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Sunday, 29 August 2010

Airy Fairy Cupcakes: Dangerously Good Didsbury Baking

When you're at school, pesky teachers are prone to continually ask what you want to do when you grow up; I make a particular point of doing the same to my own students, just to maintain the continuity of this fine tradition. Cup-cakes hadn't been invented when I was at school (I seem to remember fairy cakes being the 1980s alternative), but if they had been, I'm pretty sure that my teachers would have frowned most disapprovingly had I suggested "cup-cake tester" as a proposed career.

Well ha! In your face teachers! For I am indeed risen to the lofty heights of cup-cake tester, thanks to lovely local baker extraordinaire Laura of Airy Fairy Cupcakes. Some weeks ago, gluttons/connoisseurs were invited to write witty job applications/begging emails to Laura, explaining why they merited such a responsible position; I was among the lucky few who will bravely and selflessly test the Airy Fairy goodness. My husband has been seething with barely concealed jealousy ever since.

The perks of the job became clear on Friday, when I had a rather trying day. I arrived home at about 7pm after attending a funeral, to find a box of cupcakes waiting for me (eyed up by a hopeful husband): a lemon, a vanilla (the most popular flavour, apparently - I understand why) and two gluten free (am hoping this makes them healthy, in the same way that a plate of salad, for example, is gluten free).

After much thought and deliberation, my considered and professional opinions are as follows:
- lemon: yum
- vanilla: yum
- gluten free: yum

Obviously this feedback will be both helpful and ground-breaking for Laura. I bought my husband a box of the peanut butter cupcakes a couple of weeks ago, and he wishes to add that these were also yum. With assistants like us, her business will clearly go far; she is about to open a shop in Didsbury (oh, dangerous), but in the meantime you can contact her at, and if you live locally, you can pay her money to BRING YOU CAKE - what's not to like?

Garlic Therapy at Gusto, Didsbury

It has been remarked upon many, many times over the years how extraordinarily brave I am in the face of illness. And as I always, always get a cold when I go back to work (must be all that sudden exposure to teenagers), I am currently suffering with great fortitude and humility.

*calls feebly to husband for cup of tea and box of tissues*

*oh, and the remote control as well please*

So brave am I, in fact, that I was able to go out for dinner last night. I have acquired some kind of membership card for Gusto, the estimable Italian restaurant in Didsbury Village, and hadn't got round to using it until yesterday. It appears that if you book your table online (, you get 20% off your food bill (even on a weekend), and if I book online only another 247 times (or something) I am also entitled to a bottle of champagne.

Being slightly early for our reservation (timings affected by having to dodge showers on way into Didsbury), we decided to stop off for a drink; my husband wanted to go to The Milson Rhodes, and being really very ill indeed (although I have not really alluded to it, I have a serious cold) I lacked the strength to resist. Being a Saturday night in a Wetherspoons, the drinks were cheap, the pub was noisy, and a man was wearing a pink tutu and a rainbow-coloured wig. We drank up and left.

Gusto was equally busy, and we found ourselves seated at a table between the golden triangle of toilets, open-kitchen with fierce wood-burning oven, and large hen party complete with balloons and devil horns. We didn't mind actually, and the service is always attentive in Gusto no matter how busy it is, so were soon drinking medicinal red wine and eating garlic and tomato pizza bread.

My husband reckons he has found the perfect meal in Gusto, and staunchly refuses to deviate from it; thus, he gave the menu a purely cursory glance before ordering calamari followed by Diavola pizza. This pizza is far too hot for me, so I had spaghetti vongole with white wine butter (although, never one to learn a valuable lesson, I did as always try a piece of the scary pizza. It did, as always, make me cry a little.)

We resisted the dessert menu, paid our reasonably-priced bill (only the wine seemed a bit steep - surely Italian restaurants are meant to sell carafes of cheap and cheerful house red? Perhaps with a grass skirt?) and came home for a cheeky calvados to wash down the bed-time decongestants (did I mention? I am unwell.) Gusto is not the most exciting or traditional of restaurants, but the food is reliably good and the atmosphere is always lively; any other poorly but brave souls out there could do a lot worse.

- Gusto is at 756 Wilmslow Road, Didsbury, Manchester M20 2DW, tel 0161 445 8209.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Greed and Gluttony at The Mark Addy Gourmet Dinner

Now, obviously I'm not a greedy person. In any way. It's not as if, for example, I go to sleep at night thinking about what I might eat the next day, and I certainly don't keep a pile of cookbooks by the bed in case I need to look at emergency pictures of food. So when I booked to attend The Mark Addy Gourmet Dinner, a six course extravaganza that takes place on the last Wednesday of every month, I did so nonchalently and carelessly; I have not spent the last three weeks checking the date and wondering when, OH WHEN?????, the 25th of August would arrive. Well, not much, anyway.

The Mark Addy has always been a decent pub, thanks to its prime location on the banks of the Irwell, but has recently been renovated and now boasts not only an outdoor seating/barbecue area for making the most of all that lovely Manchester rain, but has also lured top chef Robert Owen Brown on board (please insert own joke about rivers and being on board; I'm a little weary this evening.)

As a result, a number of interesting foodie evenings have started to appear at The Addy, including the Gourmet Dinner. When we arrived, I was excited. By the time our exuberantly hirsute chef had appeared and announced the menu, I was beyond excited. This is what we had to look forward to:

1. Wild mushroom and Madeira soup.
2. Roasted bone marrow and parsley salad with crispy ox tongue and fiery English mustard.
3. Pan-fried flounder with cockles, clams and mussels.
4. Knuckle of lamb with cobnuts and cabbage.
5. Damson stew with sour cream.
6. Regional cheese.

I felt an overwhelming urge to stand on the table and applaud wildly at the sheer deliciousness of what I had been promised, but instead sat quietly and was rewarded with the best meal I have had in a very, very long time. This was no ordinary tasting menu, with modest little morsels and a few delicate fancies; this was a series of proper, hearty, full-size dishes brought by charming staff who were actually interested to know what you thought of each course.

I liked everything except the bone marrow, which just seemed oily and tasteless, and my husband liked everything except the cheese, but that was only because by that point he was starting to go slightly green through over-eating. Clearly this isn't a menu for anyone with picky tastes; I took the menu into work today and many of my colleagues went slightly pale at the thought of the ox tongue, refusing to believe that it was actually the nicest bit of the whole meal. Frankly, when you've spent your childhood watching your father cook an entire tongue every Christmas, few food items hold any terror for you in adulthood, but if you know anyone likely to be frightened off by such innocuous items, simply leave them at home with their ready meal and take someone else with you.

The menu changes every month, based on what is seasonal and local, and is ridiculously good value at £25 per head. We have already booked for next month and I suggest you do the same immediately; shame it's such a stupidly long time till the 29th...
*surreptitiously starts marking off the days in diary*

- The Mark Addy is on Stanley Street, Salford M3 5EJ, tel. 0161 8324080, or visit them at Now.

Monday, 23 August 2010

The Manchester Whisky Festival 2010

In many ways, October is a nothing kind of a month: there are no bank holidays, everyone is back at school, Christmas is miles off, and I still have a whole four weeks to wait until my birthday. Luckily, in Manchester at least, October has become festival month, providing a glut of literary and gourmet delights to distract us from the fact that it's now dark in the mornings when the alarm goes off. For the male half of this household, the far-and-away highlight of all of this, glimmering on the horizon like a shiny, sparkly beacon of hope and joy, is The Manchester Whisky Festival.

Last year's inaugural festival was met with much approval by my husband, despite the fact that I refused to go with him - paying £18 to drink a selection of drinks that each tastes of TCP to a greater or lesser extent is not my idea of fun. Undaunted, he made merry to such an extent that he rolled in at teatime, fell asleep on the sofa, and missed the WHOLE of Strictly Come Dancing; he says he looks upon this as his perfect day, all things considered. This year is even more of a worry, as he will be in the company of two other reprobates: a beloved but dangerous drinking friend of mine from my university days, and a man who likes whisky so much he began negotiations with his wife to attend this event shortly after the last one ended.

Even more terrifyingly, this year's event begins at 11am, meaning the serious possibility of liver failure by lunchtime, and goes on until 4pm. This means that by teatime I will have a house full of drunken boys who would like nothing more than to go out for a curry and drink even more, before passing out in various inconvenient locations. Their £18 buys them a glass, a bottle of water, and access to around 150 tasting whiskies; if anyone would like to put me up at their house on the night of Saturday 2nd October then I would be most grateful.

- full details and tickets from

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Heartbreak Productions at Wythenshawe Park; Or, the Power of Pink Wine

As discussed in a previous post, if you want to guarantee a wet summer, simply book tickets for a selection of open-air theatre productions. I'm sure it's no coincidence that my interest in such events has corresponded with a series of utterly rubbish summers; I hold my hands up and accept the blame. So none of our party was remotely surprised yesterday evening to find ourselves glumly trudging to Wythenshawe Park in the rain, grimly clutching our folding chairs and our optimistically exuberant picnic (you see - English to the core; still intending on picnicking despite the monsoon.)

And then a funny thing happened. As we took our seats for Heartbreak Productions' "Love in Shakespeare" and popped the cork on the pink fizz, the heavens cleared. Blue sky arched overhead and the sun smiled down on us through the trees. A hush descended and we took a quiet moment to appreciate the power of the pink wine, the cup-cake, and the M & S pork pie.

After such an auspicious start, the play was bound to be good; and it was. I had initially been a little suspicious - Heartbreak always put on a mighty Shakespeare performance, with previous years including The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, and Romeo and Juliet, so why mess about with something calling itself "a comedic and at times, irreverent love story intertwined with some of the Bard’s best bits"? Why would you want to chop Shakespeare up into little pieces? I want it ALL, not a Big Brother-style highlights package!

Of course, it was all fine. The play was written especially for Heartbreak, and featured a talent night in a modern-day pub called The Shakespeare where each of the acts found themselves mysteriously transformed into Bard-spouting poets. The plot is so hopelessly contrived that one of the cast cheerfully admits as much right at the beginning of proceedings, but it IS funny - even a stray husband who'd been forced to attend due to a last-minute spare ticket enjoyed it. The cast switch effortlessly between roles, with all the characters played by just five performers, and as usual they can all sing and play instruments as well as act. The boys are cute this year as well, after a slight dip in quality in recent years.

The summer season for Heartbreak is nearly at an end but there is still time (just) to catch them - check out their website at to find out where they'll be. I've even got some leftover party sausages in the fridge if you're willing to collect - no pink wine though, so you'll need to get your own if you want to stay dry.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Tess Gerritsen at Waterstone's, Manchester

As someone who has been entrusted to introduce the youth of today to classic literature and foster a love thereof, I obviously only read classic literature myself, and would not be caught dead reading anything trashy or lowbrow.

*quickly places stray Morgansville Vampires book under nearby cushion*

So whilst it is my duty to let you all know that American crime queen Tess Gerritsen will be reading from her latest novel at Waterstone's Manchester Deansgate tonight, I clearly won't be going along, nor indeed waiting in line for my book to be signed by the mighty one.

If I were going - which, as stated, I am not - I would probably go to Grinch wine bar first to take advantage of their Happy Hour, where one (see - entirely hypothetical) can purchase any pizza for £6.50 and any cocktail for £3.95 between the hours of 5 and 7pm. That's pizza and an Amaretto Sour (just as an example) for just over a tenner.

*checks purse*

So anyway, I'll probably be reading Chekov, or Tolstoy, or Dostoevsky, or something, but if you do decide to go to Waterstone's tonight then have a good time. And if you know me, pretend you haven't seen me, right?

- Tess Gerritsen will be reading from her new novel The Killing Place tonight at 7pm at Waterstone's Manchester Deansgate; tickets £3, call 0161 837 3000 for details.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Things to do in Leeds: A Brave and Noble Trip Across the Pennines

Now, before we start, I should make it clear that I realise a weekend in Leeds is not necessarily an obvious choice for a romantic break to celebrate a wedding anniversary. Certainly not for my husband, a staunch Lancastrian who eyes anything or anyone from the other side of the Pennines with much suspicion. Yet the Amsterdam trip we priced up was ludicrously expensive, as was Brussels, Rome, Barcelona, etc etc...then an email arrived offering us two nights at The Queens in Leeds for sixty five quid a night. Sold.

And do you know what? Leeds is IMMENSE. We had a truly great time, and so for a limited period only, Things to do in Manchester is honouring its Yorkshire sister and becoming....Things to do in Leeds (never, ever, accuse me of having little or no imagination.)

First off, Leeds is only 55 minutes from Manchester on the train, ideal for those who still view the unchartered territories of Yorkshire with trepidation. Secondly, The Queens is an ace hotel, right by the train station (a necessity for those cruelly abandoned to carry their own luggage), overlooking the beautiful City Square and exuding the kind of faded 1930s glamour that I always welcome (sadly, I had left my fake-fur coat behind, otherwise I would have thrown it on over my fishnets and smoked a cigarette in a long holder at the bar. Next time, next time.)

Thirdly, there really is loads to do in Leeds which, like Manchester, is conveniently sized so that you can walk to most places (always useful for burning off the 8 sausages and two types of egg consumed at breakfast.) With so many lovely things to do and see, it is a complete mystery to me how I ended up spending two hours of my life in The Royal Armouries; something to do, no doubt, with the basic drawback of a wedding anniversary trip having to involve things that boys like doing as well as shopping and champagne-drinking.

Anyway, there are SOME interesting things here, such as various suits of armour sported by Henry VIII at different points in his life (a steadily increasing girth size seems to be far from a modern phenomenon), and there IS a bar nearby that sells champagne. I was able to recover quietly here from my ordeal, and experience the thrill of drinking Moet while sitting on Moet cushions under a Moet umbrella (see? I am immune to their sneaky product-placement!)

Foodwise, Leeds has some great restaurants, although it is surprisingly tricky finding one that doesn't also have a branch in Manchester (which would, of course, be a little like those embarrassing Brits abroad who whinge about foreign food and insist on Marmite and ketchup.) Friday night was easy: we fancied curry, no doubt due to the large amount of ale consumed in Mr Foley's real ale pub first, and bar staff were happy to point us in the direction of Akbars. This is quite possibly the biggest, noisiest curry house in the known world, and is utterly fabulous - great food, reasonable prices, cheerful staff, and giant naan breads brought to table hanging from what looked to be large instruments of medieval torture.

Saturday night was a more "grown-up" night, and we took advantage of the glorious weather to visit the River Plate, an Argentine steakhouse with a lovely waterside balcony. This lacked the atmosphere of Akbars but the food was pretty good; we weren't brave or greedy enough to try the big steaks, plumping (ha!) for the 225g and 300g sirloins respectively, but the menu does offer a steak weighing a whole kilogram. Having seen the size of a 750g one that was being cooked on the grill I can only say: shame on you if you even CONTEMPLATE such gluttony *conveniently glosses over breakfast sausage-frenzy*

The shops in Leeds are also most impressive, offering the classy Victoria Quarter as well as more familiar high-street behemoths, although sadly I had failed to grasp the logic that anything purchased in Leeds had to be carted back on the train. Add to all of this a trip to Leeds Art Gallery to admire the Henry Moore and Antony Gormley pieces on show, a perfect afternoon tea at the hotel with dainty sandwiches, scones and cakes, and a sneaky bottle of pink champagne lugged all the way over from Manchester, and it all made for a pretty much perfect weekend. The icing on the cake? We ran out of time to do all the things we wanted to do, and my husband actually said, without use of headlock, "don't worry - we can do that when we come back to Leeds again." Mission accomplished.

- The Queens Hotel is at 1 City Square, Leeds LS1, tel 0113 243 1323
- Akbars is at 16 Greek Street, near to Mr Foley's AMAZING real ale pub on The Headrow
- River Plate is at 36-38 Call Lane, Leeds LS2, tel 0113 391 2792

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Cocktail Triumph at Harvey Nichols, Manchester

One of the best things about Twitter is that you can follow all sorts of lovely bars and restaurants, thereby finding out about tempting deals and irresistible offers. One of the worst things about Twitter is that you can follow all sorts of lovely bars and restaurants, thereby finding out about tempting deals and irresistible offers that cause your purse to start creaking wearily round the edges, threaten the beginnings of the dreaded muffin top, and prompt one's husband to raise a cynical eyebrow once every so often along with a comment such as "oh, so you're home this evening, are you?"

This was the case on Thursday, when I had planned to meet up with a lovely friend for a long-overdue catch-up. All sorts of ideas were mooted; perhaps I would drive up to the rural area where she lives, wearing sensible trainers so that a healthy pursuit such as walking her dog could be attempted. Oh no, wait; Harvey Nichols Second Floor Brasserie is doing three courses plus a Bellini for £20 - clearly we should do this instead.

It's always fun eating at Harvey Nichols; part of the joy, I suspect, comes from the slightly furtive feeling of getting into the secret lift that takes you up to the restaurant when the store itself is closed, particularly as said lift is decorated with Dr Who-esque silver circles that serve the dual function of allowing you to check your lipstick whilst also feeling a bit like Barbarella. Harvey Nicks always do decent summer offers - the current one seems to be this year's version of last year's dangerous "three courses plus unlimited wine for 90 minutes" shebang, an evening that culminated in a friend carefully and kindly helping an old man down the stairs in Sinclair's (much to his annoyance; he had not wished to go downstairs at that particular moment, and had to make his way back up once her back was turned.)

The Second Floor Brasserie shares its location with the rather posher Second Floor Restaurant, but that doesn't mean that the food here isn't lovely - it's just more casual, with tables closer together and minus the gorgeous view that the restaurant offers over Exchange Square. There was a lovely buzz about the Brasserie last night, which was busy without being crowded, and service was sleek and friendly (although more of this later, smirking barman.)

The menu for the £20 Supper Club deal changes every week, but offers five options for each course, and not a dud amongst them. My goats cheese salad starter (see? SALAD - physically losing weight whilst I eat) was simple and delicious, while my friend's mussels were plump and tasty (well, the lone one I managed to wrestle from her clutches was). For mains I chose the Moroccan lamb with couscous, and once again had to ponder one of life's mysteries - why is restaurant couscous nice, while when I make it at home it tastes of sand? The lamb wasn't terribly Moroccan, but it was nicely pink and generously portioned, while the herb-crusted chicken across the table was proclaimed a similar triumph.

We were slowing a little by pudding time, but it's worth noting that although we couldn't manage it, the £20 offer does include cheese as an option without the annoying extra supplement that so many places add on for it. I went for raspberry fool (see? FRUIT - physically losing weight etc etc) with beautiful crumbly shortbread (mmm, could just manage a piece of that now, actually...)

We spent nothing extra on drinks, as a Bellini magically appears at your table when you arrive, and then - terribly excitingly - we had a complimentary cocktail each that I'd won in a Twitter competition the day before. Nothing comes for free however, and to claim my prize I had to utter the following words: "My name is ....... and I'm your Twitter winner". Well, you try saying this with a straight face at the best of times, let alone when you've shared a cheeky bottle of wine in All Bar One already that evening; everyone (including the disloyal friend who was benefitting from said cocktail) seemed to find it most amusing.

The £20 deal runs Tuesday to Saturday until Saturday 28th August, and is well worth trying, as it offers the chance to eat high-quality restaurant food at a frankly ridiculous price. Keep an eye on their website at for further menu updates; I might just have to go again next week....

Monday, 9 August 2010

Monday Night Supper Club at Love2Eat, Didsbury

So, another Monday, another Monday Night Supper Club at Love2Eat in West Didsbury. To be honest, we'd decided not to go tonight, as the menu has remained the same for the last few weeks, and although excellent value there's only so many meatballs and so much Eton Mess that one person can eat (apparently). So a sensible night in beckoned; I would write that long-overdue article, and my husband was even threatening to finally get round to sorting his sock pile.

But then the font of all knowledge, AKA Helen at Didsbury Life, posted tonight's menu, and all thoughts of a sock mating party were thrown carelessly aside. For tonight's offerings were chicken charmoula (Moroccan chicken and vegetable stew) followed by chocolate brownie and ice-cream, served with a glass of wine for £7. The charmoula was amazing, better than the legendary meatballs: daringly spicy, packed with chicken and butternut squash, and served with face-saving bread, rice and salad to mop up the fiery heat (had to order an extra glass of wine to wash away the fire - not my fault).

The chocolate brownie was also faultless - a generous slab of gorgeousness, properly crunchy on the outside and melting on the inside (like an armadillo), AND my piece was slightly bigger than my husband's. This is a truly exceptional deal - lovely food served by friendly staff in relaxed and charming surroundings; even with an additional glass of wine each the bill was less than £20 for both of us. Even once I go back to work, I feel that Mondays will never be the same again.

- Love2Eat Deli is at 190a Burton Road, West Didsbury, Manchester M20 1LH; tel 0161 434 7077; website Best to book ahead, or get there early before I've eaten the lot.

Friday, 6 August 2010

The Didsbury Pub Reopens After Refurbishment...and WE APPROVE!

As documented just two days ago, I'm quite resistant to change. Thus, upon hearing the news that The Didsbury pub was to close for ten days for a refurbishment, my despair was twofold. Firstly, who would serve me Prosecco during that dangerously long ten day window? And secondly, please don't change it, because I like it the way it is! I like that the tables are rickety and covered with candle wax; I like that the carpet is a little bit sticky and has been here since 1947; I LIKE IT HOW IT IS!

I needn't have worried, of course. The refurbishment has been done tastefully and unobtrusively, meaning the pub looks the same but just a bit, well, nicer. The biggest changes are as you go in - a new door with the Chef and Brewer logo etched into it, and two enormous armchairs lurking in the entrance, ready to pounce on unwary customers (I noticed my husband suffered a dangerous fall into one of them on the way out; too much beer, or perhaps the floor is treacherously slippy just there.)

The rest of the pub is fresh and bright, but retaining the cosy feel that The Didsbury has always done best. Upstairs (I never even KNEW there was an upstairs until about a month ago) has been done up to the same standard, meaning that at busy times you can take your drink up to a quiet table without feeling like you've been exiled (remember the scary basement overspill at The Great Kathmandu?), although there is no bar up there at present (never fear - think of the exercise you'll get going up and down the stairs.)

Last night's "soft launch" had a real buzz about it, full of happy punters relieved to see their favourite pub hadn't become a wine bar or Wacky Warehouse while their backs were turned, and lovely cheery staff who seemed genuinely pleased to be working in such a nice environment. The excellent food menu remains as it was (although we sampled it again, just to be sure); the Barbecue Pork Shanks were so good I had to be physically restrained from licking my plate, and my husband's Great British Fish and Chips was so generously portioned that he had to LEAVE SOME, not because he didn't like it (he did) but because he was full (big girl).

So thanks to Paul and Paula for making us so welcome - the pub is fully reopened from today, so you should really pop down and see what they've done. Also thanks to Pete and Helen for such excellent company; your head ALWAYS knows when you've been out drinking with Didsbury Life.

- The Didsbury is at 852 Wilmslow Road, Didsbury, Manchester M20 2SG; tel 0161 445 5389;
- Didsbury Life are at 212 Burton Road, West Didsbury, Manchester; tel 0161 445 7759;

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Birthday Fun and Exquisitely Shod Feet at Moss Nook Restaurant, Manchester

By and large, I'm not a huge fan of change. Obviously I can and will embrace it if there's something in it for me, but otherwise I prefer to stick with what I know, and this is why my best friend and I celebrate her birthday in EXACTLY the same way every year: by going to Moss Nook.

People's first reaction upon hearing that there's a good restaurant on the Manchester Airport Ring Road is generally one of disbelief. Its location, however, is one of its best qualities - anywhere in Didsbury, I have to walk to, and anywhere in central Manchester, I generally bus it to, both requiring the donning of flat shoes when really I yearn for some of the bejewelled beauties waiting resentfully in the shoe pile. No such problems at Moss Nook - a taxi (often of the special, excellent value husband-taxi variety) is needed, and ludicrous shoes can and should be worn. Last night I estimate my height at roughly 6'4''; to be fair, this may be why the restaurant sat us near the toilets, taking one look at our shoes and thinking, "no - they'll never make it unless we put them right there."

Stepping into the Moss Nook is a little like stepping into another world, a comforting, opulent world that remains reassuringly unchanging year after year. The staff always remember us, even though we only go once a year (I can never decide if that is a compliment, or something we should be worried about), and sitting at your enormous white-linen-draped table as your wine is decanted for you it is very easy to pretend that you have gone back in time fifty years (in a good way, although the fact that I checked Twitter when my friend went to the loo perhaps indicates I have not FULLY embraced the whole going-back-in-time thing.)

We went for the seven course taster menu, a good option at £38.50 per head for those simply too indecisive to actually choose what they want to eat. The seven courses do include two amuse-bouche and a selection of petits fours, but the remaining four courses are proper, full-size portions so that even the greediest girls will be full; indeed, we had to permit one of the waiting husband-taxis to come in and help out towards the end.

You can tell the waiter anything you don't like, but it's hard to imagine anyone taking offence at the faultless cheese souffle, fish bouillabaisse, lamb with Madeira sauce and dauphinoise potato, and custard tart with home-made vanilla ice-cream that we were served. AND your main course arrives underneath an enormous silver dome; it's worth going for this alone, and I'm sure the staff have to undergo some kind of training in lifting-it-off-at-exactly-the-right-second - it's very tempting to applaud triumphantly at the sheer joy of it all.

With a decent bottle of red and a champagne cocktail apiece as an aperatif, the bill came to just under £100, although this did include a mysterious but gratefully accepted £20 discount which seemed to be applied to the bill just because they remembered us. The conditions of use were stated as "coming back again without leaving it a whole year"; I will discuss the implementation of a half-birthday visit with my friend and see what we can do.

- Moss Nook is on Ringway Road, Moss Nook, Manchester M22 5WD; tel. 0161 437 4778. Put your best shoes on and go tonight.