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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.