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Saturday, 24 April 2010

New Summer Menu at The Didsbury

You know it's summer when you find yourself sitting outside The Didsbury with a glass of Prosecco and a husband who, for once, is not doing a dramatic shiver every few moments and looking pointedly at the inside of the pub. Such was the case last night; appropriate really, as we had been invited to sample the enticing new summer menu that landlord Paul Johnson is justly proud of.

Our dinner companions were the lovely Pete and Helen from Didsbury Life; they know everybody, and more or less run Didsbury, as well as being able to put away a splendid quantity of wine when required. We all agreed that the new menu is pleasingly eclectic; you could eat here every night for a month (well, in theory you could - my husband will not permit it) and have something different every night.

As usual, when I look back upon what I chose I am reminded that I should really be living in the 1970s: prawn cocktail at Room on Thursday (albeit a fancy dan one) and pate followed by an 8oz sirloin steak at The Didsbury (I even added a stilton sauce to my order, just to ensure retro consistency). The pate was delicious and actually came with enough toast to accommodate it all - it always amazes me when restaurants serve pate with a miniscule sliver of bread, as if you might like to eat a big slab of pate on its own. Pete also chose the pate (excellent choice sir), Helen had the garlic mushrooms, and my husband had all the whitebait he could salvage after I had snaffled about half of them.

A reliable indicator of a restaurant's quality is whether your steak is done correctly, especially if two of you on the same table have different preferences. Here The Didsbury passed with flying colours - my steak was definitely rare and my husband's medium-rare, exactly as requested. The meals on the other side of the table looked just as good, although some of us had trouble finishing due to the very generous portion sizes (although no problem for the boys, I noticed). For the second night running, I had no room for pudding; a previously unheard-of phenomenon which makes me feel bizarrely and unjustifiably virtuous.

So many thanks to Mr J for putting on such a great new menu, and also for listening to my pleas to start selling Prosecco by the glass. I suspect a good part of my summer will be spent here on the Green, glass of fizz in hand, just testing that menu one more time.

- see the full menu online at
- marvel at the wisdom of Pete and Helen at

Vicious Shoes Fail to Spoil Plucky Girls' Night Out...

Whilst one can obviously sympathise with doctors who have to do a lot of evenings on call, it is hard not to look a little triumphant when you have a dinner date with someone who then says "and of course, as I'm on call, I can drive."

This was the case on Thursday, and provided a rare but welcome opportunity to don a pair of the ludicrously high-heeled shoes I keep buying but never actually wear, instead maintaining a sleek fleet of sparkly beauties which are no use whatsoever for actually walking anywhere.

Unfortunately, the plan had one crucial flaw. We were booked to eat at Room, in central Manchester, and of course in my head we had snagged a parking space right outside the restaurant, certainly on King Street if not on Spring Gardens itself. This did not happen. Manchester was packed on Thursday, and we ended up parking approximately 800 miles away on a dubious-looking road with rather too many red neon signs. Our pesky male companions sauntered off in their smugly flat shoes, leaving two forlorn ladies tip-toeing through the streets on beautiful but pained feet.

All this meant that by the time we reached Room it had taken on Mecca-like significance, and we enjoyed our meal all the more for the suffering we had undergone in its honour. The menu has changed since I was last there, and my prawn cocktail starter was the nicest thing I have eaten at Room - three plump battered prawns served with spiced Whitby crab, tomato jelly and avocado. My husband was delighted to find black pudding and bacon on the menu, as part of an "All Day Breakfast" starter that included a little cup of earl grey jelly alongside the aforementioned pig.

This kind of witty interpretation of traditional classics is what Room does best, and it's always quite exciting to find out what form the twist will take. Mains are slightly easier to predict: my Pork and Apple was a huge slab of sucking pig served with a portion of crackling that I'm fairly sure has taken care of my calorie and fat allowance for the week, and my friend's Sole Veronique was a thing of exquisite and delicate beauty (much like the accursed shoes, in fact).

Prices are more or less what you would expect for central Manchester - around £6-£7 for starters and £16-£18 for mains, but they do run an enticing range of offers. Next time I go I'm going to try to catch the "All Inclusive" deal which runs at dinner between 5.30 and 7pm, offering two courses from a selection of dishes that changes weekly, as well as a glass of wine, for just £13.50.

I won't trouble you with details of my undignified hobble back to the car, or the fact that my friend had to make her boyfriend run back and get her FitFlops out the boot. Our feet looked extraordinarily beautiful at the restaurant; it was just a shame they were under the table where no-one could see.

Full details of menu and offers at

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Sport Relief at The Other Old Trafford

I am of course no stranger to Old Trafford cricket ground; indeed, I am most partial to a gentle day of leather on willow, particularly since the regular appearance of a Pimms tent at the big games. However, there is apparently another Old Trafford just down the road, where a far less gentlemanly game is played; I have never been to this ground and do not plan to.

Or at least I didn't. And yet today I found myself not only booking tickets to Old Trafford, but having to face the humiliation of signing up as an online member of Manchester United Football Club. Pah. It's all in the name of charity though, as the Sport Relief bandwagon is rolling into town on Sat 1st May in the shape of a charity football match with a superbly random assortment of "stars" on show.

It all starts at 2pm with music from such luminaries as The Saturdays (hope someone will lend them a coat or perhaps a blanket if it's cold that day), Tinchy Stryder (who, quite remarkably, seems to be playing in the game as well) and Tony Christie (hmm...wonder what he will sing? And whether there will be a mystery Northern guest prancing alongside?) before the big game kicks off at 3pm.

"The Reds" line-up includes Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke (as well as well-known ex-United players such as, um, Tinchy Stryder and Ronan Keating) and will no doubt be quaking at the sight of "The Rivals" - Paddy McGuinness, Jason Manford, George Lamb etc. "The Rivals" do hold a few aces though in the shape of some of the mighty lions of 1990: John Barnes, Des Walker and Peter Beardsley. And remember, with Peter Beardsley on your side you can't lose, unless it's a beauty contest.

Tickets are priced at £15 for adults and £5 for children; further details from Am already feeling smug at the inner warmth that comes with giving to charity, even accidentally, and husband is already excited at the unprecedented prospect of a sanctioned trip to Old Trafford - everybody wins.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Hurrah for Summer...Beer Gardens and Feet

May I invite you to hoist your imaginary trumpet aloft and play a small fanfare to the arrival of summer? Yes, I know there was a false alarm a couple of weekends ago, when I bravely embarked upon what looked like a warm sunny walk in FitFlops only to come home, chastened, with half my toes frozen off, but this time it's true, I promise.

How do I know? Simple: the following criteria have now been met.

1. The first official proof of summer is to be able to sit outside in a pub beer garden and actually be warm enough. You can often see people sitting outside in March, pretending to be warm, gritting their teeth as they snuggle into their big coat and insist that everything's fine and they're perfectly warm enough, thankyou, but yesterday was the real deal. The beer garden at The Metropolitan in West Didsbury was pretty full yesterday evening, with people actually enjoying being outside rather than pluckily battling on in the spirit of stiff upper lip, etc.

2. Ladies across the nation are proudly displaying their feet, in an array of bewitching sandals. As any woman knows, the first liberation of the feet in any given year is a complex business, requiring a firm buffing and the careful removal of the old coats of nail polish that have built up rather menacingly over winter. But now my feet, like many others, are completely naked, revelling in the classy new dark pink thoughtfully applied to their extremities.

3. People's thoughts are turning to barbecues. If you need irrefutable proof of this then simply visit your local supermarket, where you will see carefree young people with cases of beer and 36 assorted packets of chicken drumsticks, sausages and burgers approaching the checkouts with a sort of wild abandon. Everyone loves a barbecue; there's no other meal that allows for the consumption of so much alcohol and so many unhealthy meat products with such a veneer of respectability - you're outdoors, ergo anything you consume is good for you.

But...the arrival of summer also means I can put off the gardening no longer; unless I want my barbecue guests to disappear without trace in the jungle that is steadily encroaching onto my lawn. Off to earn those sausages.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Top Quality Curry at Dilli Restaurant, Altrincham

Now this could be embarrassing; I've got to write a review of an Ayurvedic restaurant without really fully understanding what an Ayurvedic diet is, so I'll muddle along and hope to get away with it. My limited knowledge suggests to me that an Ayurvedic diet is one where traditional ingredients are used in the correct balance to assist good health; any curry house that promises this rather than a slightly uncomfortable bloating, as if one might pop at any moment, has to be worth a visit.

Dilli has certainly gathered a fine reputation over the last few years. As the first Ayurvedic (gah! that word again) restaurant of its kind outside London, the venue has been heaped with praise and has been Michelin-listed since 2005; to be frank, the ony thing that has prevented me from visiting before now is the fact that Altrincham is at least a fifteen minute drive from my house.

To that fifteen minute drive we then had to add another fifteen minutes to actually find the place - from the outside it looks a bit like a box covered with brown sticky backed plastic, and the logo in no way says "Dilli" (check out the website to see what I mean - forewarned is forearmed). Eventually we were safely seated in the brown box, and what the restaurant lacks in glamour, it certainly makes up for in food quality.

My starter of Dilli Ki Aloo Tikki (dinky little potato cakes with peas and ginger) was delicious, and a surreptitious swipe at my husband's plate confirmed that his Acahri Murgh Tikkas (chicken tikka) was similarly good. Incidentally, the vegetarian selection here is immense; I fancied ALL the veggie starters so this would be an excellent place to take anyone who normally has to sit po-faced in front of an omelette and a plate of plain rice.

For mains we had Rara Murgh (chicken) and Gosht Banjra (beautifully tender lamb); both deliciously spicy and both gone within about three and a half minutes. The food here is slightly more than you'd pay at your local Indian restaurant, with both our mains costing £9.95, but if you check the website there always seems to be some kind of deal on, and they take HiLife as well.

Service was good, and at no point were we forgotten despite being completely hidden in an alcove behind the world's biggest table-lamp. Do check your bill though - service is already included at 10%, so make sure you don't end up paying twice.

So do I feel healthy and balanced? Well, it might be the fact that I was driving and therefore not drinking, but I certainly feel less bloatedly uncomfortable than I normally do after one of my customary curry binges; in fact, my jeans aren't even too tight. A curry house that's a little bit good for you...a dangerous idea, methinks.

Dilli is at 60 Stamford New Road, Altrincham WA14 1EE; tel 0161 9297484 or visit to try and figure out for yourself what this Ayurveda is all about.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Splendid Tomfoolery in The Comedy of Errors at The Royal Exchange

Getting my husband along to see something Shakespearean at the theatre is a tricky business. He likes Macbeth - no doubt something to do with the high body count rather than the poetry and the beauty of the words - but he is frankly very suspicious of anything purporting to be a comedy. In short, he thinks Shakespeare does "funny" about as well as Lenny Henry in a Travelodge advert or post-Blackadder Ben Elton.

But I was onto a potential winner with tickets to The Comedy of Errors at The Royal Exchange last night, for the following reasons:

1. Tickets were £5 for great stage-level seats - a Twitter offer designed to get bums on seats on a quiet Bank Holiday. Incidentally, I have filed this piece of information away for future use in my "Yes! Twitter IS educational" thesis.

2. The Comedy of Errors is Shakespeare's shortest comedy at a measly ninety minutes - no time here for boredom (or for long and incomprehensible speeches).

3. It's also actually funny. Some of Shakespeare's comedy hasn't aged very well, particularly the plays which rely on verbal trickery, but The Comedy of Errors is unashamedly slapstick - farcical in the true sense of the word. Yes, as usual the humour comes from mistaken identity with people mysteriously unable to identify their husband, lover etc from their not-very-identical twin, but this matters not - it's funny and that's the end of it.

I made sure he'd had a couple of Happy Hour cocktails at Grinch first, just in case his trenchant distrust of Shakespeare was more deep-rooted than I'd thought, but I needn't have worried - after a slow first ten minutes the production was simply superb.

The acting was uniformly good, but the hero was Owain Arthur (I don't know what else he's been in - maybe The Bill?) as Dromio of Ephesus, one of the two servant twins, and although he does get all the best lines he certainly makes the most of them. Almost as good was Jack Farthing as Antipholus of Ephesus, a deliciously oily womaniser with a dubious line in coats.

The play is on until May 8th and is certainly worth a visit - see for details. The final word should go the Shakespeare cynic, who proudly informed me afterwards that he had counted no fewer than 32 laughs, and was now satisfied that the Bard can do comedy when he puts his mind to it. Well, Shakespeare will be pleased, and will no doubt sleep soundly now.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Rain, Disappointment and a Fleet of Plastic Ducks...Must Be a Bank Holiday

Well, I do understand that after the forecasts for snow, ice, blizzards etc then Good Friday in theory turned out to be not-too-bad, weather wise. Still, it was a pretty miserable day, surely not the weather the organisers of the inaugural Manchester Duck Race would have hoped for when they planned this new and frankly very welcome to the social calendar: "I know; a fleet of plastic ducks swooping majestically along the River Irwell, in Manchester, in April - the sun'll be cracking the flags by then."

Not quite, but you do have to applaud the good people of Manchester, who will turn up to anything that looks like it might be good fun, whatever the weather: the banks of the river were absolutely packed with parents proudly holding aloft their small children, themselves proudly holding aloft their small flags with pictures of ducks on. Of course, I had hoped to sneak into the venerable Mark Addy pub to partake of one of its legendary cheese and pate boards before the big event, but had completely underestimated people's thirst for duck-filled fun, and we were turned away in scorn. "No booking? I'm afraid it'll be at least an hour. At least. Simpletons" - please note this last bit was not enunciated, but was clearly running through the mind of the incredulous waiter as he mocked the naive and hungry townies.

Anyway, we vowed to save the Mark Addy for another day, and joined the throngs on the river bank. It was cold, I had no flag, and had failed to sponsor a duck, so I was not best prepared to make the most of the occasion, but I shall know better for next year. It was all for children's charity Brainwave, and even the most hardened curmudgeon could surely not fail to be moved by the sheer poetry of a fleet of ducks gamely battling along the Irwell to the sounds of Oasis over the loudspeaker - Manchester at its finest.