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.