Now, I've got nothing whatsoever against West Didsbury, or the lovely people who live there. In fact, I have many friends living "Up West", and have enjoyed plenty of splendid nights out along Burton Road before slinking back to the East Side, counting my blessings that we, at least, have a cinema.
No, the thing about West Didsbury is that it knows how good it is. It laboriously counts up its thriving independent businesses on all of its fingers and toes, looking more than a bit smug about the whole thing, before saying in a sad, sympathetic voice what a shame it is that Didsbury itself has turned into such a clone town, a weary line of chain shops and bars, punctuated by one of the myriad charity shops that thrive here.
And to a certain extent, of course, this is all true. Didsbury now has two Wetherspoons, a Slug & Lettuce, a Costa Coffee, an M & S Food, a Co-Op and - horrifyingly - a Tesco will also soon be setting up shop on Wilmslow Road. I plan to walk straight past it, either with my nose in the air or a stern, disapproving look on my face; I haven't yet decided which, and may indeed alternate between the two just to keep them on their toes.
But this is only half the story. Didsbury has plenty of interesting, independent businesses, run by local folk who care about what they sell, and who actively want to build relationships with the people who shop there. I daren't list them all for fear of missing someone out, but most of them will have appeared on this blog at some point. This Saturday will see the arrival of another lovely local business, as the long-awaited Didsbury Farm Shop opens its doors to grateful shoppers who will no longer have to drive halfway across Cheshire to get their hands on some Artisan Meat Company sausages. The shop opens at 8am, with Simon Rimmer conducting the official, properly-glamorous launch at 10am; if I oversleep, you are not, repeat NOT, to purchase all the sausages before I get there. More on this after I have eaten my way along the shelves and can offer a full, ahem, professional report on proceedings.
Another Didsbury business going from strength to strength is Fosters Fish & Chips, which recently celebrated its first birthday and has now launched a catastrophically exciting new menu. Until now, the Didsbury restaurant has offered the same menu as the original Alderley Edge branch (I am resolutely refusing to consider that this makes Fosters a chain), but now, thrillingly, we get MORE and BETTER stuff. Whilst the focus - rightly - remains on fishius chippus, the menu has expanded to cater for a range of tastes. To wit:
- they now sell the most gorgeous pies, in a helpful, pocket-sized form that makes you feel that actually, you can't really be eating that much pastry and that, probably, it's really quite a healthy choice. Even more thrillingly, they are home-made by a lady who lives ON THE SAME ROAD AS ME, and when I find out which number, I plan to camp outside, crying and occasionally pointing at my open mouth in the manner of Simon's Cat waiting to be fed. There are five different types of pie; Mr Liz and I both liked the Cottage Pie best, topped as it was with the most amazing mashed potato, offering an apparent butter to potato ratio of approximately 60:40. We also both loved the Cheese and Onion, but they were all good; luckily, the menu allows you to choose any two - with Fosters legendary chips of course - as a main dish.
- clever Kath Foster has realised that there are many people who - much like myself - eat like little birds, barely picking at a few morsels before patting their tiny stomachs and declaring themselves fit to burst. Just for them, Fosters now offers a menu of mini dishes, including a weeny version of their signature cod, chips and mushy peas (pictured below, although remember there are two portions here - me and Mr Liz could hardly be expected to share) that costs £4 a go; very reasonable considering it's not really that weeny at all (although still not sharing, under ANY circumstances). Other "mini" dishes are available; three plump little fishcakes, for example, or two gorgeously fat risotto balls. Normal people will of course order these as starters, thereby eating even more than they'd intended to, while the thin people smugly pat their stomachs and order another diet Coke.
- and finally, even cuter than the little pies and the Borrowers-sized fish and chips, comes the advent of the mini dessert. Now this one really is clever; I am always ordering a pudding that proves to be the wafer-thin mint that breaks the normally restrained girl's back, AND being charged £7 for the privilege. Now, however, there is no need to exercise one's own restraint: simply hand over your £2.50, wait a moment or two, and a pudding will arrive IN A SHOT GLASS. Honestly, you can't possibly go wrong; unless you order twelve, of course. We tried the Millionaire's Shortbread, Key Lime Pie and Sherry Trifle; you can see them below, seconds before we began the undignified fight over them that almost resulted in a custard-strewn husband (NOTHING less than he deserved, I might add).
Obviously, it goes without saying that most people will still come to Fosters for the fish, which remains as extensive in range as ever, but it's certainly nice to have the option. My only fear is that Mr Liz will use it as an excuse to visit twice as often; you can take the pie-eater out of Wigan...
- Fosters Fish & Chips is at 812 Wilmslow Road, Didsbury M20 6UH.