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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