.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

The Art of Tea, Didsbury

Every so often, you come across a venue that is so perfect you feel slightly embarrassed never to have been there before, as well as grumpy at the thought of so many missed opportunities. The Art of Tea is such a place: an independent cafe and cake shop, tucked away on Barlow Moor Road just off the main Didsbury drag, just on the right side of scruffy with its polished floorboards and mismatched 70s-style chinaware. The menu is small but tempting: breakfast options include toasted tea-cakes, scrambled eggs and smoked salmon bagels, although these are thankfully available all day. There is also a decent range of sandwiches as well as a daily soup option; I had the sausage and red onion marmalade sandwich on toasted ciabatta (£3.80), while the husband had a bagel off the specials list, stuffed with salami, cheese and gerkins (£4.20).

The selection of teas is not as extensive as the name of the cafe suggests, but there's a good selection of coffees and smoothies as well. The home-made cakes are particularly delicious: we shared a triple-chocolate brownie and quite frankly wished we'd had one each. Then , just as you've wiped the crumbs from your mouth and have paid your modest bill, and you're thinking the place couldn't really be much better, you notice that at the back of the cafe lurks a second-hand bookshop, occupied by possibly the friendliest and most helpful man in existence. I feel ashamed I have not been here before and will attempt to rectify this error by coming here every Saturday for the rest of my life.
  • The Art of Tea is at 47 Barlow Moor Road, Didsbury, Manchester M20 6TW, and is open Monday - Saturday from 9 till 6, and from 10 till 5 on a Sunday.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Restaurant Review: Gusto, Didsbury

Well, clearly being back at college and expected to teach people things is really quite tiring after 6 weeks off, and it is unreasonable to expect me to come home and cook my own supper. Thus I found myself in Gusto last night, eating food that I could probably have made much better myself, had I not been grappling with Wuthering Heights all day.

Gusto is the current guise of the Italian chain formerly known as Est Est Est, and is really rather disappointing, particularly as Est Est Est had improved no end in the months leading up to its disappearance. The menu remains pretty much the same, and the venue still has the same buzzy feel, with friendly staff and a great view into the kitchen area with its traditional wood oven. However, the food all arrived suspiciously quickly, and my starter of calamari was on the greasy side as well as being pretty chewy.

Main course was better: risotto served with prawns, mussels and yet more calamari was well flavoured with saffron and of a satisfyingly gloopy consistency to bring comfort on a dismally wet night. The dish was mussel-heavy, however, with few prawns in evidence, and the portion was far too large for such a rich dish. My husband's Diavolo pizza disappeared quickly and with no complaints other than it caused him to get flour on his wine glass.

The wine list is the real disappointment. All the Italian reds on offer seem over-priced; indeed, the £13 Syrah blend we went for was the only sub-£15 red on the menu.

All in all, OK but not great: next time I'll go to Felicini's, just across the road.

  • Gusto is at 756 Wilmslow Road, Didsbury, Manchester M20 2DW, tel. 0161 445 8209.

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Autumn 2008 at The Lowry Theatre, Manchester

As the "summer" (I term it such through gritted teeth) departs, at least we have plenty of good stuff on TV to look forward to as well as a spanking new season of goodies at The Lowry Theatre. Some of the highlights are listed below:

  • Enjoy (1st Sept - 6th Sept) Alan Bennett has surely now reached the status of National Treasure, and this is a chance to see one of his less-performed plays - good as The History Boys is, there's only so many times you want to see it. This dark comedy is about a couple living in a back-to-back house in Leeds which the council has ear-marked for destruction, and stars Alison Steadman and David Troughton.
  • Othello (30 Sept - 4 Oct) One of William Shakespeare's best known tragedies and a regular resident on the A-level syllabus, so expect this to be packed with reluctant teenagers and harrassed teachers. The story raises issues of race, betrayal, jealousy and sexual infidelity and would therefore hardly seem to need updating, but this performance from "movement theatre" group Frantic Assembly sees Othello as a bouncer at a club in a Northern town.
  • Calendar Girls (20th - 25th Oct) This play is adapted from the film of the same name, and stars Lynda Bellingham, Patricia Hodge and Gaynor Faye as members of the infamous WI group who pose for that equally infamous calendar.
Don't forget that The Lowry offers free parking for between 4 and 6 hours if you also visit any of the shops or restaurants in the complex - just don't forget to ask them to authenticate your ticket or you will have to run back during the interval and forgo your half-time gin and tonic (I'm speaking from experience here). The best for pre-theatre dinner is probably Lime, which offers a decent wine selction as well as some sharing platters perfect if you don't have much time to eat before the play starts.

Full details available from the Lowry website.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Offers at The Pitcher and Piano, Didsbury

I'm not usually a fan of the ultra-bland chains springing up around Manchester, but Didsbury's Pitcher and Piano has become an increasingly tempting venue of late. Since its recent facelift, the interior is looking pretty classy, with additional seating upstairs for diners, and they finally seem to have realised their prices are bordering on the ridiculous and have introduced some good offers on drinks.

Their cocktails have always been good, and they now rotate the wide selection on a "Cocktail of the Week" basis, with that week's chosen one available at just £4. This being a Bank Holiday Weekend (hurrah!) there are three on offer, the pick of which is the Dark & Stormy - rum, lime juice and ginger beer. As I have predictably enough come down with a cold for the long weekend, I have been forced to consume many of these in the belief that they must surely be medicinal.

You can also get any bottle of wine on a Wednesday or a Sunday for £13, which doesn't sound such a bargain until you realise the wine list includes a Chateauneuf-du-Pape and a Pouilly-Fuisse! This offer is available tomorrow, Bank Holiday Monday, along with 20% off all food so it might just be worth getting yourself down there.

Restaurant Review: Sam's Chop House

If you fancy something a little more traditional than the Italian-American Grich (see below), then wander next door to Sam's Chop House. Lurking at the back of this magnificent Victorian pub is one of the finest restaurants in Manchester, serving gastrofood of the highest order.

Sam's has been going strong since 1872, and the menu is a pleasing combination of the traditional and the modern: amongst the starters, Salted Ox Tongue Salad nestles serenely next to a Butternut Squash and Cheese Tart, whilst the mains encompass the legendary Corned Beef Hash as well as venison, duck and steak. The portions are truly enormous: they will try and tempt you to some bread when you arrive but it is worth resisting if you wish to survive in an upright position to tackle the sweet course.

The pub is refreshingly unsnooty - the wine list includes choices to suit every pocket (we had a joyous Paarl Heights Shiraz at £14.95), and the staff will happily bring tap water without looking down their noses and enquiring whether you want still or sparkling. This is an understandably popular venue so make sure you book ahead.

  • Sam's Chop House is at Back Pool Fold, Chapel Walks (off Cross Street), Manchester M2 1HN, tel. 0161 8343210

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Pre-Theatre Dinner at Grinch, Manchester

If you want to eat before going to the Royal Exchange, then the delightful Grinch Wine Bar remains the best option for a quick dinner. They are still running their Happy Hour offer, where between 5 and 7 pm every day you can choose any of their stone-baked pizzas for £6, and wash it down with any cocktail at £3.50 or a bottle of house wine for £9.95 (the red is a good bet - a juicy Montepulciano). The place is always crammed full of cheerful souls, and the staff are helpful and chatty - one of our waiters wanted to know all about the play we were going to see, and another was genuinely concerned at the amount of pizza I had left on my plate (purely as a result of an over-ambitious starter).

This is an excellent place for a casual dinner before over-loading your brain with culture, and as well as pizzas does lovely beef chilli nachos and the best American burger in town.

  • Grinch is at 5-7 Chapel Walks, Manchester M2 1HN, tel. 0161 9073210

Review of Hay Fever, Royal Exchange, Manchester

I finally got to see the Royal Exchange's current production of Noel Coward's Hay Fever last night. The show has been running since July 1 and was scheduled to end on August 9, but due to overwhelming demand has been extended an extra week until August 16 - pretty impressive, considering that the Royal Exchange's ticket prices are not exactly compatible with a country supposedly in the grip of a credit crunch.

This is a slick, professional production starring Belinda Lang as Judith Bliss, and Ben Keaton as her husband David. For those not familiar with the plot (such as it is), the Bliss family are an excentric mother, father, son and daughter, living in splendid isolation following Judith's retirement from the stage. The action of the play centres around one weekend when, unbeknownst to each other, all four of the Bliss family have invited a guest down to stay. The comedy arises from the reactions of these four visitors to the behaviour of the Blisses over the course of a memorable Saturday evening, which includes parlour games, mistaken marriage proposals and some fumbling in the library. All very silly, of course, but also very funny, and full of Coward's sly wit on the subject of the moneyed upper classes.

Of the actors on show here, Lang does well to make Judith both vile and strangely likeable, but Ben Keaton seems slightly miscast as novelist David. Lysette Anthony makes a good job of the catty Myra Arundal, a visitor of questionable morals, but they are all upstaged by relative newcomer Fiona Button as the nineteen year old Sorel Bliss.

A few tickets are still available to catch this enjoyable romp, although your best bet might be to ring up on the day of performance to book one of the first come, first serve banquettes at the edge of the stage - great value at £8.50.

  • The Royal Exchange Theatre is on St Ann's Square, Manchester M2 7DH. Box Office 0161 8339833.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Review of Moss Nook Restaurant

The Manchester Airport Ring Road is not necessarily the first location you would think to look for a fancy restaurant. And yet it is here that the Moss Nook resides, an oasis of posh frocks and fine dining amongst the ugly sprawl of the airport. Here you may relax in the knowledge that the decor (a little like being in rich old lady's parlour) hasn't changed in years, and that when your food comes it will appear from under a proper silver dome (yes, really).

This most recent visit was on a Wednesday evening, in celebration of a birthday that was exciting although sadly not mine. Of course, a restaurant is often more enjoyable if you've been on the margueritas prior to your arrival, but the staff gamely tolerated our obvious inebriation, and even brought dessert with a candle and a cheery rendition of Happy Birthday.

Anyway, the food was impeccable as usual - turbot mousse served with five beautiful scallops; spiced chicken skewers; duckling with parsnip chips and cherry sauce; fillet steak perfectly cooked and served with the least soggy rosti of all time. The portion sizes here are very generous, and the hungry diner is also provided with bread and with two amuses bouches. Do try to leave room for pudding, as the selection of mini chocolate deserts is frankly worth fighing over, and if you order tea or coffee there will also be an exciting plate of home-made petits fours (ours were wrapped up and taken home for my appreciative husband, who overlooked my high alcohol content as a result).

The prices aren't cheap: most starters are around £9 and most of the mains around £20, but you will leave with full tummy and a warm feeling that such a charmingly old-fashioned restaurant still exists in a dreary world of McDonalds and Starbucks.

  • Moss Nook is at Ringway Road, Manchester, M22 5WD, tel. 0161 437 4778
  • Opening times: Tues - Fri: 12:00 - 13:30 19:00 - 21:30, Sat: 19:00 - 21:30

Monday, 24 March 2008

Restaurant Review: Saints & Scholars, Didsbury

As Didsbury becomes ever more of a clone town, the death knell for the small independent business tolls ever louder with the news that the old Boots premises are to become either a Starbucks or a Cafe Nero. Add this to the depressing roll call of chain bars and restaurants that now line Wilmslow Road - Slug & Lettuce, Cafe Rouge, Pitcher & Piano, Felicinis (good though it is) - and Didsbury is in danger of losing its identity.

Hurrah, then, for Saints & Scholars, flying the flag along with Jem&I for something a bit different. This charming little restaurant is open all day (9.30 am - 11pm), serving fantastic cooked breakfasts first thing, the best banoffee pie in the world at elevenses and a proper grown-up dinner menu in the evenings. True, the menu hasn't changed in years, but that's not the point. You are free to relax at your slightly wobbly table, listening to Radio 2 as the very charming staff run up and down stairs that are rather bizarrely decorated with scenes from Dennis the Menace (the staircase, not the staff).

Beware of the "light bites" section of the menu, as in the absence of a "starters" section you may well order with gay abandon and woefully overface yourself - these are hefty portions (especially the deep-fried cheeses and the cajun chicken salad). Last time I went I ordered the cheeses followed by the salad along with a portion of chips, whilst my husband manfully ordered the steak from the specials board. This arrived perfectly cooked to order and garnished with the most delicious parsnip chips. Having been caught twice stealing the aforementioned chips from the aforementioned husband, the very charming owner enquired if I would like my own bowlful (yes, obviously) and duly appeared with a very large and very free portion of parsnip chips just for me. You see, you wouldn't get that from a restaurant chain, even if my husband did sulk all the way home about the sheer unfairness of life.

  • Saints & Scholars is at 694 Wilmslow Road, Didsbury, Manchester M20 2DN, tel 0161 4482457

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Manchester Museum and Whitworth Art Gallery

Last weekend I decided to do something a little more productive than lie on the sofa watching Saturday Kitchen, and intrepidly embarked upon a day of culture in search of a big brain. First stop was the Manchester Museum on Oxford Road, part of the University and completely free free free. The museum holds an impressively grisly selection of Egyptian artifacts (the second biggest in the country), so if gazing at mummies with disturbingly shrivelled feet on show seems like a pleasant way to spend an afternoon, this is the place for you. Animal lovers will also be delighted to find a cat coffin containing a mummified kitten. Next month sees the arrival of the Lindow Bog Man who was found in Cheshire in 1984 and is thought to be around 2000 years old: see him from April 19th.

The cost free nature of the day faltered with a visit to Blackwell's academic bookshop just up the road; this is where those lucky blighters still in full time education off-load their unwanted books in exchange for beer money, so there's always a good selection of second-hand stuff. Fantastic chocolate brownies in the cafe too.

Next stop: Whitworth Art Gallery, also on Oxford Road but this time heading out of Manchester. Like the museum, the gallery is part of the university and is also free; at the moment they have an interesting exhibition on the influence of William Blake, but this ends soon so have a look at their website to see what's coming up.

After such a day of culture, the only remaining option was to rest my tired brain in Jabez Clegg, a Manchester institution opposite the Students' Union building on Oxford Road.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Good News for Gluttons - Northenden Farmers' Market Set to Stay

After a six month trial, the monthly market in Northenden is to become permanent - good news for those of us (hangs head in shame) currently swept up in the whole "happy to pay three quid for a jar of jam because it's been hand-made by a rosy-cheeked dame" craze. I am happy to admit that I have been an ever-present at the market, reuseable cotton bag clutched to my chest, eager to purchase all manner of over-priced goods before stocking up on the basics at Sainsbury's.

The market will continue to take place on the first Saturday of every month, as well as every third Saturday under a new six month trial. Be there early, as although the official opening hours are 10 - 4, the good stuff goes fairly quickly and the stalls have been selling out before the end of the day. The stalls sell pretty much what you would expect - fruit and veg, good quality meat and pies, home-made fudge and cakes, as well as a black pudding stall on a day out from Bury. Snaffle a minted lamb burger so that you may elegantly drip sauce onto your clothes as you peruse the wares.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Where Can You Eat the Best Steaks in Manchester?

Well, until recently, The Gaucho Grill was the undisputed master of all things bovine. Situated in a hugely impressive building just off Deansgate, this temple to Argentine beef and wine has ruled the roost (cowshed?) for the last few years, thanks to an impressive range of steaks cooked perfectly to order. On my last couple of visits, though, I've noticed a change in atmosphere - a bit rushed, a bit corporate, a bit "well we're not really that bothered whether you eat here or not".

So I've defected. The Grill on the Alley is tucked away on Ridgefield, just off John Dalton Street, and although less visually stunning than The Gaucho Grill, this place has a real buzz about it. The tiny bar at the front always seems to be packed with cheery after-work drinkers, and the restaurant section has been full both upstairs and down on every occasion I have visited. Despite this, the attitude of the staff suggests that nothing is too much trouble, and although the selection of steaks on offer is not huge, it is perfectly formed. Go for the melt-in-the-mouth fillet steak with a side order of horseradish mash, or if you're feeling particularly flush, the Kobe beef fillet - from a cow that has been fed on beer and massaged daily since birth. A £50 for an 8oz fillet, maybe next time...

The Grill on the Alley is at 5 Ridgefield, Manchester M2.

Friday, 22 February 2008

The Best Cheese Burger in Britain?

My current and all-consuming obsession with Grinch Wine Bar & Restaurant continues - I am now physically unable to resist its lure when I go into central Manchester on a Saturday. And each time I go, I promise myself I will try something different - a pizza perhaps, or something healthy like the teriyaki salmon. And each time I go, I end up having the cheese burger because it's perfect, arriving at your table coyly pink in the middle and smothered with caramelised onions, double swiss cheese, dill pickles and fries. I must have it, and every week it seems. If you find a better burger, then I want that too.

Grinch Wine Bar, 5 -7 Chapel Walks, Manchester M2 1HN, tel. 0161 9073210, web address - go immediately.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Manchester University: Literature Live Events 2008

Some interesting events are scheduled at Manchester University over the next couple of months as part of their Creative Writing programme. These are all open to the public as well as students, and are mostly held at The Martin Harris Centre on the main campus on Oxford Road.

The first event was held last night, and featured readings from Jonathan Trigell and Clare Wigfall, two depressingly talented young writers who both studied Creative Writing at Manchester. Trigell read from his debut novel, Boy A, which was recently made into a film by Channel 4, as well as his new book Cham. Wigfall read a short story from her 2007 collection The Loudest Sound and Nothing. This was followed by a short Q & A session (including that awkward first half minute where no-one has a question) and then - best of all - a generously sized glass of red wine.

If the rest of the programme is as enjoyable as last night's event then there is much to look forward to, including Hanif Kureishi and Helen Dumore in future weeks. Most events cost only £3, or £2 for concessions.

More info at the University's website.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Restaurant Review: Jem&I, Didsbury

I'm not usually one to readily admit that I have been a fool, but in the case of Jem&I, I fear 'tis true. Despite the rave reviews this restaurant has garnered since opening, it has taken me several years to finally get through the doors.

There are three equally weak reasons for this:
1. I don't like its name
2. Before Jem&I, there was a really good caff here selling egg and bacon on toast at breakfast time, and I miss it
3. It is always, always phenomenally busy.

However, I finally overcame these (unreasonable) prejudices last Thursday. Admittedly, I was already weakened by a bottle of rose Moet which had been swiftly consumed in The Pitcher & Piano (January wine sale is remarkably still on), and the chances of me cooking my own dinner were small, so we made the very short journey to Jem&I to see what all the fuss was about.

The place was absolutely packed (see point 3 above), but we were given a charming little table located up above the main restaurant on a sort of mini-mezzanine level (beware if you are over about five feet tall - the sloping ceiling is very low up here). The waitresses couldn't have been nicer, and pretended stoically not to mind having to keep run up and down the stairs to us.

The food here is fairly traditional - we started with the chicken liver parfait (£6.50) and the squid (£7.25) - but beautifully done, and arrives in generously sized amounts. We followed this with duck breast served with duck spring roll and pak choi at £15.95 and a very tender rib-eye steak served with fat chips and sauce bearnaise at £16.95. Puddings were too nice to resist, so we also scoffed a sticky toffee pudding and a banana pavlova before our skirts became irredeemably tight.

The total bill, including a bottle of Bourisset Rose wine, came to £79.05, and I have already booked a return visit. Reviewing my three original objections, I find they are all still true, but I now feel ready to admit I was a fool not to come here sooner.

  • Cafe Jem&I is at 1C School Lane, Didsbury M20 6RD, Tel. 0161 445 3996.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Tragedy for the Residents of South Manchester

A deathly silence descended upon South Manchester this week as the shock news emerged that Mr Khandoker is closing his restaurant for refurbishment for 6 weeks. The popular local curry house, "recommended by celebrities", will shut its doors from Monday 4th Feb until Monday 17th March to allow for a complete overhaul and extension of existing facilities. One Didsbury resident, too upset to be named, commented: "Its an emotional time. Obviously as a community we must come together to survive this tragedy and start to rebuild our lives." Locals were provided slight comfort by the news that the takeaway Khandoker is to remain open through this dark period.

  • Readers who know the identity of these mysterious Khandoker-recommending "celebrities"are invited to enlighten us all by leaving a comment.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Restaurant Review: Jade Garden, Didsbury

Had enough of trying to cut down on all the things you enjoy this January? Me too. Hence an impromptu Tuesday night trip into Didsbury, firstly to sample the remarkably good half price wine sale at The Pitcher & Piano. This is meant to end on Thursday, but the staff seemed to think it might last another couple of weeks so get yourself downthere while you can still snaffle a bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape for an astonishing £12.50 (or a stupid £6.95 for Nero d'Avola if you're still on a post-Christmas budget). The P & P has recently been done up, and although the atmosphere downstairs feels a little sterile as a result, the new seating area upstairs is impressive (and frankly with wine this cheap you can surely create your own atmosphere anyway).

The P & P also does a nice line in bar food, but we required stronger sustenance than this and made the short journey to Jade Garden Chinese restaurant, which was empty on such a wet January night. This meant we had the undivided attention of the charming staff, who were helpful when needed but retreated to the other side of the room when not, thus avoiding that awkward we're-the-only-people-here-so-keep-your-voice-down scenario.

Jade Garden is pretty much reckoned to be the best Chinese in this area, and the food is reliably good: we had Banquet D at £25 per head and found only one item (the filo prawns) to be disappointing. All the rest - crispy duck, mixed starters and four main courses - went down a treat, the undoubted highlight being the fillet steak in Cantonese style sauce. They offer a full range of beers and the wine list isn't bad either - we had a bottle of Shiraz at £14.95. They also do takeaway for those too weary to vacate the couch. None of this matters as I really, truly am returning to the gym next week.

Jade Garden: 743 Wilmslow Road, Didsbury, Manchester M20 6RN (tel. 0161 4456979)

Pitcher & Piano:
1D School Lane, Didsbury, Manchester M20 6SA (tel. 0161 4489326)

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Take This at the Bolholt Hotel, Bury

One of the drawbacks of living in a celebrity-obsessed culture, where people can earn a living by bearing a passing resemblance to Posh or Paris, and Graham Norton is given a prime-time Saturday night show to celebrate such individuals, is that we have come to misunderstand the notion of a tribute band. After all, a tribute band makes no promises other than to play the songs of a certain artist: there is no obligation that they should look like them too.

However, they could at least try. The Bolholt Hotel in Bury was packed to the rafters on Friday night, full of women of a certain age (I estimate the members of my party were the youngest there by a good decade or so) desperate to get as close to Mark, Gary, Jason and Howard as they were ever likely to. Indeed, having sat and endured the vision of a fat hen giving pretend oral-sex to a well-equipped blow up doll on the dance floor for the last hour, we were all ready for some distraction.

Rather disappointingly though, the four scruffy lads who had earlier conducted the sound check turned out to be Take This, and came bounding onstage dressed in suits ready to relight our fire. None of them looked remotely like the band they were pretending to be, and thus although they gave their all to their performance, they were ultimately just four boys doing some admittedly tuneful karaoke up on the stage.

Doh! I have been sucked into the age of the lookalike: I'm off to watch Graham Norton.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Jan/Feb 2008 at The Lowry Theatre, Salford

A couple of things worth seeing at The Lowry Theatre over the next few weeks. Firstly, Harold Brighouse's classic comedy Hobson's Choice runs from the 23rd to the 27th January 2008. Although the Eccles-born Brighouse wrote the play in 1915, and the setting is Victorian Manchester, the humour in this play of class and gender issues remains largely relevant and is well worth seeing. Sadly lots of people will probably go just because the lead role of Henry Hobson is being played by John Savident (Fred Elliot off Corrie).

Staying in the same time period, February sees the arrival of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, a play really much too well known for its own good (just count up how many of the wags in the audience will be enunciating "A hand-er-bag?" to themselves during the performance) but is still actually very funny. This play is also set in England during the Victorian era, but is more a commedy of manners than Brighouse's; you surely don't need me to tell you the plot, just that it stars Tony Britton and runs from the 4th to the 9th of February.

More details from the Manchester Theatres website.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Harvey Nichols Brasserie 21 Offer

Don't miss the opportunity to dine at Harvey Nicks' fabulous second floor Brasserie at a frankly ridiculous price between now and February 2nd. Their legendary "twenty one" offer is making a welcome re-appearance, offering you a three course meal and unlimited (yes, really) house wine during the meal.

The catches are as follows:
  • you can't choose from the whole menu, just a special selection of three starters, three mains and three desserts
  • the meal can last a maximum of 90 minutes
  • you have to book
  • you will probably have to go to work the next day
Otherwise this is pretty much risk-free: the food is lovely and so is the house wine, and the staff are really generous with keeping your glass topped up. Beware though of leaving the restaurant at around 9.30, already full of wine, in the company of a friend who brightly says that as she has paid the baby-sitter until midnight, we may as well pop across Exchange Square to Sinclair's and have a couple more bottles of wine...uggghhh.

Full details and reservations at

Monday, 14 January 2008

Ode to Manchester

Rather than take the trouble to compose my own Manchester poem, here are the words of West Didsbury resident Paul Heaton!

From Northenden to Partington it’s rain
From Altrincham to Chadderton it’s rain
From Moss Side to Swinton hardly Spain
It’s a picture postcard of “wish they never came”

And whilst that deckchair in the garden it makes no sense
It doesn’t spoil the view or cause offence
Those Floridas, Bavarias and Kents
Make gentlemen wear shorts but don’t make gents

So convertible stay garage-bound
Save after-sun for later
If rain makes Britain great
Then Manchester is greater
As you dry your clothes once again
Upon the radiator
What makes Britain great
Makes Manchester yet greater

From Cheetham Hill to Wythenshawe it’s rain
Gorton, Salford, Sale pretty much the same
As I’m caught up without my jacket once again
The raindrops on my face play a sweet refrain

And as winter turns reluctantly to spring
For the clouds above the city there’s one last fling
Swallows build their nests, chaffinch sing
And the sun strolls into town like long lost king

And the mood of this whole sodden place is melancholy
Like the sun came out to play, shone through the clouds
But dropped its lolly
And everyone looks so disappointed, so, so sorry
Like the rain blew into town, kidnapped the sun
And stole its brolly.

  • From "Manchester" by The Beautiful South - don't believe a word about the weather - it's beautiful here!

Manchester Versus Cancer 2008

This year's Manchester vs. Cancer - the third annual outing for this increasingly star-studded event - will take place at the MEN Arena on Saturday 23rd February. The fund-raiser is once again being organised by Andy Rourke, formerly of The Smiths and seemingly adept at roping in showbiz mates - previous performers have included New Order, Noel Gallagher, Paul Weller and The Charlatans.

So far, four acts have been announced for the 2008 gig: The Fratelli's and Fun Lovin Criminals (both of whom are presumably honourary mancs for the night), plus Manchester legends Happy Mondays and Inspiral Carpets,

This is Manchester's biggest fund-raising event, and last year raised £250,000 for cancer research and awareness. Tickets are £40 and are available from

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Hacienda 25: The Exhibition

If, like me, you got to Manchester too late to witness the Hacienda in its glory days, there's just over a month left to visit its commemorative exhibition at the Urbis museum in central Manchester. On the one and only occasion I went to the Hacienda it was well on its downward slope to closure, most memorable for the persistent and unwanted attentions of a hairy student whom we imaginatively named Johnny Red Stripe after his beverage of choice.

This exhibition allows you to walk through the famous doors of Fac 51 and admire various items from the club itself along with artwork and personal possessions from some of those involved, including the late, great, sorely missed Sir Tony of Wilson.

The exhibition runs till 17th Feb 2008 and even has its own Fac number: fac 491. Full details at

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Restaurant Review: Piccolino, Didsbury

Apparently, it's rubbish having a birthday on New Year's Day. Either everyone is away, or they're too tired/hungover/starting a healthy new regime. So what do you do? Wait until the week after, and arrange to go to Piccolino's in West Didsbury.

Despite it being a cold, wet Monday night the restaurant was far from empty, but the waiters were able to lavish plenty of attention upon us (deservingly so) and were understandably delighted by my attempts to discuss the finer points of the menu using my rather rusty Italian. Everything in the restaurant is new and shiny, and we were worried the food would be on the generic side; this is after all an offshoot of the existing branch in central Manchester. I was also personally a bit sulky as Monday night is not an ideal night to play out, what with the having-to-work-four-more-days thing hanging over one's head, but then I wasn't the birthday girl.

However, everything was most impressive. The starters each cost around £6, and included such staples as calamari served with roast garlic mayonnaise and crostini topped with sauted chicken livers. The mains are a bit pricier unless you go for pasta or pizza; highlight of our choices was the slow-roasted duck served with caramelised apples. The meat and fish dishes don't come with any potatoes or veg, which have to be ordered separately at £2.95 a go, but the portions are generous and two people could easily share one side dish.

Some of us (unusually, me) were too full up for pudding, but others managed tiramisu and semi-freddo at £4.95 each. The wine list is reasonably priced, and tap water was willingly brought rather than bottled. Service was charming; one of those places where your wine glass is magically refilled when you're not looking.

This is not a cheap option: six of us paid £249.04, but this did include the service charge and three bottles of wine.

Piccolino Didsbury is at 6 Lapwing Lane, Didsbury M20 2WF, tel. 0161 434 7524 - apparently it's packed at weekends so make sure you book ahead.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Spice Girls Come to Manchester

It certainly seems a good time for musical (I use the term loosely) comebacks. No sooner have the recently reformed Take That departed the MEN after a string of triumphant live dates, but the Spice Girls juggernaut prepares to roll into town. They will play the MEN arena on January 23rd and 24th.

The disappointing performance of their comeback single Headlines may suggest that in a pop chart dominated by fresher girl bands like Sugababes and Girls Aloud there is now no need for Ginger, Scary, Sporty, Baby and Posh (posh my arse), but the demand to see them live has been phenomenal - tickets for the Manchester dates sold out in just 18 minutes.

Going to the gig? Let us know afterwards what you thought.