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Saturday, 30 January 2010

Sparkle Sparkle at All Bar One

Well, call me shallow, but when an e-mail arrives in my in-box with the subject line "Friday is the New Sparkle Night" I am mysteriously drawn to read its contents (am hoping purveyors of Viagra, time-share properties, online casinos etc do not also adopt this cunning ruse).

The e-mail turned out to be from All Bar One, a jolly place on King Street in central Manchester, and carried the news that every Friday from 5th February you can get a bottle of Louis Dornier Brut Champagne for £19.95. The All Bar One website describes this as having "a pronounced biscuity flavour and a fine elegant bouquet" but you can hardly expect them to say "well, it's a bit ropey to be honest" so I will bravely go and test it for myself.

Rather sensibly, they are also suggesting you mop up some of that alcohol by ordering from their "little dishes" food menu - I have already sampled some of these (in the name of research and general all-round thoroughness/professionalism) and can recommend the boxed baked camembert with crusty bread and mango and apricot chutney. Do not, under ANY circumstances, be tricked into sharing this.

Full details and menus at www.allbarone,co,uk.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

More Greed, with some Dancing Thrown in...

The trouble with diets is that you become utterly, all-consumingly obsessed with food. Every second of every waking moment is spent dreaming of things you cannot have; dreams which clash upsettingly with the grim reality of the actual lunch that sits before you (another apple? no really, I couldn't).

So when a night out presents itself, the wheels are apt to come off at an alarming rate. Saturday night was spent in Didsbury, firstly with a farewell bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape in the Pitcher and Piano before it becomes a ghastly Wetherspoons, and then a magnificent, gargantuan feast in Jade Garden.

As any aficionado knows, the repast of choice in Jade Garden is Banquet C - under no circumstances attempt to choose your own dishes from the frankly terrfiying menu. You will still be reading it at Christmas and will be none the wiser. Banquet C is all you need - crispy duck, a platter of ribs, prawn toasts et al, and a selection of main dishes including the so-good-you-will-fight-your-friends-for-it fillet steak in Cantonese sauce.

I need to stop pretending that the short stroll home from Didsbury comes anywhere close to burning off the sort of calories provided by the jolly staff at Jade Garden, and I also need to accept that I am no longer capable of going out two nights on the bounce. Sunday saw me stepping bravely into the breach when a friend found herself with a spare ticket for Anton and Erin at the Bridgewater Hall, with an obligatory dinner at Livebait beforehand. After the red wine of the previous night, a glass of prosecco, mackerel pate, smoked haddock with parley mash, and a creme brulee, I was pretty much ready for going to sleep. It is much to Anton and Erin's credit that they prevented me from doing so, although I did have to close my eyes on occasions against excessive sequin glare.

I promise not to go out for the rest of the week; next stop, a wedding reception on Saturday night. Promise.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Review of The Woman in Black at The Lowry, Manchester

I was pretty nonchalent about seeing The Woman in Black at The Lowry on Thursday night. True, I'm not known for my high threshold when it comes to all things scary: my husband still teases me for physically jumping off the sofa when the phone rings in Signs - itself the least scary film ever (cue lots of sarcastic mutterings of "oh no! It's the phone monster! Ooooooooo...." etc etc), and I'm currently reading Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger and frankly finding it a bit much.

Still, I've read the Susan Hill novel on which the play is based, and didn't find it frightening in the least, so I ignored the fact that a work colleague who had seen the play before physically paled when I mentioned I was going ("oh - I wouldn't be able to watch that again" she stammered as the blood drained from her face) and trotted off to the theatre for a fine old time.

The evening started well with dinner at Lime and a big fat glass of Sauvignon.

Then things started to go wrong. The gentleman who showed us to our seats chuckled slightly when he saw we were sitting in the very middle of the front row, and informed us that he wouldn't have chosen to sit there in a voice that implied that very bad things indeed might happen to us as a result of our hapless seat choice.

He wasn't kidding. The first half hour of the play is rather dreary - as the novel is so short, a certain amount of padding has been added to the start to make the story work on stage, involving a tiresome routine between an actor and a man who wishes his story to be told. I spent a good portion of this part pondering what flavour ice-cream to have at the interval.

Once the story gets going however, the play is little short of terrifying. The plot is a simple one - a solicitor is sent to sort through the papers of a deceased client in a big old spooky house - and the events that occur are the predictable thuds and bumps of a traditional ghost story. The fact that you can see it all coming doesn't make it any less scary though, particularly when sitting right at the front in a fog of dry ice. Even my husband flinched on a number of occasions, although he does of course deny this whole-heartedly in the cold light of day.

The Woman in Black must be on the school syllabus at the moment, as the theatre was packed full of teenagers affecting boredom at the sheer lameness of having to go and watch a play. These same teenagers then spent much of the next two hours screaming in an increasingly hysterical way, and emerged at the end looking distinctly green around the gills. Mwa ha ha.

The play has now moved on from The Lowry, but if you get a chance to see it, go. Would I go and see it again? Not a chance.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Great Night at Gusto, but does Didsbury Need a Wetherspoons?

Hurrah - night out on Friday to celebrate the following:
1. Snow and ice all gone, allowing normal footwear standards to be resumed
2. Clothes all fit again now after harsh two week diet, and
3. Generous e-mail received from Gusto offering 50% off food bill.

So off into Didsbury we went, pausing at the Pitcher and Piano on School Lane to take advantage of their annual 50% off wine sale (at least January is good for something). As the barman uncorked a magnificent bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape, we enquired how long the reduced prices would be running, and then tried not to reel in shock at the response "well, until we close down next weekend - we're going to be a Wetherspoons."

This is bad news. Yes, I know the Pitcher and Piano is a chain, and has inflicted some hefty bar bills upon unsuspecting drinkers, but it is fundamentally an asset to Didsbury - a good meeting place offering excellent (and often discounted) cocktails and a decent wine list. And it's on my way into Didsbury.

I suppose I should at least give the Wetherspoons a chance. I wasn't at all taken with Gusto at first either, and it's now one of the most reliably enjoyable places to eat in Didsbury. Our first meal there was bland and uninspiring, nowhere near as good as its predecessor Est Est Est, but our meal there on Friday was pretty close to perfection.

Obviously the whole 50% off thing helped with this, but Gusto has a really buzzy atmosphere, helped along by cheerful staff (although I suspect we had extra good service - we were apparently the first people all day to reply to the waiter's enquiry as to how we were by asking how he was, and he was most attentive thereafter).

Starters included prawns in tomato and garlic sauce (sorry to anyone who encountered me on Saturday) and calamari, whilst for mains the boys had steak and the girls had sashimi tuna and suckling pig respectively, along with a selection of side dishes (mine was the suckling pig, served with a mound of mash potato with an approximate ratio of potato to butter of about half and half - two week's good work undone in two hours methinks).

Anyway, a good night was had by all, and as I'm back on the diet again now I'll try and live off the memories for the next few days...

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Avatar at The Parrswood Complex - Numb Bum Time

After much campaigning on the part of my husband, I agreed to walk down to the Parrswood complex today and watch Avatar with him, secretly wondering why boys born in the 70s are so very excitable when it comes to watching anything at the cinema in 3D.

"Do you need 3D glasses?" asks the lady on the ticket desk.

Well, urm, yes - I don't tend to carry such things with me on the off-chance that my own build-in 3D vision has failed.

"You have to pay 80p for them, but you get to keep them and you can use them again!" she chirrups cheerily.

Use them again? What for?

Anyway, the upshot was that I spent almost three hours of my life with said glasses perched uncomfortably on my nose (I still have the attractive facial indentations), watching large blue people fall in love and fight with mean human beings. The film was actually a little better than I had expected - the special effects ARE amazing, and anything with Sam Worthington and Sigourney Weaver in it must have something going for it. But it is massively too long, and rather predictable - I got the impression that inside the overblown hugeness of it all there was a truly great film just trying to get out.

But I do have a handy pair of 3D glasses in my handbag.

Express Lunch Deal at Jem&I, Didsbury

Yesterday was such a beautiful day in Manchester: cloudless, bright blue sky above; perfectly crisp white snow underfoot (well, the last bit was true if you avoided looking at the grey sludgy stuff and the yellow bits where the dogs - presumably - had been). Definitely a day for being outside, despite the cold.

The only problem with snow is the sheer effort involved in anything. The normally ten minute walk into Didsbury Village seemed to take around two hours, and felt like the equivalent to several sessions at the gym (from what I remember), so the special-offer blackboard outside Jem&I called us like a beacon, welcoming us inside with promises of warmth and cossetting.

For a long time after it opened, I refused to go in Jem&I on account of not liking its name, and whilst I stand by this as a reasonable decision I do now acknowledge it to have been a mistake. Jem&I is simply one of the best places to eat in Manchester, offering food of a similar style and quality to West Didsbury's Lime Tree but with a less stuffy attitude and a younger clientele (although there were two VERY old people in there yesterday, rather splendidly sharing a whole bottle of red at 1 o'clock in the afternoon - bravo).

The deal that lured us in was the Express Lunch menu (again, fight the urge to reject something so poorly named), which offers a selection of main dishes at £5, a couple of starters at £2.95, and a few bin-end wines at £2.50 a glass. We both started with soup of the day (the other option was home-made humous) which yesterday was cream of parsnip - deliciously thick and warming, just right for people who have lost all feeling in their feet on the walk to the restaurant.

For mains, my husband went for the fish and chips and I had liver served with sausage and cabbage cassoulet. Both were delicious, suggesting no sacrifice in quality to meet the £5 price tag, and portions were generous (so generous, I had to leave some - unheard of, and no reflection upon the standard of the food). Just for the record, my husband had a glass of £2.50 merlot but I stuck to water (poo) in line with the current self-imposed two week alcohol ban.

Service was swift and friendly, and the bill was of course pleasingly low for food of such a standard. I swear though that the walk home felt SIGNIFICANTLY colder on the way back.

- Jem&I is at 1c School Lane, Didsbury, Manchester M20 6RD, and the Express Lunch deal is available every day.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

National Winter Ales Festival - Manchester 2010

Sick of the snow yet? Anyone suffering from cabin fever (me) and wanting something to take their mind off the horrors of leaving for work at 6.30 am in order to get to work on time (me) may wish to set their sights on the arrival of the National Winter Ales Festival in Manchester on Wednesday 20th January.

Personally, I've barely recovered from the Manchester Food & Drink Festival wine tasting shindig back in October, but Mr Liz is highly excited about the prospect of sampling a range of ales and assures me that the line-up sounds positively stellar - old ales, strong milds, barley wines, stouts and porters will all be on offer. I've no idea what most of these are, other than they sound a bit like things old men might drink. There will also be a selection of foreign beers for weaklings like my good self.

I protest too much, of course; I did quite enjoy the Didsbury Beer Festival a couple of months ago, and there are some familiar friends from that event available at the forthcoming festival including Old Tom, voted the World's Best Ale in last year's World Beer Awards and produced by Stockport brewer Robinsons.

The festival goes on for four days (common sense suggests not attending EVERY day) from Wednesday 20th January to Saturday 23rd, and takes place at the Sheridan Suite on Oldham Road. Full details are available at the official website

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

More January Restaurant Offers in Manchester....

So, it's day four of my two-week emergency diet and self-imposed alcohol ban. To make matters worse, the whole of Manchester has seemingly shut down today under its blanket of snow, and I find myself housebound, eyeing up various Christmas chocolate sundries and trying to resist the lure of the toaster.

This time of year is always tough for bars and restaurants; people are tightening their belts and nursing their livers and waistlines after the festive bingeing, and the bad weather (more to come, apparently) will only make matters worse as people sensibly decide to stay in instead. I plan to investigate the following offers once the alcohol ban lifts (16th Jan - and counting):

1. Room restaurant in Manchester is once again running its Great Winter Sale, offering 50% off your food bill from now until Thursday 11th February. The offer is available on the a la carte menu between 12noon and 7.30pm Monday to Friday, but does require pre-booking and a special card that can be acquired by visiting the Room website at I've long been a fan of this restaurant, which offers an enticing champagne list as well as interesting and original food (beware negotiating the stairs after too much of the enticing champagne list though).

2. Loch Fyne, the fish restaurant with branches in Didsbury, Alderley Edge and Knutsford, is also offering an array of tempters, including a £10 two-course set menu. Much better is to sign up via their website to receive offers; they've just sent me two vouchers, one offering a £20 discount when spending £60 on food and drink, and £10 off a £30 spend -

So put your wellies on and venture out; I'm keeping my fingers crossed for another snow-day tomorrow.