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Wednesday, 30 December 2009

New Year's Eve in Manchester 2009

People pretty much fall into two camps when it comes to New Year's Eve. There are those who look forward to it for months ahead, planning a glitzy outfit largely comprising heels which will result in a broken ankle or two by the end of the night, and a dress so small that you can practically see the Manchester weather rubbing its hands together in anticipation. Perhaps this will be the year to meet someone special, whilst enjoying over-priced drinks in a crowded venue that has charged you for the priviledge of just walking through the door.

And there are those like me, who will see the New Year safely in at home with a bottle of champagne, a loved one, and a pair of pyjamas with reindeer on them.

I'd assumed this was an age thing; I did after all use to fall firmly within the I'm-going-out-come-hell-or-high-water brigade until fairly recently. But it seems that this year more and more people are choosing to stay at home, at least if the flood of New Year's Eve offers still cascading into my inbox with just one day to go is anything to judge by.

If I were going out, I would probably do one of the following:

- I have quite a soft spot for All Bar One on King Street in central Manchester; yes, I know they're a chain and are prone to the odd Gareth Cheeseman making high-powered deals on his Blackberry, but you can't fault a place that sells little dishes of pistachio nuts with your drinks. AND they're not charging an entrance fee. Open from 11am to 1am (I would advise against going for some kind of bizarre 14-hour drinking trophy).

- Staying local, The Didsbury pub is also not charging an entry fee and is still taking bookings for tables for dining; otherwise, pop in for a quick drink while the party food is in the oven.

- If you really must go clubbing, the mighty Clint Boon, formerly of the Inspiral Carpets and now heard across Manchester on xfm, is dj-ing at South; and if that weren't enough, there is also a guest set from Dave Haslam, last seen falling foul of health and safety execs at the West Didsbury Christmas lights switch-on. Tickets by calling 0161 8317756.

But remember, it's perfectly OK to stay in with the hundred-weight of Thorntons you received for Christmas. Now, where are those reindeer pyjamas....

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Festive Fun at the Khandoker, Didsbury

One of the best things about being off work is that you can go for a curry on a weeknight without fear of students recoiling from you in terror the following day. And fortunately, New Year's Resolutions don't start until January (as the name suggests), so I was perfectly in the clear last night for a trip to the Khandoker curry house, a local favourite in East Didsbury.

We popped to The Gateway pub opposite for a quick snifter first; I know it was six o'clock on a Monday night but we were the only customers there and so drank up quickly - nothing more intimidating than being outnumbered by bar staff. The Khandoker, by contrast, could not have been busier - we were lucky to get a table, squeezed in right at the back by the kitchens.

The welcome was as friendly as ever, but I won't pretend that service didn't suffer as a result of the restaurant being full - we were brought and poured the wrong wine (we bravely drank it anyway - I'm polite to a fault), and although my starter of Tandoori Chicken was brought pretty promptly, my husband's choice of Chicken Puri didn't appear until we enquired after it several minutes later. (I had eaten mine by then, and thus was able to assist with his - again, polite and helpful to a fault.)

Main courses arrived almost immediately the starter plates had been taken away, and although very tasty, my Chicken Chana was unusually oily. However, such a cheery venue staffed by such helpful waiters (including Mr Khandoker himself, permanently surrounded by well-wishers wanting a quick chat with the great man) is allowed an off-night - and lets not pretend we didn't eat every scrap of food and leave full of festive cheer.

The Khandoker is at 812 Kingsway, East Didsbury, Manchester M20 5WY, tel. 0161 434 3596.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Cheap Eats in January

For most of us, January means only one thing: dreary resolutions designed to curtail any kind of fun whatsoever. Mine are simple: spend less money on eating out, and lose that extra 7lbs in weight that always means your jeans are just that little bit too tight.

So, obviously the whole world is out to scupper these essentially harmless plans by throwing a whole load of irresistible dining deals my way. The following are the mere tip of the iceberg:

1. The Didsbury pub has a whole raft of offers throughout January, including half price bottles of wine, puddings for a pound after a Sunday roast, and up to £10 off the total bill when spending £20 on food and wine.

2. Gusto is offering 50% off the total food bill, again throughout January.

3. Felicini's are offering 25% off the total food bill (guess when? yep, throughout the whole of January) and are also still running their 2 for 1 Bellini offer every day between 5pm and 7pm.

This is clearly all a conspiracy to make me both fat and poor, and I'm having none of it. However, if you are a lesser-willed mortal than I am, you may wish to know that each of the above offers requires a voucher which can be downloaded from the respective websites.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Snow, Parkas and Roast Dinners in South Manchester

It has to be said, South Manchester is not really prone to snow. I've lived here for seventeen years now (I was terribly, terribly young when I moved here, honestly), and I really can't remember this much much actual, proper snow falling before. So this morning's Winter Wonderland scene was rather exciting and really very pretty, until I remembered that I was meant to be going to the Lake District for a lovely sparkly Christmas lunch.

Well, one look at the cars skating down Kingsway at 5 miles an hour soon put pay to that idea. So instead, we togged ourselves up (me sporting my beloved Ghost parka, which gets worn approximately once per year - fortunate that it was 75% off, or it would never justify its existence) and trekked (yes, actual trekking required) to The Didsbury pub for Sunday lunch.

This lovely pub is the perfect winter destination, all log fires and cosy lighting, and we were fortunate to get a table as it seemed the whole of Didsbury had had the same clever idea as us. Obviously extra calories were justified, as walking through snow burns spproximately 600 times the calories of normal walking (or something like that), so I had the chicken liver parfait followed by an enormous roast dinner. The food was very good, with one gripe - one small piece of broccoli for an entire roast dinner? And 258 carrots? Soup of the day was broccoli; perhaps the chef had pinched some of my share.

Anyway, despite such vegetable issues, a fine time was had, and the walk home seemed much less slippy after a large glass of house red - I must remember that for my journey to work tomorrow.

The Didsbury is at 852 Wilmslow Road, Didsbury, Manchester.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Bridgewater Hall Christmas Concerts 2009

If you're still feeling a bit bah humbug and are yet to get into the Christmas spirit, then look no further than the marvellous selection of cheesy concerts at the Bridgewater Hall over the next few days. It is admittedly hard to feel festive when you've entered your A2 students for a January exam that is now only a few short weeks away, but this coming Thursday will allow me to put all that aside and embrace the season, for I shall be attending the Halle Orchestra's Winter Wonderland - hurrah!

For the uninitiated, this will include the following:

1. Meet with friends at the Christmas Markets in Albert Square for warming mulled wine and sausage-based food item. Try not to get jostled to death in market scrum, and hope to goodness friend with tickets can be safely located amongst the singing reindeer and assorted gingerbread stalls.

2. Proceed to Bridgewater Hall and purchase over-priced gin and tonic.

3. Buy one programme between the four of you, in order to afford more gin at half-time.

4. Take seats and put on novelty Santa hat.

5. Immerse selves in such classics as Anderson's Sleigh Ride and Tchaikovsky's Transformation of the Christmas Tree.

6. Leave premises full of the joys of Christmas and sing appropriate festive hits in the car on the way home.

7. Wake up Friday morning ready for wrapping presents etc. and remember that you still have a full day at work.

Tickets are still available for the concert, which is on Wednesday and Thursday this week. Festivities continue into next week - check out for details.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Small Items of Really Very Great Importance

You really do need to know the following brief but vital facts:

1. Gorgeous boutique In All Her Finery on School Lane in Didsbury is having its Christmas party on Thursday 10th December between 5 and 10pm. Cram yourself in amongst the beautiful hand-made jewellery, snaffle a cupcake and a glass of cava, and get all your Christmas presents for your girl friends in one easy step. There is a free gift with every purchase while stocks last; there had better still be some left by the time I get there.

2. Not to be outdone by Selfridges Moet Bar, House of Fraser on Deansgate in central Manchester now has its own champagne bar. Tom's Champagne Bar offers house Mumm Cordon Rouge NV at £45 per bottle or £8 per glass, but also offers wildly expensive bottles (the £1,200 Salon, Blanc de Blancs, Le Mesnil-Sur-Oger, 1990, anyone?) if you have more cash than sense.

3. Christmas menus are often exceedingly blah, with greedy restaurant owners assuming that bladdered folk busy trying to cop off with the boss on their works do won't notice what is being served up to them. You should avoid all such tricksters, and head for Grinch in central Manchester. The Christmas menu is good value at £19.99 for three courses, and whilst it does feature the obligatory turkey, you could feast on spiced pumpkin and cumin soup, pan fried gnocchi with chestnut mushrooms, and lemon tart. Watch out for your heels in the cobbles outside though.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Getting Festive at The Fat Loaf, Didsbury

You may recall how wet it was last night; positively chucking it down, all accompanied by the sort of gusty wind that discourages the use of your small pink Radley umbrella. So, clearly a night to walk into Didsbury for dinner - neither of us wanted to drive, so we trudged in silence, dodging the splashes from sadistic drivers aiming straight for the puddles, and thinking bitterly of all the sensible folk safely at home watching I'm a Celebrity in their pyjamas.

Luckily, our destination was The Fat Loaf, and the reception couldn't have been more welcoming. We were seated in the snug front room, next to a roaring fire - I swear you could see steam coming off our clothes - and ordered drinks which appeared almost instantly. The menu has a pleasingly festive feel to it, with mains including duck breast served with sprouts, chestnuts, bacon and cranberry sauce, and a spectacular sherry trifle for dessert (the size of your actual head, and containing orange segments and therefore good for you).

The food was faultless: generously portioned and beautifully cooked. The steak included with Mr Liz's mixed grill was the best either of us has had as part of such a dish, and the accompanying chips were properly fat, crisp and golden. Service was attentive without being scarily so, and prices are pretty reasonable for central Didsbury, particularly as they also run an early evening deal where you can snaffle two courses for £15. We arrived too late for this, although we were greedy and had three courses anyway - easily justifiable when you have to face the rain and storm to get back home again.

The Fat Loaf is at 844 - 846 Wilmslow Road, Didsbury, Manchester M20 2RN, tel. 0161 438 0319 - you can eat extra if you walk.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Has the Great Kathmandu Gone Rubbish?

Very disappointing to read the review of West Didsbury's Great Kathmandu restaurant in tonight's Manchester Evening News; restaurant critic Paul Ogden awarded the food a measly two stars out of five, feeling the quality was very hit and miss.

He does acknowledge that the disappointing meal could be teething problems as a result of the restaurant's recent expansion into what used to be the video shop next door, resulting in much larger premises. Lets hope so; the Kathmandu has always got by solely on the quality of the food they serve, and was never a place you'd visit for the relaxed atmosphere and professional service - my husband once got home to find an errant waiter had spilled oil all down the back of his shirt and had failed to say a word about it in the restaurant.

But the food has always been unspeakably, breathtakingly, delicious. My husband would walk across hot coals for their chicken chilli starter; I sometimes dream about the unctiously good Makhan Chara. In the interests of research, I will bravely visit in the near future so I may lay these disturbing rumours to bed once and for all...

Vegetable Box Wars in Manchester

A couple of years ago, I succumbed. I had a nice house, good job, decent car, and I therefore felt it high time for a box of mud-encrusted organic vegetables to be delivered to my door in a bio-degradable box on a regular basis.

A little shopping around revealed there was only really one contender for my supplier: Abel & Cole, the giant of the vegetable box world, pretty much had the South Manchester market sewn up. And indeed, this relationship has proved both amicable and rewarding, encouraging me to eat more vegetables and to become increasingly creative in the kitchen (you try making a satifying repast out of half a carrot and a kohlrabi.)

But then I was unfaithful. A chance meeting with the Riverford Organic folk at the Nantwich Food Festival has led to a clandestine supply of another, rival box; I blame the copious amount of alcohol samples proferred at this kind of shindig. So now I'm spending a vast sum every month on veg while I try to decide whether to stay with my first love, go with the new, or maintain a tricky relationship with them both.

The balance has started to swing towards Riverford though. Purely based on quality of produce and friendliness of service, you understand; nothing whatsoever to do with the lovely free evening they put on in Cheadle the other night, where much cheese was consumed and many lovely recipes demonstrated....

Sunday, 22 November 2009

New Zizzi Restaurant Opens in Didsbury

The Italian restaurant chain Zizzi is set to open its doors in new premises in Didsbury tomorrow, Monday 23rd November. This will be the third Zizzi in Manchester, following the success of branches in Spinningfields and the Triangle, although the chain might have their work cut out in making a success of this new venture. Didsbury already has two Italian chain restaurants on Wilmslow Road: the fiercely popular Felicini, and the newer Gusto, both of which run constant offers in a bid to keep the custom flowing.

The venue itself may also be a stumbling block. By rights, the distinctive white building that will be Zizzi's new home should be a gold mine, prominently situated on the junction of Wilmslow Road and Barlow Moor Road, and with a generous capacity both upstairs and down. Despite this, recent ventures have struggled to make it work: The Clock Tower failed to compete with other, more welcoming pubs in the area, and the ill-fated Japanese restaurant Fugu was soundly ignored by virtually everyone during its short-lived tenure.

Still, good luck to Zizzi, as the building has sat empty for far too long. A sneak peek at the interior suggests a clear effort to make the restaurant feel different from its other branches - the walls are covered with paintings of birds, apparently to mark the fact that Didsbury saw the founding of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. There will be room for 100 diners inside and a further 60 outside, so hopefully by next summer Zizzi will have established itself as a lively presence in Didsbury Village.

Zizzi will be open from 12pm tomorrow, all being well; I won't be there, as Gusto have lured me to them instead with a free bottle of champagne to celebrate my birthday last week (the competition starts already...)

Further details available by calling 0161 434 5923 or by visiting

Friday, 6 November 2009

November Food Offers in Didsbury and Beyond...

There certainly seems to be an abundance of tempting food offers around at the moment, as pubs and restaurants realise that the lethal combination of a credit crunch and the live stages of X-Factor has conspired to take punters off the streets. For example, the normally packed-to-the-gills Didsbury pub is offering buy one, get one free on all main dishes up to £10 - the offer is available at all Chef and Brewer pubs including the lovely Ashlea in Cheadle.

If you still can't face going out in the cold but the sight of your worthy organic vegetable box is starting to haunt you, then the excellent Gusto is offering a whopping 40% discount on orders for collection on a Monday and Tuesday night. As you get a further 10% discount for ordering online, we snaffled two pizzas and some spicy chicken wings for under a tenner this week (consumed in front of America's Next Top Model - finger on the cultural pulse, etc. etc.) Full details at

Happy Mondays to Play Manchester Versus Cancer Concert

Time to get those maracas out of the cupboard: Bez and his fellow reprobate band-mates have been added to the already impressive line-up for this year's Versus Cancer concert. You never quite know what you're going to get with a Mondays gig, although expect proceedings to be suitably shambolic.

Already on the bill are Manchester favourites James (many a favourite outfit was ruined during my student days, being forced to "Sit Down" on the hideously sticky Academy dancefloor...) and the rather worthy Snow Patrol, who will ever be associated with emotional moments on X-Factor.

Tickets for the concert, which will be at the MEN Arena on December 12th, are still available at £32.50 a go; visit for more details.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Bonfire Night at Platt Fields Park 2009

Get ready to wrap up warm and coo "ooooh! aaaah! wooooooh...." at regular intervals; yes, Bonfire Night is almost with us once again. As ever, the biggest and best local free event will be at Platt Fields Park on the border of Fallowfield and Rusholme, and the event this year will be held actually on November 5th (a Thursday, but never mind - Thursday is the new Friday, after all). Here is a suggested itinerary for the night:

4.30 Leave work early, to prepare for exciting night ahead - purchase of sparklers, application of coat and scarf layers, etc.
5.00 Funfair opens at Platt Fields - buy some candy floss, consume a sausage of dubious provenance, and ride on various death-traps until feeling slightly sick.
6.30 Leave the park, cross the road, and visit Hardys Well for a warming brandy and ginger and a handy toilet trip (a friend of mine was once reduced to weeing behind a tree in the park - don't let this be you).
7.15 Return to park and wave sparklers wildly, in an attempt to write out your name in the air.
7.30 Firework display starts - oooh, aaaah etc.
8.00 Watch the lighting of the bonfire.
8.15 Return to pub, or make short foray into nearby Rusholme for curry.

Didsbury Beer Festival Bigger and Better Than Ever

Ever community spirited, I selflessly attended this year's Didsbury Beer Festival - strictly in the name of research and supporting worthy causes, obviously. The 2009 festival promised to be both bigger and better than last year's inaugural shindig, and certainly didn't disappoint: rather than cram hundreds of thirsty Didsburyites into St Catherine's Social Club like last year, an enormous marquee appeared as if by magic in the school grounds, fully equipped with almost 100 beers and ciders, mostly from local producers. Unfortunately some of the more desirable beverages had run out by the time we visited on Saturday afternoon (Mr Liz saddened, for example, by the lack of the 8.5% Old Tom), but still a fine time was had by all. Last year's festival raised £7500 for local charities; fingers crossed for this one to do even better.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Manchester Shine Walk April 2010

This is undoubtedly a dangerous time of year as far as fitness and fatness are concerned. The nights are drawing in, and the temptation is to spend the evenings lying on the couch watching Strictly and grazing on a selection box bought in a bid to be organised for Christmas that has backfired spectacularly.

So that is why I will be doing the Cancer Research Marathon walk through central Manchester next April, in an attempt to get me off the sofa and onto the streets (in the non-seedy sense of the expression, I must add). Such events have been growing in popularity over the last few years, spear-headed by the annual Moonwalk in London for Breast Cancer Care, but this will be the first time that Manchester has hosted its own marathon walk.

The walk (or hobble, more realistically speaking) will take place over the night of Saturday 17th April 2010, and is anticipated to take most people between 7 and 10 hours (hmm, we'll see). There is a half-marathon available for anyone too daunted by the thought of the full 26.2 miles; I'm hoping the tide of humanity will sweep me effortlessly along in its surge through the streets.

Full details on the Shine website at; I'll keep you posted on my pitiful progress towards match fitness.

White Wedding at The Ruby Lounge, Manchester

If, like me, you're reaching the age where all your friends are getting married, you may not relish the thought of going to a wedding-themed club night on one of the few weekends you've not been roped into attending some distant relative's nuptials.

The organisers of next weekend's White Wedding will be hoping otherwise, and have assembled all the classic elements of a cheesy wedding do to produce a night subtitled "The Best Wedding You've Never Been To". And to be fair, it sounds pretty good. The big draw is an appearance from 90s dance kings Utah Saints, who will be offering a special "wedding set", as well as some suitably naff tunes from DJ Otis Wedding - think Madonna, The Jackson Five, and your Uncle Bob throwing some embarrassing shapes on the dance floor.

There will also be free wedding buffet (I'm hoping for sausage rolls and a cheese and pineapple hedgehog) as well as a wedding cake that will be shared out among all the guests (I want mine wrapped in a serviette please). Dress code is obviously wedding themed; presumably how far you want to take this is up to you, but expect to see more than a few brides making the most of their special day.

The idea behind the night is to raise awareness for a Smirnoff initiative that rewards creative types who can come up with an interesting idea for a club night - White Wedding is a previous winner of the £5000 Creative Grant, four of which are available this year. For full details visit the Smirnoff Facebook page; whilst there, you can also pick up tickets for White Wedding.

White Wedding is at The Ruby Lounge, Manchester on Saturday 7th November 2009 between 9pm and 3am; tickets are £6 each. Go and dig out those gladrags now.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Didsbury Beer Festival 2009

A quick glance through recent posts would seem to suggest a slight bias towards alcohol-based events, but it is my civic duty to report that a popular community event is due to make a welcome return in the form of Didsbury Beer Festival.

Last year's inaugural festival was a huge success, raising substantial funds for Francis House Hospice and keeping many a husband good and quiet for a whole blissful afternoon. This year's promises to be both bigger and better, with a larger venue and over 90 beers from local breweries, as well as extended opening hours (potential for trouble here, methinks).

The festival will run over three days from Thursday 29th October to Saturday 31st October in a special marquee in the grounds of St Catherine's on School Lane (bravo to the school that has allowed its grounds to be used for such a spiritual purpose). Full details are available on the very helpful website at

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Manchester Christmas Celebrations 2009

Yes, yes - I know it's only October, but it's never too early to start thinking about all the opportunities for eating, drinking, shopping and all-round general carousing that Christmas brings.

Recent years have seen some frankly rather duff "celebrities" sent North to switch on the lights, but this year we have been granted glittery X-Factor winner Alexandra Burke, who will perform the switch-on in Albert Square on November 12th between 7pm and 8pm. More importantly, the Christmas markets will then take up residence from November 18th in their usual locations in Albert Square, St Ann's Square, Exchange Square, New Cathedral Street and Brazennose Street. As last year, they will run until the weekend before Christmas - December 21st is this year's final day.

Should you feel the need for some exercise to burn off all that gluhwein, the open-air ice rink will also be returning to Spinningfields, where it will stay until the New Year. We are also promised a suitably cheesy-sounding "Winter Wonderland" in the usually rather dull Piccadilly Gardens - details to follow....

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Special Offers During the Manchester Food & Drink Festival 2009

Most Manchester residents will surely have noticed that this year's Food and Drink Festival is now in full swing, and will perhaps have already ventured into the city centre to spend a month's wages on some expensive cheese at the oh-so-seductive food market in St Ann's Square.

However, as Mr Liz has been granted a full day pass-out (hopefully not literally) for the Manchester Whisky Festival at the Museum of Science and Industry this Saturday, I think I am due rather more than a bit of old cheese, and will be angling for some or all of the following offers. All of these run until the end of the festival on October 12th, and are listed in my personal order of preference...

1. Ramsons Restaurant in Ramsbottom is offering 2 for 1 on their 10 course tasting menu, which promises such delights as Lyme Park venison and char grilled scallops. Still pricy at £65 Tue - Thurs and £70 Friday, but apparently worth it. Call 01706 825070 for details.

2. Spanish tapas restaurant Evuna on Deansgate is offering a free tasting of 4 wines, and has extended its marvellous lunchtime offer of three tapas dishes for £9.99 until 7pm (my kind of lunch). Call 0161 8192752 to book.

3. The Bay Horse in the Northern Quarter is a place I've been meaning to try for ages, and is offering a deal-clinching platter of cheeses, olives, meats, pates, salad and bread, accompanied by a bottle of house wine, for &16.95 between 12pm and 6.30pm. Call 0161 6611041 for bookings.

Loads of other bars and restaurants are offering special menus or reduced prices during the festival; visit the website at www. for more details.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Gusto Didsbury's New Home Delivery Service, Tried and Tested

The trouble with going to the gym in the evening, apart from the obvious fact that it requires some form of exertion, is that you get back too tired for assembling any kind of meal. However, the plus point of completing 45 minutes of aquacise with a smiling but deadly fuhrer is that you have surely burned off in the region of a million calories and are therefore entitled to PIZZA.

So, having received a home delivery menu from Didsbury's Gusto restaurant through my letterbox pretty much every day for the last fortnight, I finally caved and placed my order. This bit is great: I went online after work at about 5pm and placed my order to be ready at 8.30; couldn't be simpler.

There are a few catches, however. Firstly, delivery actually costs £2.50 unless your order comes to £25; no problem - I would collect. On arrival at the restaurant it is clear that they are not really set up for this option: there's nowhere to wait, and if the restaurant is busy (it was) it's almost impossible to find someone free to go and get your order. It's also pretty pricy - you only get a 10% discount from the menu for ordering online, so our order of a couple of pizzas and a few potato skins came to nigh on twenty quid.

BUT. All that pales into insignificance when the order arrives. The pizza boxes are astonishingly cool, featuring a black and white photo of some lounge-lizard Italian type, and there is a dinky hole cut out in which nestles - unasked for! - a wee pot of garlic mayonnaise for crust dipping. And it goes without saying that the pizzas are delicious, in a whole different league from the artery-busting Top Pizza.

Visit for more details.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

The Greater Manchester Wine Festival 2009

An unmissable event for alcoholics/ wine connoiseurs looms on the horizon in the form of the Greater Manchester "Independent and Local" Wine Festival at the Urbis museum on Friday and Saturday the 2nd - 3rd October.

Part of the ever-excellent Manchester Food and Drink Festival, the weekend promises to be a celebration of local independent wine merchants, although in reality will surely consist of thousands of people hopefully holding out their glass for yet another top-up in a bid to get as drunk as possible for as little money as possible, before flinching upon being informed of the price of the bottle they have just quaffed.

As usual, one of the days for this type of event occurs when normal people are at work, so I will be there on the Saturday with everybody else (hopefully holding out glass for yet another top-up etc etc). Tickets cost £10 per day or £15 for both days if you think your liver can take it, with the doors opening at 12 noon and closing (forcibly, no doubt, to sounds of great protest) at 6.30.

Full details at the Festival website at

N.B. - if you are attending the whisky tasting at MOSI the following weekend, it might be sensible to take it easy during the week...

Didsbury Arts Festival 2009

The first ever Didsbury Arts Festival starts this Saturday, promising an eclectic line-up of weird and wonderful events which the casual observer is not quite sure whether to celebrate or ridicule.

The sheer variety is impressive - more than 80 events across 40 venues during the eight days of the festival, promising exhibitions by local artists as well as musical offerings and book readings. Even better, most events are free.

The official festival opening takes place at 12 noon this Saturday 26th September at Didsbury Library, followed by a full programme of musical entertainment on the Festival Stage (thoughtfully located next to The Didsbury pub) - full details are on the festival website at

Personally, I'm liking the sound of the two blokes who call themselves The Opera Dads and perform songs from the great American songbook (well if it's good enough for Rod Stewart...), and I will also be visiting the Festival Craft Cafe on Sunday 27th at the Northern Lawn Tennis Club, lured by the promise of a shopping opportunity helpfully combined with a barbecue and cake sale.

I sadly will not find time to attend the Crochet Workshop or the excitingly titled "Vegetable Drawings" exhibition, but each to their own...

Sunday, 20 September 2009

The Hollies Farm Shop & Bookstore at Oakmere

Marriage is all about give and take, so after an hour of being dragged around Fords of Winsford yesterday feigning interest in one identical car after another, I naturally decided to assert my rights to go somewhere nice as a reward.

We decided to head towards Northwich (yes, I know, pretend the blog is called "Things to do near Manchester, Cheshire perhaps" just for a moment or two) and found an embarrassment of riches there. Our first stop was The Hollies Farm Shop, part of an impressive site that also includes a garden centre and a caravan park, and a currently vacant barn that promises to transform shortly into a Christmas shop.

The farm shop itself is huge, full of enticingly overpriced items that you never even knew you wanted; I showed enormous self-control but still emerged with the most expensive bread I have ever purchased, along with some pork chops from some local pig or other, and a jar of pickle apparently made by a rosy-cheeked dame in an apron somewhere. The shop also has a restaurant called the Friesian Rooms, where I ate an excellent pate platter watched over by enormous paintings of comedy cows.

Full details of this treasure trove are on their website at - it's worth going to the restaurant page for the mooing sound effects alone.

Restored by the pate and a nice sit down, we drove another two minutes or so and happened across another gem in the form of a discount bookshop. The Bookstore at Oakmere does not initially look promising - the first thing you see when you go in is an array of those slightly tacky "supernatural Cheshire" type books that bode ill for the rest of the stock. But do not be put off: the shop is stuffed with books for everyone, most of which are half price or less. The range includes fiction, food and drink, biography and history, and most are newly released paperbacks.

True, I have slightly niche tastes, but I left clutching seven books that cost me less than £30, including a book on Shakespeare I've been meaning to get for ages and the collection of letters between the Mitford sisters. Indeed, so teetering was my pile of books that the very charming owner rushed over and took them off me as I browsed, putting them aside for safe-keeping. Apparently new stock is arriving all the time, so I shall definitely visit again.

Clearly the day-out was now over (seven new books to be taken home and read), so the Shire Horse Centre has to wait for another day, as must the pub that caught my husband's eye (never let a man catch sight of a venue that sells beer AND appears to have helicopters landing in and taking off from its back garden) - who knew Northwich was such a draw?

The Hollies Farm Shop is on Forest Road, Little Budworth, Cheshire CW6 9ES; The Bookstore at Oakmere is on Chester Road, Oakmere, Northwich, Cheshire CW8 2HB.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Cava & Cakes at Didsbury's In All Her Finery

Many Didsbury residents have complained in recent years about the increasing number of chains opening in the village, bemoaning its transformation into a clone town full of bland wine bars and identikit pizza outlets. But this is to ignore the presence of interesting independents such as Saints and Scholars, The Cheese Hamlet and my new favourite shop In All Her Finery, a charming boutique on School Lane just off the main Didsbury drag.

The shop opened back in February 2008 but I only went in for the first time last week, lured by the promise of cava and cupcakes. This twice-monthly event - every other Thursday - allows late night browsing between 6 and 9pm, and shoppers are welcome to help themselves to gorgeous cakes provided by Chorlton bakery And the Dish Ran Away With the Spoon. The only drawback is the difficulty inherent in attempting to browse the displays of beautiful jewellery whilst simultaneously clutching a glass of fizz and trying to eat a cake in an elegant manner. Apologies to Fiona for any greasy fingerprints later discovered on the display cases.

Fiona sells a range of jewellery including some pieces she makes herself, along with a selection of high-end beauty products - full details are on the website at There is also an intriguing-sounding clothes swap party on alternate Thursdays, where you can take along beloved pieces that you don't want to get rid of but perhaps - ahem - don't quite fit you anymore (too many cupcakes perhaps?), and trade them for a new love. So get along there and show your support for an enterprising local business that seems to be going from strength to strength, and get a head start on your Christmas shopping while you're there.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Urbis Ice Sculpture and Lashings of Vodka...

There's an interesting event on at The Great Northern on Deansgate in central Manchester this Friday 11th September, combining art (in the form of ice sculptures) and alcohol (in the form of Smirnoff's latest flavoured vodkas).

The highlight of the evening with be the exhibition of an 8m ice model of Manchester's Urbis building, weighing 2.5 tonnes and decorated with limes and green apples in honour of the new flavours. It will remain on view until it melts away; for the best view, be at The Great Northern for 6pm.

As an added incentive, the first twenty readers who arrive at the ice sculpture and quote the "things to do in Manchester blog" will be entered into a prize draw to win
packs of Green Apple Smirnoff and Lime Smirnoff to take home.

Highlights of The Manchester Literature Festival 09

One of the nicest things about October (apart from the complete freedom to wear fluffy socks, drink copious amount of red wine and live off roast dinner and stews for the next few months) is the proliferation of NICE THINGS TO DO. If you live in or near Manchester there is an embarrassment of riches available, in the form of both the Food Festival (more of this in another post) and the Literature Festival.

This year's programme of events looks as enticing as ever, although I make my usual moan that there are too many interesting events on at impossible times (Claire Harman talking about Jane Austen, for example, at 1pm on Wednesday 21st October) when most normal people are at work. As well as the Jane Austen talk, I would also like to have seen Kate Atkinson (4pm on Friday 16th October) and Jenny Uglow (same day, 1pm), but cannot do so.

So I shall content myself with two of my favourite crime writers, Mark Billingham and Val McDermid, on Sunday 18th Oct, and Paint a Vulgar Picture at Salford Lads Club on Sat 24th, with readings of short stories inspired by The Smiths. Do not, under any circumstances, accidentally attend the Martin Amis talk on 12th Oct - small man, enormous ego.

Full details of programme and tickets from

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Derek Griffiths in The Miser at The Royal Exchange

Admittedly, watching a couple of hours of French farce perched atop a bar-stool is not everyone's idea of a great night out. But don't let this put you off; Helena Kaut-Howson's production of Moliere's classic play L'Avare is well worth seeing.

First things first: dinner. As the play is on at The Royal Exchange, then the obvious venue for food is Grinch, perennial favourite of mine and spookily quiet on this wet Wednesday night. Any pizza is £5 between 5 and 7pm, and cocktails are a bargaintastic £3.75, so theatre-goers can fortify themselves for the night of culture ahead at very reasonable cost (just as well, with the price of tickets at The Royal Exchange).

On to the play itself. Moliere was roughly contemporary with Shakespeare, writing just 60 or so years later, but with a greater emphasis on farcical wit and wordplay than his better known English counterpart. The comedy has stood the test of time, translated and updated in a sympathetic manner that retains the feeling of the original but for a modern audience.

The play tells the story of Harpagon, an elderly gentleman who believes in counting every penny, and loves his precious money far more than he cares for his long-suffering children; indeed, he has every intention of marrying them off at great profit. He himself has fallen in love, with a young woman who predictably enough has caught the eye of his own son.

Cue lots of slapstick humour of the falling-about variety, culminating in a finale that gently mocks Shakespeare's fondness for shipwrecks and mistaken identities. The cast is superb: Derek Griffiths (an older, slightly scarier of the one you remember from your childhood) is simply magnificent, and the appearance of Helen Atkinson-Wood prompted me to whisper to my husband in joyous and fairly loud manner "It's MRS MIGGINS! From MRS MIGGINS' PIE SHOP!!!"

There are plenty of nice touches in the staging, such as the great clouds of dust constantly coming off Harpagon's servants, and the frankly disgusting rags that he himself strides around in. The play is short (2 hours including interval), funny, and there is simply no reason to not go and see it.

The Miser is on at The Royal Exchange until 3rd October 2009. For more details, visit

Friday, 4 September 2009

Manchester Whisky Festival 2009

Great celebration and jubilation in one half of the household today, as Mr Liz has gotten wind of a monstrous extravaganza by the name of the Manchester Whisky Festival, which forms part of this year's Manchester Food and Drink Festival.

This marriage-wrecking event is to take place on Saturday October 10th at the Museum of Science and Industry (or MOSI, as they would have us call it), and promises a truly terrifying six hours of alcohol abuse. Doors open at 12 noon, and for an entry fee of £16 the misguided drinker receives a tasting glass and the chance to sample whisky from an impressive (so I'm told) array of exhibitors, including Dalwhinnie, Cragganmore, Caol Ila, Talisker, Lagavulin, Ardmore, Macallan and Laphroaig.

There is also the opportunity to book for various masterclasses for an additional charge of £5 per class. For further details, check the website at, and try to ignore the piteous wailings of "Can we go? Can we go?" coming from the other half of your living room.

Friday, 21 August 2009

As Drunk as you like at Harvey Nichols for £25...

Harvey Nicks in Manchester has sensibly extended their "Twenty Five" offer, which now runs until September 5th. This allows a three course Brasserie meal, accompanied by unlimited house wine for the miserly sum of £25, and when they say "unlimited", it really is - as soon as even a mouthful is gone from your glass someone will glide up to your table and top it up immediately.

There are a couple of catches, though. They insist on you booking specifically for the offer, despite the fact that last Tuesday there were just three other tables occupied and the Brasserie had all the atmospshere of a quiet and well-behaved sock. Also, your three courses must be chosen from a very limited selection, and although the food is nice it isn't really anything special. I had some smoked duck for starter which was tasty but insubstantial (luckily I had snaffled some pistachio nuts at All Bar One beforehand), roast chicken leg with couscous for main, and a very good chocolate tart for dessert - puddings were unquestionably the highlight of the meal.

So lets face it, the attraction here is the wine and overall the offer does offer the chance to eat somewhere pretty nice pretty cheaply. Amusing though that the deal is trumpeted as the "famous" Twenty Five, pretending completely that it didn't used to be called Twenty One and be four pounds cheaper...

You can book for the famous Twenty Five on 0161 8288898.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Review of Sam's Chop House, Manchester

Sam's has long been one of my favourite places to eat in Manchester, and luckily ny husband agrees (something to do with high meat-content on menu and dishes the size of a small house, no doubt). Also, it's just around the corner from All Bar One at the top of King Street, one of those rare chain bars that actually seem to get it right by providing a vast selection of beers and ciders for the boys, and a very reasonable selection of wines and cocktails for those more ladylike among us.

So we started with a cheeky glass of prosecco (me) and some dull beer or other (him) and then teetered our way to Sam's for dinner (actually just me doing the teetering - the cobbles outside of Sam's were no doubt specifically put there to plague heel-wearers). Sam's was as cheerful and busy as ever, and we were put in a cosy corner by a display of bottles of Laurent-Perrier (a sign from above, perhaps?)

You have to love a restaurant that has the confidence to describe two of its menu items as "famous" - particularly as one is a bowl of onion soup costing over a fiver - but both the soup and the corn beef hash (the other "legendary" food item) are quite disturbingly good, and so addictive that we have to order both whenever we go. This time, we also had the seafood cocktail, which is more exciting than most as someone was clever enough to think to put crab in there as well as prawns, and the mixed grill, which was frankly of ridiculous proportions and left even my husband beaten.

Puddings are less exciting, but the Baileys and banana cheesecake we shared was nice enough, and the wine list is reasonably priced with lots of palatable stuff under £20. The young waitress who served us was asking where we would be going next - clubbing perhaps? Crazy lady - after eating here, the wisest plan is to go home and sleep it off.

Sam's Chop House is at 19 Back Pool Fold, Chapel Walks, off Cross Street, Manchester M2 1HN, tel 0161 8343210.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Arts and Crafts Market Returns to Manchester

If you are already looking longingly ahead to the arrival of the Christmas Markets, then some temporary respite is available in the form of the Arts and Craft Market, which returns to St Ann's Square tomorrow (Friday 7th August). I can't pretend it's as atmospheric as its winter relative, but it's always worth browsing the stalls for unusual handmade gifts - this year more than 50 will be setting up shop.

Best of all, of course, is the food and drink - hot pork sandwiches, paella and chorizo rolls will all be available, along with beers, lagers and wines (not sure yet if the Pimms/champagne tent is coming along - please God let it be so). Hours of amusement watching people trying to eat on the move without spilling half of it down themselves.

The market is on until Sunday 16th August and is open daily between 10am and 5.30pm.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Charity Banquet at Khandoker, East Didsbury

My accidental generosity towards Christie's continues unabated this week - on an impromptu visit to Khandoker on Kingsway in East Didsbury last night we found ourselves in the midst of one of Mr Khandoker's famous charity evenings, where people kindly and selflessly eat vast quantities of curry for charity.

Mr Khandoker is well-known locally for his involvement in both local and international charities, and his charity banquets are excellent value as well as leaving the consumer feeling smugly philanthropic. For £12.95, you get popadoms, an enormous mixed starter, any main course of your choice, rice or nan, and a mixed vegetable starter. Being Khandoker, this is all of course delicious, and every penny goes to charity. Last night and Monday was Christie Hospital; tonight and Thursday the receiving cause is the appeal for Bangladeshi flood victims. There's really no excuse for not going (unless you don't like curry, in which case there is probably something wrong anyway).

This means that what with the excellent shindig at the Pitcher & Piano a few weeks back, giving money to Christie's has been an absolute doddle. The Christie representative who was at the P & P bash was also at Khandoker last night flogging raffle tickets, and he says that the recent do was such a success that the P & P is looking to arrange another "high-end" do for Christie's in October, this time in Manchester as well as Didsbury - hurrah!

You can book for the Khandoker charity banquet today or tomorrow by calling 0161 4343596.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Felicini Pizza Offer Extended Throughout the Summer

Good news for anyone who has no interest in squeezing into a bikini this year is that Italian chain Felicini has extended its laudable pizza offer over the summer. Normally running between 5pm and 7pm, the "any pizza for £5" offer is currently available everyday from 12pm till 7pm between now and the end of August.

Of course, any sane person will ignore these extended hours and stick to visiting between 5 and 7, for these are the precious hours when all Bellini cocktails are buy one, get one free... sadly no plans to extend this particular offer.

Full details at

videogame nation at Urbis

It's always worth a trip to the Urbis museum in central Manchester - it's a great building, the exhibitions are generally free or pretty cheap, and it's conveniently situated near to both Harvey Nicks and Selfridges. The current exhibition, videogame nation (note the lower-case letters of the name - perhaps an attempt to make what is an essentially retro display into something a bit more cutting edge?) runs until 20th September 2009, and will no doubt lure boys both young and old through its doors over the summer.

Not that gaming is just for boys - I remember my sister's Atari (hurrah for Dig Dug!) with great fondness, and I still have my Sega Megadrive in a box in the attic. Games have undoubtedly come a long way since these innocent pleasures - my husband, a normally peaceful man, spends many happy hours shooting and stabbing uncomfortably realistic opponents on his XBox - and they are the stars of this exhibition, which covers games from the last 30 years.

Rather gallingly, three teenage boys have been asked to review the exhibition on the museum's website, and their comments are enough to make you want to wheel your Zimmerframe to the edge of a cliff - one enjoyed playing on games "made before I was born", and even worse, another thinks "it's good to show people what games used to be like in the olden days." Go along and pretend you have never seen these games in your life.

videogame nation costs £3 for the exhibition, with some special events at £5 - check for full details.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Restaurant Review: Albert's Shed, Manchester

As it was such a beautiful sunny evening in Manchester last night, it seemed wasteful to stay in and we were therefore forced to head into central Manchester to make the most of it. The plan was a quiet drink; after all, how busy could Manchester be on a nothing-ish Wednesday evening?

Hmm. The answer turned out to be "very busy indeed" - all the local universities seem to be having their graduation ceremonies at the moment, and town was full of slightly awkward looking graduates accompanied by proudly over-dressed parents and just-a-little-bit wobbly grandparents. Still, we managed to find a free table outside the ever-lovely Dukes 92, and spent a pleasant hour or so drinking prosecco amongst a sea of good-tempered Manchester folk enjoying the after-work sunshine.

We were tempted to eat at Dukes as well - the outdoor menu consists of frankly enormous pizzas and hefty buckets of chicken wings, and very nice they looked too as they whizzed past us at increasingly regular intervals. However, as I had really a very good outfit on we decided to walk the ten yards or so from Dukes to Albert's Shed, the classy restaurant that shares the square.

They were very busy, but found us a table straightaway and served us very promptly. The waiter - Alex - couldn't have been mnore charming, telling us that his graduation ceremony had been the day before and that he had chosen to have his celebratory meal at this very restaurant (loyal, but surely a little lacking in imagination to eat where you work?) with his family.

Once the food came, it was actually pretty easy to see why an employee might choose to eat here. The starters of potted duck and mixed mushrooms (£5.50 and £4.50 respectively) were devoured in an instant, and the main courses were even better. We both went for the 7oz fillet steak at £18; this price also allows you to choose two side dishes, much to Mr Liz's delight, who promply ordered two potato items in the form of chips and dauphinoise and considered himself a double carbohydrate winner.

Pudding was not necessary but obviously was ordered anyway; ginger and toffee cheesecake for me and a very exciting ice-cream sundae for Mr Liz (you just can't go wrong with ice-cream layered with brandy-soaked cake). The wine list is decent - lots of bottles at under £20 - and we chose an Argentine Malbec at £19 that went perfectly with the meal (if I do say so myself).

It would be interesting to see how busy they normally are on a non-graduation week-night, but the evening really couldn't have been better. I know that as complete restaurant tart my opinion really doesn't count, but this is definitely my absolute favourite place in the whole world (at the moment).

Albert's Shed is at 20 Castle Street, Castlefield, Manchester. Tel. 0161 8399818 for reservations.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Cocktails for The Christie at the Pitcher & Piano

Well, obviously I'm not normally one to quaff cocktails and consume vast quantities of horrifically calorific party food, but when it's for charity then it's another matter entirely.

The Pitcher & Piano in Didsbury is putting on a cherridee do this coming Friday 17th July, and a very good one it looks too. The entire £20 cost of your ticket will go straight to the marvellous Christie Hospital, leaving you with a warm glow inside and an entirely valid reason for a night out.

The cost of the ticket includes a welcome cocktail on arrival (as Pimms seems to be involved somewhere along the line and is displayed prominently on the advertising posters, then this might be a hint as to the contents of said cocktail) as well as three more drinks from the bar (which at P & P prices, lets face it, almost covers the cost of the ticket) and canapes, which the helpful barmaid assured me would be "substantial".

There will also be music provided by Scott Wright (he of Corrie and the very yellow hair) - promising reworkings of "classic" songs such as Britney's Hit Me Baby One More Time (ensure you have had your three drinks by this point).

I will be there; get your tickets by calling into the P & P or by calling 0161 4489326.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Take That Come to Manchester June 2009

Is it acceptable to like Take That these days? I loved TT the first time round (although then I did have youth as an excuse) and I still love them now, but I won't be going to see them at Old Trafford Cricket Ground next week. Partly because it's too expensive (£50 for a standing ticket), but mostly because those photos of Gary, Mark, Howard and Jason with scary painted clown faces have frankly put me off.

Still, if you don't find the concept of grown men riding about on a giant mechanical elephant rather disturbing then I believe the show is meant to be amazing.

It is Now Officially Summer....

I can confirm that it is now officially summer. I know this because:
1. It is raining outside
2. I have a fridge full of pink wine
3. I have already attended three barbecues
4. Sainsbury's is selling a litre bottle of Pimms for £10 (go NOW! NOW!)
5. Outdoor Shakespeare is everywhere - if you haven't got your tickets for Heartbreak's As You Like It yet (see last posting), then make sure you get yourself to Heaton Park next week to see Shakespeare's Globe Theatre Company's production of The Comedy of Errors. Pack a cagoule and some Pimms - the show is on from Tuesday 23rd - Sunday 28th June.

Oh, and try not to think about it too much, but tomorrow is the Longest Day - yay, but that means that after that the nights are starting to draw in. Oh well *opens Pimms*

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Heartbreak Productions Outdoor Theatre

I'm always on the lookout for an opportunity to combine food, alcohol and culture (to allow for a clear conscience), so I'm naturally delighted that the season of outdoor theatre is here once more. One of the best (and most affordable) theatre groups is Heartbreak Productions, who come to Manchester every year - you can tell they arrive this weekend as the heatwave is all set to disappear and the heavens to open.

This summer's performances start off on Friday 7th June at Wythenshawe Park (make sure you lock the car) with The Wind in the Willows, which runs until Sunday 9th June. More grown-up entertainment then follows in July, with Shakespeare's As You Like It at Wythenshawe Park on the 2nd and 3rd, and Jane Austen's Emma at Didsbury's beautiful Fletcher Moss Gardens from July 31st to 2nd August.

The cast are uniformly talented and their enthusiasm is infectious, and their adaptations are always inventive and very entertaining. The potential hazard is, of course, the weather - the performances go ahead in pretty much all conditions (I'm not sure refunds are ever given, even in the event of tornado, hurricane etc.) You can pay extra for seats under cover, but if the weather is nice you will end up sitting right at the back gazing forlornly at all the more intrepid souls lounging smugly at the front.

So, be brave, pack a lovely picnic (quiche, scotch eggs, pink wine etc.), and make sure you take a blanket for when it gets cold after sunset - if you are an experienced cricket-goer, simply follow normal procedures for a day at a test match. Full details of all productions at

Sunday, 10 May 2009

50% Off New Summer Menu at Room, Manchester

Room has long been one of my favourite restaurants in Manchester, with its great value wine-tasting evenings and modern take on classic dishes (oh, and the really cool oversize lampshades). They also run great offers every so often (surely it's almost time for the annual half-price champagne sale?) and now is the turn of the new summer menu, which is available on a deal it would be frankly rude to ignore.

Anyone ordering from the new menu between 5 and 7pm will be given a deduction of 50% from the price of their food bill, and the deal is available every night of the week, including Friday and Saturday. The new starters include Pot Roast with pigeon, apple and hazlenut at £6, and the pick of the mains looks to be the Gressingham Duck with rhubarb and ginger at £16.50.

For reservations, call Room on 0161 8392005.

Theatre Review: An Inspector Calls at The Lowry

I must admit, I approached this with some trepidation, having studied the play at school when I was about 14 and suspecting that my tastes may have matured a little in the intervening years. Also, the charming man in the ticket office had warned us when we booked that the play is still on the English Lit syllabus and we could therefore expect the presence of a good number of school kids despite it being a Friday night.

Still, a couple of glasses of Pinot Noir in Lime beforehand, and I felt pretty much ready for anything. The Lowry was almost full, with just a few empty seats remaining in the terrifyingly high-up upper circle (try to avoid these seats - I saw the History Boys from somewhere near the back, and spent two hours straining to see and hear the action taking place on stage several miles away).

The play is set in 1912, and tells of the wealthy Birling family, who are having dinner to celebrate the engagement of their daughter to the son of a rival manufacturer. The family are overbearing and extremely pleased with themselves, until their smug world is shattered by the arrival of Inspecter Goole, who breaks the news of a suicide of a young woman whose life has touched each of theirs in some way.

Stephen Daltry's production of J.B. Priestley's play has won more awards than any other play, and it is easy to see why from this slick and professional performance. The cast is uniformly competent, with impressive turns from Louis Hilyer as the Inspector and Marianne Oldham as Sheila Birling, and Sandra Duncan suitably matriarchal in the comic role of Lady Birling.

The staging is also compelling, with moody lighting and clever use of the Birling's family home to represent the social standing of the family at different times in the play. The play has now moved on from the Lowry, but is certainly worth a look next time it comes round again; even the school kids enjoyed it, judging from the enthusiastic whooping at the end.

Manchester Spring Market at St Ann's Square

Good news for anyone (me) suffering withdrawal symptoms from the Christmas Markets; a quick change of name and they are back, in the imaginative guise of the Spring Markets and bigger and better than ever.

This year, there are almost 100 stalls dotted about the usual venues - St Ann's Square, Exchange Street and New Cathedral Street. The emphasis on arts, crafts and jewellery remains, but rather than Gluwein you will be able to sip thoughtfully on a glass of champagne or Pimm's whilst browsing the stalls. Foods will include barbecues (naturally), paella, and Dutch waffles, and entertainment will be provided by a steel drum band and, erm, morris dancers.

Also worth a look will be the legendary Dutch Flower Man, bringing a bit of colour to Exchange Street; beware buying too enthusiastically though if you plan to visit the Spring Beer Garden afterwards.

The Spring Markets are open daily 10am - 6pm from 8th - 25th May.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Things to do in West Didsbury

West Didsbury has a very different feel to it these days. Anyone who remembers back 15 years or so will know that the area had a pretty seedy reputation, with the pub where The Metropolitan now resides operating as local drug store to a range of dubious characters. Nowadays, the area around Burton Road is positively cosmopolitan, with a number of independent shops, bars and restaurants that put the rather more commercialised Wilmslow Road area of Didsbury Village to shame. Here are some of the highlights.

The Metropolitan: credited by many as the impetus that drove West Didsbury to clean up its act, this pub is large and welcoming, with squashy leather sofas and a real fire in Winter. Food is good and the selection of drinks available is impressive, but on the pricy side - a night here will cost roughly the equivalent of your monthly mortgage payment. The outside seating area is nice, and boasts a useful outdoor bar. You will always see someone you know in here, guaranteed.

Thai E-Sarn: not for the faint-hearted, this exuberant restaurant dishes up reasonable thai food - but the real draw is the self-titled "Mad Wendy", who dresses up in feather boas and sings Shirley Bassey songs appallingly badly and then passes the microphone over to the customers (I'm the girl who stands on the table and performs Hey Big Spender). If you just want a quiet meal, go mid-week when things are far more normal.

The Railway: cosy pub opposite the Metropolitan which gets packed at weekends. A Johnny Depp lookalike once caused media chaos here by turning up and pretending to be the man himself having a quiet drink.

Folk: a welcome addition to Burton Road, Folk is far more than just a cafe bar (although the coffee and cakes are exceedingly good). You can have breakfast, brunch, lunch (good range of soup and sandwiches) or call in for a beer in the evening, when a small range of what my husband would call "proper dinner" is available - he likes the homemade pie and mash. Very friendly.

Curry Options..... West Didsbury is the place to go for a great Nepalese curry. The Great Kathmandu always did the best food, but gets packed and the service is very hit and miss. For less atmosphere but better service try the Nemaste Nepal a few doors down - same people, same food, just bigger and less frantic. Another local favourite, Gurkha Grill, has had a recent face-lift and now extends over two buildings; don't be fooled by the smart new look, the food is as good as ever.

A final word of warning: don't take the car if you can avoid it. There is limited on-street parking available, but don't rely on getting into the Metropolitan car-park - it is manned by fierce men in efficient yellow jackets, so only try this if you are actually spending the evening there.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Little Shop of Horrors Comes to Manchester Opera House

Yes, it's time to throw good taste to the wind and sing along with a man-eating plant - Little Shop of Horrors arrives at The Opera House in Manchester from Monday 27th April until Saturday 2nd May.

Those old enough to remember the original film with Rick Moranis and Steve Martin may perhaps shed a tear at the casting for this new performance, starring as it does Clare Buckfield, possibly the most annoying girl in the world (and, as she presumably plays Audrey, little hope that she will be eaten by Audrey II early in the performance), and Alex Ferns, best known for being the evil Trevor in Eastenders. As his role here calls for him to be a complete geek rather than a madman, we must hope he is adaptable as an actor.

Also starring will be Sylvester McCoy (worst Doctor Who ever? No, but only because of the existence of Colin Baker) and - things are looking up a bit - Mike McShane, legendary American comedian best known for doing unspeakable things to Tony Slattery on Whose Line is it Anyway in the nineties.

Anyway, casting issues aside, this should be worth a look - further details and tickets from

Thursday, 16 April 2009

So What's the Best Chinese Takeaway in South Manchester?

People are known to be fiercely loyal to their own local takeaways; these are my favourite Chinese takeaways, feel free to add your own...

1. Lotus, Burton Road, Withington

Pros: very generous portions; free prawn crackers if you spend over £15; dishes that you can convince yourself are quite healthy (king prawn with ginger and spring onion, for example); best chips in the whole of Manchester (try to resist scoffing the lot in the car on the way home); location - you can nestle snugly in The Metropolitan with a glass of Merlot and ring from there.

Cons: very generous portions (tummy ache and tight skirts can be a result of this); suspiciously quick preparation times make you worry how much of it is fresh.

2. D & F Kitchen, Queensway, East Didsbury

Pros: very generous portions; free prawn crackers seemingly just for turning up; the ability to add further unnecessary calories to your meal by having your meat or fish encased in batter - "Hong Kong" or "fat girl" style.

Cons: NOTHING remotely healthy on the menu; nauseating cartoon of dancing boy and girl on the menu that put me off ordering from there for a long time.

3. Jade Garden,Wilmslow Road, Didsbury

Pros: food is yum

Cons: parking difficult in Didsbury Village; you may as well eat in as there is little financial incentive in having takeaway - book a table instead and have one of the banquets.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Review of Macbeth at Manchester's Royal Exchange

First of all, I must acknowledge that consuming a large pizza and half a bottle of red wine is not ideal preparation to sit through two hours of Shakespeare. So conditioned have I become that, like a Pavlovian dog, the very thought of the theatre automatically makes me think of having dinner at Grinch first, and whilst their "any pizza for a fiver oh and we'll throw in some very drinkable house red for another tenner" deal continues, I shall be there.

So perhaps my wits were slightly dulled; surely there can be no other reason for finding myself so lukewarm to a play that I have loved since I did it for GCSE. Even years of teaching it myself to GCSE re-sit students have failed to quench the power of this most accessible Shakespeare play.

Yet from the mninute the "witches" appear - supposedly three children, although at least one of them clearly wasn't - something is not quite right in Matthew Dunster's contemporary update of this violent play. The children are innocent until taken away and brutalised by soldiers, only to return as demonic creatures with the ability to foretell Macbeth's future and start the whole tragedy rolling. Although they play their parts well, some of their scenes are bemusing and rather laboured, such as the routine to Pink that kicks off the second half and the dubiously seedy gyrations that accompany Girls Aloud later in the same half.

Elsewhere, the violence of the play is chillingly portrayed; we are not spared the sight of children being abused and murdered, by sinister killers speaking Kosovan and wearing pig-masks. Some of the acting is rather hit and miss; Nicholas Gleaves has been criticised for an unconvincing performance in the lead role, although you can't deny that he looks good with his clothes off in an episode of bonus male nudity.

The ending is clever, avoiding the sense of anti-climax that can occur in Shakespeare plays after the baddie has been killed off and some kind of speech is made about looking to the future - here, this is handled well, closing the performance on a suitably menacing note.

It is always nice to see directors trying new things with Shakespeare but overall, the play rates as a "could do better". And never, ever book one of the bar-stool seats at the Royal Exchange if you plan to have a drink first.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Things to do in Manchester over Easter 2009

So the clocks have gone forward, the evenings are getting lighter, and there's a long weekend on the horizon. Make the most of it by doing some of the following:

1. Go to the zoo. Yes, I know there isn't one in Manchester, but Chester Zoo is less than an hour's drive away and is a perfect day out of the weather is nice (miserable if it's cold and wet). Pack a picnic lunch and plan your route round the zoo carefully, as it's pretty tiring trying to cover eveything - must-sees include the elephants, monkeys, jaguars, penguins and lions. Do not, repeat, DO NOT go in the Bat Cave - it's dark and scary, it smells bad, and things fly at your head.

2. Join in with a local Easter Egg Hunt. Alternatively, if you are an adult, simply drive to Sainsbury's and select an egg of your choice from the shelf.

3. Visit Tatton Park between Sat 11th April and Mon 13th April armed with your teddy bear and lots of cash - there is a teddy bear hunt for the kids, and an Easter Crafts and Shopping Fair for the grown-ups. The house will also be open over the weekend and is always worth a look - full details at

4. Some of Manchester's best clubs are running four-night egg-stravaganzas (sorry) over the weekend - clearly the best night to go out is Sunday night, a night normally reserved for ironing and fretting about having to go to work the next day. Pick of the events look to be at Sankeys (£15) or The Warehouse Project taking up residence at Piccadilly Arches (£20). Or you could throw good taste to one side and relive your student days by attending the Foam Party at Fifth Avenue, also on Sunday 12th April - a bargain at £5 and boasting the slogan "Ooooh! It's bubbly lovely!" (you have been warned)

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Best Curry Houses in Manchester

As I jinxed the weather last weekend with a list of pubs with beer gardens, here is a selection of restaurants offering warming curries to celebrate the arrival of British summertime!

1. Great Kathmandu, West Didsbury: legendary Nepalese curry house offering the alluring combination of the best food in the world combined with the worst service. The place is cramped; if you get the table by the door you will freeze; the staff can be surly and unhelpful. But try the chicken chilli starter and you will come back time and time again. N.B. for those not intrepid enough to play what-mood-will-the-waiters-be-in-tonight, simply go to sister restaurant Nemaste Nepal just down the road, where the service is impeccable.

2. Khandoker, East Didsbury: Mr Khandoker is a local hero, feeding pensioners for free at Christmas and raising squillions of pounds through his regular charity banquets. The restaurant has lost a little of its charm since a recent revamp of the interior left it feeling a bit lacking in atmosphere, but the curries are great - try the Shabji-style chicken.

3. Dilli, Altrincham: one for the grown-ups. Dilli is a classy place (no flock wallpaper here), and is the first Ayurvedic Indian restaurant outside of London - in other words, you can stuff your face in the knowledge that you are balancing and nourishing your body in manner that is positively saintly.

4. Tandoori Royale, Burnage: a traditional curry house of the very highest order - brightly coloured sauces, delighful staff, and no-one sneering if you ask for chips to dip in your curry.

5. Sangam, Rusholme: the general consensus locally is that Rusholme is not quite what it was. Still, Sangam remains reliable and good-value, and also offers a suburban outpost in Didsbury village, the imaginatively named Sangam 2. Very good for private parties if you have something to celebrate.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Manchester International Festival 2009

This year's Manchester International Festival runs from July 2nd until July 19th, and offers a lineup that looks set to equal 2007's debut event. Mancunians may remember that the 2007 shindig included the world premiere of Damon Albarn's Monkey: Journey to the West, long before it became irritatingly over-exposed on the BBC Olympics coverage last year.

This year's programme appears ideal for people of a certain age; if you are under 25, for example, you are unlikely to be excited by the idea of De La Soul peforming their perfect album 3 Feet High and Rising. I, on the other hand, AM excited by this, particularly as the "20 Feet High and Rising" show takes place at The Ritz, home of the legendarily sticky floor and terrifyingly unattractive men. The band will perform with a 10-piece band for two nights - July 16 and 17.

Meanwhile, local favourites Elbow find themselves at a far more elegant venue when they join the Halle Orchestra at the Bridgewater Hall on July 8 and 9. After the success of last year's album The Seldom Seen Kid, everyone has jumped on the Elbow bandwagon (not least, whoever decides who gets a Brit Award), so it's nice to see them supporting the Manchester Festival rather than heading off to London village to milk their new-found fame.

Other highlights include Kraftwerk at the Manchester Velodrome on July 2 in their only indoor show in the UK this year, and perennial Manchester stalwarts Durutti Column performing a tribute to the much-missed Tony Wilson along with old friend Vini Reilly.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Top 5 Manchester Pubs with Beer Gardens

Typical. After a week of unseasonably fine weather, Saturday finally arrives and the skies are grey. But I am ever the optimist, so just in case it brightens up later here are some lovely Manchester pubs with beer gardens worth a visit.

1. The Didsbury, Didsbury. OK, I know the beer garden is out the front and therefore exposes the hapless drinker to the noise and fumes of Wilmslow Road, but this is a lovely pub with great food. They also do olives as a bar snack. Case closed.

2. The Metropolitan, West Didsbury. Again, the outside drinking area is not in itself particularly beautiful (part concrete, part carpark), but there is an outside bar to save one the hassle of walking all the way inside the pub everytime you need a top-up. The Met was also one of the first pubs in the area to really go for the "heating-up-the-outside-surely-that's-bonkers" style heaters, and is therefore the traditional location to visit for drinkers wishing to brave the elements from March onwards.

3. Loaf, central Manchester. Cute outside terrace area overlooking the canal - ignore the shopping trolleys and you could really be somewhere very exotic indeed.

4. Rampant Lion, Manchester. Anyone who has been a student in Manchester will have fond memories of this traditional boozer and its legendary cheesy chips. Sadly that culinary classic is no more - the Rampant Lion has smartened up its act and has a lovely relaxed beer garden where you can enjoy your reasonably priced pint.

5. Sinclair's Oyster Bar, central Manchester. Not the ideal choice for those seeking a quiet drink - the huge outside seating area here allows you to keep an eye on the hustle and bustle of Exchange Square and has fantastic views of the Manchester Wheel.

..just don't forget to take a coat, just in case....

Thursday, 19 March 2009

We Will Rock You Comes to Manchester

Every time Manchester gets a bit above itself, preening its tail feathers and muttering casually about musical heritage, Hacienda, Joy Division etc etc, something happens that takes us right back to square one. And those reality checks are often provided by the Palace Theatre, unashamed purveyors of popular entertainment - heavy on crowd appeal, low on taste.

Thus it is that Ben Elton has been allowed to bring his musical We Will Rock You into town. Anyone who remembers Ben Elton when he was actually funny, sporting a sparkly suit and lampooning Thatch on Friday Night Live, will perhaps mutter sadly at the path his career has taken; similarly, anyone who feels that Queen haven't made a decent record since 1979 will shudder at the prospect of an Elton/Queen collaboration.

Not that my opinion makes the slightest bit of difference - people will still flock to see it. Just bear in mind though that Elton has been quoted as saying "This show is all about legend - like King Arthur but instead of the sword you have the axe, a mighty guitar." And this is exactly the reason you shouldn't go.

We Will Rock You runs at The Palace Theatre Manchester from March 21 to June 6th; for tickets (if you must) call 0844 8472277.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Three Cultural Things to Do in Manchester This Week

The trouble with the weather turning so clement is that the temptation to idle away one's spare time drinking pink wine outside pubs becomes intolerably strong (well, it does for me anyway). Here are some highbrow suggestions to keep you on the straight and narrow this week:

1. Go and see Macbeth at the Royal Exchange. Yes, I know you hated it when you had to do it at school for GCSE English, but this tale of ambition, greed and murder is one of Shakespeare's best. The familiarity of the story means that the play is very accessible for most audiences, even if the language normally leaves you stumped, and the blood/gore/violence/madness allows directors to get creative with their staging. To sum up the current performance: long and bloody, but good. On until 11th April.

2. Visit the John Rylands Library on Deansgate. This beautiful Gothic building has recently been restored and is always worth a visit, but there is an interesting exhibition on at the moment as well. "A Small Eternity" aims to illustrate the history of the sonnet over the last 400 years. It runs until June 27th in the Christie Gallery, and includes modern examples of this versatile verse form as well as an extremely rare first edition of Shakespeare's sonnets. Your brain will actually get visibly bigger after visiting this exhibition.

3. Pop to the Lowry to see Brief Encounter (see below): DO THIS NOW. This option also has the advantage that you can visit the nearby Lime beforehand and sit outside drinking pink wine, thereby cleverly combining alcohol, Spring AND culture.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Brief Encounter Comes to the Lowry, Salford

If you fancy a theatrical treat later this month, get on the phone to the Lowry and book yourself tickets for the Kneehigh Theatre's version of Noel Coward's Brief Encounter (or better still, drive over and pick the tickets up yourself - you can avoid the £1.75 PER TICKET booking fee and have a look round the Whistles outlet store at the same time).

Kneehigh are innovative - in a good way - and their productions are always worth a look. I took a group of sixth formers to see this version of Brief Encounter when it was on in Leeds, and the verdict was unanimously positive - no mean feat when in the company of 30 disaffected seventeen-year-olds. They found it both funny and moving, and particularly enjoyed the clever use of film as a backdrop to the live action (and the ice-cream at half time).

You surely don't need to be told the story - young woman, choice between dreary husband and illicit affair with man met at railway tearoom, etc etc. The acting is faultless, interspersed with entertaining musical interludes that reveal the all-round abilities of the talented cast. Highly, highly recommended.

Brief Encounter is on at the Lyric Theatre (the small one - book early) at The Lowry, Salford between 24th and 28th March 2009.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Three Courses for £12 Offer at The Didsbury

If you're on a variable mortgage rate and in the mood to celebrate the latest interest rate, you could do worse than spend your extra cash at The Didsbury pub on Wilmslow Road. The food here has always been very good, and a number of dishes are now available on a special fixed menu Sundays to Thursdays. You can pick 2 courses for £10, or 3 courses for £12, which means you officially have to have pudding in order to make the best use of the offer, even if you don't want it and your skirt is already too tight.

Options include: prawn cocktail, grilled mushrooms, or goats cheese and beetroot fondue for the starters; steak and ale pie, gammon, or 6 oz burger for the mains; and chocolate fudge cake, treacle sponge or cheese & biscuits for the deserts - healthier options were available but I have absolutely no recollection what they might have been. Portions are generous as ever and in no way diminished under the offer - the goats cheese fondue is enormous and comes with a healthy amount of toast, and the burger and chips is now so big it is served on what appears to be a long section of kitchen worktop.

Service has improved dramatically - you no longer have to queue at the bar but are served at your table, drinks as well as food. On the subject of drinks, do watch out for your spending here - on a pretty modest school night, our drinks bill came to more than our food. All in all, a great pub - good atmosphere, great service and delicious food.

Friday, 27 February 2009

Five Things to do in Manchester this Weekend 27/2/08

Rather than spend the weekend in your pyjamas watching England snatch defeat from the jaws of victory against the West Indies, get out and about and try some of the following!

1. Visit the exhibition of ten drawings by Leonardo da Vinci at the Manchester Art Gallery, so that you may talk knowledgeably about art and impress your friends. Free entry.

2. There's only another couple of months to see the Lindow Bog Man at the Manchester Museum, as he packs his suitcase and moves on after April 19th to pastures new. Sensitive souls may find this not to their taste as this well-peserved Iron Age body is unmistakeably human in form. Free entry.

3. Whilst you're near Manchester University, pop into Blackwell's bookshop, pick up some second hand books and pretend you're still a carefree student (unless you are actually a carefree student, in which case you will probably still be in bed anyway).

4. Have a pint across the road in Jabez Clegg and pretend you're still a carefree student, etc.

5. Rumours are that the normally bustling curry houses in Rusholme are starting to feel the pinch, so pop in for a jalfrasi and show your support (and pretend you're still a carefree student, etc etc etc)

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Harvey Nichols Extends Wine & Dine Offer

Harvey Nicks' Second Floor Brasserie has extended its Wine & Dine Offer until 7th March, meaning that there is even more chance of slinking into work late with a hangover during the next few weeks. The deal offer a welcome Bellini, a three course meal, coffee and - the real draw - unlimited wine throughout the course of the meal, all for £25.

Obviously, such an offer requires caution. Last time the offer was running - minus the Bellini - I was ultra careful during the meal, consuming modest quantities of wine in order to ensure I did not die the next day, only for the evening to backfire spectactularly when we accidentally consumed two bottles of wine in Sinclair's Oyster Bar afterwards so that my friend could get her money's worth out of the babysitter she had paid until midnight. Do not make the same mistake.

Meanwhile, my husband continues to boycott the Second Floor Restaurant because there is no steak on the menu and the portions are too small. I think it is fair to say that the menu is slightly more female-friendly, featuring a good selection of beautifully cooked fish dishes as well as a chicken and a pork option, all served in dainty portions that will not make the waistband of your skirt uncomfortably tight. This will set you back £30 for two courses, or £40 for three including coffee; if there is a hungry boy amongst your party you might be better off in the more cheerful Brasserie next door.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Restaurant Review: Rhubarb, West Didsbury

I will admit to feeling ever so slightly ashamed this morning. Once upon a time, Rhubarb was pretty much my favourite restaurant - it was one of the first I reviewed for the Manchester Evening News; it was where I took my best friend as a "thank you for being my bridesmaid" present. I loved it there. Then along came Jem&I, with its perfect menu and impossibly perky staff and - most importantly - its location within a few minute's walk of my house and I promptly abandoned my old friend Rhubarb.

So I went back last night, and just like when you meet up with someone you used to love dearly but then lose touch with, I spent the whole time remembering exactly what I loved about Rhubarb in the first place. Mr Liz was won over straightaway by the inclusion of a black pudding and poached egg starter on the menu, while I went for the chicken liver parfait; we both had the fillet steak with wilted spinach and hash browns served with peppercorn sauce for main. The steak was perfectly cooked and incredibly tender, and was accompanied by a proper amount of sauce rather than an artistic smear along the side of the plate. Similarly, the side order of chips was more than enough for two, even with one of those people being a boy.

There's always room for pudding though, and I found space for the sticky toffee pudding while Mr Liz had the "Rhubarb Plate" - creme brulee, ice-cream and crumble, all made with - yes - rhubarb. Service was friendly and swift without being intrusive.

The prices aren't cheap here - expect to pay about £100 for two people to have three courses with wine, but this is comparable with its competitors (The Limetree and - sorry - Jem&I) and the food is excellent. Make sure you book - the restaurant was full despite it being a plain old Tuesday night. Now I've rediscovered Rhubarb, I won't be staying away another four years.

Rhubarb is at 167 Burton Road, West Didsbury, Manchester M20 2LN, tel. 0161 448 8887.

Monday, 16 February 2009

New Evening Menu at The Art of Tea

Didsbury cafe bar Art of Tea continues to go from strength to strength with its foray into evening dining. It is a measure of how highly this little gem is regarded locally that the launch party, on a freezing cold Wednesday evening, attracted such an impressive turnout (surely not ALL there for the free booze? Incidentally, the party was lovely but NOT a good idea to dish out generous quantities of alcohol with just a few bowls of cashew nuts to line the stomach - that way drunkenness lies). Scroll to the bottom of the blog for pictures of said evening.

The new evening menu is small but perfectly formed, a natural extension of the laid-back dining available during the day. The starters and light bites include chilli nachos at £6 and a selection of mezze (tzatziki, hoummus, aubergine dip and tapenade with three different types of bread at £5.50) which is ideal for sharing, particularly if your companion is not that bothered about starters and has an eye on the pizza menu.

The main courses consist of pizzas and salads, with the pizzas offering such exciting combinations as salami, chorizo, jalapeno and chilli (which brought a manly tear to Mr Liz's eye) and anchovies, capers, olives and parsley. The salads include chicken and avocado (my choice) and goat's cheese with walnuts and honey, all at around the £6 mark. This is a clever menu - just a few different ingredients, perfectly cooked, and served in generous quantities in relaxed surroundings.

The newly introduced alcohol selection is also well-chosen and achieves a pleasing symmetry: four vodkas, four gins; five rums, five whiskies; three brandies/cognacs, three tequilas/sambucas. There is also a wide range of decent wines, and an imaginative beer menu that samples the best from both Britain and Europe, including the Belgian Orval and Chimay Red at £3.80 each.

Even on a Monday night, the place had a pleasing buzz, with a mix of coffee drinkers and diners sharing the small split-level premises. Another admirable move is the decision to showcase the work of local artists; the current exhibition, "The Master of Complications" by Roy McCarthy and Zoe Byrne is on view until May 4th, and looks perfectly at home adorning the walls.

In these days of doom and gloom, you could do a lot worse than spend £20 in The Art of Tea - find them at 47 Barlow Moor Road, Didsbury.

Literature Live Spring 2009

If you're looking for something worthy that will occupy that awkward hour or so before dinner and cocktails, you could do much worse than attend one of the Literature Live events at Manchester University. The Creative Writing Programme at the university has been running live literary events since 2005, allowing slightly pretentious people like myself to swan around with a book under one arm, listening to bookish people reading from their work.

The next event is Monday 23rd Feb, with novelist and poet Helen Dunmore (latest novel House of Orphans) and publisher Peter Fallon. The event starts at 6.30 and costs £5 (£3 if you are a layabout student) - best of all, this price includes a glass of wine afterwards which you can quaff whilst nodding and looking knowledgeable about what you have just heard.

Look out as well for A.L. Kennedy's visit on March 16th - her last novel, Day, won the 2007 Costa prize and is really very good. Full details from the University website.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Girls' Curry Night at Tondori Royale, Burnage

Burnage (pronounced, of course, Burn-arge) is perhaps not an obvious choice for a Friday night out for seven frankly very attractive girls. But Girls' Curry Night, a six-weekly occurrence, cannot take place at Khandoker every time, so we bravely strapped on our good shoes and headed into deepest, darkest Burnage.

Many places claim to be Manchester institutions, but the Tondori Royale is justified in thinking itself one: it was there when I was a student, and has remained largely unchanged ever since, although a refurbishment has sadly seen the end of the flock wallpaper that graced its interior until really quite recently. The prices haven't changed much either - they still do their set-price menu, astonishingly good value at £12.95 per head. For this you get a popadom, any starter, any main (excluding fish or king prawn), rice or naan, a liqueur coffee, and some startlingly sweet free wine that is actually quite manageable once you've forced the first glass down (try to neck a couple of glasses of something decent before you leave the house).

For such a good-value restaurant, the place was disappointingly quiet for a Friday night, although it is entirely possible that respectable diners were put off by the lairy party of girls sitting in the window. The staff couldn't be more helpful, the food is good in a traditional sort of way (a few of the sauces are worryingly bright in colour) and you can always pop into the big Tesco afterwards to stock up on anything that seems essential after a few drinks - these are the only occasions on which I purchase OK magazine. Perfect night all round.

  • Tondori Royale is at 682 Burnage Lane, Burnage, Manchester M19 1NA, tel. 0161 4320930

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Hi-Life Dining Awards 2009

The annual Hi-Life Dining Awards took place last weekend, and the list of winners reflects very nicely on the Manchester food scene that Simon Rimmer was so rude about recently. Sam's Chop House won the prize for Best Overall Restaurant, proving that restaurant food doesn't have to be fancy to win awards - any place that is famous for its corned beef hash deserves to be celebrated. The ever-inventive Room was awarded Best Manchester Restaurant, with Harvey Nicholl's Second Floor Restaurant winning Best Platinum Collection Restaurant.

All of which confirms what I've always known: that I really have excellent taste in restaurants.

Ramond Blanc's Manchester Brasserie Closes

Sobering news this week, as Raymond Blanc's Brasserie Blanc in central Manchester has closed for good, blaming financial problems. No-one likes to see a decent restaurant forced to close, but it is interesting that the chef cites poor location as one of the reasons for the Brasserie's failure. Admittedly, it was a little tucked away just off Chapel Walks, but Sam's Chop House on the opposite side of the road is always packed, as is the cheerfully good value Grinch. Perhaps the Brasserie just wasn't good enough to justify its prices?

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Five Things to do in Manchester This Weekend 6/2/2009

Ignore the snow and the arctic temperatures, and cheer yourself up with some of the following.
  1. Visit the Pitcher & Piano and warm your cockles with a Dark 'n' Stormy cocktail - rum, lime and ginger beer. If you can wait until Sunday evening, they'll even let you have two for the price of one.
  2. Dig out those legwarmers and sing along with Fame the Musical, at The Opera House until Saturday 7th Feb.
  3. Check out the brand new menu at Didsbury's Art of Tea - opening evenings from Thursday 5th Feb with a small but perfectly formed selection of mezze, pizzas and salads. Full review next week.
  4. Visit the wonderful Xperiment section of the Museum of Science and Industry (or MOSI, as those overpaid rebranders would have us say) - push those small children out the way if need be.
  5. Take a walk round Fletcher Moss Park and then thaw yourself out by the fire in the Didsbury pub afterwards.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Felicini & Grinch Special Offers for February

The almighty scrap for your business continues, with Felicini's extending their 25% off all food offer to run throughout February. Even more excitingly, the offer now applies to city centre restaurant Grinch, which is already one of the best value places to eat in town. You need to sign up to their newsletter to qualify for the offer, and they will send you a voucher.

If signing up seems like too much hassle, then both Felicini's and Grinch offer pretty good value deals anyway - the former will let you have two Bellini for the price of one every day between 5 & 7pm (the catch being that both drinks have to be the same, as my husband discovered much to his chagrin as he miserably sipped his pink and girly drink), and the latter do any pizza for £6 and a bottle of house wine for £9.95, again between 5 & 7pm. Beware Grinch if you are simply calling in for dinner before going on to the nearby Royal Exchange; those high seats at the theatre really don't provide the necessary support for someone who has swiftly consumed a bottle of Montepulciano.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Art of Tea Granted Late Licence

Good news this week is that the very charming Art of Tea in Didsbury is to expand its repertoire by opening as a bar in the evenings. From Wednesday 4th Feb, the cutest cafe in Didsbury will be open from 9am to 11pm every day except Sunday, when you can call in between 11am and 10.30pm. They promise a range of beers, wines and spirits from around the world, accompanied by an extended menu that will be more suitable for evening dining (although I for one would be perfectly happy with smoked salmon bagel at any time of the day or night).

The venue will also be hosting regular exhibitions of photography and artwork, beginning on Wednesday with"The Master of Complications" by Roy McCarthy and Zoe Byrne. For full details, check out the Art of Tea myspace page.

  • The Art of Tea is at 47 Barlow Moor Road, Didsbury

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Saturday Night on Burton Road, West Didsbury

OK: I know Saturday nights are probably the busiest going out night of the week, but it was very cold last night, and we are (as of Friday) officially in the middle of a recession. So I felt confident in ringing the Lime Tree at 6pm to see if they could squeeze us in. They could. At 10.15. Never mind - the Lime Tree is the best restaurant in the area, after all - we would simply take a cab up to Burton Road and see what took our fancy.

So after a couple of drinks in The Metropolitan (very busy, especially considering that two rounds of drinks in here cost roughly the same as a small car) we made our way to the very fine Rhubarb. Fully booked. Oh. Then the very charming Italian restaurant Azzurro. Very apologetic, but fully booked. By now I was eying up scabby dogs and cursing my choice of footwear - West Didsbury pavements were not made for spike heels.

Hurrah for the Namaste Nepal, where we were swiftly seated and served restorative poppadums. This curryhouse is massive though, and only twenty minutes or so after our arrival people were being turned away. I tried to look sympathetic rather than smug. The food here was brilliant as usual - the bringal (aubergine) side dish is unfeasibly good, as is the makhan fish which I always order despite promising myself I'll try something new. The service and the atmosphere is much, much better than at its sister restaurant Great Kathmandu, just up the road, where the waiters are sometimes surly and are prone to spilling food of the type that leaves permanent stains on you (well OK, that was just once).

The moral of the story? If you're going out and fancy anything other than curry, then book. The good folk of West Didsbury are gamely doing as Gordon Brown asks and are spending us out of recession.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Guilty Pleasures on a Sunday Night

I'm not really one for New Year resolutions, unless they are ones comfortably achieved during the darkest, coldest months of the year and don't involve giving up food or alcohol in any way. This year's pledge is to make more of Sunday evenings, too often wasted in general grumpiness at the thought of work the following day and spent wearing pyjamas and reading a trashy book.

So, working on the basis that weekends will seem longer if Sunday evenings are spent profitably in pursuit of nice things, three girls strapped on their finest shoes and ventured into Manchester (clutching tickets for Anton and Erin at the Bridgewater Hall, but that's another matter - no need to discuss that here) for an early dinner at Livebait. First stop was Beluga, on Mount Street just off Albert Square for a bonus cocktail - the bar was surprisingly busy, suggesting that perhaps lots of people have determined to make more of their Sundays.

Livebait was also quite busy, particularly since it was only 5.30, but the average age of the other diners (somewhere between 50 and 150) indicated that the business was perhaps down to the formidable pulling power of Anton and Erin. The restaurant is doing some pretty good offers at the moment though - you can download a voucher from their website worth £15 off the bill when two people order two courses from the a la carte menu during January, and there is also a very reasonably priced set menu available.

I chose the mackerel fillet (massive) with pickled cucumber (nice - like a slinky gerkin) and horseradish cream (a bit stingy on the portion size) at £5.95, and also snuck my fork into other people's calamari. The mains were slightly less inspiring than the starters, but the thai red fish curry was nice enough and pretty spicy (cue lots of wine for medicinal reasons). No time for pudding (sequins were calling us) but the bill came to a very reasonable £72 inluding service after the £15 reduction.

Monday, 5 January 2009

January Offers at Manchester Bars & Restaurants

Whilst it is very sad - not to mention quite sordid - to see folk rummaging around in skips to salvage the last of the Woolworths fixtures and fittings, it cannot be denied that there are some good deals around at the moment for those who wish to spend some money. Considering it my civic duty to keep the economy afloat by investing in goods and services, I shall be taking advantage of some of the following rather splendid offers:

  • The Pitcher & Piano (branches in Manchester and Didsbury) is doing two main meals, sandwiches or salads for the price of one. The deal is on all day, every day until further notice, although some dishes such as the sharing platters are excluded. Whilst the food here is not exactly haute cuisine, they do serve till 10pm and the food is very useful for mopping up some of the alcohol deals they are offering - half price wine sale throughout January, or four bottles of Peroni beer for £10.
  • If you fancy something more upmarket, Room restaurant on King Street, central Manchester, is offering 50% off all food until 12th February. You need to order before 7.30pm, and the offer isn't available on Saturdays. Discount cards need to be ordered via the restaurant website, but the card is valid throughout the sale period for parties of up to eight people. Full details at