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.