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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.