Got something lovely, shiny, gorgeous or sparkly to share? Join the twitter feed @ThingsToDoinMcr, or get in touch at

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Jamie's Italian Restaurant Review: Manchester (Reluctantly) Falls for Jamie's Essex Charms...

So. I have to admit I was a little bit sceptical about the new Jamie's Italian restaurant that has just opened at the top of King Street. Sure, I like Jamie Oliver, with his admirably "can-do" attitude to social reform, his proud upholding of family values, and - most importantly - his foolproof recipe for honey banana pancakes, for which Mr Liz bays loudly and lustily pretty much every weekend. But would Manchester really welcome the arrival of the latest outpost of the Oliver Empire? This is a city that prides itself on its individuality after all, and doesn't always take kindly to incomers: here, we fly the flag for all that is good, and unique, and NORTHERN, whether that be the North Star Deli home-made black pudding that appeared in these very pages last week, or the latest Robert Owen Brown six-courser that will appear in these very pages by the weekend. Up here, if a local pig innocently wanders past, we eat it - all of it. Honestly, how much do we need the 26th branch of the all-conquering Essex boy's chain of eateries? Manchester doesn't take kindly to finishing second in anything, let alone being ranked alongside the very last letter of the alphabet.

And yet. As a Northern import myself I felt duty bound to give the new restaurant a chance (well, that and an overwhelming urge to trough an enormous meal - although in a professional manner, obv), and the experience that Jamie's Italian served up last night has forced me to eat every single last doubt, along with one of the finest meals I've had for a very long time. First things first: the location. There has been much talk of how the old Midland Bank building might look after its conversion to an eatery, and the evidence seen here hopefully gives an idea of how well this has been done: this is an impressive space that makes full use of the original features already in place. We sat up on the small mezzanine level which, although quite crowded, afforded spectacular views across the old banking hall (which, presumably, never used to have a bar in the middle with pigs hanging from it) and the hoards of hungry diners scoffing all that appeared before them. These photographs, by the way, are provided courtesy of the selfless Mr Liz, who was allowed to come along on the proviso that he bring his big camera (technical name) with him *surreptitiously wipes small smear of chilli jam or similar from posh case*

I'd made the mistake of looking at the online menu during one of my routine never-too-early-to-think-about-food moments at approximately 10am on the day of dining, a fatal error when there's not a single thing on the aforementioned selection that you don't want to eat there and then, that very minute: I'm not exaggerating when I say I've already chosen which dishes I want to have the next few times I go. To a certain extent, choice of starter on your first visit is quite easy if you're like me, and can't resist the thought of a "food plank" (although Jamie's term for it - "Seasonal Meat Antipasti" is perhaps a LITTLE classier) - a gert piece of wood perched atop two tins of tomatoes (I suspect it would be frowned upon if you prised these open with your bare hands and ate them as well) and spread with a tempting picnic of Italian meats, cheeses and pickles. Meanwhile, on the other side of the plank Mr Liz tackled a hearty plate of baked chestnut mushrooms, served in a dish lined with what I at first thought was paper but turned out upon closer inspection (by my roaming fork/mouth) to be amazingly thin, crispy bread.

For mains, I went straight for the Fritto Misto, a dish I eat pretty much every day whenever I go to Italy - mixed crispy fried fish served with a home-made tartare sauce. This is a simple dish, but needs to be perfectly executed using only the very freshest fish and the lightest, crispiest coating of batter; and I have to say it was (almost) faultless - four different types of fish, including the most tender squid, playing a tantalising game of hide-and-seek amongst a nest of deep-fried vermicelli (they were actually quite poor at this - I caught every single last one). My one tiny complaint is that I would have liked another prawn - just one amongst such a generous overall portion seemed a little imbalanced. If you look closely at the picture below, you will see him near the front, shouting "I'm delicious! But alas, lonely for another plump tasty friend."
Mr Liz stuck to his normal favourite and went for the 8oz Angus sirloin steak, and very tasty it was too - cooked perfectly medium rare and served with a pile of peppery watercress that I had to eat due to Mr Liz apparently not having room for "the green stuff". We ordered sides as well - Posh Chips (with Parmesan and truffle oil) for Mr Liz and Polenta Chips for me; both were delicious, and although I'm not normally a fan of restaurants with pricey main courses charging extra for sides, my main really didn't need them, and Mr Liz's steak was good value at £16.95 anyway.

People who don't have room for the green stuff are of course not technically entitled to dessert, but as the toilets are in the basement, a good twenty-minute walk away, Mr Liz took full advantage of my absence, and I returned to find Tiramisu and an Ultimate Brownie on order (the former no doubt chosen, once again, because I don't like coffee and therefore cannot snaffle). My chocolate, raspberry and amaretto brownie was perfect - soft, squidgy, gooey...and all mine, which will teach people (Mr Liz) to order things with coffee in. All of this was washed down with a soft, plummy Montepulciano that was well-priced at £17.90 from the small but pleasingly Italian wine list. Service was friendly, striking that difficult balance between informal and professional, with staff who actually knew and cared about the food they were serving.

So, will I stop going to small, independent, proudly Northern restaurants? No. But I will eat here, again and again - this is an unpretentious and well-priced sort of place, full of cheery folk having a great night out, with a menu crammed with things that people actually want to eat. If anyone has the power to hold back the march of the mighty Oliver Empire, I'm afraid it really isn't me.

- Jamie's Italian is at 100 King Street, Manchester M2 4WU; tel: 0161 241 3901

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Top Night at The Brew House, Altrincham; Local Girl (Brave) Doesn't Even Feel Homesick

Honestly; never let it be said that I am not adventurous of spirit. This week I am a foot-weary traveller with a passport full of stamps; a hoary old wanderer with a knotted handkerchief tied up with memories of the new and exciting worlds that lie at the very edge of the limits of human experience. Yep: this week, I have been out of Didsbury, TWICE.

First, it was Chorlton. Then, last night, even further: Altrincham. And I didn't even have a MAP. There was of course a sterling reason for such unprecedented levels of adventuring derring-do: The Brew House, the specialist world beers bar and one of my most favourite places on the planet, is there rather than here. If you yourself are considering such a foray, here are the pros and cons of such a venture:


1. The Brew House is a gorgeously warm sort of a place for a chilly evening, like a welcoming red cavern lit only by flickering candlelight, the glint of bottles, and the wholesome love of beer that pervades the entire premises. True, they have painted over the Tin Tin pictures that used to adorn the walls since rebranding from the exclusively Belgian Le Trappiste, but I'll forgive them on the basis that they now sell a wider range of beers than they used to. And this is a good thing, because...

2. ...boys like beer, and when they are permitted to have beer, they become genial, and consider you to be the finest wife in the universe. This leaves you free to chat happily with female friends over a decent bottle of red from the wine list whilst they all discuss dull Man Things (one of the party had recently built a Man Cave in his garden, which obviously prompted much debate) and drink terrifyingly strong beer from test-tube-shaped glasses.

3. The music is amazing. Owner Martin clearly understands the joy inherent in a good mix tape, and chooses to play Buzzcocks, Squeeze (Up the Junction, to which I sang along in a loud and heartfelt manner, much to the delight of all other customers), Oasis and Happy Mondays - amongst others - to his grateful and discerning clientele.

4. Martin also knows everything there is to know about beer, and is happy to make recommendations and chat with geeky boys eager to learn more about the fine art of opening a bottle of something and pouring it down your throat. He even makes it sound poetic, describing a particularly malodorous beer as having the aroma of a Manchester bus shelter. And I suspect Mr Liz will be reminscing for years about "the night Mr Brew House showed me his cellar" - apparently it's, ahem, impressively well-stocked *pictures grandchildren looking bored and whispering "oh no...not this story again" to each other*

5. They now sell bar food that consists entirely of pies.

6. And if you don't fancy a pie (in which case you are probably reading this blog by accident anyway), you can always pop to curry house Dilli for tea. This is what we did, and I can't help thinking that next time I go for a curry and am NOT presented with a whole duck breast amid a sea of perfect sauce it's all going to be terribly disappointing. The duck breast was just one of the extraordinary dishes on the current fancy dan special menu for the Rajasthani Food Festival that runs till the end of March - don't forget to take along your Brew House receipt for a discount from your bill *money saving expert face*

7. Finally - and don't underestimate the importance of this one - if you give them a ring before you go they will let you reserve a table, meaning that you can wear your very best impractical Taxi Shoes secure in the knowledge that you won't have to stand uncomfortably all evening with a slightly sad, martyred expression on your face - much better for everyone.


1. It's located somewhere I do not live.

Verdict: case closed.

- The Brew House is at 18 Shaws Road, Altrincham WA14 1QU; tel 0161 941 1981

- Dilli is at 60 Stamford New Road, Altrincham WA14 1EE; tel 0161 929 7484 /0161 927 9219

Friday, 24 February 2012

Triumphant Pig Night at North Star Deli's Join Us For Supper; Local Girl Upsets Morrissey

When I was a teenager - a terribly earnest, slightly mardy-faced one at that - I spent a brief period as a vegetarian. This was a well thought-out, committed sort of decision, based almost entirely on a general fondness for animals and a desire to wear my Meat is Murder t-shirt without too many pangs of guilt; and obviously, I HAD to wear my Meat is Murder t-shirt, as Morrissey would NEVER notice me if I didn't.

Thankfully, this stint proved to be short-lived, brought to a premature end by the salty wiles of a bacon sandwich and the - eventual - understanding that I probably wasn't really his type anyway. And Mozzer's loss is my gain, for last night saw the return of North Star Deli's monthly Supper Club; a triumphant, flag-waving return that I shall always choose to remember simply as "Pig Night", the night that Percy nobly gave his life so that he could be cooked three ways for a deli-ful of hungry diners. But I get ahead of myself...this is the full rundown of what we had:

Starter: Home-made stout black pudding, served with Yorkshire forced rhubarb, parsnip puree and crisps, air-dried ham & watercress. I must hang my head in shame and confess that for many, many years I eschewed black pudding, claiming that I didn't like it when in reality I had never tried it and just didn't like the thought of it. Then I married a Northerner and found that, actually, black pudding is DELICIOUS. Last night we were spoiled, as the home-made offering was served up alongside more familiar fare from The Real Black Pudding Company for comparative purposes - opinions at table were divided, but I preferred the home-made option with its crumbly texture and delicately fennel-spiced flavour; he's the one on the right in the picture above. I ate them both, mind, just in the interests of being entirely fair to both entrants *noble face*. It must also be noted at this point that one of my dining companions - a normally most pleasant lady - elected to have the vegetarian menu (including veggie black pudding), and I shall therefore say no more about her in the unlikely event I fail to completely mask my disapproval *cat's bum face*.

Main: Porcus Tamworth pig done 3 ways - crispy pork belly with spiced apple, tenderloin and braised home-made faggot, cider fondant potato and red cabbage. Yes, REALLY. As a North Star regular, I think this was my favourite main course to date, with every item on the plate utterly, ludicrously delicious, from the rib-sticking unctiousness of the neat square of pork belly to the warm spiciness of the complementing apple slices and the earthiness of the accompanying roast beetroot and carrot...the only disharmony here came from the undignified competition to be the most irresistible thing on the plate*. And we licked our plates clean with clear consciences, as SJ, the rare breed pig farmer from Porcus in Todmorden who supplied the porcine ingredients for the repast - or "The Pig Lady" as I fear she is often known - was happy to tell us of the wonderful life that Percy had lived, before we all ate him.

And finally, Dessert: Pineapple tart tatin with ginger ice cream, a coconut tuille and pineapple & mint salsa. Lovely, just lovely - a light-yet-chewy pastry disc contrasting beautifully with the sweet warmth of the ice cream and the minty tang of the salsa. And the fact that I have had to type the word "pineapple" twice in naming it suggests a high fruit content; ergo, an extremely healthy end to the meal.

The theme of this month's Supper Club was "Northern Stars" - named after the all-conquering team of SJ, North Star chef Ben and genial foodie Joby who wiped the floor with some upstart pretenders on a recent episode of the BBC2 food quiz ‘A Question of Taste’ - and showcased the very best Northern suppliers and ingredients; a commitment to seasonal local produce that really sums up all that is right and good about this lovely deli. If next month's Cheshire-themed extravaganza is half as impressive as this one, we're all in for a treat - keep an eye on the deli's webpage for further details, as there's no doubt that owner Deanna will come up with another amazing menu.

*The eventual, worthy winner was the joyously hefty faggot, a sturdy shotput of flavour that I could frankly have eaten many more of. I have learned one valuable lesson though - do not, repeat NOT, innocently start off a faggot-related Facebook thread just before you go out, as by the time you come home it will have absolutely RUN RIOT...

- North Star Deli is at 418 Wilbraham Road Manchester, M21 0SD.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Jamie's Italian Comes to King Street, Manchester; Local Girl Waits, Hungrily

Give or take a few months, Jamie Oliver and I are pretty much exactly the same age. And by a huge coincidence, our career trajectories to date are also virtually identical: he has been on television since he was 22 years old, published over a dozen trillion-billion selling cook books, single-handedly rescued the nation's school children from the evil turkey twizzler, married a model and had four gorgeous children, AND opened a string of successful restaurants bearing his name; whereas I...well, I must surely have also done something noteworthy in all that time.

Now, in a bid to shame me and my profligate life still further, Jamie is on the verge of opening his latest venture ON MY PATCH. The new Jamie's Italian is set to open in the old Midland Bank building at the top of King Street on Monday 20th February, and promises fresh pasta made daily on the premises and an ever-changing seasonal menu. Jamie does not clarify whether the food will be prepared and cooked to the same standard that I myself whip up my regular favourites from my own be-splattered copy of Jamie's Italy, but it is entirely understandable that he should leave himself something to strive for.

The new restaurant looks set to be a mighty affair, spread over all three floors of the Grade II listed building: the ground floor banking hall (which apparently retains many of the original features, including marble columns and mahogany wall panelling - much like my own house, although I don't like to boast about how much I have achieved so far in my short life), a mezzanine level, and the basement vault room which will house a private area seating twelve diners. In a well-timed publicity coup that other restaurateurs could only dream of, the contents of this bank vault have hit the headlines in spectacular fashion this week, with the old safety deposit boxes yielding up treasure including gold, guns and - best of all - Joy Division and New Order master tapes; I like to think of the late great Tony Wilson putting all this together years ago as his own mischievous version of a Manchester time capsule to be discovered at some future date. Anyway, the total value of this haul is estimated at over £1 million pounds; probably similar to the value of the contents of my own cellar, should I trouble myself to work it all out.

*pretends has cellar*

*shoots warning glance at Mr Liz, who looks puzzled*

There'll be a full review of the new Manchester Jamie's Italian once I've been there and plunged my greedy face into a big bowl of pasta; for now, I'll leave you with the words of the man himself, who has this to say: “The Manchester restaurant is going to be one of the jewels in the Jamie’s Italian crown. It’s a fantastic building in a vibrant, exciting city and I know the people of Manchester are going to love it. I’ve worked hard with my team to make sure we’ve got incredible food but at affordable prices...I hope one day, if I keep working hard, I'll be as successful as that nice lady who writes the Things to Do in Manchester blog - it humbles me to think that we are the same age*"

*last sentence not based on actual words uttered by Mr Oliver but a reconstruction of what he might have been thinking.

- Jamie's Italian is at 100 King Street, Manchester M2 4WU.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

The Woman in Black: Local Girl Not, Ahem, Frightened AT ALL

Now obviously, with hindsight, I should have known better. Some years ago, I read what I thought was a fairly innocuous little book called The Woman in Black, a mildly spooky tale by a writer - Susan Hill - whom I much admire. And then I saw it last year at The Lowry, where my smugly confident "yep! I HAVE read the book, for I am a clever literary type" face was swiftly replaced by an "oh my God, this is THE MOST FRIGHTENING TWO HOURS OF MY LIFE" expression; indeed, had there not been a break for an ice-cream and some gin, I may not have survived the experience at all.

So, clearly any person of even limited intelligence would know to avoid the new film version like the plague, particularly if that person is prone to jump a little at everyday, non-frightening occurrences such as phones ringing and think-they're-funny husbands occasionally saying "boo". But then - how scary could it be? It's a 12A for goodness sake! It has Harry Potter in it! Surely at the first sign of trouble, he can simply wave his pocket wand and everything will be OK again!

Um, well, no actually; the film turns out to be every bit as terrifying as the stage show. Harry (sorry, DANIEL) plays Arthur Kipps, a solicitor sent to Crythin Gifford (definitely a local place for local people) to sort out the papers of the recently deceased Alice Drablow. As old ladies in this kind of story are prone to do, she lived in a big old creepy house full of things that go bump in the night (or indeed at any time of day); even better, Eel Marsh House can only be accessed by crossing a causeway that often becomes completely submerged, leaving the house cut off.

So why on earth would you go there? Simple answer is, you wouldn't, and as baby-faced Kipps innocently crosses the causeway you feel like climbing aboard your chair and shouting "no! Don't you see! It's the equivalent of the teenager going into the cellar in some other horror film - stay away!" Sadly, Kipps cannot hear us, and even if he could he has no choice - he has a young son to support, and therefore cannot simply give up the house as a bad job and return to that-there London like all the villagers want him to do. Children are dying in the village in a variety of horrific ways, and the locals have no doubt that Kipps' visits to Eel Marsh House are to blame. The plucky young wizard (sorry, solicitor) must uncover the story of the mysterious figure who haunts the house (clue: it's a lady with a penchant for dark-coloured clothes) before his own frankly adorable son arrives and shares the same fate.

It's a simple story, but then the best ghost stories always are, and director James Watkins has squeezed every last ounce of spookiness from it for this film version. The middle third of the film is quite simply majestic in its use of pretty much every single horror technique in the book: thus we get fog, locked doors that mysteriously open, creepy mechanical toys who randomly decide to start bashing their cymbals together, odd reflections in mirrors...and the rocking chair - oh, the rocking chair...

If this sounds a bit cliched, well that's because it is, but it doesn't stop it from being properly, edge-of-your-seat scary - if you can look out of a window at night without palpitations during the week after seeing it, then you're made of sterner stuff than I. There are a couple of weak links: Daniel Radcliffe is not entirely convincing in a role that requires him to play an adult with responsibilities of his own, and writer Jane Goldman's new ending will not please everyone - although I quite liked it, feeling she'd made the story her own whilst respecting the spirit (no pun intended) of the original.

Oh, and one final thought - is it just me, or is Ciaran Hinds a funny colour in this movie? I can't help thinking that DI Anna Travis would never have fallen for his gruff, gnarly charms in Above Suspicion had he apparently been painted such a deep shade of mahogany. Anyway, do go and see The Woman in Black - just get someone else to hold your popcorn for you...

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Manchester Girls' Night Out Offers Vital Life Lessons

Sometimes, after a particularly tough couple of weeks, the only solution is to don a terrifyingly short dress and some correspondingly high heels and go for a swank night out; boys may of course substitute their own favoured items of party clothing here, or go with mine - we're all friends here after all. This course of action does naturally bring its own potential pitfalls, particularly during the coldest February in the history of the world (I've made that up, but it HAS been parky), when one's natural reaction is to reach for the fleecy pyjamas and the comfort of the sofa rather than the handkerchief-sized dress and the bright lights of Manchester. Still, we all made it, and here are just some of the important things I learned last night:

1. In any party of girls, you can play a reasonably accurate game of guess-the-age-of-each-girl based on the denier of their tights. The older the girl, the thicker the hosiery, preferably combined with an M & S footglove shoe (nope, I'd never heard of it either, but I want it) to ensure maximum comfort when walking from bar to bar. Any girl wearing trousers is simply afraid to reveal her age through her legwear and should be put somewhere mid-range.

2. A dish of moules frites in All Bar One, no matter how nice, will NOT fill you up for an evening's wineage, even when supplemented by the largest banana trifle (yes - as good as it sounds) ever seen by man or beast. Sure, at the time it seems plenty, but trust me - come eleven o'clock you'll be on the verge of grateful tears when your friend finally voices what you've all been secretly thinking: "Ooh - I could just eat a plate of chips right now." Sadly, the nice man in Grinch thinks, quite rightly, that it's too late for chips, and just brings Prosecco instead.

3. I'm not sure if this is a regular occurrence, but at around 9pm sweet music emanates from the bottom of Market Street, where a cheery band of musicians appear to be playing ABBA mash-ups (we spotted Fernando in there but weren't completely sure about the other components - blame the moules for not lining my stomach properly and thereby affecting my normally razor-sharp judgement). We dance appreciatively for a while, and briefly consider starting a jazz hands flash mob; indeed, a few intrepid souls do get on board with this before we lose interest and move on.

4. A most interesting and innovative game can be played in a bar with just one simple, everyday prop - a lemon. I'm new to the game, but the rules appear to involve going up to someone of the opposite sex and giving them a lemon, which they must then give to somebody else in order to keep the fun and hilarity on a constant loop. I'm sure there are further subtleties of which I am unaware, but I can note that a/ the lemon man will be cross when you show little interest in his wares, and b/ will become even more irate when one of you eventually takes it and then immediately fobs it off on one of his own friends. "NO," he wails, genuinely distraught at our lack of Lemon Game skill, "you have to give it to someone I don't know!" Lemon man then becomes sulky and takes his fruit away, no doubt muttering that he'll never get his Olympic lemon-passing team together at this rate.

5. The lemon shenanigans take place at Socio Rehab, the Northern Quarter's seductively dingy den of cocktail heaven. We do not stay long here - despite securing prime seats - due to our poor performance and subsequent disgrace in the lemon game (and because there were an actual million trillion people crammed in there), but we do stay long enough to confirm that the drinks are still knockout (on every level): I had the Papaya Vanilla Daiquiri (rum shaken with lime, papaya juice, vanilla infused sugar and fresh pineapple) and am fairly sure that if I'd had even just one more I too would have been propagating citrus-based party activities.

6. And finally, when you're in the taxi home before midnight, texting your other half to put the kettle on, you KNOW even without looking down that you are, without doubt, one of the high denier ladies.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Things To Do in Manchester on Valentine's Day 2012

Valentine's Day is a funny old celebration, isn't it, and surely one of the least popular on the social calendar. It's not one of those that merit a day off, nor one that specifies the consumption of a prescribed list of food...consider how it shapes up against the following and you'll see what I mean:

Christmas Day - day off, presents, licence to wear pyjamas till noon, permission to eat until button pops off trousers (which could actually be entirely avoided if the pyjama rule was extended by a few short hours), two hours of Downton or similar

Boxing Day - day off PURELY for the purpose of eating leftovers, preferably with jacket potatoes

Easter period - TWO days off, and a variety of chocolate items that contain virtually NO calories due to the high chocolate-to-air ratio

Pancake Day - no day off (why not?) but an annual occasion where everyone wonders aloud why they only eat pancakes once a year, promises to have them more often, then forget all about it till the following year, when the above cycle will begin again

Assorted May/August Bank Holidays - seemingly devised entirely for the purpose of drinking Prosecco in a beer garden wearing a nice strappy top

Valentine's Day - no day off. Shops full of tat - wistful-looking bears clutching satin hearts, shiny silver balloons fated to drop from the ceiling to the floor within 24 hours. Single people everywhere made to feel like lepers, or any other kind of non-functioning member of society. Newish couples panicking over what size and level of schmultz is required for first Valentine's gift. Established couples forced either to hide at home, or brave a restaurant full of silent, stony-faced patrons where they will be offered a three course meal with a glass of Asti on arrival and a sad rose in cellophane for the laydee (what do same-sex couples receive in these situations? Two roses? No roses?) before being charged £100 for the privilege.

Although, to be fair, a lot of restaurants seem to be offering better deals this year - maybe it reflects the current financial situation, or perhaps just a desire to rise up in revolt against the wistful-looking bears, but here are some of the best; I am on the lookout for a few more husbands so that I may attend them all...

I love the idea of going for a big fat curry on Valentine's Day, so I will start with Khandoker's offering of three courses from £15.95. This is one of my very favourite places, and I can think of no more romantic situation that sitting at a quiet table overlooking Kingsway and trying to eat a poppadom in a seductive and alluring manner. Call 0161 434 3596 to book.

A more traditionally romantic night can be found at independent Italian restaurant Azzurro, which costs £35 per head but seems good value for a glass of Prosecco and three courses from a menu that includes sea bass and sirloin steak. And you can always save money on taxi fares by telling your other half they can prove their love for you by driving, thereby allowing you to have both glasses of Prosecco as well *money-saving expert face*

Harvey Nichols is offering a range of options at different prices, with three courses and a Bellini available all week in the Brasserie for £25, and a five course gourmet tasting menu in the restaurant at £55 a head. As in previous years, there is also the rather exciting-sounding option of going for a ride (I use the word in its purest sense) on the Manchester Wheel with a glass of champagne before or after your meal for an extra £17.50; presumably you get your own capsule, as I can only think the romantic mood would be more than a little spoiled were you forced to share the ride with a snuffly man in an anorak (unless he is your love object of choice, obviously).

I still haven't been to the newish Twisted Med restaurant in Castlefield, but have heard generally good things and am intrigued by a Valentine's offer of three courses from a set menu, live entertainment and a gift for both him and her at £39.95 a head. In my head, the live entertainment is an earnest Spanish man with a guitar, who will croon at each table in a lounge-lizard type manner despite having a rose firmly clamped between his teeth, although the more logical part of my brain does accept that - sadly - this is probably not the case.

And finally, my own kitchen will be serving up fillet steak with Nigella's Date Steak sauce, followed by the salted caramel and chocolate pots I've noted in one of this month's foodie magazines. Although, ONLY if Mr Liz gets himself to the garage and procures a gaudy card and a wistful-looking bear, obviously...