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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.