Throughout these posts, I hope it has always been entirely clear that whatever I may be - greedy-faced glutton, sucker for a pointy heel or a slinky lipgloss, not entirely reliable in the music department, prone to slippage around the wine fridge, partial to a cricketer or two - I am above all, first and foremost, a good and loyal WIFE. So my words will surely ring true when I say that I had every intention of coming home last night, rustling up a healthy nutritious meal, consuming a refreshing chamomile tea or two, and going to bed early with a mind-improving book.
But Mr Liz was sorrowful. Sad to have missed out on Gusto on Tuesday, he had tried to book for next week and found the half price offer pretty much solidly booked out from here to eternity, and "I'm unlucky, SO unlucky; woe is indeed me" was writ large upon his face. Luckily, we live in an area that offers an embarrassment of riches, and within minutes, Good Wife (TM) had leapt onto the phone and secured an immediate reservation for the early evening menu deal at West Didsbury's Rhubarb.
Rhubarb is a splendid restaurant, and its early evening menu is good value at any time of the year, but throughout January and February you can get two courses from a set menu for £9.95 or three for £12.95 if you order before 7pm (6.30 on a Saturday). As with Gusto on Tuesday, the restaurant was packed - a heartening sign that people have been enthusiastic to take up the plethora of offers available at Manchester's more inventive and enterprising businesses, and as with Gusto on Tuesday, the food was of the same quality you would expect if you were paying full price.
The set menu changes according to availability, but offers a choice of four starters, four mains, and four desserts plus a cheese option - more than enough variety to suit all tastes. For starters, Mr Liz went for calamari, served with a lovely light lemon mayonnaise, while I had the chicken liver parfait with caramelised onions; the fact that there is no picture of these speaks volumes about our enthusiasm to stick our faces straight in and demonstrate a rare lack of professionalism. The parfait was delicious - weighty in portion size but light in texture, and contrasting perfectly with the sweet onions and lightly toasted brioche, and Mr Liz's calamari positively melted in the mouth (although their teasingly luxuriant bouffant batter DID float off into the depths of the mayonnaise, never to be seen again despite hopeful probing). One quibble - for the second time this week I've had to leave pate, something I have NEVER done in my life before, and as this is certainly not due to late-onset abstinence it must mean the portion sizes are getting bigger. Fair play to the delightful waitress though, who spotted the remaining parfait and immediately offered to bring me more bread - a nice change from restaurants where you have to beg for an extra morsel of crust to mop up your leftovers.
Next up, and a touching moment of harmony as Mr Liz and I both went for the beef with red wine and thyme, served with garlic roast potatoes. Chunks of tender beef flaking apart in a hearty dish of richly flavoured sauce, crunchy, crispy, melt-in-the-middle potatoes perched jauntily on the side...just the job for a cold January night. Although, why seven potatoes for Mr Liz and only six for me? I've already LEFT some parfait; do they want me to waste away before their very eyes? Fortunately my dessert choice was the size of China - having chosen the lemon posset because it sounded modest, I was rewarded with a giant cup (I think it might have been off of one of the rides at Disneyland, so large was it) of rich, creamy, sweet-yet-tart yellowy goodness, with two crisp shortbread on the side for elegant dunking. Mr Liz - who was surprised at my dessert, having confused it with a "Possum" and therefore expected a small Australian marsupial to be served up - stuck to his traditional favourite: sticky toffee pudding with ice-cream.
All this for £12.95 a head is just silly. My one bugbear about Rhubarb remains - I think the drinks are a little over-priced, with the cheapest red at £5.50 a glass - but with the food at these prices (and it being a school night) the bill still came in at a ludicrously reasonable £35. A lovely night, and a lovely meal - and all the sweeter for being utterly, entirely, SELFLESS.
- Rhubarb is at 167 Burton Road, West Didsbury, Manchester M20 2LN, tel. 0161 448 8887.