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Friday, 30 September 2011

Gluttonous Double-Header: Mark Addy Salford Gourmet Evening and Game Night at Join Us For Supper

Now, I am obviously aware that my reputation for restraint and abstinence became irreparably tarnished some time ago, and that starting up a blog in which I physically chronicle this greed has hardly helped present the image of someone who eats like a little bird. And yet I must stress at this point that today's double-headed blog of shame is absolutely not my fault; after all, it was not me that decided that The Mark Addy Gourmet Evening would be on the last Wednesday of the month and that North Star Deli would hold theirs on the following day, so I can hardly be held accountable for the fact that I have consumed a total of nine giant courses over just two evenings.

Having established my utter lack of culpability, I shall proceed with impunity, and confess to having consumed the following at Robert Owen Brown's latest feast at Salford's Mark Addy:

1. Potted Squirrel. As this month's Gourmet Evening fell during The Salford Food and Drink Festival, ROB's challenge was to use only ingredients from that well-known foodie mecca of Salford, a mission he apparently kicked off by sending Lee Frost from WH Frost Butchers out with his shot gun to fell squirrels in Mr Frost Senior's back garden. One can only imagine the pleasure Mr Frosty Butcher presumably took in such an operation, smearing camouflage paint on his face and rampaging through the undergrowth in search of his prey; I took much pleasure in the result - a generous smear of coarse, gamey pate atop a square of toast. Bravo Mr Squirrel Nutkin - a tasty fellow indeed.

2. Wild Mushroom Shooter. A gorgeously peppery soup made from foraged funghi and served in a wine glass tailor-made for unladylike slurping.

3. Baby Leaf Salad with Honey and Horseradish. Now, course number three is normally the fish course, so I can only surmise that ROB either failed to find any piscine life at all in Salford, or perhaps delved in the river and came out with one of those three-eyed specimens so common in Springfield and a rusty shopping trolley. Anyway, once we'd got over our surprise at such a healthy course appearing on an ROB menu we did enjoy the salad, although Mr Liz did maintain hope until the bitter end that he would move a piece of greenery and unearth a stray piece of black pudding underneath all that rabbit-food nonsense.

4. Chicken "Hindle Wakes". It was as this course arrived that I realised that, once again, I had neglected to photograph ANY of my food before wolfing it, thereby implying - erroneously of course - that I am not perhaps entirely professional in my food reporting. This time, I would do better, and take a lovely picture of the tender chicken pieces, stuffed with a gorgeously festive mix of prunes, almonds and spices, and served with a light, tangy lemon sauce. Eagle-eyed readers who notice that there is in fact no picture of this dish may like to blame the ebullience of landlord John, who came and sat next to me as the food arrived and distracted me with his beauty, wit and charm.

5. Eccles Cakes with Sloe Syrup. Well, what else would you expect to be served for pudding at a Salford Gourmet Evening? These were plump little creatures, stuffed full of juicy fruit and served with a sticky sloe reduction; considering how delicious they were, I am both astonished and proud to append below some photographic evidence of their perfection.

6. A Bit of Cheese, not from Salford. Perhaps ROB thought we would rise up, en masse, and revolt if deprived of cheese; I can find no other explanation for the small piece of cheese that arrived at the end of the meal. The small piece of cheese later admitted under interrogation that it was in fact not from Salford, and that this was its first visit to the area. I have not taken a picture of this interloper.

So, it could perhaps be argued that a girl who has troughed six courses (well, five really - you can't properly count salad as a course, surely) should sit quietly at home the following night, drinking water and nibbling on fresh air. Being, however - as noted above - an entirely professional food reporter, I considered it nothing less than my duty to show my face at Join Us For Supper, the monthly gourmet night at Chorlton's North Star Deli. This month was Game Night, celebrating the start of the season with a stunning menu of Autumnal delights that made you want to don a scarf and kick through some crisp leaves whilst breathing out white dragon breath into the cold, bracing air...hardly Deanna's fault that Game Night ended up taking place on the hottest September day in the history of the world. This is what we had:

1. Game Soup. A little bowl of intensely flavoured broth in which small birds and animals had selflessly disseminated their deliciously warm, gamey flavour, tender pieces of pigeon, mallard, rabbit, partridge and venison lurking tastily at the bottom of the dish. I could have eaten about twelve bowls of this, AND the butter for the bread came in the shape of star *impressed face*

2. Moroccan Spiced Partridge with Roast Root Vegetables and Apricot Sauce. A whole, plump little partridge reclining amongst meltingly soft, cinnamon-spiced vegetables, requiring girls with normally immaculate table manners to pick it up in their fingers and apply directly to face. This course was preceded with a talk from - guess who - Mr Frosty Butcher himself, a man who seems to have pretty much cornered the market in felling tasty creatures and then talking genially about the whole process; he is also a passionate believer - as I am - in treating the countryside with respect and taking only what you intend to eat (obviously, I intend to eat pretty much all of it) and not exploiting creatures for meaningless sport. AND he'd shined his shoes especially for the occasion.

3. Desserts from the Orchard. This turned out to be an apple filo tart, served with pears poached in both red and white wine and damson and plum ice-creams, and was actually my favourite course. Presentation was immaculate, and the ice-cream truly the best I have had. You may wish to observe that each of these courses is accompanied by a picture, and attribute this either to a growing professionalism in my work, or the fact that I am far more scared of Deanna than I am of Robert Owen Brown.

So, as the world's longest blog post finally draws to a close, I can only hope this session of vigorous typing has pretty much cancelled out my, ahem, temporary bout of gluttony - lets just hope I'm not called upon to do it all again next month...

- The Mark Addy is on Stanley Street in Salford; tel 0161 8324080 to book.

- North Star Deli is at 418 Wilbraham Road, Chorlton, Manchester; tel 0161 8620133.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Theatre Review: We Are Three Sisters at The Lowry, Salford

As previously noted, I have a weakness for booking theatre tickets during the week, when I am too tired to do anything other than slump languidly in my seat, waiting for it to be over. And obviously, having noted such a weakness, I have learnt a valuable lesson from my own life-mistakes and made sure not to do it again. Well, apart from last night that is, when I attended the opening night of We Are Three Sisters at The Lowry, entirely unavoidably, for the following very good reasons:

- We Are Three Sisters is a new play about the Bronte sisters, two of whom have written books that I am either currently teaching or have taught in the past. Therefore, the evening counts as research for work, and not as a night out, in any way.

- The play has been written by Blake Morrison, an author I admire. He is from Yorkshire, but this cannot technically be held against him on this occasion, as the play is about ladies who are, after all, from Yorkshire.

- The play is a Northern Broadsides production, and they are always excellent (despite, again, hailing from across the Pennines); their 2010 production of The Canterbury Tales (also at The Lowry) was splendid, and no doubt had many a hopeful man enquiring whether they too might swive in trees and stick their backsides through windows.

- The Lowry is a great venue, with a proven track record for booking interesting productions. And on a less artistic note, we always get to eat at Lime beforehand, where Mr Liz spends a good three minutes pretending to study the menu before deciding - again - that he simply cannot resist the Bookmaker's Sandwich; I truly live in fear of the day they decide to take it off the menu, anticipating tears, tantrums and truculence.

In short, we went along with high expectations; well, one of us did at least - Mr Liz enjoyed his Bookmaker's Sandwich, but was then saddened to find that the Man Utd game was just starting on the big screens in Lime as he was being dragged off to watch some "Bronte nonsense". In the end, we both enjoyed it, even the man who spent the first few minutes sniggering at there being a character called Tabby and asking whether this part would be played by a specially trained acting cat. (It wasn't).

The play opens with the three surviving Bronte sisters having already penned the novels that would become so famous - Anne and Emily have found a publisher, and Charlotte is on the hunt for one. Being women, of course, they have written under male pseudonyms, sure that their work would not be taken seriously if anyone were to find out the authors' true identities. Meanwhile, brother Branwell - not without talent himself - is busy drinking, gambling, and carrying on with his married employer, the magnificently vulgar Mrs Robinson who, for me, was the star of the show; Becky Hindley deserves full credit for creating such an appallingly enticing character whilst wearing the most unpleasant dress yet seen on these shores.

In fact, the acting is superb across the board. The three sisters are clearly drawn and played utterly as individuals rather than the amorphous mass of Bronte-ness they have come to represent for trepidatious literature students: Charlotte (Catherine Kinsella) is sensible and dowdy on the outside, but fiery and passionate on the inside; Emily (Sophia Di Martino) is morbid, and poetic, and solitary; Anne, the baby of the family, is played by Rebecca Hutchinson as desperate to work and experience new things, finding the quiet life at Haworth more than a little limited.

Not that they don't have a stream of male admirers beating a hopeful path to their door, including an incompetent doctor who hits the bottle when it becomes clear that Anne doesn't return his love, an idiotic school master determined to get the girls to work at his school, and a slimy curate who fancies his luck with anything in a skirt, using the same tired lines on whichever Bronte sister happens to be around at any given time. Amusement is also provided by Duggie Brown as Patrick, the father of the Bronte sisters, although some of this humour is unintentional as his supposedly Irish accent veers wildly from coast to coast during his performance (which is, nonetheless, extremely likeable).

In fact, I only have one quibble (well two, if you count taking along a husband intent on making cat jokes): twenty to eleven is really much too late for a play to finish on a school night. I certainly won't, ahem, be making that mistake again.

- We Are Three Sisters by Blake Morrison is on at The Lowry until Saturday 24th October, with tickets priced from just £16 - full details and booking on The Lowry website.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Happy First Birthday to Fosters Fish & Chips in Didsbury

If there's one thing the good people of Britain enjoy, it's a nice queue. We just can't resist it. It's the reason that I saw Madonna in concert from a distance of approximately one yard, close enough to see the wrinkles and the scary man-biceps; we saw her in Barcelona, and whilst all the laid-back Spaniards lolled outside in the sun, drinking beer and eyeing up the opposite sex, we QUEUED, because WE'RE BRITISH, and got RIGHT TO THE FRONT, because we were PATIENT.

And if there's another thing we're partial to as a nation, it's a bargain. People are loitering in the reduced-to-clear aisles of their local supermarket AS WE SPEAK, hoping to snag a packet of almost-out-of-date sausages for half price, acting purely on an unverified rumour that an employee has been spotted coming out of the stockroom holding her yellow sticker gun - time to sharpen those elbows and move in, trampling the weak and the dithering in the charge for those fish bits.

Britain really triumphs when these two pastimes are successfully combined. Shoppers queuing for bargains at sale time has become the staple image for Boxing Day news programmes, as people who should surely be at home arguing with their grandmother over a particularly fierce game of Scrabble instead fight it out for a slightly dented fridge freezer, a selection of cashmere sweaters in unpleasant colours, and a pair of Jimmy Choos two sizes too small.

And today, if you live in or near Didsbury, you could reach a particularly Mancunian pinnacle of achievement: queuing, for a bargain, in the rain and cold. For today marks the first birthday of Fosters Fish & Chips; it's a whole year since the Didsbury branch opened its doors to hungry folk fed up with Alderley Edge getting all the good stuff, and the Fosters (or the "Fishy Fosters", as they really like to be called) have very sportingly decided to celebrate the occasion by offering takeaway fish and chips for a pound. You still have time to get down there, as the offer runs until 10pm tonight (stocks permitting), and I can offer the following helpful pointers if you are considering doing so:

- if you have an obliging husband who finishes work earlier than you do, simply send him on ahead to start queuing on your behalf. I suggested Mr Liz fulfil the important man-role of "doing a recce", knowing full well that he would be unable to resist joining the queue when he got there; I sauntered up a good forty minutes later and innocently joined him just as he was approaching the doors of the shop, thus selflessly keeping him company for the final leg of his vigil.

*pause to accept good-wife plaudits*

- if you do not have your own Mr Liz or similar, it's worth knowing that each customer is allowed a maximum of two portions of fish and chips - simply pick someone near the front of the queue who looks as if they might be single and casually fall into conversation with them, perhaps mentioning that you haven't eaten yet and really could manage some fish and chips round about now. Do give them the pound though - obviously you don't want to look cheeky.

- Kath Foster herself has - for once - been allowed onto the premises, and is roaming the queue with fizz and cake pops, so it's worth catching her eye and being nice to her.

- there are also - allegedly - nice ladies with fish cakes patrolling the line; I cannot confirm this however, as Mr Liz, with great selfishness, failed to collect one on my behalf whilst queuing alone. Men.

- there is a fabulous cake on display, decorated with fish, chips and mushy peas crafted from what I can only assume is icing; I did not have a piece of this cake, however, so I feel disinclined to say any more about it.

- finally, and most importantly, the fish and chips are amazing. And everyone in the queue KNOWS they are going to be amazing, because they always are from Fosters, and thus the queue is good-natured, and happy, and patient in waiting for its tea - not for nothing were Fosters recently shortlisted in the final three of the National Fish & Chips Awards for the North West region.

So yes, it will take you a long time to get your dinner, but yes it will be worth it. Or you could simply take the easy option and go another night, a night when the whole of Didsbury is NOT having fish and chips for tea...

- Fosters Fish & Chips are at 812 Wilmslow Road, Didsbury, Manchester M20 6UH.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Manchester Gastroclub Sept 2011: Choice Bar and Restaurant

There's no two ways about it; the Manchester Gastroclub is a very fine thing. Katie Brunt's merry band of convivial eaters take over a different restaurant every month, where they assemble to eat, drink and - obsessively - take pictures of their food before tweeting these along with smug comments about what a nice time they're having. And obviously, I wanted in.

However, I'm starting to think that I, or Gastroclub, or both, might be jinxed. Last month I attended my very first Gastroclub, only to find that on the night in question a small and unpleasant part of the Manchester community was busy looting shops, setting fires and generally rampaging through the streets in a manner not entirely conducive to having a relaxing evening. It's OK, Katie assured me, everything will be alright this time...and to be fair, there was no actual rioting. What there was instead was the world's largest traffic jam and a two-and-a-half hour journey home; this time, when I tweeted *cries*, I actually was, just a little bit, in sheer desperation at the mental picture of my lovely dinner slipping away from me.

But - hurrah - I made it. Yes, I looked rough, but I slipped into most excellent purple shoes that I hoped would divert the eye and was in Choice Bar and Restaurant, holding a glass of champagne, by 7.30. Restaurants that wish to lure the discerning Gastroclubbers through their doors need to put together a pretty tempting menu, and Choice - tucked away round the back of Key 103 on Castle Quay - had certainly done just that. Not all of it worked, but this is what we had:

1. Amuse Bouche of a Confit Duck BonBon. This really did amuse my mouth greatly for the fraction of a second that it lasted - a small ball of meaty goodness that amply demonstrated the fundamental flaw in the amuse bouche concept - we all felt we could have managed about eight of them. Or ten. Or a hundred and ten. A good start.

2. Terrine of Fois Gras with a coarse Chicken Liver Pate centre. This was the opposite of the amuse bouche - most of us felt we could have done with slightly less of this delicious but suicidally rich slab of pate. Luckily the VERY hungry man on our table selflessly ate all the leftovers, along with the extra bread that was brought at our request by the excellent staff.

3. Ravioli of Crab and Langoustine on Pumpkin Puree with seared Queen Scallops. Yes, it DOES sound nice, doesn't it - I'd been really looking forward to this one, and it was unfortunately a huge disappointment. The filling of the single ravioli was good, but the pasta woeful - so dry and crispy that one of our party mistook it for bread (although he had just eaten a dangerous amount of foie gras, and was perhaps not yet back on an even keel). Nor was there any sign of scallops - were these left out? Forgotten? Or had they just run out by the time they got to our table in the corner? Maybe they're the mysterious blobs dotted over the top of my ravioli in the photo below, in which case they had been chopped so small as to barely register. A shame; the main course needed to be spectacularly good to pull this one back.

4. Roast single bone Rack of Lamb served with Braised Lamb Belly Faggot wrapped in Savoy Cabbage. Spectacular. Perfectly pink and tender lamb, an unctuously good port reduction, a big fat faggot, and a really good timbale of haricot beans. This dish was faultless, and no-one was remotely surprised to find that once again Mr Frosty Butcher was responsible for the meat; we certainly all enjoyed nibbling on his best end, and sang the praises of his rump must heartily.

5. Assiette of Desserts, OR a selection of British Cheeses. I went for the latter, a wooden board laden with three cheeses, crackers, grapes, celery and onion chutney. This was generously portioned but unimaginative - the cheeses were essentially just slabs cut from a large block, the crackers were all the same type (thereby ruining the popular dinner-time game of fighting for the Hovis biscuit), and the chutney was bland and on the stingy side. I ate the blue cheese, but found the whole thing a little dry; luckily the hungry gentleman was indeed still hungry, and manfully dealt with the other cheeses.

So overall, a mixed bag. The meal was well-priced at five courses plus canapes and a glass of champagne for £30, the staff were excellent, continually replenishing the water jug without being asked, and there were flashes of real excellence in the cooking. However, it's a tall task to cater for 60 hungry people who all wish to eat at the same time, and at times Choice didn't seem entirely up to the job. I cannot fault their hospitality though, and despite the blemishes a very fine time was had by all - particularly those who showed exceptional bravery in battling through heavy traffic to get there. We can only await next month's Gastroclub with fear and trepidation to see what exactly might befall me next time; a plague of locusts, perhaps? Floods? Or even a non-matching shoe and handbag wardrobe misfire? I'll keep you posted.

- you can find out more about Gastroclub on their website, and can join as long as there remains room for me.

- Choice Bar and Restaurant is at Castle Quay, Castleford, Manchester M15 4NT, tel 0161 833 3400

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Smoak Restaurant Launch Party at Manchester Malmaison

I fear that we have all done it: blithely organised an evening out for a school night with little thought for practicalities or potential aftermath. Such nights out are often organised weeks or even months in advance, fuelled by a naive and unrealistic belief that, somehow, you will be less tired after work that night than any other night, or more inclined to spring out of bed the next day despite still having a worrying amount of some unidentifiable cocktail coursing through your veins. I often, for example, book theatre tickets for a week night, cleverly saving as much as two English pounds over Friday or Saturday night bookings, and then realise - too late - that such frugality means sitting through four hours of Shakespeare just a couple of hours after teaching it all day and just a few more hours before teaching it all again.

Thus it was that seven tired and really quite grumpy girls left work last Thursday in order to prepare for a night out none of them - if they were brave enough to admit it - really felt quite up to. Fortunately, the night out in question was the official launch party of Smoak, the new Malmaison restaurant that I wrote about a few weeks ago, and it turns out that as well as cooking a fine steak on the Josper grill, they also throw the most almighty party. Here are the highlights of an amazing night which confirmed Smoak as a perfect addition to Manchester's bar and restaurant scene:

1. The atmosphere. As I had the luxury of travelling courtesy of Husband Cabs, I arrived soon after seven, an unfashionably early hour that I feared would see me sitting sadly in a corner, alone, pretending to be reading important messages on my phone. Wrong - the place was already buzzing, full of unfeasibly gorgeous people (none of whom, I would guess, had half a thought on their 9am GCSE class) chatting over plates of superior party food (more of which later) and generally enjoying themselves in a way that said PAH! to staying in on a week night.

2. The decor. The chairs in the bar area of Smoak are the best, comfiest chairs in the world; ours were round and squashy, decorated with jaunty elephants, and big enough to allow four chairs to suffice for seven girls, despite not all of those seven girls being of the, ahem, small-bottomed variety. Our seats were also, coincidentally, right by the bar *innocent face*

3. The alcohol. Smoak are generous hosts - champagne on arrival, a bar groaning with gin and tonics and rum cocktails, a table of divine red wine, pert young men with trays of shot glasses...Best of all, however, were the martini glasses filled with Chase Distillery Marmalade Vodka (excitingly, I have a bottle of this) and topped with a rich ginger foam (less excitingly, I have NO IDEA how to make this) - we all had lots of these, and no doubt a close inspection of the photos from the evening would reveal a faint foam moustache gracing many a top lip *brushes off Photoshop and gets to work post-haste*

4. The food. Now, we may have looked like glamorous, ethereal young things, but the estimable staff very quickly worked out where the greedy table was, and humoured us accordingly. Trays circulated, laden with buckets of ribs, figs stuffed with blue cheese and Parma ham, sashimi tuna, mini cheescakes and banoffee pies...and to be fair, not once did the waiting staff betray any disapproval at the way that a tray would be flagged down and requisitioned by our table, only to be returned completely empty. For those of us actually able to walk more than a short distance (I remember now why the ankle-tie Louboutin wedges rarely get a run-out), the restaurant end was packed with tables of bread, pate, cheese, steak, chops, chicken and mini burgers - we loved everything we ate, and it says much for the quality of the food that it was all of such uniform excellence.

The food highlight was a Baked Alaska of gargantuan proportions - a snowy mountain upon a giant plate that was carried through the restaurant by a proud chef, to much oohing and aahing. We were so excited by it we actually applauded as it came towards our table; even more so when it STOPPED at our table, where it remained, seductively, for the rest of the evening. All for us? we queried, praying with all our hearts that it might be so. And yes, it was - we were given seven spoons, and dug in with all the ladylike restraint that had already come to characterise us over the course of the evening. Several other snow domes appeared later, to be shared by the entire venue; we don't understand why we got one to ourselves, but we thank you. This is what it looked like before we ran at it:

5. The music. Every party needs music, and first up was the lovely Kristyna Myles, who went down such a storm at West Fest last weekend. She has a beautiful voice, and an album out next year which I shall buy, and when she is famous I shall pretend that I spotted her first. Music was provided later in the evening by five gentleman whose names I fear I do not know, but they prowled around the bar with their musical instruments (pity the man hefting the double bass around), serenading individual tables as they went - the songs they chose for us included Dolly's Nine to Five; well, what else could you select for ladies who by now are classy enough to have meringue as well as ginger foam round their mouths?

6. The celebrities. We salute you, Linford Christie, for sitting in the bar with us normals; we PAH you, Sir Alex Ferguson, for pegging it straight to The Ember Lounge, the VIP cocktail section, where he allegedly spent the evening sequestered behind a curtain.

7. The smugness. In the end, I was sensible; Husband Cabs picked me up around 10.45, and I was safely in bed by 11.15 - a full HOUR before two less sensible ladies texted with glee to say they were just ordering another drink. Obviously I'm not in the least bit jealous that this drink was being ordered from The Ember Lounge, as this does not make them swanky OR clever.

So, I can't pretend that I really wanted to get out of bed the next morning, but I can confirm that Smoak is more than worth a visit, week night or not; I take no resposibility though if your Baked Alaska isn't as big as ours...

- Smoak is at Malmaison Piccadilly, Manchester M1 1LZ; tel 0161 278 1000.

Monday, 5 September 2011

"Uncle" Mike Pickering Whips Up Frenzied Veterans at Gio-Goi's Hacienda Reunion Party; Local Girls Become Tired, With Achey Feet

You know you're in for a good night when your friend (and partner in crime for the evening) posts "tonight I'm gonna party like it's 1989" as their Facebook status. Nor was she wrong, for Friday night heralded the opening of clothing brand Gio-Goi's new Manchester store in the Arndale, an occasion marked with an evening of nostalgia at Moho Live in the Northern Quarter, including a screening of new(ish) film "They Call it Acid".

You also know you're in for a good night when you arrive at said venue to be greeted on the door by Chris Donnelly, one half of the brace of brothers who set up this most Manchester of brands in the late 80s, and who shows his face more than once (along with brother Anthony) in Gordon Mason's film to huge cheers from the assembled crowd (which could admittedly be down to the free bar as much as a sense of love and loyalty). The film charts the rise of Acid House music in the mid- to late-80s and features achive footage as well as interviews with those involved; I can confirm that Paul Oakenfold has never really been lucky with his hair, and is perhaps still seeking the right style to suit his face after all these years.

Film (and free bar) over, we emerged blinking into the Manchester twilight to find a range of fairground stalls being set up outside the club, and an excitable gentleman in a yellow t-shirt doing a spot of breakdancing on the gravel, totally oblivious to the sizable threat of chafing - the kind of things that Manchester does best, in other words. A quick break for dinner just down the road at Simple (where a man with excellent hair served us a very good burger and some sadly gristly lamb), and we were back for the main business of the night - the reunion party. It had been billed as a rave, uniting as it did the great and good from the Hacienda's glory days - Mike Pickering, John Da Silva and Graeme Park, but the fact that everyone is at least twenty years older now than they were then resulted in it being more of a nice dance about, with a bit of gentle air thumping thrown in for good measure.

No-one examplified this more than the now-avuncular Mike Pickering, who played an amazing set accompanied by two young dancers we can only assume were his grand-daughters; he must be very proud of their responsible jobs (both were wearing peaky police hats) but as surprised as we were to find that their uniform seemingly encompassed nothing more than a sparkly bra and pants set. This is, of course, the problem with nostalgia - everyone gets older; never in the 90s do I recall dancing anywhere near someone in a suit who looked a bit like Simon Cowell, nor do I remember there being so many women dressed for a wedding. Still, no matter; we enjoyed ourselves immensely and can only thank the marvellously ebullient Donnelly brothers for hosting such a top night - it is hardly their fault that we had danced ourselves into the (admirably sticky) ground by 1am and had to retire, tired and slightly shame-faced, to an early night and a telling-off from the menfolk and pets waiting middle-agedly at home. We promise to do much better next time.

- Gio-Goi's new Manchester store can be found at Manchester Arndale, Unit L32A, Manchester M4 3AQ, telephone: 0161 839 6546.