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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