Every six months or so, I lose my grip on reality entirely. I see some kind of lovely trip advertised that I could take my students on, and decide to organise it - see how easy it sounds when you say it quickly? And each time, I remember too late the pain and torment involved in taking a party of adults and almost-adults a few miles up the motorway; you wouldn't even think there could be so many forms in the known world, let alone that they have to completed in triplicate and then signed with the blood of a unicorn.
Anyway, the trip actually went off very well, but by 9am I was already congratulating myself for having the foresight to arrange for someone else to cook my tea for me. By 6pm, with all students safely dispatched back whence they came, it was all I could do to apply a coat of sparkly lip gloss (never let it be said that I let the side down) and drag myself to the Lime Tree for their excellent value early evening set menu. This is available every evening between 5.30 and 6.30, and offers two courses for £13.95 or three for £15.95 (meaning, of course, that one is practically forced to have a pudding, even though one normally eats like, ahem, a little bird.)
The Lime Tree is one of the stalwarts of West Didsbury, and it is easy to see why it has ruled the roost so long in what is a very competitive market: the food is extraordinarily good. Nor are they mean with their set menus - the dishes available are exactly what you might have wanted to eat anyway, and the portions are seemingly not scaled down in line with the reduced prices. I chose the goat's cheese and leek strudel with Waldorf salad to start with and it was perfection - crisp, flaky pastry enclosing an unctious cheesy mass that was actually VERY HEALTHY because it had leeks in it. Across the table, Mr Liz was recoiling slightly in terror from his pork terrine, two enormous meaty slabs perched cheerily atop a hopeful salad that was frankly never going to be eaten; next time I looked however, the terrine was gone, and merely a happy-faced husband remained.
When I eat out I always try to order dishes I hardly ever make myself, and was therefore happy to order fish pie for my main course secure in the knowledge that it would be stinking out someone else's kitchen, not mine. Mr Liz chose a traditional duck cassoulet, perhaps on the basis that he only cooks from Jamie's 30 Minute Meals and even Mr Oliver himelf would be hard pushed to rustle up such a feast in the time it takes to watch EastEnders. Did we need side dishes? Of course not. Did we order them anyway? Hell yes. Mr Liz has yet to resist the combination of the words "fat" and "chips" in any sentence, and I would sell my soul for a portion of the deep fried courgette fritters with parmesan and basil oil. At £3.50 a go these do bump up the price of the meal, but you can always, like Mr Liz, leave a bit of salad in order to fit them in.
Finally, pud. The baked American cheesecake was good without being great, perhaps a little too cloying and with rather a mean helping of fruit. Mr Liz however proclaimed himself most pleased with the iced rum and raisin parfait with coffee anglaise; I'm sure he deliberately orders things with coffee in so that I am unable to try them. The total bill, with drinks, came to £46.60, a price so low for such great quality food that the sheer value of it makes you want to cartwheel across the floor in glee - although you should NOT do this, as it's quite a posh restaurant and you HAVE just eaten three courses. It's almost - almost - worth arranging another trip for...
- The Lime Tree is at 8 Lapwing Lane, West Didsbury, Manchester M20 2WS.