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Sunday, 28 February 2010

Top Curry at The Third Eye, Didsbury

When I was a student I lived in Rusholme, in a big drafty flat with luridly coloured mould growing up one wall and a small family of mice living in the kitchen. I also had a profound dislike for curry. I was the one who would shame-facedly order chicken and chips off the English menu, flinching slightly if anyone else's jalfrezi came near me, feeling left out and miserable.

By the time I moved out of Rusholme four years later, I was of course a curry convert, and my obsession is now such that I have to have my fix at least once a week lest withdrawal symptoms begin. I must admit to hardly ever going to Rusholme these days, although if I ever drive along that section of Wilmslow Road I am practically slavering by the time I've driven out again. The main problem with Rusholme, I find, is that I am too stupid to actually remember which curry houses there are the best ones; in other words, I get confused by the array of neon-lit facades and lose the ability to recall which might be my favourite.

Luckily, South Manchester is well served with curry houses. Last night I was out with a friend known both for his fearsome drinking ability and his great love of curry, so walking into Didsbury seemed a sensible option. Despite the cold and the drizzle, Didsbury was busier than I've seen it for a while; we started at The Fletcher Moss, which is always pleasantly buzzy but was particularly cheery last night, full of affable types drinking pints of mild and perusing the books that are always on sale here in aid of Francis House Hospice (honestly, you wouldn't believe the amount of rubbish I've bought here during a night out).

Our next venue, The Dog and Partridge, was less enjoyable: the combination of a sulky barmaid with a large table of braying loudmouths next to us meant the atmosphere was a little less convivial. I do recall having a quite detailed conversation here about my theory of Brian May - that he would have been taken a lot more seriously a whole lot earlier if he'd only cut his hair. Thoughts on this please?

Our final destination was The Third Eye, where they found us a table immediately and plied us with poppadoms in that sneaky way that curry houses have. The food here is excellent, and while it used to be a slightly poor second to the mighty Great Kathmandu in terms of local Nepalese restaurants, it has now not only caught up but apparently overtaken the Kathmandu if recent reviews are to be believed.

I had the Chicken Pakoda Fritters to start but actually ended up eating most of my husband's Paneer Chilli as well, and then the Makhan Fish for main (with the calories of the rich creamy sauce completely atoned for by my selection of fish rather than meat, obviously). The real star of the table, however, was the humble Vegetable Rice - we ordered two portions between the three of us, but the mountain of rice that arrived would easily have fed about six people. As the plate ended up next to me on the table (fools!) I was able to fork out all the highlights - enormous pieces of silky aubergine, cashew nuts, great lumps of cauliflower etc - with relatively little chance of discovery or retribution.

The bill was £55 for the three of us - pretty reasonable for such a repast, and no need for a taxi home. The rate I'm going, I may never end up leaving South Manchester again...I will try to do better, I promise.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Reasons Why Life is Unfair, Parts 1 - 3

In what I hope will only be a very occasional series, here are three reasons why events have conspired against me this week:

1. Even the most casual of glances at my post for Thursday should suggest some excitement on my part at the upcoming Silver Apples Cheese Evening. I now cannot go due to a cruelly-timed parents evening, so the cheese quiz is wide open again. The news that Silver Apples is to host a book club on the first Tuesday of every month has consoled me a little, but not enough to make up for the cheese-shaped void that now gapes mockingly at me.

2. Those who know me will be aware of an unfortunate tendency to book theatre tickets for worthy productions, and next week is no exception - we are going to see Andersen's English at The Library Theatre on Thursday. All well and good, except that this now clashes with a frankly more attractively low-brow event at The Sanctuary in Didsbury.

Thursday 4th March sees the first of their new monthly Ladies Night (yes I know, the name is terrible, but keep faith for a moment), offering a glass of fizz (notice it doesn't make any promise of quality fizz, just "fizz"....cava ahoy) and a buffet for the measly sum of £5. "Ladies" will also be able to buy cocktails at two for £7.50, and the best make-up brand in the actual world - Benefit - will also be there, offering makeovers and no doubt flogging a lot of pricy goods to women full of bargain-priced cocktails. I wish to go to this, rather than see something cultural.

3. I was also looking forward to attending the launch of Matthew Comer's new photography exhibition at Urban Outfitters last night, but a series of small but cumulative events prevented me from going (none of them my fault, this time). The new exhibition is called "Rooftops and Water Towers", and charts Mat's journey across America with shots of the Brooklyn and Manhattan skylines. The exhibition launches to the public tonight and is likely to be well worth a look as Mat's photographs are stunning - contact him through his website at

Thursday, 25 February 2010

American Beer Tasting at Silver Apples, West Didsbury

Anyone with even a modicum of common sense would know, quite instinctively, that attending a beer tasting on a Wednesday night would be a bad idea. Sadly, I am prone to illogical decisions, and a combination of said beer tasting being for charity, and the constant haunting of a pleadingly hopeful husband, conspired to force my attendance.

At the time of course, it seemed a great decision. We took a taxi up to Burton Road (I was actually considering driving at one point - I can't even begin to think about the potential consequences of that) and bagged a prime table at the charming but small Silver Apples, an independent bar which seems to specialise mostly in cupcakes and Belgian beer.

The beers being showcased this time were from America, a country not known for its beer, and indeed there were some weird and wonderful concoctions served. To give a flavour of the delicacies on offer, my favourite was the pumpkin beer, a Christmassy treat that tasted of cinnamon, ginger and, erm, pumpkin. Opinion was divided on this one, but I loved it, and surreptitiously voted it for it twice at the end of the evening.

I can't really comment on the quality of the later beers; they progressed steadily in strength, and once they got up past the 6% mark I dropped out of the running. Suffice to say that my husband wended a merry way home with pockets full of half-drunk beer bottles (yes I know - classy; that's why I married him).

The evening was extraordinarily good value at £10 per head - for that, nine beers were available to taste, and many of these were provided as a whole bottle for each person. A cheese board was also supplied to each table, causing great shame to greedy girls (ahem) unable to wait to eat it - nothing more humiliating than being told to taste the brie with a particular beer when you'd pretty much polished it all off before 8pm.

The venue also seems to attract remarkably nice people - we made six new friends, as well as meeting the lovely Helen from Didsbury Life; she knows EVERYTHING about Didsbury - And just when you think a venue can't be any more perfect, an innocent trip to the ladies reveals a poster advertising....a cheese night! This is set to take place on Tuesday 23rd March, and promises cheese, crackers, bread, wine, and - no doubt the piece de resistance - a cheesy quiz. I'm off to start revising my cheese knowledge post-haste.

- Silver Apples is at 200 Burton Road, West Didsbury, Manchester M20 2LW, tel 0161 4453130. But don't be trying to win my cheese quiz.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Dinner at The Fat Loaf, Didsbury

In the end, there was really no contest: stay home and slave over a hot pancake pan whilst my husband shouts and swears at a bunch of men in shorts running around on a pitch and refuses to let me flick to the Brits to see Lady Gaga's outfit du jour; or go out for dinner.

Clearly the latter option won, and we decided on The Fat Loaf in Didsbury Village. I tried to ring beforehand and book (to ensure no reneging on the deal and sneaking off to somewhere showing the football), but the fabulously breezy chap who answered the phone said there were lots of tables free and we should pop down whenever. The restaurant was pretty quiet when we got there, but word of our presence obviously got round as it soon livened up to the point where most of the tables at the front of the place were occupied - we had already bagged one in front of the fire.

The menu here is smallish and well-executed, with a focus on quality meat and grills. My husband had the game sausage with lentils and poached egg, and I chose the homemade pate with buttered toast. Both were delicious, with only two small criticisms: portions sizes are on the hefty side for starters, and my buttered toast was SO buttered (normally a good thing, I know) that it was difficult to get the pate to stay on its magnificently droopy surface.

Mains were good as well: chicken kiev served with proper chips, and lamb shank served with spring onion and pancetta potato cake. The kiev didn't really hang around long enough for me to try it; the lamb was at the proper falling-off-the-bone stage and the accompanying veg were delicious (more butter!) but the gravy a bit on the thin side.

Pudding was forced down: sherry trifle for me (who says Christmas is over?) and ice-cream for him. I normally mock anyone who has such an unimaginative pudding in a restaurant as ice-cream, but I would definitely go for this in future - chocolate, raspberry and lemon flavours each presented with a jaunty little accompaniment.

By this point, the husband was no longer sulking about the football, distracted no doubt by the healthy selection of Belgian beers available here. Anyway, we walked back through Didsbury, and the enormous cheer followed by shouts of "Rooney! Rooney!" that erupted from The Crown as we walked past gave him the courage to peer through the window of The Royal Oak and ascertain that a lead was indeed theirs.

And the pancakes? We're having them tonight.

- The Fat Loaf is at 846 Wilmslow Road, Didsbury M20 2RN. Starters £3.95 - £6.95; mains from £9.95 but special deals are available - check website for details.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Review of Calendar Girls at The Lowry, Manchester

I'm not always very clever when it comes to booking theatre tickets. Every few months the brochures plop onto the doormat, and in a fit of frenzied worthiness I book a load of stuff, often quite indiscriminately. To make matters worse, I tend to book for Thursday nights, congratulating myself on saving a massive £3 on booking for a Friday or Saturday night.

Then the night in question rolls around. Thursday is my heaviest teaching day, and come 5pm the thought of heading off to some high-brow arty-farty thing is often just too much for me. So my relief was almost palpable to remember that last night I'd booked for something comfortably low-brow, and even better, something I'd seen before. I took my mum to see Calendar Girls at The Lowry last year, not dreaming that my husband would have wanted to go; when a fit of sulkiness ensued, I was more than happy to book to see the play again this week.

The cast isn't quite as good this time round, although thankfully Lynda Bellingham is still playing the role of Chris. I must admit to developing something of a girl-crush on the Oxo matriarch in recent years, and she does look truly amazing for someone who is almost one hundred years old. I can also see why boys like the frankly gorgeous Gemma Atkinson, although her acting was less convincing than that of Gaynor Faye in the same role last year.

The stage version of Calendar Girls is far better than the film version, cutting out the silly bit where they all head off to America and substituting some genuinely moving scenes including letters falling from the sky and sunflowers arising from the stage. The very best bit is when the retired teacher reveals all - or almost all, hidden modestly behind her knitting - to a former student; I am already gleefully planning my old age...

- Calendar Girls is at The Lowry until 20th February 2010.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Tandoori Royale in Putting-up-Prices Shocker!

Went to beloved local curry house Tandoori Royale on Friday as a reward for reaching the end of the week unscathed and without setting fire to any student coursework. This is a proper local curry house, despite its less than salubrious surroundings just across the Burnage border, opposite the Tesco superstore.

Don't let the location put you off; inside is a haven of traditional loveliness, with bombay mix set out for folks awaiting takeaway orders and gold elephant-inspired decor. The set meal has long been the best value deal in the known universe, but having not visited for a few months we were surprised to see the price has finally gone up, after seemingly staying the same since approximately 1992.

Still, at £14.50 a head it's still great value: poppadom and dips, followed by any starter, more or less any curry (posh things like king prawn excepted), rice or naan bread, followed by a choice of dessert or liqueur coffee. The crowning glory is the carafe of completely unwanted German sweet white wine that arrives with your meal; well might you wince after the first sip, but trust me, you'll end up drinking the lot.

- Tandoori Royale is at 684 Burnage Lane, Burnage, Manchester M19 1NA, tel. 0161 4320930.

Beer Tasting at Silver Apples, West Didsbury

Great excitement in the male half of the household at the prospect of a beer tasting event in a couple of weeks at cute Burton Road bar Silver Apples.

The American Beer Tasting Evening takes place on Wednesday 24th Feb (typical - Thursday is heaviest teaching day of the week - husband has manfully offered to drink my beer for me to avoid hangovers) and is in aid of Mencap so you can quaff with a clear conscience.

Tickets are £10 each and are selling quickly - ring 0161 4453130 to book or call in to buy in person. My husband took the latter approach, and took three visits to successfully purchase tickets - apparently each time he went in the tickets weren't quite back from the printers yet. You can't say he didn't try though; each visit took around an hour, despite the bar being a scant ten minutes away from our house. Trooper.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Things to do in Manchester on Valentine's Day

A week on Sunday sees the arrival of the day universally feared by single women and married men: the ordeal that is Valentine's Day. It pretty much passes me by; I like a night out as much as the next person (some might argue, uncharitably, that I like a night out MORE than the next person), but there is something faintly fraught about booking a table somewhere for Valentine's Day itself. Unpleasant memories of such outings (and I have many) largely revolve around being offered an uninspiring set menu at vastly over-inflated prices, surrounded by awkward-looking couples wondering what to say to each other (no kids! we must make the most of it! pressure!), and receiving a sad and slightly bent lone rose slowly suffocating to death in its plastic wrapping. In recent years, we have taken the safe option and stayed in the comfort of our own home.

This year, though, things look to be different. Restaurants are practically falling over each other in their haste to lure big-spending couples into their depths, offering good value menus with all sorts of nice freebies thrown in. As obviously you haven't got round to booking anywhere yet, here are a few suggestions:

- The ever-lovely Rhubarb on Burton Road in West Didsbury has an array of tempting sittings, starting with a champagne breakfast served between 10am and midday at £14.95. Full English AND champagne - hurrah. They're also offering a special lunch and dinner menu; the evening one is by far the more interesting, including baked oysters as a starter and fillet steak for main, and is available from 4pm, although they hike the price up (cads!) from £29.50 pp to £39.95 after 5.45.

- Anyone who has lost their mind slightly and thinks that Crazy Wendy's Thai Restaurant might be a suitable place for a quiet, romantic date can enjoy a two course meal for £20. The food is pretty good here, and I can often be found atop a table performing "Hey Big Spender", but I'm not sure it's the place for seduction. Anyway, call 0161 445 5200 if you're feeling particurly intrepid/foolhardy/khamikaze.

- Felicinis in Manchester, Didsbury and Wilmslow have a special menu full of dishes that sound positively brimming with aphrodisiac qualities - perhaps the asparagus and smoked salmon linguine for starters? Do try not to slurp or get sauce on your chin though. Full details at

- If your other half is new/keen to impress/in trouble/trying to make something up to you, then push the boat out and go to Obsidian in central Manchester for the six course Valentine's dinner at £49.95 per person (although do bear in mind that they're counting granita as a course, and the cheese is a £7 supplement). The deal is available from 12th - 14th Feb and does include a glass of champagne on arrival, perhaps to soften the blow of the monstrous bill at the end.

Or you could pop to Sainsbury's, buy something nice and just stay at home - cheaper, more private, and no cab home to worry about....