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Thursday, 30 September 2010

The Mark Addy Gourmet Evening September 2010

Further proof this week - as if any were needed - that I am now officially the greediest woman in Britain. I realised this incontrovertible truth as I sat down to dinner last night at The Mark Addy, in readiness for the arrival of this month's Gourmet Evening menu.

I finally understood that I had not been looking forward to a nice night out in the manner that any normal person would, but that I had actually been excited for a whole month. About what I might eat. And when we weren't told until 7.45 what the menu was, rather than the advertised 7.30 start, I was actually tutting. And tapping my fingers on the table. And jigging one leg up and down.

For the uninitiated, The Mark Addy is a splendid pub on the banks of the Irwell that offers all sorts of exciting foodie events, quite rightfully making the most of its excellent chef Robert Owen Brown. The last Wednesday of every month is Gourmet Evening, where people who no longer bother going to WeightWatchers (well, OK, I speak only for myself here) can stuff themselves silly with seasonal produce (seasonal = very healthy with no calories at all. I think.)

Last night, we had the following:

1. Wild mushroom soup with Madeira. This may sound straightforward, but it was a/ delicious, and b/ (more importantly) served how I've always wanted to serve soup but never been brave enough to - inside a hollowed out bread roll.

2. Potted rabbit, wild duck and pigeon with elderberry. This was quite possibly the nicest thing I have ever eaten. And whoever had the bright idea to serve a little greenery on the side in an empty shell cartridge (presumably the one used to despatch Flopsy et al) is an evil genius.

3. Loin of beef with dripping pudding. I honestly thought my husband might fall over with excitement when this was brought out - an enormous slab of meaty goodness, carved before our very eyes and brought to each table on our own individual boards. The accompanying dripping pudding was a bit like a flat Yorkshire pudding; I cannot be more precise on this as I managed approximately one mouthful before it was rapidly consumed by a ruthless husband.

4. Wild blackberry jelly with Dowsons double cream. What more do I say about this? Everyone loves jelly, and it's not too filling for anyone who happens to have recently consumed half a cow.

5. Local cheese and tracklements. Full marks for the use of the pleasingly archaic "tracklements", but slightly misleading; this was actually just some (nice) cheese with some crackers. Not blue though. And also really quite full up by now.

We have already booked for next month, and we would be grateful if The Mark Addy could provide us with some or all of the following:
- some blue cheese
- some kind of expandably waisted trouser item, and
- an explanation of where the bread from inside the rolls for the soup went (my husband has been wondering about this.)

All will be revealed (hopefully) at the next Gourmet Evening on Wednesday 27th October; I'm the one looking impatient with her plate ready at the front. Contact The Mark Addy on 0161 832 4080 if you want to be there to watch ANOTHER button pop off my coat...

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Taste of Trafford: Altrincham Food and Drink Festival

Anyone who has chanced across this blog before may be aware that I am partial to the following things:

1. Food, in any guise, but ideally including cheese, cupcakes, olives and other essential food groups

2. Drink, again in any guise, but generally wine-based beverages due to their natural affinity with the food groups mentioned above

3. Shopping, particularly if I can put my purchases in a cloth bag and walk around radiating smug "environmentally friendly" vibes

4. Going out in the car, preferably to places that are near enough that my husband is happy to drive, and doesn't start spouting nonsense about wanting a "drive credit" to spend on some future (always inconvenient) occasion

5. Any kind of Sunday activity that displaces thoughts of the giant pile of marking and prep work lurking threateningly on the kitchen worktop - it won't do itself, you know, and yet there's ALWAYS hope...

So imagine the joy of discovering something that combines all of these wholesome interests in one easily attainable package: such is the annual "Taste of Trafford" Festival, a celebration of local restaurants and food producers held today in Altrincham, which does incidentally satisfy point number 4 as listed above. They'd even thoughtfully arranged for the sun to be shining.

On arrival we dutifully purchased our "Tesetas", the festival currency. By a huge stroke of fortune, the conversion rate turned out to be one Teseta to the pound, meaning that even people who had sampled heartily at the Oddbins table could shop with confidence. With our Tesetas, we bought the following:

1 x hog roast barm from The Fat Loaf stall (minus some crackling, stolen by passing husband)

2 x glasses of wine - one Malbec, one Sauvignon Blanc - from Oddbins, who were selling 125ml measures at the frankly ludicrous prices of between 1 and 2 Tesetas per glass. I can recommend both the wines I tried, so I will: Dona Paula Malbec (£10.99 a bottle) and Baile Out Sauvignon (£9.99)

6 x cupcakes from Teacups and Fairycakes (I do actually feel slightly disloyal to lovely Airy Fairy Cupcakes, as if I have been physically unfaithful, but what can I say? I was weak)

1 x pack lovely fat sausages from Cheadle Farm, who can more or less tell you the name and trotter size of the pig(s) who nobly gave of their flesh

1 x pack chilli chocolate from Cacao & Co (although this has gone into husband's coat pocket and not been seen since)

1 x chocolate and banana crepe from Pitta Crepe

1 x potato pasty from Taste of Anatolia (you can take the boy out of Wigan, etc etc)

By now, the stalls were starting to look distinctly picked-clean, despite it only being just after 1pm; apologies if you turned up later and found the cupboard was bare due to the greed of previous shoppers. Luckily, I was wearing my new FitFlop boots for the walk around the festival, so I'm pretty sure this will negate the items listed above. An ideal Sunday? Yes. Although, now home, I see the cat has failed to make a start on the marking. Once again.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Crazy Wendy = Crazy Late Night for Brave but Powerless Girl

Oh. It was meant to be such a low-key evening. After a hard week's work, what could be nicer than a drink at Silver Apples in West Didsbury, followed by a quick browse of Didsbury's Life's current art exhibition, then a simple dinner somewhere in Didsbury, before retiring to bed at a respectable hour - clean bedsheets and everything.

Things did indeed go according to plan. At first. After a swift pint of Oktoberfest Paulaner at Silver Apples (I really, really want this beer to have been named after Paulie Walnuts, but I fear it is not so), we donned our cultural hats and hied to Didsbury Life for the preview of the art exhibition they are hosting as part of Didsbury Arts Festival.

Cultural hats must sadly have fallen off on the way however, to be replaced with drinking-lots-of-wine-while-eating-nothing-but-a-breadstick-or-two hats. The artwork - by Anita Farkas, Hannah Wiles and Pam Smith - is well worth a look, but I fear I only looked very briefly, mostly on the way to the food table to commandeer another breadstick (clearly clinging to the belief that the odd nibble could take on Helen's generous wine measures and win). I absolutely promise to go back and look properly another day; you should too, but if you buy some raffle tickets for the WestFest Christmas lights while you're there and you win the wooden owl, you have to give it to me.

So, the point is, the fact that I ended up in Crazy Wendy's performing Shirley Bassey songs rather than enjoying a quiet dinner somewhere is everyone's fault but my own. Wendy's legendary Thai restaurant is right next door to the Didsbury Life office, and although busy last night was not actually full - unheard of for a Friday night - so it should be clear by now that the cards were stacked against me at every turn.

Ever the trooper, I gamely made the best of it. We chose the set menu for two, and very nice it was too - the garlic chicken is a particular joy, and may explain why people have run away screaming when I've tried to talk to them today. To be honest though, the food is not the real draw here, and at 10.30 the beautiful Wendy appeared, resplendent in pink feather boa and astonishingly high platform shoes, ready to sing Elvis to her adoring diners. I'm sure that the stunning duet of Hey Big Spender performed by myself and Wendy brought a tear to many an eye and is still being talked about in glowing tones across Manchester as we speak.

I was in bed by midnight. Just. Tonight I am having a night in. Unless, of course, the whole world conspires against me once more.

- Silver Apples is at 200 Burton Road, Didsbury Life is at number 212, and Crazy Wendy's is at 210. Avoid this entire road like the plague if you want to go to bed early.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Wednesday Night Wine Night

Occasionally, I attempt to post some kind of meaningful comment on Twitter or Facebook. This is always soundly ignored by the general public, who rightly turn their backs on such pseudo-intellectual posturing. Yet I have noticed that whenever I post some nonsense about wine or other such frippery, the response is nothing short of overwhelming.

Take tonight, for example. Coming home weary and disgruntled from work, I commented that I felt the need to establish an emergency new tradition: Wednesday Night Wine Night. Within a few minutes I'd had a number of enthusiastic responses, including a suggestion on Facebook that we throw caution to the wind and simply go for the equally alliterative Weekday Night Wine Night.

Now, Wednesdays have traditionally been dead space for me, a nothing sort of night without even the prospect of a new episode of America's Next Top Model to brighten it up. True, before my gym membership lapsed I did occasionally jig about the swimming pool with some nice old ladies doing aquacise on a Wednesday, but this hardly counts as living the high life. Indeed, the whole thing was utterly counter-productive, as the gym was part of a hotel with a restaurant, and the walls of the pool were plastered with pictures of burgers and roast dinners; combine this flagrantly cruel advertising with a crazy bunch of endorphins telling you, erroneously, that you have clearly burnt off enough calories for a burger AND a couple of pints of lager, and you tend to come out a little fatter than you went in.

But now, with The Mark Addy's splendid Gourmet Nights on the last Wednesday of every month, and the tender fledgling (to be carefully nurtured) that is Wednesday Night Wine Night, the dullest evening of the week is starting to look a little fancy-pants glamorous. If you know of any other glorious mid-week events on the horizon, please let me know - I'll bring the wine...

Friday, 17 September 2010

Evita at The Lowry, Salford

Before last night my knowledge of Evita could be described, at best, as "sketchy". I think I once saw the last 10 minutes of the Madonna film, possibly through a Christmas Day fug of gin and Quality Street; I know approximately half the words to Don't Cry For Me Argentina; I am aware that The Dark Lord was fond of making the quivering Dorothys/Marias/Nancys/whatever in the bottom two every week sing something about a suitcase in a hall. But that's pretty much it.

I never like to be left out, however, and accordingly found myself at The Lowry in the company of two girls who appear to have been listening to the Evita CD on repeat since the age of six. The plot (look away now if you don't wish to know) seems to be roughly as follows: plucky but poor Eva Duarte sets off for Buenos Aires in the company of mustachioed club singer; plucky but ambitious Eva Duarte dumps mustachioed club singer for string of increasingly important lovers; plucky but manipulative Eva Duarte bags Colonel Juan Peron; Peron becomes President; plucky but self-interested First Lady of Argentina wears a series of impeccable outfits and launches a foundation that prompts a small child with gappy teeth to sing about how she is a saint; plucky but poorly Eva Peron clutches stomach a lot, then dies, to much mourning and some really rather nice floral displays. All, of course, accompanied by lots of singing and twirling.

Now, you're either a fan of the musical genre, or you're not. Evita is not my favourite musical by a long way - it has rather too much of that not-exactly-singing-not-exactly-talking stuff in it for my liking - but the current production at The Lowry is spectacularly impressive (particularly when you're right in the front row, enjoying a view up the cast's nostrils - when will I ever learn to book the right tickets) with seamless set changes and a uniformly excellent cast. Our hearts sank a little when we saw that the lead actress, Abigail Jaye, was best known for Hollyoaks (well, it's always that or The Bill), but she was simply superb, handling The Dark Lord's ludicrously difficult starts-very-high-then-goes-very-low repertoire with aplomb.

But, despite my best efforts to sum up the performance, recreating the highs and lows and communicating every little nuance, I find that I am unable to better the plot summary so decisively announced at the interval by a perceptive fellow theatre-goer in the row behind us: "so, he knew that she was a dirty tart all along..." Next time, I really don't think I'll bother trying to compete.

- Evita finishes at The Lowry tomorrow; visit the website at for more details.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Local Girl Promotes Healthy Lifestyle at Nemaste Nepal

So. After a long and hard-fought campaign, you have deservedly made it through to the finals of Miss World. You have posed winsomely with sick children and injured pets; you have gushed breathlessly about kindness and the importance of helping old people across the road; you have even mastered the art of walking in heels, wearing a bikini, and holding your stomach in for periods upwards of thirty minutes. There is just one more hurdle to clear; a nice chat on camera. "So, my dear, what do you most desire in life?"

Oh, such a tricky one. World peace? A cure for cancer? An end to injustice and inequality?

I fear this may be why I have never won Miss World. For often, what I desire more than anything else, more than anything in the whole world, is a nice dish of Makhan Chara as made by either The Great Kathmandu or its sister restaurant Nemaste Nepal.

These two mighty restaurants are found in Burton Road in West Didsbury, just waiting to prey upon people who have been to Oktoberfest at Silver Apples and have not eaten since 11am, and are therefore weak. I found myself in this helpless position last night; two beers at Oktoberfest, another outside Folk with the estimable Didsbury Life, and my resolve was non-existent. And since my husband flatly refuses to even entertain the idea of Great Kathmandu since a waiter once spilt oil down the back of his shirt and then denied all knowledge of it, Nemaste Nepal it was.

I'm a bit worried that Nemaste Nepal appears to be up for sale; I've always preferred this much larger, calmer restaurant over its rather casual brother just up the road (hey, maybe service will be good tonight; maybe we'll just ignore you...who knows?) but it WAS very quiet, far too quiet for a Friday night. I can only think that most people were at home watching the Ultimate Big Brother final, although it makes me sad to think this.

However, the food was as good as ever. Makhan Chara is a dish I occasionally actually dream about eating; you can buy it at other restaurants but it's always disappointing - the only other place that even comes close to getting it right is The Third Eye on Wilmslow Road in Didsbury, and even there it lacks something. This makes me worry that Nemaste Nepal are simply putting some kind of highly addictive ingredient into theirs; I can't think why else I would hanker after a dish that appears to be made entirely from tomatoes and cream - I don't even LIKE cream. Yet there's something about this unctious concoction that makes me forget that every mouthful contains enough calories to support a third-world country for a week, and that this is unlikely to be negated by simply walking home rather than taxiing (still, ever hopeful.)

I hate to admit that I couldn't finish it all last night; and it shames me even more to admit that if I'd brought it home in a doggy-bag, I'd be eating it cold right now. I think the Miss World crown might just elude me for another year at least.

- Nemaste Nepal is at 164-166 Burton Road, West Didsbury, Manchester M20 1LH; tel. 0161 445 9060.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Silver Apples Oktoberfest vs. Lesson Planning

It's exactly the same every year. I loll about aimlessly for the six weeks of summer, dragging myself away from the deadly power-triumvirate of shoe shop, book shop and wine shop only for an occasional whinge about how rubbish the weather is. Then the minute I'm back at work, the sun comes out, and a whole raft of delicious events come along, jostling noisily for my attention.

I'll give you an example. Today was the first day of the academic year, the proverbial fresh start, turning over of new leaf, etc. I have a new notebook, two new pens, and a steely resolve not to go out or drink wine on school nights. Then I discover that cute-as-a-button West Didsbury bar Silver Apples is holding an Oktoberfest, starting tomorrow, which I have a legal and moral duty to attend. My husband already has his shoes on, ready, completely disregarding the fact that I have a four hour class to prep for on Monday, teaching people to be teachers (no sniggering at the back please.)

I have also realised that I have the following events lined up in the next couple of weeks for, you guessed it, school nights:

- Evita at The Lowry (I hear it's some kind of, ahem, intellectual Chekov-type play *secretly practises Don't Cry for me Argentina with hairbrush microphone*)

- Gourmet Night at The Mark Addy on Sept 29th (have learned lesson from last time - will take extra large handbag to stow furtive leftovers)

- Girls' night out (location as yet unknown) with jammy best friend to jealously discuss her recent trip to Italy

- Elizabeth Gaskell lecture at John Rylands Library (oh wait, actually this is probably OK for a school night)

- Cava and Cakes at In All Her Finery on October 7th (still not learned valuable lesson about drinking wine then shopping)

- Faustus at Royal Exchange (if I can get tickets, pfft)

...and no doubt many other things that I have forgotten. So if you see a strange lady at Oktoberfest this weekend, making frantic notes in a lovely new pad with a highly covetable spotty pen (students! keep off!) then you know that's probably me.

- Find Silver Apples at 200 Burton Road (on the corner of Orchard Street), West Didsbury M20 2LW, tel. 0161 4453130. The Oktoberfest is on until all the beer has run out; I promise to keep thirsty husband in check.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Didsbury Double-Header: Dinner, Cake and Fizz

When I applied to go to University, my list of hobbies and interests no doubt mentioned voluntary work, going to high-brow theatrical events, reading classic literature, playing badminton (and perhaps squash as well - who remembers?) and being a general all-round top swot.

Obviously, my real-life CV would be more likely to include the following pursuits:
- going to the pub
- drinking fizzy wine
- reading trashy books
- watching (and discussing with like-minded friends) America's Next Top Model
- attending lovely parties and hob-nobbing with lovely friends
- all forms of food, especially curry, cake and anything from Marks & Spencer

and so on.

So imagine an evening that manages to include not one, but, um, *counts*, at least THREE of my preferred leisure activities! And on a normally non-descript Tuesday night!

It all began with Twitter, obviously. Lovely Laura (it is SO nice when a pleasant word alliterates with your name) from Airy Fairy Cupcakes announced that there was to be a fizz and cupcake evening at the estimable Love2Eat Deli in West Didsbury; ladies only, with a glass of fizz and a cupcake for just £5, it would clearly be ridiculous not to go.

"Oh," says the husband. "Well, have a nice time. I'm just off to mope about with my sad I'm-being-abandoned-again face on. Let me know if you want picking up."

Being a good and dutiful wife, I selflessly suggested we go and have dinner at The Didsbury first, using our BOGOF voucher carefully clipped from The South Manchester Reporter last week. If you've not tried the food at The Didsbury yet you really should; we shared a starter of whitebait (we are both exceptionally poor at sharing, which indicates how generous the portions are) and then went down the path of meaty goodness - my husband had the 9oz rump steak and I chose (what I thought was) a plain burger.

It is of course my own fault for not reading the menu properly, but really I think this particular food item should be renamed "The Hungry Boy's Burger", because it contained everything a hungry boy could ever dream of: onion rings, a fried egg, great thick slabs of bacon, cheese...oh, and a burger. I'm really not complaining - everything was of excellent quality - but it was all just a bit big. The husband's steak was also very good by the way, although I could hardly see it beyond the rolling heights of Burger Mountain.

The lovely waitress offered pudding, but I knew I had a cupcake with my name on it waiting across town. Actually, that's another story. "Do I need to buy my ticket in advance?" I tweeted to Laura; "No," she replied, "just pay on the door and I'll make sure there's a cake with your name on it, so to speak." Well, clearly there's an opportunity here to make a childish joke about stamping my feet and wanting a cupcake with my ACTUAL name on it, and I did not disappoint; the trouble with such adolescent humour is that it makes you feel not-worthy when you turn up and find that Laura has actually gone to the trouble of icing your name onto a cake. Almost too cute to eat. Almost.

Anyway, a fine time was had by all - Penny from Love2Eat kept the wine flowing, the cakes were delicious (obviously), and a lovely lady from DollyBox smilingly presided over a table of cut-price make-up goodies (note to self: step away from the make-up table after quaffing several glasses of wine, STEP AWAY.) Hopefully the fizz and cake evening will become a regular event; in the meantime you can order from the Airy Fairy at her website (, or visit Love2Eat for one of their excellent dining deals - see for more details.