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Sunday, 15 January 2012

Perfect Saturday - Culture, Food and Bargaintastic Supper at Harvey Nics

Yesterday was another of those perfect January days with which we are sometimes spoiled: crisp, fresh air gently warmed by a surprisingly brave winter sun, while an over-arching sky of cloudless blue bathes the world in light and cons you into thinking Spring is just around the corner. Of course, the downside to this kind of day is that the aforementioned light floods its way into every nook and cranny of a house that has been largely neglected since Christmas, and points out that really, perhaps a bit of housework wouldn't go amiss, and that really, perhaps it's not a good look to have accumulated quite that much dust and cat fluff in the corners of all the rooms.

To cope with such unwanted accusations, yesterday I did what I do best: I went out. First stop, Clark Art in Hale, a gallery of tardis-like proportions full of gorgeous paintings that I would purchase in a flash if a/ I had any wall space left and b/ Mr Liz had deeper pockets. The gallery normally hosts two exhibitions per year, in March and September, but the Winter Show running at the moment is an extra, bonus collection that's well worth seeing: the constantly changing show is a mixed exhibition of Modern British Art with a particular (but not exclusive) focus on Northern artists and subject matter, and it's hard to imagine where else one might see such a fine collection - all for sale - hanging so casually together in such a convenient location. The show includes works by L.S. Lowry, Adolphe Valette, Braaq, Liam Spencer (about whom, rather terrifyingly, I once had to talk about in a spontaneous, knowledgeable and perhaps not entirely successful manner on BBC Radio Manchester), William Turner, John Thompson and Reg Gardner - amongst many others - and runs until 28th February.

Further details can be found at the gallery website. Incidentally, there is a cafe upstairs which we didn't have time to try but which is apparently run by Mrs Frosty Butcher, thereby reinforcing my theory that the Frosts are now approximately three quarters of the way to their planned world domination, and that soon you won't be able to go anywhere in the North West without being offered one of Frosty's tasty sausages. Instead, for lunch we went for a pit(ta) stop *smirks at own wit* at Pitta Crepe in nearby Altrincham - this time, I had the Chicken Tikka pitta and can confirm that whilst it was just as nice as the Moroccan Lamb I had last time, I did manage to make considerably more mess with this one, so be warned and don't wear a white top if you plan to have one.

Now, obviously in no way is my life dominated by food, but my thoughts were already turning to evening, and Harvey Nichols' Supper Club. The Second Floor Brasserie was - understandably - packed to the gills last night, full of lovely people who wanted in on the frankly ludicrous deal of three courses plus cocktail for £15 that is running throughout January; so packed, in fact, that the ballsy Brasserie space had begun to encroach upon the hushed environs of its older, posher sister - half the restaurant area had become Brasserie, meaning that we were lucky enough to bag a table by the window and gaze down upon Exchange Square throughout dinner.

And a really very good dinner it was. The Supper Club menu offers five choices per course, and frankly we quite fancied trying them all; in the end, Mr Liz went for the Black Pudding starter with Apple and Raisin Ravigote (you have to love a restaurant that serves a Northern staple with a classic French sauce) followed by the Chicken with Chilli & Coriander Hash Browns and Spicy Corn Salad, whilst I had Crispy Duck with Winter Slaw & Watercress Salad followed by Crispy Lamb Shoulder Tagine with Israeli Cous Cous.

The starters were great, particularly mine (hurrah - I'm best). Obviously, in this picture, my dish is NEAR, while Mr Liz's is FAR AWAY, but my starter really was the size of a small main, and even had to be shared with an eager Mr Liz lest I should run out of room for the next course. The duck was light and crisp, the winter slaw was oh-so-pretty with its pinky beetroot tinge, and overall this dish would have been perfect if only I could eat watercress in a dainty manner without bits sprawling from the sides of my mouth.

Mr Liz was the winner with the mains (hurroo - no longer best) - the sliced chicken was moist and tasty, and the three hash browns were things of great joy that I would have eaten in their entirety given half the chance; instead, the small taste I was permitted revealed them to be light, crunchy towers of tantalising moreishness. My lamb was tasty and tender, but just a little on the greasy side, and amongst the mostly delicious vegetables lurked a giant piece of carrot that due to its heft had not become as soft as its bedfellows (and indeed, had actually not become soft at all). These were minor details though, and obviously I cleared my plate and looked for more.

Desserts were of the standard you'd expect from a high-end restaurant, with Mr Liz choosing the Tiramisu Sundae (he always does this, as I dislike coffee, and he therefore doesn't have to share) while I went for the White Chocolate Brulee with Raspberry and Thyme Shortbread. Mr Liz proclaimed his deconstructed Tiramisu (a dinky dish filled with pieces of chocolate cake along with mascarpone sorbet and coffee mousse) a triumph, and my brulee - which would have been on the sickly side served on its own - was perfectly balanced out by the generous chunk of slightly savoury shortbread.

Obviously, it's wildly easy to spend far more than the advertised £15 here - bread, olives and side orders cost extra (although to be fair, you don't need them as the portions are generous anyway) and the cocktail provided on arrival is a glass of vodka punch that slips down rather too easily, so you may well need to order extra drinks as well unless you stick stoically to tap water. Still, the offer remains great value, and I'm busy checking my diary to see if I can possibly squeeze in another visit before the end of January...

Supper Club runs Monday to Saturday from 5.30pm - full details are on the website.

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