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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.