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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.