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Thursday, 30 June 2011

Girl Eats Sand at Mark Addy Gourmet Evening

Sometimes, I really feel that the whole world is against me.

Take this week, for example. A troubling incident involving the trying on of a bikini I hope to be wearing in Greece in two weeks (without being at risk of harpooning) has prompted a period of comparative abstinence in my levels of food consumption - and I'd really been doing quite well, thanks to industrial-size batches of homemade carrot soup and sad little packs of melba toast spread grudgingly with low-fat cheese spread.

Then, however, The Mark Addy selfishly decided to go ahead with its monthly six course Gourmet Evening, staunchly refusing to reschedule it for after my holiday, and obviously we had to go, because a/ I'm greedy, b/ hate to miss out on anything, and c/ special surprises were planned in honour of Margaret's birthday (which she had, with equal lack of thought for my bikini, also refused to postpone.)

Of course, in the end, it was (almost) all marvellous - easily the busiest and best Gourmet Evening yet. Here is the menu in full - please don't be frightened (as many were when I posted it on Facebook last night), as not everything is as it seems...

1. Frog Spawn. Served in tiny glass jars, this was not frog spawn, but a mixture of fennel, poppy seeds and witchcraft (apparently; I can only say in my defence that I had to rely on John here for my information.) This was not an auspicious start to the meal; ROB rarely puts a foot wrong, but this just didn't taste of anything at all - actual frog spawn might have been tastier.

*hopes ROB doesn't read this and make her eat actual frog spawn next time*

2. Bonus Soup Course. This was as tasty as the previous course was bland - a shot glass full of gloriously thick and creamy soup that tasted a little like lobster bisque. This wasn't on the menu, so my usual pin-point accuracy may temporarily desert me, but I'm assuming it was made from shells and, erm, other bits from the course that followed.

3. Crawfish and Brown Shrimp Salad. Being ROB, there was no greenery in sight here, just tender new potatoes and teeny tasty sea-life in a tangy vinaigrette that was so nice, I might have accidentally had to run my finger round my almost empty bowl when no-one was looking.

4. Crispy Sand Eels. I was a little nervous of this one, but it turns out that if you deep fry little sand eels and serve them with garlic mayonnaise for dipping, they taste just like whitebait, but nicer; who knew? Next time I go to the seaside I shall be casting my literal and metaphorical net far and wide in order to snaffle things I might eat, and wouldn't be at all surprised if next month ROB proves that sand and rocks can be turned into a similarly delicious and nutritious snack.

5. Roast Baron of British Beef with Dripping Pudding. Mr Liz had his eye on this one right from the start, and it didn't disappoint. Carved before our slavering faces, then heaped generously onto individual wooden boards for each table, this came with dripping pudding (like a flat Yorkshire pudding), perfect roast potatoes, gravy and an array of vegetables which Mr Liz wisely eschewed in order to consume more beef and potatoes. Sadly, due to the cow's cooked state we were unable to ask it about its claims to nobility.

6. Trip to the Seaside. I must confess that earlier in the evening I had been bemoaning the lack of a cheese course, bemoaning this crucial oversight to John and privately wondering how on earth I could blog about something so traumatic.

"Trust me," said John. "Wait till you see the pudding - you won't be disappointed."

Pah, I thought - I'll be the judge of that.

His confidence was not misplaced; it was simply breathtaking. A stunned silence greeted the arrival of an enormous board, hefted in by two strapping gentlemen, bearing not only a full-size deckchair (sadly non-edible) but an entire sea-shore, entirely crafted from STUFF I COULD EAT. Blue jelly for the sea, yellow sugar for the sand, a range of sand-castle-shaped mousses quivering seductively, defiantly unafraid of the white chocolate shark's fin, deep-fried Mars Bars looking for all the world like battered fish, ice-cream cones, old-fashioned sweets...words really can't do it justice (particularly last night after two glasses of wine, which is why I took the easy option and posted a picture on Twitter.) The pudding was self-serve, and I soon felt very sick; I suspect these two facts may be related, although I cannot be completely sure (shore?)

Of course, I had by this point long since forgiven ROB for the frog spawn unpleasantries, and left happy, full, and proclaiming the whole thing a total triumph. Goodness only knows what Margaret will get for her birthday next year...

- The next Gourmet Evening is on Wednesday 27th July; visit the Mark Addy website for more details.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Win Vouchers For Giraffe Restaurant

If there’s one thing I’m partial to, it’s a competition. And if there’s another thing that's been known to tickle my fancy, it’s food. Now imagine, if you dare to enter such a glorious, unfettered fantasy world, a combination of the above that allows you to WIN FOOD, by ENTERING A COMPETITION. I know – amazing.

This is all courtesy of Giraffe, the jaunty restaurant chain with the pleasingly eclectic menu – as someone who likes pretty much every food on the planet, and can never quite decide what she fancies eating at any given moment, Giraffe is an excellent bet. My favourite menu items vary between the Lamb Focaccia Burger, the Hot Duck Stir Fry, the BBQ Baby Back Ribs, and the Falafel Burger (well, it does of course pay to select an, erm, healthy vegetarian option from time to time *saintly face*) but I’ve bravely tried pretty much everything, and never yet come across anything I didn’t like.

They also do some very enticing offers: any burger is just £5.50 on a Tuesday after 5pm; the Feel Good Menu any day after 5pm allows the greedy diner two courses from a selection for £9.95; and, even better, Bar Buddies (Mon-Fri between 5 and 7pm; Sundays from six) forces normally very sensible and abstemious girls to drink selected beverages for half price. So, yes, I know that independent is good, and interesting, and different, but sometimes I want to go a chain I know, and can trust to serve my husband a burger of sufficient magnitude to satisfy his exacting requirements. He also likes the fact they give you an enormous crate of condiments, and often puts a different one on each separate inch of burger, just because he can, and no-one stops him (they are VERY tolerant and friendly at Giraffe).

I’m delighted, then, that Giraffe Restaurants have kindly given me not one but THREE vouchers to give away, although I am less delighted to note that once again I am exempt; I mean, what’s the point in having a competition you can’t win yourself? Anyway, first prize is a £30 voucher to spend at any Giraffe, with £20 for second place and £15 for third. To be in with a chance of winning, simply answer the following question:

One of Giraffe’s Manchester restaurants is located in the Trafford Centre; one is at the Airpoirt; where is the other?

Simply email your answer to, to reach me by midnight on Saturday 9th July 2011 - the first three selected at random will receive vouchers (as long as you're not me or Mr Liz - tsk). You can find the answer to the competition question on the Giraffe website; or you could simply go there to look at pictures of their lovely food, as I sometimes do. Good luck :)

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Bop Local and North Star Deli's Supper Club Lure Lazy Local Girl into Deepest, Darkest Chorlton

The very first house I ever bought (well, I speak as if I'd owned several hundred properties, rather than the slightly less impressive total of, erm, two) was in Withington, an ex-council property that I lived in for five years and loved very much. It had a lovely big garden that hosted many late-night barbecues, and a built in fold-down table in the kitchen that my friends christened "the smoking bar"; indeed, when I came to sell up I swear the reason it sold so quickly was that I had twelve viewings, back-to-back, on an evening when a friend was indeed perched seductively upon a bar-stool, smoking fags and drinking wine, and thereby modelling the smoking bar to its full advantage.

Anyway, another benefit of the Withington house was its location - perched on the borders of West Didsbury and Chorlton it offered an enticing range of going-out options, and as a young thing in impractically high shoes I thought nothing of a weekly teeter back down Barlow Moor Road after a night out in Chorlton. Since I have moved into Didsbury, however, I must make a shocking admission: I have not been out in Chorlton. Not once.

But all that is about to change. It has admittedly taken something irresistibly special to lure me out of retirement, but I can confirm that I will spending the next TWO (count 'em) Friday nights in Didsbury's frisky urban cousin. Next Friday, 1st July, I will be throwing some attractive shapes on the dance floor at Chorlton Irish Club in honour of Bop Local's first birthday party - this month's guest DJ is legendary former Carpet and King of XFM Clint Boon, and "a few birthday party surprises for everyone, as well as some fantastic raffle prizes" are promised (I don't like surprises, but I DO enjoy a good raffle - I'm hoping to win the dusty bottle of peach schnapps.)

And then - even more excitingly, for this one involves me eating lots of food - Friday 8th July sees the launch of the North Star Delicatessen's Supper Club, a collaboration between three independent businesses and therefore to be applauded (AND, just to repeat, they're FEEDING ME *applauds even louder*). The three course dinner promises a succession of seasonal gourmet delights, with fish provided by Out of the Blue and meat from W.H. Frost & Sons - both suppliers are attending the event to answer any piscine or, erm, meatine questions we may have.

Tickets must be booked in advance through the website and cost £25 each; however, if you follow them on Twitter (which is, as previously established, the font of all knowledge) you're in with a chance of winning a free place - simply follow them @JoinUs4Supper, RT the competition tweet, and tell them why you should win (presumably "I'm very hungry AND very greedy" won't be quite enough of a reason, which is why I haven't entered.) You'll have to be quick as today is the last day of the competition; if you're a bit too slow off the mark, a reward can still be yours - anyone who books a place before July 1st will receive complimentary coffee and petits fours after supper. Still here? Go and tweet/book NOW!

Friday, 24 June 2011

Girl Talk at The Lowry, July 2nd 2011 - Sparkle at the Ready

Once upon a time, when I was a thin, sulky teenager with a penchant for lurking in my bedroom imagining myself as Heathcliff's very own Catherine, I had exceptionally cool taste in music. I still have my vinyl collection (although for at least ten years I've had nothing to play it on) and it is FLAWLESS, a result of trawling second-hand record fairs and pouring endlessly over NME and Melody Maker, trying desperately to read through my ludicrously long fringe. All of humanity is there - the Joy Division Peel Sessions, everything and anything from the seventies by Bowie or Ferry, obscure bootleg recordings by the Smiths and New Order...there is NOTHING here that requires any kind of shame, or covert disowning.

My CD collection, however, is another matter entirely. Some of these are so embarrassingly bad that they have had to be removed from the rack and hidden under the bed; I certainly cannot name them here for fear of people pointing and laughing at me in the street. The others remain, proudly displaying their (and my) lack of musical credibility - one of the many advantages of getting older is that you simply don't care any more, and any slightly shame-faced admittance of a vague respect for, say, Barry Manilow, is often met with relieved nods of recognition. Thus I was delighted to hear of the Girl Talk: I am Woman event at The Lowry next Saturday 2nd July, when three lovely ladies promise to sing a repertoire of cheesy loveliness - who could possibly resist "a diverse range of material from Bacharach to the B52s, Rodgers and Hammerstein to Dolly Parton"? Not I, particularly as I will have had at least one very large glass of wine at Lime beforehand - I have already begun warming up my vocal chords for the audience harmonies that are positively encouraged.

The three ladies in question are Mari Wilson, Barb Jungr and Gwyneth Herbert, accompanied by (the presumably long-suffering) Adrian York on piano. Barb is a local girl, brought up in Stockport, Gwyneth is the "Princess of Cool", and Mari Wilson is - well - Mari Wilson. Respected goddess of song she may well be, but she will forever live in my heart as one of my earliest Top of the Pops memories, performing Just What I Always Wanted with an immense hairdo, the sort that you suspected could house an entire aviary of small birds. I've just watched it again on YouTube and see that she is also sporting a pair of wings that I must have overlooked in my open-mouthed admiration of her hair; AND John Peel is presenting *wipes away nostalgic tear*

Anyway, I'm off to try to source a floor-length gold lame dress for next Saturday; if you fancy doing the same, tickets can be snaffled for just £17.50 a head (with concessions for seniors, students and unwaged, so you can take gran) by telephoning The Lowry on 0843 208 6000, or online at
- I'll be the one orchestrating the mass sway to Dolly Parton.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Wilde About Food? Yes!

Some things go so beautifully together that they make you wonder why more people don't combine them more often. July, for example, sees the thrilling juxtaposition of the words "cheese" and "festival" (and the implied words "actually quite near where I live"), but I'll save that for another blog. Today I have my eye firmly on another very enticing combination of things to which I am partial - theatre and afternoon tea. Genius.

The event in question is Rocket Theatre's Wilde About Food, part of this July's Not Part Of Festival and equipped with its own irresistible strapline: "serving up classic theatre with lavish dining". The idea is as follows: choose whether you would like to be entertained over dinner or afternoon tea, book your tickets, go along to the Palace Hotel, and eat your own bodyweight whilst obliging actors perform Oscar Wilde's Lord Arthur Savile's Crime. Whilst not one of Wilde's best-known plays (you will not, for example, get to utter "a hannnnderbag" in your most distainful tones at any point during the proceedings), this is a corking play, telling the story of Lord Arthur and his trusty valet Middlewick and performed, on this occasion, as a two-man play by Martin Harris and Dan Willis.

Rather than sitting in rows and facing a conventional stage, festival-goers will sit around tables (hopefully ones with wine on them) as Lord Arthur and Middlewick roam freely; one can only hope that a bit of audience participation is not required just as one has surreptitiously popped an entire scone into one's mouth. The afternoon performances include the serving of sandwiches, scones and cakes, and the evening shows promise a three course dinner. As someone who is always caught and humiliated trying to smuggle the remnants of my gin and tonic into the second half of pretty much any performance, I can only applaud this enterprising combination of eating and culture; try not to guffaw with a mouthful of cupcake though, as I imagine that being showered with crumbs at a crucial moment is not something these brave actors would welcome.

Tickets must be booked in advance, and there are performances the first 3 weekends in July:

Saturday 9, 16 July (7.15pm) – with 3 course dinner (£33)

Sunday 3, 10 July (2.45pm) – with afternoon tea (£22)

Tickets are available from Quay Tickets: 0843 208 0500 or online at - I suggest you book immediately as culture fixes really don't come ANY more conveniently-packaged than this.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The 1996 Manchester IRA Bomb; Rusholme Mice Quake at the Memory

Exactly fifteen years ago, and a young girl has an important job interview - her very first important job interview, in fact. Sadly she is a student, and going through an unfortunate phase of thinking that an outfit of baggy black jeans (complete with Joe Bloggs belt), bought second-hand from a dubious outlet in Afflecks Palace and teamed with an unattractive grey body with wonky poppers, flatters her immensely. To be fair, the unchoosy boys who frequent The Academy and Owen's Park Bop support her on this, but even her foolish brain recognises that such an ensemble is unlikely to garner her that shiny new job.

And so she plans to get up early on Saturday morning, and go to M & S in central Manchester to purchase a suit. She does not go, for she and her fetching jeans & body combo have been to Squirrels the night before, and are therefore a/ tired and b/ suffering the after-effects of consuming "Chardonnay" from Cellar 5 that cost £1.25 a bottle. Instead she stays at home, in her big, drafty student flat in Rusholme, and is glad she does, for at twenty past eleven that morning the windows of her flat shake and rattle as if a large bomb has gone off, startling even the itinerant mouse population that visit her flat when they've nothing better to do.

Of course, exactly fifteen years ago today a large bomb DID go off in central Manchester, outside the very emporium where our lazy heroine had hoped to snaffle up a respectable suit.

*Pauses to create tension before big reveal*

Now, you may find this hard to believe, but I am that heroine. In those unimaginable pre-Twitter days, it was several hours before we realised what had happened: the IRA had planted a bomb in a van on Corporation Street, a bomb which went on to cause £700 million of damage and injure 212 people. It appeared I had narrowly escaped being caught up in horrible scenes of panic and fear, simply because I had drunk too much cheap wine the night before whilst throwing attractive shapes to Blur records (there's probably a lesson to be learnt there somewhere), and my relief at avoiding this trauma is palpable to this day.

Of course, a widely held view these days is - controversially - that the IRA almost did Manchester a favour, sparking a programme of regeneration and rebuilding that has produced, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful city centres in the world, where the old and the new live together in aesthetically pleasing harmony. I am proud to be an adopted Mancunian, and it would take a hard, or possibly Liverpudlian, heart not to be moved by that photo of the brave red postbox standing defiantly amidst the rubble of such a vibrant and spirited city. Manchester has grown back around the jagged edges of terrorism bigger and better than ever, a fact worth remembering as we sympathise with those caught up in the events of June 15th, 1996.

N.B. None of the Rusholme mice was injured in the bomb blast, although some of them were really very frightened indeed, needing a good nip of cheap Chardonnay to calm their rodent nerves and get them back on an even keel after such a nasty scare *bows head respectfully*

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Lunar Eclipse at MOSI = Excitement in Boyville

Within every group of friends there is an organiser, someone who may mutter about other people getting off their backsides and doing something for once in their lives, but who actually has a great fondness for a nice list and a few important phone calls. I am that person; more often than not it is me who books the restaurant, or the hotel, or the theatre tickets - indeed, I noticed a Facebook thread between friends yesterday that referred to "checking with the boss", and am choosing to take this as a sign of reverence and respect rather than out-and-out fear of my despotic nature. Waiters in restaurants almost always give the wine list to me (except once, at The Witchery in Edinburgh, when a tremendously posh gentleman handed Mr Liz a wine list the size of a telephone directory - Mr Liz was seen to visibly pale as he pretended to browse until the man had gone away and he could safely hand it over), and somehow it is always me forced to make crucial decisions regarding the exact pilau rice to naan bread ratio required.

The huge advantage of being the organiser is that you simply organise only those events that you yourself wish to attend. Things organised by me tend to involve a combination of some or all of the following: food, cocktails, wine, books, shoes, handbags, cricket, art and - ideally - a dog with a sad face wearing a party hat. I have never, for example, organised any kind of night out that included the words "lunar" or "eclipse", let alone both of them, so you may safely assume that tomorrow night's festivities - a Lunar Eclipse special at Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry - have been organised by Mr Liz.

To be fair, it does all look quite interesting, although less so now the promise of special lunar cocktails at Cloud Bar has been withdrawn. Apparently a total lunar eclipse will be visible from the UK tomorrow, and the MOSI evening arranged in its honour includes talks, demonstrations and observation (although this is apparently subject to weather conditions, which seems a little ominous for an event in Manchester.) The event is free (you see? The words "lunar", "eclipse" and "free" in close proximity clearly indicate the criteria on which a BOY night out is based) but pre-booking is essential - full details are on the MOSI website.

Tonight's night out is back at Khandoker, to bravely force down a bit more lovely curry for disadvantaged children; no prizes for guessing who is behind the helm of this particular soiree.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Didsbury Festival 2011 & Manchester Mosaics at Queenston Arthouse

A friend of mine has just bagged herself an ace new job, and is looking to move into Manchester as a result; one of the areas she is considering is Didsbury. Is it a nice place to live? she plaintively cried, having foolishly looked at some crime figures and subsequently become worried she might be moving to some kind of ghetto rather than the hip, leafy suburb that irritating programmes such as Cold Feet would have us believe. Well, Didsbury has its problems like any other area, but a quick glance at yesterday's itinerary should give the concerned friend her answer.

(NB she asked me to "do something naughty" yesterday in honour of World Gin Day (who knew?) and thereby bring house prices down in the area; I'm not sure the following really qualifies.)

First stop, the annual Didsbury Festival at Didsbury Park. Now, at the risk of sounding like I'm ninety five million years old, Didsbury Festival is one of my very favourite events of the year, purely and simply because it is exactly the same every year, but in a really nice way. The first festival was held back in 1980, and from what I understand the format has changed very little over the years; the day starts with a procession of local schools (this year dressed mostly as Disney characters) down School Lane and Wilmslow Road into Didsbury Park, and then unfolds exactly as you might hope - there is a dog show populated by splendidly over-excited and ill-behaved canines, a range of stalls selling the kind of food that you would secretly want to live on if it weren't for the food-police (Mr Liz was actually jingling his money in impatient excitement whilst waiting for his hog roast - please note there are NO euphemisms included in this statement), stalls selling books, plants, jewellery and cakes, and always, always, people dressed up in spectacular costumes dancing away come rain or shine.

The very nicest thing about the festival is that everybody in Didsbury goes, every year, even if it is raining (or hailing, as yesterday) and even though it's so wildly predictable. After all, there are few circumstances where you can have pig-in-a-bun, an ice-cream, and then be having a pint in the Fletcher Moss by 2pm, safe in the knowledge that whatever you do is perfectly permissible, as you are demonstrating community spirit AND raising money for charity (TWICE in one week *directs reader to Tuesday's post and awaits knighthood*)

Then, something even more exciting to attend. A short walk over the border into West Didsbury brought us to Queenston Arthouse, a gallery like no other I have seen - a gorgeous family home generously opened up to display the works of talented artists in a unique setting. Frankly, once you've stood in a beautiful kitchen, drinking a glass of wine and admiring a range of stunning mosaics, all the while petting a passing dog and eyeing up the brie on the worktop, a conventional gallery is simply not going to cut it.

The art works in question of course belong to Amanda McCrann, the ridiculously talented lady behind Manchester Mosaics. Her witty and beautiful mosaics can be seen at Queenston today until 7pm (Amanda herself will be around between 2 and 5pm) as well as next Saturday and Sunday 18th and 19th June between 11am and 7pm. Each of these "open days" allows you to admire the art work whilst talented musicians serenade you; yesterday we were privileged to be sung to by the charming James Reith as I skipped merrily round the house mentally selecting all the mosaics I can picture looking just right in my own (rather smaller) home - his music is well worth checking out.

We were also lucky enough to see wood sculptor Andy Burgess in action - or "champion of doing clever things with chainsaws", to give him his official title. We watched, mouths actually agape, as he wielded his flashing blade in the vicinity of a distinctly unpromising looking lump of tree trunk; half an hour later, a living, breathing (well, almost) owl sat in its place. I am, frankly, astonished to have discovered such a gem of a place, and plan on attending more events at this haven of good taste and general all-round loveliness over the summer - the full programme is on the website, or you can call Laura on 0161 445 5901. She is the enterprising lady behind all of this, and welcomes all-comers as if they were old friends - I felt incredibly at home in the house of someone I have never met before, and am quite tempted to simply move in (although I should perhaps keep this quiet, lest she become distinctly less welcoming as a result.)

So yes, Didsbury is a GREAT place to live...although not without its disadvantages. Mr Liz fancies he might take up a new hobby, and is asking for a chainsaw - let us hope he never reads this blog, and safely forgets all about it.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Win Fish & Chips for a Year at Fosters

Sometimes, people send me emails, tweets or comments in which they allege that I must live in a house that has no kitchen, so often do I appear to eat out or purchase takeaway; these messages vary in tone from the slightly spiteful, via simple declaration of fact, through to open admiration. Sadly I must disappoint these misguided souls and point out that I actually cook from scratch most nights of the week, and harbour secret, seductively domestic dreams of opening my own shop, where I will sell home-made dips and other tempting comestibles.

Every so often, though, the only option that appeals is to lie prone on the sofa while a well-trained cat pours wine into your waiting mouth and an equally obedient spouse goes out to track down something calorific in a tray. And last time he was sent out to hunter-gather, what a tray he found - a mighty, magnificent Tray 4 2 from Fosters Fish & Chips. Obviously I was slightly troubled by the use of grammatically incorrect number homophones to represent perfectly good words, but they are good people at Fosters, so I turned a blind eye to the linguistic tomfoolery and instead concentrated on wrestling the lid off the giant tray. Inside I found an army of chips, two giant pieces of fish, tartare sauce and, in little separate tubs, two portions of mushy peas (well, you wouldn't want an unhealthy meal, would you...)

The proud hunter told me this feast had cost but £10.95 - excellent value and, more importantly, easily transported home without the usual issues of bags falling over, chips escaping and rampaging wildly around the car, etc etc. If that wasn't incentive enough, Fosters are launching a competition from 10th June (cunning - just in time to catch the can't-be-bothered-on-a-Friday-brigade) where five golden tickets, each entitling the bearer to free fish and chips for a year, will be hidden inside Trays 4 2. The competition will run until the 5 lucky tickets are found, and Fosters promise there will be winners in both the Didsbury and Alderley Edge branches. The Tray 4 2 is only available in the takeaway, and is only to be sold to me or members of my immediate family until further notice*.

So only one question remains - what exactly constitutes a year's supply? I'll make sure to ask next time I'm in, getting my winning Tray For Two and pointing out that there's simply no need for language abuse when the fish and chips are this good.

*one part of this sentence is not strictly true.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

The Khandoker Charity Banquet 2011

As regular readers will know, I am by nature a most selfless and public-spirited individual. Take last night as an example; although I warn you, tissues may be needed to mop up the tears that are sure to well when you hear of my tireless giving.

For last night, I ate curry for charity. Yes, yes, I know - modesty prevents me from accepting your plaudits quite as readily as I would like, but you are absolutely right to applaud me. To be fair, we should perhaps applaud Mr Khandoker as well; every year he holds a charity banquet at his superlative Khandoker curryhouses in Didsbury and Bramhall in aid of a worthy cause - this year it's the local charity Retrak, based in Stockport.

The idea is simple. You turn up, pay £14.95, and in return Mr Khandoker (or one of his fleet of amiable staff) brings you poppadoms, a mixed starter (onion bhaji, sheek kebab, chicken tikka etc etc, and some token salad that no-one will eat), your choice of any curry, rice and naan bread. You hoover up all the delicious food, leave complaining of a full tummy, and Mr K then gives the entire £14.95 to the charity.

Whilst it does seem to be pushing it a little to call this a "5 course" banquet, this really does seem to be quite the easiest way of giving to charity. The money raised will allow 24 Greater Manchester police officers to travel out to Ethiopia and Uganda for nine days in November (in their own time) to work with street children who badly need their help; one of the officers came for a chat with us while we were troughing, and I think we all felt a little in awe of someone so willing to give up so much of their time to help others - we all tried to look earnest and worthwhile ourselves, quite a difficult task when you're basically just a greedy person with a curry.

Still, you know me - always happy to go the extra mile. And with that in mind, I have promised to go again next week - just, you know, to really do my bit *awaits medal*

The banquet is available at the Didsbury restaurant tonight, and next Monday and Tuesday (13th and 14th June) - call 0161 434 3596 to book; the Bramhall restaurant is running the banquet tonight, tomorrow, and next Tuesday and Wednesday (14th and 15th June) - 0161 439 1050. Go on - you know it's the right thing to do *noble face*

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Take That at City of Manchester Stadium 4th June 2011

First things first: I am old enough to have liked Take That the first time round. Not that you would confess to such deeply unfashionable tastes, obviously - admitting to liking Fat Gary's Band during the heady days of 90s Brit Pop was akin to speaking up about a love of stamp-collecting and knee-length socks; a dark, secret love that should never, ever speak its name, particularly when older, cooler girls were around.

Well, what a difference twenty years make. It seems that just about every female in the Manchester area is seeing The That on one of their eight sell-out dates at the City of Manchester Stadium over the next week, and - even more remarkably - are not ashamed to admit it. Take That have grown from a group of frankly quite unattractive purveyors of cheesy pop into a sleek troop of proper, really-quite-buff men; indeed, it is virtually impossible to look upon Gary Barlow these days and not think "well, look at that - whoever would have thought it?"

Still, before I can get on to the actual concert itself, a word about the Manchester weather. We spent much of yesterday sitting in a friend's garden having a barbecue, where it was SO HOT that one by one, we each had to move our chairs into the shade until we were all practically in the hedge. Many of yesterday's concert-goers had apparently spent the day in similar pursuits; there were a number of nasty sunburn cases on view, and the general approach to dressing for the concert seemed to have been to wear as little as physically possible without being arrested. By the time Take That were on, the dark clouds had gathered, the temperature had plummeted, and the rain was falling; indeed, it was so cold and miserable that one of our party (NOT me) was driven by sheer desperation to purloin some (clean) binbags from behind a burger van and artfully fashion them into attractive waterproofs.

However, although it might be a cliche, the rain really didn't dampen anyone's enthusiasm. True, the magnificently generous gesture of having 80s pop kings The Pet Shop Boys as support act was rather wasted on some of the younger members of the crowd, who looked on disinterestedly as the old folk merrily sang along. Chris Lowe had his own tent, and was wearing a mirrored hoodie; the backing singers had enormous foam blocks on their heads and knees. Sometimes it's good to be reminded that the splendidly eccentric PSB were doing Lady GaGa long before she was.

And then, the main event. The concert was divided into three sections - Gary, Mark, Howard and Jason doing songs from their first two comeback albums, then a Robbie Williams solo section, then all five of the "boys" together for the remainder. As usual, there is most to say about Robbie Williams, who abseiled down from behind an enormous screen showing pictures of himself (naturally), and then shouted his way through Let Me Entertain You - the best thing I can say is that I went to the toilet during this part of the show and there was no queue. The crowd seemed pretty much equally divided between those who wish to marry Robbie and have his babies, and those who think TT were better off without him; I'm in the latter camp, and can honestly say that his voice isn't what it once was (although luckily his ego seems largely intact.)

There was something even scarier than R. Williams on show, however: Om the giant robot. We had already noticed his even larger golden brother presiding over the stage; Om himself appeared about half-way through, a 60 foot silver fella who moved menacingly towards us (after our jug of Pimm's, no doubt) before realising there were about 20,000 people between him and us and giving up. Om clearly hadn't read quite to the end of the script, and the rousing final version of Never Forget was rendered unintentionally hilarious by the fact that Gary, Jason and Robbie were forced to perform as a threesome whilst Mark and Howard remained trapped on top of a temporarily misfiring robot (to give them credit though, they never stopped singing or dancing, game professionals that they are.) Don't worry; they are both safely down now.

Other novelties included dancing chess pieces, gorgeous ballerinas, giant pink caterpillars and a substantial amount of fire; surprisingly, though, for such an openly manufactured band, none of this distracted from the main point of it all - the singing. Even the dancing is still pretty good for a group of men in their late thirties and early forties, with highlights including an all-action version of Pray and an energetic Relight My Fire, although sadly I was not invited up to sing the Lulu part, despite having rehearsed for it my entire life.

In other words, the whole night was amazing, apart from the Lulu slight. If you're going to any of the dates, you're in for a treat, and it would take a far harder heart than mine not to be moved by the joy that each appears to take in being back together as a successful group. Bravo, TT, although if you're back in another twenty years I really would lay off the break-dancing.

Full set list:

Rule The World
Greatest Day
Hold Up A Light
Let Me Entertain You (aka toilet-break time)
Rock DJ
Come Undone
The Flood
Underground Machine
Pretty Things
Million Love Songs/Babe/Everything Changes/Back For Good (a bit of a tease this one - only Back for Good is sung in full, leaving the complex narrative of Babe cruelly unfinished)
Love Love
Never Forget
No Regrets
Relight My Fire
Eight Letters

Friday, 3 June 2011

Sizzling Summer Food Offers at Didsbury Restaurants

Well, I hardly dare say it, but *whispers* summer appears to have returned to Manchester. This is excellent news for several reasons: firstly, I am going to a party tonight and wish to wear a particularly attractive new maxi dress, which was always going to look better accessorised with gladiator sandals rather than wellies and a large coat; secondly, one can avoid having a house full of wet-knicker-strewn radiators and instead parade one's smalls proudly on the actual washing-line; and thirdly, summer brings with it the ability to go out in the evening whilst imagining that you're in some gorgeous Mediterranean country.

So that's why the tapas really weren't my fault. In fact, it couldn't have started more innocently, with a short trip up West to drop my car off at the garage and then a healthy power-walk home down Burton Road. But wait! Who's this sitting outside Folk bar with a lovely glass of pink wine, condensation softly caressing the icy-cold curves of the glass, but a friend and her gorgeous children? And behold! There are other friends crossing the road to join us...well, it would take a stronger person than me to say no.

A couple of drinks later, enjoying the balmy evening amidst Folk's gently swaying palm trees, and the idea of trudging home and whipping up some kind of dinner was clearly utterly unworkable. Instead, we went to the estimable Pinchjo's for tapas, having been pitilessly drawn in by the early-bird offer - any two tapas and a glass of wine or beer for £11. This is a really lovely little restaurant (although, heartbreakingly, we were the only people in there sampling the outstanding food; admittedly the night was still young) and the tapas there is the best I've yet had in Manchester - ludicrously tasty food served in surprisingly generous portions.

The whole manu is utterly fanciable, which makes choosing just two tapas virtually impossible; luckily my task was made easier by the fact that a friend (she of the pink wine, actually) had a week or so earlier posted a picture on Twitter of the Mustard Chicken and proclaimed it the best dish in the world. I had it. It is. Large pieces of tender chicken slowly cooked until meltingly soft, and served up in a perky mustard-spiced sauce; I am already working out how long I must leave it before I can respectably go in for it again. My second dish was Seafood Paella, and whilst this didn't quite hit the flavour heights of its show-stealing brother, it was packed full of mussels, squid and prawns and was gone in a trice.

Mr Liz went for the Pinchitos - skewered chicken breast with chilli and ginger - and Morcilla (Spanish black pudding - you can take the boy out of Wigan, etc etc) cooked with a selection of vegetables including some perfectly griddled asparagus. I get the impression that he would have eaten more, given half a chance, and you can order additional tapas if required at normal prices (around £6), but the portion sizes here are much larger than, for example, Casa Tapas, and so you do eat pretty substantially for your £11 (and the glass of wine I had was decent as well.)

The offer is set to run all summer, and is available Sunday to Thursday between 5 and 7pm; I am going to try to build up the courage to go in and just order four portions of Mustard Chicken next time.

Speaking of summer offers, another rather seductive piece of Burton Road temptation comes from Rhubarb, the excellent restaurant next door to Folk. Proudly eschewing the consumption of healthy, salad-based summer fare, the Rhubarb offer is on STEAK; great, whopping slabs of dry aged rib-eye steak, supplied by the legendary Frosts of Chorlton. The steak comes with herb butter and triple-cooked chips, as well as your choice of side order, home-made bread, any dessert or cheese (presumably this comes after the steak, not alongside it), and a glass of wine or bottle of lager. All for £24 a head. The offer runs every night between 5 and 9pm (7pm on a Saturday) and looks, frankly, irresistable. Now, all we need is for other forward-thinking retailers to start offers on good, wintery food and this lovely weather might just last...

- Pinchjo's is at 192 Burton Road; Rhubarb is at 167 - best not try doing them both same night though *wise face*