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Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Steak & Kebab Night at The Fat Loaf, Didsbury

Once upon a time, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and ladies had dangerously bouffant hair, there was a place in Didsbury known as the Steak & Kebab restaurant, on the site now occupied by The Fat Loaf. I do not remember this; I only go back as far as the Didsbury Village Restaurant, which once served me a meal that was memorable for all the wrong reasons, being both cold and tasteless.

However, the small detail of not actutally remembering the place in question seemed no reason whatsoever not to attend last night's "trip down memory lane" at The Fat Loaf's Steak & Kebab night. I think it was the close proximity of the words "steak" and "kebab" in the same sentence that sold it to my husband, and of course we were both intrigued by the idea of a kebab that can apparently be consumed sitting down wearing nice clothes rather than eaten slightly drunk at 2am on the way to the bus stop.

Considering it was a filthy wet night and that some team or other were playing football (a fact clearly forgotten by my husband when booking, causing him to continually check the Sky Sports Football Centre app on my iPhone during dinner), the restaurant was pretty busy. Despite this, service was excellent, and there were certainly none of the small portion sizes that threatened to derail my good mood last time we ate here. For £20 per head, we shared a platter of various delicacies that I hoped my husband would dislike but didn't: garlic prawns, gravadlax, cheese fritters, sausage, bread and pickles. These were all lovely; I'm sure they serve this on a slate to prevent over-eager customers from licking their plate.

Main course was a generous piece of skirt steak served bravely pink, with a chicken kebab, a lamb kebab, fat chips, herbed rice and salad. Even the salad was good, my only (very minor) criticism being that something, somewhere (I'm thinking you, Mr Lamb Kebab) was quite astonishingly garlicky. Not a bad thing at the time of course, but maybe not ideal for a school night.

To finish, you could choose any dessert from the a la carte menu. Fat Loaf do good puds (although I notice the sherry trifle isn't on at the moment - roll on Christmas) and I went for an entirely unnecessary white chocolate cheesecake. If this all sounds like your kind of thing, and you too would like to pretend to take a trip down memory lane, you'll be pleased to know this whole shindig is on again on Tuesday 25th May - call 0161 4380319 or visit to book.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Too Much Meat at Bem Brasil, Manchester

My husband had been looking forward to this for weeks; I was a little more trepidatious at the gargantuan task that lay ahead. Bem Brasil had been on our "to do" list for some time, a traditional Brazilian steakhouse, or Churrascaria, that had been recommended by a friend who is actually Brazilian and therefore knows what she's talking about (although she is also incredibly slim, suggesting that she doesn't dine here too often, or at least, dines here in a more restrained way than I managed last night).

We weren't booked in until nine; this place is phenomenally popular, and despite the fact I rang up to book a couple of weeks ago I was met with the options dreaded by diners everywhere - they could fit us in at nine or at six. Well then, nine o'clock, obviously. When we arrived, the restaurant was packed to the gills with girls wearing very very short dresses and very very high heels; it's clearly a popular place for girls' nights out, and also for that bastion of good taste the works do, judging by the similarly high number of ladies of a certain age in sensible mid-calf frocks. The noise was astonishing and a little overwhelming; I had a brief but compelling urge to run away and never come back.

All was saved wben a lovely smiling girl arrived with caipirinhas; they have mobile cocktail stations here (basically jazzed up hostess trolleys) where they make them at your table, although I noticed this perk was seemingly reserved for the larger, drunker parties. Our table was next to the buffet, where you collect your plate and help yourself to potatoes and vegetables - I was tempted to shout "noooooooo" at the innocent fools piling their plates high with spuds, but in the end left them to their fate, secure in the knowledge this would mean all the more fillet steak for me.

The restaurant promises fifteen different cuts of meat that are carved and served at your table - you are each given a cardboard disc, and simply turn it to the green side to say to the passing waiters "yes! bring your meaty wares here, young man" or red for "no - leave me be, for I fear I may burst". We counted as high as twelve different cuts, including fillet, rump, skirt and sirloin steak, chicken wrapped in bacon, sausages, pork tenderloin, lamb, and beef and pork ribs. No idea what the others might have been, as I had passed into a meat-induced coma by 10pm.

The food is good value if you pace yourself properly - £22.50 a head for unlimited trips to the buffet and as much meat as you can manage. Avoid the bread and potatoes that will try to lure you into their carbohydratey clutches, and simply don't say yes to everything the nice men bring round or you'll be full long before the fillet steak appears.

Is it the place for a quiet, romantic night out? No. Nor is suitable for vegetarians; there is a meat-free menu, but as every few minutes will see a large lump of animal on a skewer carved at a nearby table I would suggest that other restaurants might be a better choice. But it is good fun; perhaps just try to eat a little bit healthily the next day.

- Bem Brasil has branches on Deansgate and in the Northern Quarter; full details available at

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Cheese, David Crystal and Red Thai Curry - A Busy Week!

The fact that I've been out every evening this week has absolutely nothing to do with the boxes of coursework currently awaiting grades on my dining room table, I promise. Pure coincidence. In fact, for a long time it looked as if I wouldn't be able to attend Tuesday's Cheese Tasting at Silver Apples, due to an unfortunately placed Parents Evening. But then the God of Cheese did smile, and He did say "I shall postpone that parents evening so that you may go forth and eat cheese."

So I did. Five cheeses, to be precise, in the company of a similarly cheese minded friend. Obviously we embarrassed ourselves by eating all our bread by about 7.45, and therefore found that some of our cheeses lacked the recommended "vehicle" (yes, I know, their word not mine - I prefer to imagine a lump of cheddar perched jauntily atop a tractor, or perhaps a small car) but this was a minor flaw in an otherwise triumphant evening. Well - almost. We were brutally robbed on the Cheese Quiz, and all my cheesy revision came to nothing. These nights are amazing value at £7.50 for all your cheese, a glass of wine and a rigged quiz, and I shall certainly be looking forward to the next one.

Then last night was the big one. The Lord of the English Language in all his beardy, grandfatherly glory. David Crystal's talk at Salford University on "The Future of Englishes" was a giddy and glorious parcel of loveliness; I sat eagerly making notes in my specially-purchased notepad, pretending to be a brilliant yet popular twenty year old undergraduate, and then quaffed free wine at the drinks reception afterwards, all the while lingering casually behind his beardiness. Of course, it would have been better if I hadn't had 20 students in tow, but you can't have everything.

This evening I have just got back from a work do to mark the two weeks of Easter freedom on the horizon, at The Buddha Lounge in Whitefield. I haven't been here before, and felt a little trepidatious entering a venue with such darkly smoked front windows - all sleek and seedy, a little like an unexpectedly placed brothel. The food was good, although portion sizes were a bit hefty even for me - the chicken satay starter would have fed many hungry teachers rather than just the one, and I couldn't get through all of my duck curry, good though it was. I can't be completely positive however, as they stitched us up on the the noodles and rice - they brought 8 portions of rice and three portions of noodles for eight people, and then tried to charge £34 for this unwanted carbohydrate mountain. Pah.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Fat Loaf in "Where's my Haddock" Scandal

So Spring has sprung, and after the best part of a week spent observing the sun beating through my classroom window and trying to ignore the general unpleasantness of teenage boys in shorts, I had had enough. I donned a suitably pastel outfit and embarked on a Thursday night trip into Didsbury, trying to ignore the light rain just starting to fall, and considered sitting outside The Didsbury, just for a tiny second. Of course we sat inside, not outside, but the thought was there.

A glass of wine later and we moved on to The Fat Loaf, a recent recipient of a glowing review on this very site just a few weeks ago. Standards looked to have been maintained, or even raised, with the introduction of a short menu of champagne cocktails, and my mood really couldn't have been higher. Until my starter arrived. When paying £5.95 for a starter of haddock kedgeree I think it's fair to expect a reasonable piece of ocean life to be found atop one's rice, rather than the wafer-thin sliver eventually located hiding under a grain or two. Yes it was delicious, but come on Fat Loaf, don't start getting mean with portion sizes.

The same couldn't be said of the mixed grill that followed; I have never had a mixed grill before, considering it a boy's meal, but as I'd had such a lady-like cocktail (and such an unintentionally modest starter) I felt fully justified in venturing onto this new and slightly frightening territory. And to be fair, it is a very genteel mixed grill, featuring, amongst other joys, a dainty piece of steak and a chicken thigh stuffed with a glamorous and frankly not very manly combination of sage and apricots. Despite this, it is advisable to have a male with you, to take care of the black pudding slice found cruelly lurking under the salad.

Back to prices though, and the blue cheese sauce ordered at a supplement of £1.50 turned out to be simply a piece of butter - flavoursome cheesy butter I'll grant you, but rather uninspiring nevertheless. So all in all a decent meal, but was it as good as last time? Not even close. On a high point though, I did successfully wear white and manage to avoid spilling anything at all down myself; real signs of progress in this department.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Boon Army Ale Launches at Wetherspoons, Oldham

If you are below a certain age, you may not know who Clint Boon is. Shame on you. Here are four reasons (to be going on with) why the Mighty Boon is a force to be reckoned with:

1. He was in The Inspiral Carpets, obviously. I was 15 when they first troubled the charts with This Is How it Feels, and therefore at a vulnerable age - highly susceptible to an intelligent song about important issues and looking for someone else to move onto after my acrimonious split with Morrissey. I will even forgive and forget the music for the 8:15 From Manchester: it wasn't their fault that Going Live was irreplaceable.

2. He has the tea-time show on Xfm Manchester, so I can drive home listening to Delphic and New Order, serenely untroubled by Tiny Temper, Akon or The Black Eyed Peas. I do not think he would ever play anything by the cast of Glee; I trust him.

3. He DJs every week at South, in a club night so legendary that I am on the verge of coming out of my clubbing retirement in its honour.

4. The final insult to the many boys who already wish with all their heart that they were Clint Boon is the launch of...Boon Army Ale. This launches tomorrow at Wetherspoons in Oldham, and has been specially created by the Greenfield Real Ale Brewery to honour an Oldham-born celebrity - who better than Clint Boon (see evidence points 1 - 3, above). You can try the new beer from 8pm tomorrow at The Up Steps Inn, in the company of the eponymous hero himself. Clint promises the beer is not just for Oldham folk and will be making its way to other locations soon.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Still The Best....Grinch Wine Bar, Manchester

I'm not particularly known for fidelity when it comes to restaurants; my head is constantly being turned by fancy new favourite places, with their shiny novelty and unexplored menus.

There are, however, a few to whom I remain largely faithful; one of these is Grinch in central Manchester, whose menu no longer holds any novelty whatsoever but still lures me in time after time. Why? Well.....

Firstly, Happy Hour runs from 5pm till 7pm every night, with all cocktails at £3.50 each and very decent house wine at £9.95 a bottle. My drink of choice is Amaretto Sour (my friend Clare served me one of these at 12 noon on New Year's Day that actually made me fall over - mercifully those at Grinch are just as delicious but not quite as lethal) and my husband's is Jack Russian, a vile sounding concoction of Jack Daniels, Kahlua, Pepsi and Guinness - I'm sure he only persists in ordering it because he knows I won't want to try any of it.

Secondly, the food is great. The menu concentrates on a few things done really well: I fluctuate between the Beef Chilli Nachos and the Cheeseburger - both amazing and both under a tenner - while my husband (something of a pizza connoisseur) refuses to try anything other than the Americano pizza, proclaiming it perfection.

Thirdly, its location on Chapel Walks is pretty handy for virtually anywhere you might be going to in central Manchester, making it ideal for pre-theatre snaffling, although I would advise not attempting a whole bottle of wine before anything too high-brow, happy hour or not....

- Grinch is at 5 - 7 Chapel Walks, Manchester M2 1HN, tel 0161 9073210.

Review of Glengarry Glen Ross at The Library

Always be cautious when going to see a play that appears to have had universal acclaim heaped upon it. David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross won a Pulitzer Prize and was made into a film with a ludicrously starry cast (Kevin Spacey, Al Pacino, Alec Baldwin blah blah blah), and its reputation seemed initially to get the better of the cast at The Library last night.

To be fair, this is the risk you take for buying cheap preview tickets early in the run of any play, but the first half of the performance was nervy and stuttering. Four Chicago salesmen are getting increasingly desperate to sell real estate, squabbling over who gets the best leads and using a selection of four letter words to express their increasing frustration at their jobs and at each other. Slimy Richard Roma is currently in the top spot on the sales board, in line for a Cadillac; ageing Shelley Levene is at the bottom and in line for the sack.

The first half of the play is set in a restaurant, with the main characters introduced in pairs through three short scenes. Mercifully, the performance improved immeasurably in the second half, one long scene set in the sales office in the aftermath of a robbery where most of the sales leads have been stolen; the half-time talk must have been rousing as the cast were superb, particularly David Fleeshman as the washed up Shelley Levene and Richard Dormer as oily Ricky Roma, and the pace of the production found a far more natural rhythm.

The play is on until 3rd April 2010, and is definitely worth a visit based on the second half performance. Full details at

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

What's On at The Lowry May - August 2010

It's that time of year again: the sun has shone for three days running, people are wearing shorts, and the new Lowry Theatre brochure is landing on doorsteps everywhere. This is always an exciting day, albeit a hideously expensive one, and this season's selection of productions is as tempting as ever.

I have caved to my inner craving for low-brow entertainment and booked tickets for, um, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (say it quickly and it doesn't seem so bad) in July. Obviously we don't get actual Lee Meade, who is busy being famous and having babies with impartial judges; indeed, the brochure fails to specify who exactly will be donning the famous coat. I don't care; I know ALL the words to ALL the songs and am not afraid to use them.

To redress the academic balance a little I have also booked for Northern Broadsides' version of The Canterbury Tales in May. Don't be put off of Chaucer by the fact that you were forced to do it for your English Lit A-level; The Canterbury Tales is an epic work of great magnificence, by turns funny, moralising and moving, and everything touched by Northern Broadsides is brilliant - this will be witty and exuberant and will allow you to feel smug about seeing something smart that you actually enjoyed.

Finally, I have been bullied into booking to see Dirk Benedict in Columbo - this means absolutely nothing to me, but my husband's hopeful face was too much to bear and I caved. This is on in June and I have been promised ice-cream as consolation.

Other productions include Les Miserables and Evita - visit for the full programme and start saving now.

Friday, 5 March 2010

(Confused) Review of Andersen's English at The Library, Manchester

Well I'll start with dinner; I'm on safe ground there. Tickets to see a play at The Library Theatre in central Manchester always mean dinner at one of two places - Livebait if my husband isn't with me (fish-phobic), Brasserie Gerard if he is. As the carnivorous one was indeed my theatre date, we went to the latter.

Brasserie Gerard is unremarkable but pleasant company - a cheerful French bistro, although I'm fairly certain it's not remotely authentic as French people are generally thin and certainly would not be if they ate here regularly. Still, the welcome is always warm, and they always give you the best table available rather than save the booths for some better, imaginary customers who might perhaps turn up later.

Last night's gut-buster consisted of pate for starters and then burger with frites for main; they really do extremely good frites here, although the burgers are a touch drier than at Grinch. I also had a large glass of red wine, a foolish move for someone who was already half-asleep, and this may possibly explain my confusion over the play that followed.

Andersen's English is a new play by award-winning novelist Sebastian Barry, and is on at The Library until tomorrow night. It tells the story of Hans Christian Andersen's visit to Charles Dickens and his family in Kent, and incorporates the following elements to a greater or lesser degree:
- huge hilarity at funny foreign man's attempt to speak English
- huge pathos at funny foreign man's great love for Charles Dickens, despite great success of own work
- huge dramatic irony at funny foreign man's supposed failure to see the cracks in the Dickens household - son being sent to war, wife going mad, young floozy actress waiting in wings, pregnant housemaid etc etc.

It's not that the play is bad, exactly; it is enjoyable enough, and the cast are largely impressive, particularly Niamh Cusack as Mrs Dickens and David Rintoul as the great novelist himself. Whilst enjoying the traditional interval occupation of browsing the programme to see how many members of the cast have been in The Bill, I learned that Rintoul played Mr Darcy! In the TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice! Oh no wait, the 1980 TV adaptation... how he must HATE Colin Firth.

What else? Well, there are scary life-size dolls instead of real live child actors, and the set is cleverly designed, and the songs are good. But is it set to become a classic? Maybe, but somehow I doubt it.