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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)