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Sunday, 31 July 2011

Artisan Meat Company First Birthday Party: Big Green Egg Gives Local Man Barbecue Envy

It is fair to say that some barbecues are more successful than others. At their best, they are hardly to be bettered; my best friend, for example, hosts fine barbecues, where all the ladies sit comfortably on the patio drinking Amaretto Sours and the men folk sporadically bring tasty morsels to the table, with the same pride and devotion on their faces as her beloved tiger-cat used to display when carrying in his latest frog/mouse offering. We even once did that thing where you cook an entire chicken on the barbecue perched atop a can of beer; AMAZING.

Sometimes, though, outdoor gatherings are less enjoyable. I have never actually had food poisoning from a barbecue, but frankly this is quite remarkable considering the number of black-on-the-outside, bleeding-on-the-inside mystery items I have eaten, my normally sterling judgement clouded by oceans of sweet pink wine - which may well have had a wasp or two in it. I have also attended parties where the barbecue has had to take place inside the garage due to the raging monsoon outside, and hosted one where the trestle table seat gave out midway through, almost killing the unfortunate folk sitting astride it.

Today, however, The Artisan Meat Company in Mottram St. Andrew celebrated its first birthday by showing exactly how a barbecue should be done. This lovely farmshop opened its doors in Cheshire exactly one year ago, and plans for world domination continue with the news that a second shop - Didsbury Farm Shop - is due to open on Wilmslow Road in a few weeks or so. This is bad news for anyone who has developed a slight addiction to their peerless bacon, sausages, meatballs and chops, although excellent news for any purveyors of large-waisted pants; I fear my hard-fought campaign to get Mr Liz to eat vegetarian once a week - never really very successful - may be entirely sunk now.

Anyway, whilst I admired the pigs, goats and geese, taking my opportunity to inhale the scent of the countryside, Mr Liz was also gazing in open-mouth reverence - at the Big Green Egg. This is the king of all barbecues, and understandably irresistible to a man who only has a pile of wonky bricks with a rusty grill on top at home: a handsome, dark green ceramic beast, the Big Green Egg does pretty much everything bar the washing up - it is an oven, a grill and a smoker, and Mr Liz now pictures himself as a Jamie Oliver type, rustling up pizzas and nonchalently cooking them outside with handfuls of home-grown herbs thrown on top.

This is unlikely to happen in reality, so instead we filled up on lamb, chicken and pork belly cooked by BBQ master Andy Annat, as well as Artisan's own steak burgers and sausages from the grill, washed down with a little white wine that didn't have a single fly in it. So thanks again to Mr J and co for their excellent hospitality; the whole of Didsbury (well, maybe not the vegetarians) is counting down the days until you bring your meaty wares in our direction...

- The Artisan Meat Company can be found at Cherry Tree Farm, Lees Lane, Mottram St. Andrew,
Cheshire, SK10 4LL; go and pet their goats NOW.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Bem Brasil Northern Quarter: Beautiful Birthday Banquet Bought By Brave and Brilliant Wife

I am, of course, a most dutiful and obedient wife.

*ignores sight of husband mouthing "yeah, when it suits you" from the sarky chair*

Therefore, if Mr Liz wishes to visit Bem Brasil for his birthday lunch, it is my role as a supportive and thoughtful wife to accompany him, even though big, greedy, all-you-can-eat meals are not really my thing.

*turns back on sarky chair altogether*

Anyway, we went to the original Bem Brasil, situated in the Northern Quarter and much smaller and calmer than its larger, brashier Deansgate sister. The weekday lunch deal here is frankly ridiculous value - £12.50 per head for as much as you like, and as it's a "Rodizio" - meaning "rotating" or "continuous" - you simply have to sit quietly at your table, drinking wine, while people bring skewers of meat to you and carve it straight from the skewer onto your greedily-waiting plate.

*looks at husband with loving, see-the-things-I'm-willing-to-do-for-you look*

There is a smaller selection at lunch than during the evening, but this is what arrived at our table during the course of our two-hour greed marathon:

- Leg of Lamb
- Gammon
- Rump Steak
- Garlic Steak
- Spicy Chicken Thighs
- Pork Sausage
- Beef Ribs
- Pork Ribs
- Chicken Hearts
- Garlic Bread
- Roasted Cinnamon Pineapple

I must point out that I did not manage everything (although I did have two helpings of lamb and rump steak), but as the birthday boy got up to 19 helpings of meat before he lost count, it seems clear that he did indeed perhaps go round pretty much everything twice. Your £12.50 also allows unlimited visits to the salad bar and hot buffet; I had actually learned my lesson from last time and wisely eschewed the potatoes and bread (for once), although I did slip up a little by having, ahem, three helpings of a gorgeous appley coleslaw that everybody else was ignoring.

The most impressive things about Bem Brasil? The quality of the meat, obviously. The value - our bill was a ludicrous £40, including drinks. And the staff - the young gentleman who did the bulk of the serving actually remembered, a good half hour after he'd brought round the first helping of rump steak, that I preferred the pink bits and Mr Liz preferred the meat slightly more well done.

*stoically resists urge to make hilarious pun re: "well done" to the waiter or similar*

And thus I have cemented my position as "most excellent wife", despite having to have a little sleep on the train home. Even more impressively, next week I have to do it all again, forcing myself to eat at Albert's Shed for my best friend's birthday - I only hope I have finished polishing my halo by then.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Ben & Jerry's Sundae in the Park: Photos Galore

Even the most cursory glance at this blog will tell you that I am NOT a photographer. Kindly friends are always making helpful suggestions about other blog providers that I could switch to in order to include more photographs, but I'm quite happy as I am; I am unskilled with the camera, I cannot be bothered to carry one around with me (nights out and cameras are rarely a good combination for me - previous unfortunates have ended up forgotten on a bar stool, or drowning ignominiously in a cocktail spillage) and - most importantly - I am far too greedy and impatient to faff around photographing my food before I eat it or my cocktail before I drink it.

That's not to say, however, that I do not admire someone who DOES have a flair for photography, and to that end I am more than happy to include a link here to some ace photos from Sunday's Ben & Jerry's Festival in Heaton Park. This is, of course, another reason for being rubbish at photography; one gets to sit peaceably on a picnic blanket eating free ice cream whilst someone else does all your actual work for you (and I thought it might be pushing it a bit if I went into the Press Pit and started taking pictures with my iPhone camera...)

So enjoy the pics, and don't blame the photographer for the high percentage of photos of Huey Morgan from The Fun Lovin' Criminals: he is over-represented at the behest of the good women of Manchester (well, the ones that I know, anyway). Loooking forward to next year's festival already :)

Thursday, 28 July 2011

The Mark Addy Gourmet Evening Saves The Day: Local Girl in "No-Cheese-For-You" Horror

Yesterday did NOT start well. I awoke clutching my pass for the International Cheese Awards, my sweaty palm embossed with the beautiful poetry that would ensure my entry to a heavenly world of cheese; indeed, some friends had been the day before, and returned wide-eyed and breathless, telling tall tales of acres of dairy goodness stretching as far as the eye could see. It's fair to say I was excited.

And yet. Sadly, that excitement did not translate into what should - it transpired afterwards - have been the correct course of action: leaping out of bed at 6 and being at the festival for 8 (that's 8am, not 8lbs of cheese, although I was hopeful). Instead, I naively left the house at 9, drove all the way to Nantwich, sat in traffic for another hour or so, then gave up and drove another hour home; I didn't even see the car-park. A kind Twitter correspondent told me he'd queued for 90 minutes, and then again for his ticket; clearly a more patient soul than me.

Of course, it all turned out for the best, for last night was the last Wednesday of the month and that can only mean one thing: Gourmet Evening at The Mark Addy. You know how this works by now - £30 a head for 6 surprise courses of whatever seasonal goodies Robert Owen Brown fancies throwing your way, me complaining all the way home about having eaten too much etc etc - but before I list this month's Greed Fest, there are a couple of things I must mention. Firstly, ROB has quite rightly been nominated as Chef of the Year in this year's Manchester Food & Drink Awards, with The Mark Addy itself up for best restaurant - the public vote is open now if you want to register your approval of this fine establishment.

And secondly, and more remarkably, last night ROB was nervous about his menu. He has said before that coming into the restaurant and announcing the menu ALWAYS makes him uncomfortable (which seems strange, considering he has survived appearing in front of millions on The One Show), but last night he actually feared - I think - booing, heckling and general all-round horror at his brave menu. Well, he needn't have worried. People go along to Gourmet Evening to try something different, things they wouldn't normally have at home, which is why THIS little lot went down a storm:

1. Beetroot Soup topped with Crumbled Goats Curd. A perfect start - red velvet soup perfectly complimented by the tarty tang of the goats curd crumbled over the top. At least, it WOULD have been the perfect start if it hadn't come with a huge plate of the most delicious bread, all of which we ate - feel free to insert your own comments here about my inability to learn from previous mistakes etc etc.

2. Brawn with Piccalilli Toast. Brawn is pig's head, cooked and pressed into a kind of terrine, and it is delicious. I honestly believe that if you're happy to eat animals, it is pretty insulting to the animal to turn your nose up at certain bits of it - it's ALL meat, after all, so I don't really see the need for squeamishness over the less glamorous cuts. This dish - one of the ones ROB was afraid of - drew a huge number of positive comments; I would like to say that I left the toast, but you probably know the sad truth.

3. Fish Stew. Nothing to offend anyone here - just a cute kilner jar filled with the most intensely flavoured fish broth and pieces of tender piscine goodness. I am hoping my use of the adjective "piscine" here will obscure the fact that I don't know what fish it was, sorry *glances round to see if has got away with it*

4. Ox Tail and Ox Tongue. The same goes for this as for the brawn - this is top to tail eating at its best, and is actually my favourite meat course to date that I've had at the Addy. A tender piece of tongue (don't worry - it doesn't look like something that once lolled from an animal's mouth by the time ROB has pimped it up), sitting proudly astride a potato and spinach tower, swimming in a meaty sauce studded with pieces of tasty ox tail, the whole lot topped with tangy mustard...I would order this again and again if it were a regular menu item *hint hint*

5. Warm Blackberry Custard. Simple perfection - blackberries in the bottom of a champagne glass topped with warm custard; in the end I gave up with the spoon and just drank the lot.

6. Regional Cheeses. At last! After the disappointment of my cheese-free day, finally my patience is rewarded with a plate of the good stuff! Well, ahem, suffice to say that the cheese is currently residing in my fridge in a foil parcel, ousted by that pushy bread that came with the soup and practically forced its way down my throat.

So, fittingly enough, a day that started with cheese deprivation ended with me wending my glamorous way home on the bus clutching - as a friend put it on Twitter - a wrap o' cheese. You can try, but you simply have to be born with this kind of class.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Harvey Nichols Food Hall: Utopia, Part Two

Obviously, most of the time my brain is occupied with meaningful, deeply cerebral matters; the nature of the universe, for example, or the influence of Proust on modern European literature. Actually, that's not true. I spend pretty much every waking moment thinking about food; indeed, I often lie in bed at night, happily planning the meals I will eat the next day (or indeed, week). Under these circumstances, the fact I have today spent six hours in the Harvey Nichols Foodmarket should be something of a cause for concern; I believe, in fact, that three school-leavers have been employed tonight specifically to restock the empty shelves that I have left in my wake.

My reasons for such gluttony are, of course, entirely selfless. New products need trying, and I am the brave person to - as Rio Ferdinand would say - step up to the mantelpiece. Here are just a few things that you might like to try:

1. Yee Kwan Handcrafted Ice Cream and Sorbets. Yee is a Sheffield-based lady who makes the most delicious ices using natural flavours and a base mix that is only 6.5% fat (although, frankly, when you read the whole sorry list of what I ate today, such concerns seem entirely superfluous). I liked ALL the flavours I tried (which, bless her, Yee patiently served up without a trace of a "for goodness sake, how much can one woman eat" expression on her face), including the award-winning Black Sesame Seed ice cream, but my very favourite - the Avocado & Chilli sorbet - is not stocked by HN: yet. I plan to wear the buyers down by simply going up to all staff in the food market and saying "AVOCADO AND CHILLI SORBET PLEASE" until my demands are met and this amazing savoury sorbet is safely on the shelves. Full details are available on Yee's website.

2. HN Panforte. Apparently, people only buy panforte - a traditional Tuscan cake - at Christmas, which seems to leave eleven and a half months of the year cruelly unaccounted for. I tried the Chocolate & Cherry, and then the Hazelnut & Fig; I was particularly taken with the latter, which would be perfect served in thin slivers with cheese (obviously tell your guests it was a terribly small panforte, to account for the slices that you will inevitably have eaten while carving it up). They look and taste beautiful, and don't be put off by the £7.95 price tag - one of these will go a long way (the HN lady estimated it would feed twelve, although I would privately reduce this a little for those with, ahem, substantial appetites). Lovely picture here.

3. Assorted Alcohol. By now it was gone 11.30, and therefore a perfectly respectable time to sidle over to the alcohol tables. I loved the HN Pinot Noir, and also spent a happy time with Caroline of Chase Distillery, a Herefordshire-based company whose vodka has been voted the best in the world. I can confirm that their Apple Gin and Rhubarb and Raspberry Liqueurs are just as good, although obviously I wouldn't normally touch such things before lunch *brave, selfless, I-do-it-all-for-you face*

4. Assorted Deli Items. The deli counter at Harvey Nicks is a thing of great beauty, a place I have often been tempted to sneak into at night, only to be discovered in a happy olive-based coma the following morning; honestly, this is where I would go if I was a teensy tiny Borrower. Anyway, the Cashel Blue cheese is immense, as are the fresh anchovies; both of which, sadly, were just too smelly to allow me to surreptitiously sweep the lot into my handbag.

We were also lucky enough to sample a cocktail masterclass, in which I made a frankly VERY good Mojito (although, to be honest, it's quite easy when someone has already made the sugar syrup and squeezed the limes for you - the hardest bit was getting on, and staying on, the bar stool), and then to have a meal in the Second Floor Restaurant cooked by Head Chef Stuart Thomson. Stuart has deservedly been nominated for Chef of the Year in the upcoming Manchester Food and Drink Awards, with the restaurant itself up for Restaurant of the Year; on the evidence of today's lunch it would be no surprise if either or both were to win. We feasted on smoked salmon, Goosnargh corn fed chicken breast with tomato cassoulet, selected cheeses (including the gorgeous - and aptly named - Smelly Apeth), Hibiscus & Champagne trifle, and - last but not least - a cute "I love HN" cake pop courtesy of Didsbury-based Lollicakes. I made the mistake of taking this home, where - after a hot bus journey - the words had melted into one chocolatey blend; note to self, NEVER put a melting cake pop in the freezer when Mr Liz is due home imminently.

So after all this glorious gluttony, at least I can have a quiet, modest day tomorrow to atone for today's sins; it's not, after all, as if I have a Cheese Festival followed by a six-course Gourmet Dinner at the Addy. Oh no, wait...

Monday, 25 July 2011

Ben & Jerry's Sundae Festival, Lunch at Giraffe and Other Lovely Things

Like it or not, we are living in an age of increasing political correctness. We have all read the gleeful tabloid articles that loudly ridicule the fact that school-children are no longer allowed to play conkers without the use of protective eye-wear (this was never a problem in my day - we were a sedate, lazy bunch who preferred to sit quietly and swap stickers), and that no-one is permitted to go away a loser on Sports Day (again, never an issue for those of us who spent as much of that dreaded day as possible lurking behind the pavillion trying to avoid any kind of physical exercise.) And whilst these kind of extreme examples are easily mocked, we should all of course celebrate that we live in a time of relative equality, where we are all free to celebrate our own worth and value to the world around us.

And yet. A blatant and unfair example of inequality regularly goes unmentioned, swept under the carpet of shame rather than ever being fully acknowledged or addressed. For, much as it pains me to say it, some weekends are simply much, much better than others. Take the weekend I have just had, for example. A bright, shiny, bullying behemoth of a weekend, there's simply no way that a wet couple of days in February spent marking coursework and doing a bit of ironing could ever compete. It claimed all (ALL!) of this as its own:

1. Friday night drinks at the Fletcher Moss. Shame on those of you at the back who are whispering that this is one of Didsbury's Old Man pubs - just because they don't do cocktails doesn't mean that, ahem, terribly young and fashionable people like myself can't go there. They have an excellent selection of red wines by the glass, lovely staff, and second-hand books to buy, and I will defend its desirability as a Friday-night hot-spot until my dying day (at which point, obviously, I will start drinking in the Royal Oak.)

2. Saturday lunch at Giraffe, Spinningfields. Obviously here I've left out the bit where I watched some cricket in my pyjamas and moved directly to the bit where I polished off a plate of Giraffe's mighty Huevos Rancheros in a new world-record time of 8.7 seconds (although I was aided by a strong following wind.) If you've never had this Mexican-inspired breakfast, I'm at a loss to understand why - tortilla with refried beans, chorizo and eggs, made virtuous and healthy by the addition of some salsa and avocado. They serve this breakfast until 4pm, meaning that you can go and try it, even if you're a student.

3. Saturday night takeaway. Now I know on the face of it, to consume an enormous curry (complete with sundries) on the same day as having lunch at Giraffe might look a little greedy, but I asked Twitter its opinion and it came back with a unanimous "Go For It" verdict. And anyway, we went to Amin, where they do the most amazing reduced fat curries, so in all likelihood I burnt off all the calories simply by going to fetch it (or I would have done, if I hadn't in fact sent Mr Liz.)

4. Sunday at the Ben & Jerry's Sundae Festival, Heaton Park. I wrote about this a couple of weeks ago, suggesting a number of reasons why I thought I might be fabulous; it was actually even better than I'd hoped. The sun shone (thereby allowing those of us with Greek tans to watch imperiously as our countrymen and women turned a fetching shade of pink), the bands were fabulous (especially the Fun Lovin' Criminals who, despite swearing with much gusto, couldn't disguise the fact that they are now, essentially, a bunch of really rather cuddly middle-aged men), and the ice-cream was FREE. I felt really rather ashamed of having consumed five gargantuan cones; until, that is, Mr Liz confessed to having lost count at 8.

In fact, there were only two flaws in the whole weekend. Firstly, Waterstones have sold out of tickets for Caitlin Moran on Thursday, so if you have tickets and want me to be your date, please be in touch. Secondly, on Saturday, we walked all the way to Burton Road in West Didsbury to try new(ish) bar Mary and Archie's, only to find it closed for a private party, forcing me to saunter casually but resentfully past pretending that I hadn't really wanted to go in there anyway.

So next time you're picking a cause to support, rather than going for something obvious, consider that poor little February non-weekend - it needs all of us to help protect it from brilliant, swaggering July triumphs.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

International Cheese Awards Come to Nantwich; Local Girl Vows Not to Eat for a Week in Readiness

A few weeks ago, I did an introductory lesson to Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale which involved us all sharing our own personal vision of what a dystopian society might be like. Obviously my own view of what exactly would constitute nightmare living conditions - loss of iPhone, coming home to find no Prosecco in the fridge, air-conditioning in car breaking down - had to be swiftly and secretly amended in the face of some shamefully adult suggestions from the class, leading me to nod approvingly as I wrote up "permanent state of war, loss of identity, curtailment of personal freedom etc etc" on the board as if they were the ideas I'd had in my head all along.

Naturally, such a discussion tends to lead to a consideration of the opposite view, and what might feature in a perfect society. Here I am forced to abandon any pretence at noble ideals and confess that my version of utopia - paradise - appears to be happening next week, for on Wednesday 27th July, Nantwich is hosting a DAY BUILT ENTIRELY AROUND THE CONSUMPTION OF CHEESE. Yep, that's right - pop world peace on the back burner, for the International Cheese Awards 2011 are almost here, bigger and better than ever. Established in 1897, this year's festival promises a staggering number of entries vying for the honour of being awarded Supreme Champion - more than 3,650, from around 600 producers and 24 different countries (note to self - take handbag with v. large capacity.)

The celebrity judges this year are chefs Gino D'Acampo and James Martin, and pop star and soap star turned cheese makers Alex James and Sean Wilson, as well as a panel of industry experts who will have made their choices the day before the cheesy paradise is opened up to hungry Cheshire-ites. Tasting takes place in the thrillingly-named Cheese Marquee - 70,000 square feet of dairy goodness to house the 30,000 visitors expected.

*sharpens elbows and perfects get-away-from-my-cheese snarl*

Today - Wednesday 20th July - is the last day for booking reduced-price advance tickets, at just £13 for adults, £9 for OAPs and £7 for Juniors; under-5s go free, so if you have a handy child with big pockets, make sure you take them along. Full-price tickets will also be available on the day - visit the festival website for more details or to pre-book, and whilst you're there, check out last year's Supreme Champion, a gentleman holding the largest and most impressive wedge of parmesan I have EVER seen. I think I'm going to need a bigger hangbag...

Monday, 11 July 2011

Ben & Jerry's Sundae in the Park 2011 - Ice Cream Festival Comes to Manchester's Heaton Park

As a city, Manchester has played it pretty smart over the years. We like to let London think it gets all the fun, prostrating itself like an attention-seeking child, while we remain aloof in our Northern kingdom, safe in the knowledge that we will never have to host the Eurovision Song Contest, or suffer the sight of Sebastian Coe running around in a suit desperately trying to whip up a bit of Olympic fervour. We will stay up here, thank you, where chip shops wouldn't dream of selling their wares without something moist to go alongside, and where black pudding can appear as the star of a salad, unselfconsciously and without a hint of irony.

We will have in on your Ben & Jerry's ice cream festival though. For the last seven years, lucky Londoners have been able to go along to the Sundae on the Common festival, where they sit in the sun, listen to music, and eat unlimited ice cream, and finally, FINALLY, Ben & Jerry's have realised that Mancunians would probably be very good at doing that too. Thus, the weekend of the 23rd and 24th July sees the Ben & Jerry's Sundae in the Park Festival arriving at Manchester's Heaton Park, and here are the reasons why you should go:

1. The music. Now, I have admitted before that my musical tastes are not always completely up to the minute, and am therefore delighted to note that the festival seems to already know this and have taken it into account. The Sunday, when I'm going, is particularly enticing, as it appears to be a Sunday from the early 90s - I shall be watching the Fun Lovin Criminals, Ash and Ocean Colour Scene, and am therefore young, thin, still at university, and probably doing something very exciting later. Saturday offers the intriguing mix of Maximo Park and Gary Numan; cross your fingers and hope for all you're worth that they can be persuaded to do some kind of ill-advised mashup - I'm wishing for "Our Velocity" seamlessly blended with "Cars".

2. The ice cream. As it is the early 90s and I am still possessed of the desirably fast metabolism that will disappear without trace at the age of 25, I will be able to eat as much ice cream as I want, and I will also consider it a good idea to wash this down with beer and then dance wildly, all the while wondering why I feel a bit sick. The ticket price of £17 includes unlimited ice cream, although presumably the organisers were unaware of Mr Liz's status as "Champion Ice Cream Eater of Round These Parts" when they made such a rash offer. Anyway, my favourite is Cherry Garcia while Mr Liz is more of a Caramel Chew Chew man, so good luck to you if you were hoping to get any of the latter.

3. The weather. Being Manchester, the festival is GUARANTEED excellent weather across both days.

*moves swiftly on, avoiding eye contact*

4. The press release. Ben & Jerry's are a nice company, who sell fair-trade products and give away ice cream every year on their Free Cone Days, and who don't book nasty modern bands for their festivals. More importantly, they issue press releases that take the English Language to dizzying new heights of wit and erudition, so I will leave you with these words of wisdom:

"Legendairy ice cream makers Ben & Jerry's are udderly ecstatic to announce Maximo Park and Ocean Colour Scene as their headline acts for this year's Double Scoop Sundae Festival. The British rock band and classic Brit indie band will join other moo-sical acts on stage at the event which, for the first time ever, is heading up north to Manchester's Heaton Park."

And as someone who once had a lengthy conversation on FaceBook where every sentence contained a pun on the name of a fish, I can offer no higher a recommendation.

- Tickets for the Ben & Jerry's Double Scoop Sundae Festival cost £17 (children under 5 go free) and are available from the festival website - be quick, as one of the London days has already sold out.

Giraffe Competition Winners

Thanks to everyone who entered the competition to win vouchers to spend at any Giraffe restaurant; Mr Liz (sulking, as he wasn't allowed to join in) has drawn the following winners.

First place (and £30 of vouchers) goes to Vicky Morton of Macclesfield, second placed (£20) is Sian Jones of Heaton Moor, and third is Emma Meredith-Shone from Stalybridge. Now remember, while the camera is still on us, we need to smile graciously and applaud as if we're pleased for them; as soon as no-one is looking feel free to curse them for their good fortune (or ring up and angle for an invite if you know them.)

Thanks again to Giraffe for their generosity, and for being the kind of restaurant that won't mind at all if you spend your vouchers entirely on cocktails.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

North Star Deli Supper Club Launch in Chorlton-cum-Greedy

Friday, approx. 11am. I am in the Oasis changing rooms at the Trafford Centre, excitedly clutching armfuls of potential holiday clothes, including a slink-fest bikini that looks ripe for lying about on a beach in, drinking cocktails. So far, so good; I have staunchly endured the thousand-watt stadium lighting that Oasis have chosen to illuminate their pocket-sized cubicles and which delicately picks out the dark shadows under my eyes, and have found a cute white dress that I choose to believe makes me look angelic despite the unforgiving strip-lights. Then I try the bikini, and everything goes wrong. I am forced to flee the circle of shame, muttering bitter and unconvincing words about tiny and incorrect sizings - surely this is actually a size 6 bikini, cruelly mislabelled to humiliate people who naively hope to tone up by wearing Fit Flops round the office for a few days. One thing's for certain - I am now on a strict diet; indeed, it's possible I may never eat again.

Friday, approx. 11pm. I am in North Star Deli in Chorlton, and have eaten so much I'm worried I may burst. Husband Cabs (excellent value) have just turned up to collect me, and there's a serious chance I may have to be wheeled to the car on some kind of hand-cart. As ususal, it's not really my fault; when a deli as perfect as North Star decides to launch a Supper Club, showcasing local produce from independent suppliers in welcoming and convivial surroundings (I LOVE being in a shop after normal closing hours - I think this is how the Beckhams must feel when Harrods opens especially for them), it would be plain rude to stay away.

This is what I ate on my soon-to-be-patented Bikini Plan diet:

Mediterranean Fish Soup with Rouille. Or, Local Chorlton Fish Soup with THE MOST GARLICKY GARLIC TOAST EVER EATEN BY ANYONE, EVER. The fish was supplied by local fishmonger Out of the Blue: hake and shell fish nestling in a thick tomato soup, and served with a thin sliver of toast spread generously with an unctuously good rouille so garlicky that Mr Liz is likely to keep his distance for several days. Lots of people on my table spent several moments carefully photographing their soup before they started eating; suffice to say, you will not be troubled by any photos on this ever-reliable website.

Cheshire Lamb Dijonnaise with Roast Garlic and Broad Bean Puree
. Now obviously, this course was exciting enough as it was, without the honour of sitting opposite Lee Frost of local butchers W.H. Frost, but this was HIS lamb, and I almost felt that I knew little Fluffy personally by the time I was wiping the last of him from my plate. The lamb had been hung for 10 days, and was the nicest I have ever tasted; it helped, of course, that it was cooked to pink perfection and then served with a variety of vegetable items smothered in more garlic. Again, mine was all but gone before my strong-willed companions had so much as lifted their knife and fork *wipes mouth delicately*

Manchester Tart. Please desist from any obvious jokes here - you'll only cheapen yourself. For the uninitiated, Manchester Tart is a pastry shell spread with raspberry jam, filled with creamy custard and then sprinkled with coconut; it's normally served with even more cream, but in a thoughtful nod to my low-fat diet North Star had gone with raspberries instead. By this point I was rather full, and the pie itself seemed in sympathy with my greed, oozing lazily and fatly over the plate in a cruel approximation of what the bikini might look like when sported upon a Greek beach. NB, as far as I could tell, this course did not contain as much garlic as previous rounds.

Supper Club is excellent value at £25 a head, and will hopefully become a regular event - keep an eye on the Events section of the website for more details. With such good food and such erudite company this looks like becoming another must-attend monthly event; I fear that what with this AND the Mark Addy Gourmet Evenings, my bikini-wearing days are fast receding - I can almost hear those harpoons winging their way towards me this very moment.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Manchester Festival Fun - Dave Haslam, Bernard Sumner, Rocket Theatre; Carlos Tevez NOT Invited

Now, I'm not normally one to take much notice of football-related matters, particularly once the cricket season is underway; my involvement with the beautiful game really only extends as far as playing a risky but amusing game of Guess-The-United-Score-From-Mr-Liz's-Current-Mood once a week during the winter months. It has, however, come to my attention that a hirsute gentleman by the name of Carlos Tevez has requested to leave Manchester City because Manchester is too small and there's nothing to do.

My response to this is two-fold. Firstly, if only Mr Tevez had read an excellent and informative blog by the name of Things To Do in Manchester, he would have realised that, erm, there's loads of things to do in Manchester. Secondly, I can only surmise that Mr Hairy-Face has never been to Albert Square and sat outside in the balmy evening sun, sipping ice-cold beer with friends, during the Manchester International Festival, for this is what I did on Monday and there is absolutely nothing finer. Even better, we were waiting to see Dave Haslam interview Bernard Sumner in the Pavilion Theatre, a large tent masquerading as a fairy grotto for the larger-sized elf, strung with lovely twinkly lights and then seemingly heated to a pleasantly warm 200 degrees centigrade.

I'd been looking forward to this event for ages; since I was about 15 in fact, and I was privately a little terrified that it would all be a huge let down. Would grumpy, taciturn Bernard turn up, refusing to talk about the past and storming off stage after one question too many about Peter Hook? Or would we get the newly-invented housewife's choice Bernard, so recently seen on BBC Breakfast, chatting amiably about his role in two of the most important bands ever to come out of Manchester (or indeed anywhere)?

We got the second one, and Bernard was splendid. He and Dave Haslam talked for an hour and a half about anything and everything, and I think the audience would genuinely have been happy to sit and listen for another hour at least (notwithstanding the possibility that some of the smaller audience members might have melted clean away). The only flaw in the evening was that it took place on a school night, thereby forcing me to miss the DJ set from Terry Hall that took place afterwards (well, that and the highly urgent wee that inevitably follows the loveliness of sitting outside in the balmy evening sun, sipping ice-cold beer with friends etc etc.)

Mr Tevez has perhaps also overlooked that as well as the MIF, a second festival is currently running in Manchester - you know, that place where THERE'S NOTHING TO DO. The Not Part Of festival runs until July 16th, and offers an excellent mixture of theatre, music, literature and comedy - we went to see Rocket Theatre's production of Oscar Wilde's Lord Arthur Savile's Crime on Sunday at the Palace Hotel, and it - joyously - turned out to be an excellent mixture of theatre and cake.

When I say "production", this was essentially a group of greedy people sitting around large communal tables, eating scones and drinking tea, while two energetically talented actors ran around them, acting their socks off and generally giving their all on one of the hottest days of the year so far. The play has been cleverly shortened and adapted so that Martin Harris and Dan Willis can play all the parts, a ruse of which I am often suspicious because I am so easily confused (particularly if it's Shakespearean comedy - far too many twins), but here it works, maintaining the spirit of the play whilst also meaning that you're home in time for Horrible Histories.

Lord Arthur Savile's Crime is on again this coming weekend (9th and 10th July) as well as the following Saturday 16th July - you can go for afternoon tea, as we did, for £22 a head, or for a three course evening meal during the evening performance for £33. NB - if attending the afternoon performance, bear in mind when choosing your table that the dainty sandwiches are self serve and are located at the back of the room; watch your other half's look of confusion at you choosing such apparently rubbish seats turn to open-mouthed admiration as you shoulder-charge your way to the front of the queue, extra large Alan-Partridge-style plate in hand.

So, Mr Tevez, perhaps you're right about Manchester. Or, more likely, perhaps you just weren't looking in the right places.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Girl Talk: I am Woman at The Lowry, Salford

Life can really be most humbling.

Take cooking, for example. I like to cook (and eat, but I feel most readers will already know that); indeed, I am really quite good at it. A few years ago, I even toyed casually with the idea of applying to go on Masterchef, where I would rustle up a few of my crowd-pleasing dinner party favourites, get approval from Greg although some sneery comments from John about the rustic appearance of my food, and perhaps get an honourable quarter-final place before being sent packing, holding my head high.

That was, of course, before Masterchef got slick, professional, uber-competitive and - frankly - terrifying. Now, I would be as likely to enter Masterchef as I would be to abseil naked from the top of the Eiffel Tower, so certain a humiliation would I face for my incomprehensible inability to whip up a brandy basket in thirty seconds flat.

Singing is a similar minefield. The proliferation of reality TV shows - which are inevitably starting to discover that Britain is apparently not a bottomless pit of talent - can easily encourage one to believe that a half-decent singing voice is theirs. As someone who has received many standing ovations for her heartfelt performance of Hey Big Spender aloft a table in Crazy Wendy's Thai Karaoke Restaurant, AND who holds a record SingStar score of 9990 for Papa Don't Preach (although those missing ten marks are starting to rankle now - where ARE they?), I had begun to form a favourable opinion of my talents that allowed me to sneer with impunity at those hopeless wannabes prostrating themselves at La Cowell's immaculate feet.

That's why last night was so humbling. I wrote about Girl Talk a couple of weeks ago, a three-woman-show at The Lowry in Salford, exploring through song various aspects of being female (I didn't tell Mr Liz this or he'd never have gone - I just told him it was nice ladies singing, and that he'd get dinner and beer at Lime first.) And very nice ladies they were too, with quite ridiculously, ludicrously, horrifically good voices. Suddenly, the oh-so-clever-and-lovely drunken harmonies performed by myself and my similarly-voiced best friend at Christmas parties looked - sadly - like the efforts of out-and-out amateurs; these were three voices that complimented each other to perfection.

The first voice belonged to Mari Wilson, upon whom I now have a slight girl crush - I definitely want to be her when I grow up. The second belonged to Gwyneth Herbert, the youngest of the three, who has the kind of smoky, deep, cocktail-bar voice that makes you fall a tiny bit in love with her as well. The third, Barb Jungr, got the loudest applause of the night for her solo version of Babs' Woman In Love, but should probably know that the length of her dress was prompting considerable discussion in the ladies' toilet during the interval (something that struck me a little out of keeping with the pro-woman spirit of the event, but that's women for you.)

There is banter between the songs, and excellent accompaniment on the piano (and tambourine - let us not overlook his versatility) from Adrian York, but this was all about the singing. Oh, and some extremely impressive balance in the face of some very high heels. The show (and its shoes) is still touring - do go along if you get the chance - full details are on the Girl Talk website. Me, I'm off to practise some more, lest my hopes are fulfilled and the art of perching on a bar stool, singing songs about men and having lovely bouffy hair, becomes the Olympic sport it so richly deserves to be.